61. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Planning for Food Relief in East Pakistan

We have already taken initial steps to ensure that food is available in India for refugees from Pakistan. Beyond this, however, looms the potentially much greater problem of food shortages in East Pakistan itself, which normally must import two million tons of food annually. There is now sufficient food either in stock or awaiting shipment to East Pakistan, but the critical problem is distribution. We believe that about 1.5 million people in the area hit by cyclones last November are now in dire need of food, and there is likely to be a food shortage throughout the province unless the Government of Pakistan mounts a large-scale relief program within the next few months. An Interdepartmental Working Group has been set up to coordinate all aspects of our contribution to relief work in Bengal but we recognize that neither we nor any outside donor can be of more than marginal help in meeting the problem.

This memorandum outlines in broad terms the likely dimensions of the food problem in the East; the steps that we are considering to [Page 157] help Pakistan meet the problem; and the difficulties that we are likely to encounter.

Food Availability

Neither we nor the GOP knows just what the current food situation in East Pakistan is. Aside from the cyclone-affected area (discussed below) there was enough grain on hand at the beginning of March to see the region through mid-June, had the consumption and distribution situations been normal. The situation has been far from normal, however, and because of distribution problems, there may have been very little draw-down. In fact, the GOP still assumes stocks on hand in the 600,000–700,000 ton range. This would mean, of course, that people throughout the provinces are already experiencing food shortages.

We have taken steps to get our few remaining AID people in Dacca out into some of the most crucial areas, and the GOP has informed us that it is urgently assessing the situation and its future needs. We hope that in a few weeks we will have a better picture of what problems have to be dealt with. In the interim we are endeavoring to fill the food-grain pipeline to India to capacity so that some of this grain could be diverted to East Pakistan if needed, or used to feed refugees in India.

In addition, we are prepared to resume shipments promptly to East Pakistan of 170,000 tons of Title I wheat under the existing PL–480 Title I program and to sign an agreement for a further 150,000 tons of Title I foodgrains for rehabilitation of the cyclone disaster area. We are also willing to move ahead on a new annual PL–480 agreement, as requested by Pakistan recently. We will proceed with these actions as the GOP deals with some of the matters under its control—viz. alleviating the port congestion and distribution problems, establishing shipping schedules to return to East Pakistan the food that has been diverted to Karachi, and resuming food shipments to the cyclone-affected areas.

Offloading and Distribution Problems

With regard to the province as a whole, the most critical problem is getting food off the ships, through the port, and on to distribution points inland. Port operations are resuming only very slowly because (a) the inability to move goods out of port cities has saturated available dockside storage and (b) much of the stevedore force has fled their jobs in fear. Because of port congestion, some 200,000 tons of PL–480 wheat alone has had to be diverted from East to West Pakistan in the past months. (In addition, another 250,000 tons from non-US sources are stored in West Pakistan awaiting shipment to the East.)

The blockage in distribution out of the port areas results from several causes. Labor shortage and the armyʼs policy of commandeering civilian vehicles have been significant contributors; the major constraint, however, is the disruption of the only road and rail routes out [Page 158] of Chittagong. Some three-quarters of East Pakistanʼs grain imports are normally carried on these routes which are expected to be inoperable for up to six months.

In theory, there are enough ships of proper configuration in Pakistan to move the grain via inland water routes. However, many of these ships have been deserted by their crews, some have been sunk by Bengali nationalists, and others have been taken over by the military. When the monsoon breaks later this month, water transport will become much more difficult, thus restricting the operations of coastal ships (and, incidentally, substantially impeding port operations as well). In addition, Bengali insurgent operations have made some of the inland water routes insecure.

This complex of offloading and distribution problems must in the first analysis be addressed by the Government of Pakistan itself. We may, however, be able to assist Pakistan in procuring additional coastal shipping if that is necessary. We have established that an apparently adequate amount of charter shipping is available in nearby areas on about one weekʼs notice, and there are various devices by which we and other foreign donors could assist Pakistan in arranging and paying for charters. In addition, we are urgently following up a Pakistan government offer to have a US port specialist from the Agriculture Department go to East Pakistan to assess the problem and make recommendations.

The Cyclone Area

The food situation in the cyclone-affected areas is especially severe. The stocks on hand there at the beginning of the fighting must be exhausted and we know of no significant GOP resupply effort underway or planned. The few boats that have been made available to carry food are being used to supply the Dacca area. Recent reports state that half of the three million people in the cyclone-stricken area are very short of food. In these devastated areas there is no winter crop to be harvested. Monsoon weather will make access to some of the area nearly impossible and to the remainder at best difficult. (In normal years, food is brought in before the monsoon to tide the region over during the bad weather.) We hope to get AID personnel to the area soon to survey the situation.

Financial Resources

Lacking any clear picture of the extent of the problem, we cannot at this time predict what US resources may be needed. We are fortunate, however, in still having available the $7.5 million (plus $100 million in local currency) authorized for rehabilitation in the cyclone area. Since we expect the greatest problem to be there, these funds can be drawn on as required. When we have a fuller picture we may need to [Page 159] ask for additional authorizations; at the present time, however, we see no basis for requesting additional funds.

Political Problems

A major impediment to efficient food distribution may come from the political situation in East Pakistan:

  • —the GOP is clearly not well informed on some aspects of the supply and transportation situations and we have reason to believe that it is painting an overly rosy picture.
  • —the civil administration in East Pakistan is in disarray. Many officials have not returned to their jobs and lines of command are broken. West Pakistanis have been brought in as replacements and their presence may be resented by the Bengalis.
  • —the GOP intends to use food distribution to strengthen its political image. Many potential donors fear that the government (and especially the army) may discriminate in food distribution on political grounds unless there is some impartial monitoring.

On the positive side, the army appears as of now, at least, to have adequate control of most of East Bengal to ensure reasonable security to food shipments; also, we will probably not be faced, as we were in Biafra, with the problem of dealing with two separate governments or of getting food to large areas not under the more or less effective control of the central government.

In addition, the GOP has made a formal request to the UN, released by Secretary General U Thant on May 26, for East Pakistan relief and has agreed to the sending of a UN representative to help assess requirements and coordinate supplies from abroad. Initially it has requested 30 river craft as soon as possible and 250,000 tons of food-grains over the next six months. Although the GOP delayed making this request—apparently because it feared that a UN representative in East Bengal might not restrict his attention to relief matters but delve into possible violations of human rights—it now seems to be headed in the right direction in securing international assistance.

Prodding of Pakistan on issues that might be interpreted as political runs the risk of being counter productive. We believe, however, that we have been able to contribute significantly to improving Pakistanʼs position through the Presidentʼs letter,2 the visit of M.M. Ahmad to Washington, and the May 22 meeting between President Yahya and Ambassador Farland.

Theodore L. Eliot, Jr.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 10 PAK. Confidential. Drafted by T.P. Thornton (S/PC) on May 26 and cleared by Weiss (S/PC), Van Hollen, Spengler, Damsgaard (AID), and Cochran (INR).
  2. Apparent reference to the letter sent by Nixon to Yahya on May 28; See Document 63.