72. Editorial Note

When President Nixon met with Ambassador Keating at the White House on June 15, 1971, Keating gave an upbeat assessment of prospects for improved relations between the United States and India. He noted that his relationship with Prime Minister Gandhi, which had always been pleasant, had become more cordial since her electoral victory. He characterized her as a woman with a “weight off her mind.” She no longer had to try to govern without a working majority and as a result, he found it easier to deal with her.

In the context of briefing Nixon in advance of his meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister, Keating painted a grim picture of the situation in East Pakistan. He suggested that Nixon could put pressure on Pakistan to stop what he described as genocide in East Pakistan by withholding economic assistance. Keating pointed to the flood of five million refugees into India and said that the problem was growing at a rate of 150,000 a day. The strain on India was tremendous, and Keating said that the situation was further inflamed by what he described as a deliberate policy by Pakistan to drive out or kill the Hindus in East Pakistan. His assessment of the Indian response to the problem was that India wanted the killing stopped and a climate created in East Pakistan which would allow the refugees to return to their homes. In his view, India had adopted a moderate position and was seeking a political solution to the building crisis. Keating did not believe a political settlement would emerge until Yahya Kahnʼs government was prepared to deal with the Awami League leaders who had been outlawed. He said that, in his opinion, “the old Pakistan is through.” Keating indicated that he was aware that Nixon had a “special relationship” with Yahya, but he still wanted to endorse a recommendation that would be coming to the White House from the Department of State that some of the scheduled economic assistance for Pakistan be diverted to help India deal with the refugee problem. Kissinger observed that Pakistan could be expected to react negatively if money was taken from its budget and given to India. Nixon, who had earlier noted that the United States was helping to feed 300,000 refugees in India, said that more money to deal with the problem would have to be found.

Nixon responded to Keatingʼs assessment of the situation in South Asia by indicating that he wanted to maintain good relations with India: “Weʼll play a friendly game with the Indians.” But he made it clear that “it would not be in our interest” to contribute to the collapse of Pakistan: a collapse, he noted, that might occur within the next 6 months. “We do not want to do something that is an open breech with Yahya.” He added that he did not want to “allow the refugee problem to get us involved in the internal political problems” of the subcontinent. [Page 182] Nixon agreed with Keating that it was important to try to prevent armed conflict between India and Pakistan.

After Keating left the Oval Office, Nixon and Kissinger discussed their conversation with him. They reacted in particular to Keatingʼs suggestion that economic assistance earmarked for Pakistan be diverted to India. Nixon said: “I donʼt know what the Christ we are up to.” Kissinger suggested that the question of additional assistance for the refugees could be managed without involving Keating or the State Department: “Iʼve talked to the Indian ambassador … I said you want to have a direct communication through him with Mrs. Gandhi. That we need three or four months to work it out. We will find them some money, we will gradually move into a position to be helpful, but weʼve got to do it our way. Just to shut them up.” Kissinger advised Nixon to tell Foreign Minister Singh that “we have great sympathy, but they must be restrained. And weʼll try to find some money but we cannot take it out of the Pakistan budget.” Nixon agreed that assistance to Pakistan could not be diverted to India: “They must be out of their god-damn minds.” Kissinger added: “It would be considered such an insult to Yahya that the whole deal would be off.” He was referring to Pakistanʼs role as intermediary in the contacts that were developing with China. Nixonʼs concluding reference to Yahya was “it just may be that the poor son of a bitch canʼt survive.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, and Keating, June 15, 1971, 5:13–5:40 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 521–13) A transcript of this conversation is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 137.