79. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in India1

115314. Subject: East Pakistan Refugees; Discussions with UNHCR Sadruddin.


Following is Noforn, FYI only, uncleared and subject to revision on review:

Summary: During discussions in Washington June 24 with the Secretary, and Assistant Secretary Sisco, UNHCR, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, indicated grave consequences which could flow from presence of East Pakistan refugees in India. He described his efforts to obtain a UNHCR presence in East Pakistan and India in order to facilitate return flow of refugees. Said that GOP had agreed to his presence in Dacca and he believed he could obtain Pakistani agreement to presence in refugee reception centers. GOI, however, had categorically refused to accept UNHCR presence beyond New Delhi. Sadruddin, who was quite critical of Indian policies regarding refugee return, said Indian refusal appeared result from GOI desire protect cross border infiltration from international view. UNHCR believed some return flow possible on basis restoration of peace, even before political accommodation, but Indian cooperation, which thus far not forthcoming, would be essential. Sadruddin also expressed concern regarding possible Soviet objection to UN operation of sort he is planning. Department [Page 200] encouraged Sadruddin continue his efforts and it was agreed we would keep in close touch in future. End summary.

Sadruddin started off hour-long discussion with Secretary and Sisco June 24 by expressing his great concern that unless quick political solution to East Pakistan situation could be found, there might be a new Viet Nam in South Asia. There was polarization between Bengalis and Punjabis, with no sympathy between the two elements. Extremists in East Pakistan—Naxalites—are using fear against a “foreign army” to strengthen themselves. Result could be extended guerrilla warfare. Sadruddin explained India was quite worried about this. The Inner Cabinet had decided not to recognize “Bangla Desh,” not to go to war with Pakistan but to provide complete support for the “Mukhti Fauj.” Consequently India does not wish there to be UN presence on East Pakistan border. It desires international relief but does not wish to have foreigners wandering about border areas.
Discussing return flow of refugees, Sadruddin said he thought some East Pakistanis would return if they had an element of guarantee. Sadruddin has already received GOP approval for UNHCR presence in Dacca. He believes he can get agreement to presence in refugee reception centers, but to do this he may have to have Indian agreement to presence on Indian side border. He considers some refugees would return with simply a return to peace in East Pakistan, if only because of the “continuous squalor” of Indian refugee camps. Expressed concern, however, about inconsistency of Indian policy. On the one hand, India complains about presence of six million refugees and insists they must return and on the other hand it imposes conditions (negotiations with Mujib, etc.) for their return. Speaking of “Indian escalation,” Sadruddin referred to possibility of Indian “preventive aggression” and said resulting conflict would place regional and great powers in very difficult situation, comparable to Middle East. Said there was also danger that international community would be left with indefinite burden of supporting refugees.
UNHCR said India was not following a logical pragmatic path. It says it does not want escalation and refugees must return, but it seems uninterested in repatriation. It is important that India not insist upon political solution as prior condition for return of refugees. By political solution, India appears to mean return of Mujib. While India confronted by burden of refugees and possible communal problems, it is in excellent international position. Pakistan is weak, substantial international assistance is being provided, and there is great sympathy for India. India has succeeded in bringing US and Soviet Union together in an airlift. Consequently, there is every reason for India to be moderate in regard to refugee return. Yet Foreign Secretary Kaul was adamant against any UN presence in India along East Pakistan border. It seems obvious India wishes to keep very close control of border area.
Sisco commented it very important we make major point to Indians in regard to UN role and presence. This would contribute to stopping refugee flow and reversing it. It is essential that there be no East-West conflict regarding the UN role. We want financial support for this UN activity from many nations, including Soviets. We would hope Soviets would support and use their influence on the Indians because of the danger to their interest of a prolonged impasse regarding refugees.
Sadruddin said we must be sure Soviets will not attack UN role regarding refugees as they have in past regarding Congo and Korea. Asked what their position likely to be in Fifth Committee regarding financing. Sisco commented Indian attitude likely to be the key. If Indians see UN role as in their interest, then Soviets likely support.
Sisco inquired about Sadruddinʼs view of Yahya. Sadruddin replied pressures on him very great. He must make all decisions. He is not happy about army actions in East Pakistan and agreed that actions against Hindus were unfortunate. He covers army, however. Sadruddin emphasized importance of his maintaining relationship with Yahya. He is only person of importance in Pakistan. Because of what UNHCR has done to maintain this relationship, he has come under attack in India. GOI, however, conveyed apologies.
Sadruddin reported that in 28th June speech2 Yahya will say those elected members of Awami League who are not “criminals” should come forward and lead people of East Pakistan so that he can hand over power to them. He will announce Turkish type of constitution providing for substantial army control. Sadruddin feared this would not be enough. He should withdraw army. Yet he cannot do so in border areas so long as India supporting infiltration. If India accepted UN presence, then perhaps Yahya could withdraw troops. Said it important keep pressure on India to moderate its position on refugee return; control Bangla Desh elements; and stop infiltration. If Indians wanted to crack down on latter they could.
Sadruddin said he had spent day with SYG in New York. SYG had said he would talk to Malik and tell him UN presence in East Pakistan was necessary. UNHCR did not know whether he would speak similarly about need for presence in India. This because SYG concerned Malik will say this depends upon Indians.
Sadruddin said when he met with Mrs. Gandhi she was very “hawkish.” She sought to impress him with seriousness of situation saying “we may have to resort to other means.” Secretary said Swaran Singh had used term “special measures” or “another option” when he [Page 202] was in Washington. Secretary had replied that if he meant military means, we thought this would be very great mistake. Swaran Singh then backed away from this implication.
UNHCR said India was taking position it was controlling and coordinating relief. There was no need for UN presence or presence on part of other foreigners. Foreign teams were not welcome. This was causing problems in UK.
Sadruddin concluded by stating East Pakistan situation is greatest challenge to confront UN which had become involved largely because of US urging. Unfortunately, UN was quite weak administratively. He expressed concern that UN may not be able to meet challenge unless it can get help. UNHCR organization already overextended. British press has been highly critical of UN. SYG does not have specific plan in mind. Sadruddin spoke of UNʼs recruiting new personnel, including persons from Eastern Europe.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, REF PAK. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted and approved for transmission by Schneider and cleared in substance by Van Hollen. Also sent to US Mission Geneva and repeated to USUN, Islamabad, Dacca, Calcutta, and London.
  2. The text of President Yahyaʼs June 28 speech was transmitted to the Department in telegram 6477 from Islamabad, June 28. (Ibid., POL 15–1 PAK)