96. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Sultan Khan, Foreign Secretary
- M.M. Ahmad, Economic Advisor to President Yahya
- Agha Hilaly, Ambassador of Pakistan to the US
- Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
- Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff
The conversation began with Dr. Kissinger pointing to some newspapers on the table in the reception room where the conversation took place and saying that it was a pleasure to see newspapers that were not reporting criticism of him. He said that the stories in the New Delhi newspapers about his talks came from Indian sources. He did not have a single word with the press in New Delhi. Each person he talked to must have given his own personal version of what Kissinger had said. There had been a “horrendous storm” in the press against the US while he was in New Delhi.
The Foreign Secretary replied that this put the Government of Pakistan in distinguished company. It too is receiving a bad press. Dr. Kissinger said that the Government of Pakistan had not handled its press relations as skillfully as it might have. Not many people around the world, for instance, know that the Government of Pakistan had invited the United Nations to come and work in the program for restoring the East Pakistani refugees to their homes.
The Foreign Secretary replied that this had been widely released by the UN organizations involved. Ambassador Hilaly said that, despite the release of news, the newspapers do not print the news. Mr. Ahmad said that Pakistan would have to buy space to see that the news [Page 237] was appropriately reported. Ambassador Hilaly said that he had done that on one occasion in the US.
Shifting the subject, the Foreign Secretary asked, “How did they treat you generally?”
Dr. Kissinger replied that the Indians had treated him well except that everybody he had talked to had given his own version of what Dr. Kissinger had said to the press.
Dr. Kissinger said, “I do not consider it impossible that the Indians could take military action.”
Mr. Ahmad said that the refugee issue must be solved by cooperative action. Dr. Kissinger asked whether the Pakistanis had indicated that the refugees could get their property back. Mr. Ahmad said that this had been done. There must be normalcy in East Pakistan, to be sure, but the return of the refugees would also require Indian cooperation. India had encouraged the exodus of refugees by publicizing stories about conditions in East Pakistan.
Dr. Kissinger asked whether the Pakistanis had asked to talk with the refugees in the Indian camps. The Foreign Secretary said that India would not entertain such a proposal. If someone talks to the refugees, it will have to be someone from the UN.
The Foreign Secretary seconded Mr. Ahmadʼs point that Indian cooperation would be required. When Indians talk about unilateral military action, this is a disincentive to the refugees to return. No refugee is going to get himself in the middle of a battle.
Mr. Ahmad said that President Yahya was thinking of putting his own man in East Pakistan—a senior civil servant to oversee all action connected with the return of the refugees.
The Foreign Secretary noted that Mr. Kellogg (Assistant to the US Secretary of State for Refugees) had by his observations confirmed the view that India is preventing the return of the refugees.
Mr. Ahmad repeated that there has to be some action on the part of India.
The Foreign Secretary went on to give another example of how the Pakistanis are trying to paint the right picture of what will greet the refugees if they return, while the Indians are trying to create an unfavorable picture. The Secretary said that, for instance, Pakistan calls the centers for the returning refugees “reception centers,” not “camps.” Foreign Minister Singh uses the words “camps,” connoting concentration camps. Now the Indians are spreading the word in the refugee centers in India that the property of the refugees had been taken away and re-distributed. President Yahya had wanted to make a strong statement against any unauthorized occupation of vacated properties. But his advisors had persuaded him not to because they feared India might seize on it.[Page 238]
Mr. Ahmad said that the problem needs to be defused quickly because it could pressure India into rash action.
Dr. Kissinger said it was not for him to advise. But he felt that if Pakistan could make a comprehensive proposal rather than to dribble out bits and pieces of its action and if Pakistan could internationalize its response to the refugee problem by getting international observers in, these actions would help. He felt it was important to defuse the refugee issue so that it could be separated from the issue of the political structure of East Pakistan. Linking the two will only prolong the current situation which could lead to war. War would be a catastrophe.
The Foreign Secretary asked what Dr. Kissinger felt would be the Indian rationale for war.
Dr. Kissinger replied that 7 million refugees are an intolerable burden. They overload an already overburdened Indian economy, particularly in eastern India. The Indians see enormous danger of communal riots. He said he had asked the Indians what India would accomplish by military action. He felt that the answer is that what would be achieved is not the point—the Indians just feel they may have to “do something.”
The Foreign Secretary checked his understanding that the Indians are not clear in their objective. Dr. Kissinger replied that the Indians feel they would win any military confrontation.
Mr. Ahmad said that if India insists that the refugees will only go back on certain political conditions, that will not contribute to the return of the refugees.
Dr. Kissinger repeated that he did not presume to advise the Pakistanis but urged them to think about separating the issues.
The Foreign Secretary said that India will not allow that. India is linking the two issues by saying that the refugees will only go back under certain conditions.
Dr. Kissinger asked what would be the best international organization to involve in this situation—the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or some other? He realized that alternatives included an international group of neutral countries as observers. Then he concluded that a war on the subcontinent would be unthinkable.
The Foreign Secretary agreed that war would be terrible. No one in Pakistan is thinking of going to war.
Dr. Kissinger acknowledged that Pakistan would still face pressure on the issue of a political settlement.
Mr. Ahmad pointed out that Pakistan was already taking steps to involve the UN in East Pakistan. He pointed out that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would be sending a team.[Page 239]
Dr. Kissinger said that his point was that approval of such steps as that should not be dribbled out piecemeal. This does not help the Pakistani public relations position.
Mr. Ahmad said he felt that a comprehensive package could be put together. For instance, a new senior civilian is scheduled to be appointed in the next “two or three days” to oversee refugee affairs.
Dr. Kissinger asked whether the military governor would be put under the new civilian appointee. The Foreign Secretary said that he would be the “refugee czar”. He would not be placed over the military governor, but he would have control over everything in the refugee field. Mr. Ahmad added that the governors in all the provinces are military officers.
Dr. Kissinger said that the primary focus in the United States now is on the refugee problem.
Mr. Ahmad said that he felt that a comprehensive program on the refugee problem should be possible.
Ambassador Hilaly noted that the Manchester Guardian is urging the UK to take the refugee issue to the UN Security Council.
The Foreign Secretary said there is no evidence that India wants the refugee issue settled. For instance, in ECOSOC, India has been trying to get the issue inscribed on the agenda so that it could be debated there. Pakistan had opposed inscription but was quite willing to discuss the issue after the presentation of the report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr. Ahmad asked, “But what if India does not cooperate?” Dr. Kissinger replied, “At least there would be a Pakistani program.”
The Foreign Secretary said that what had been done so far had had to be piecemeal because of the way the decision-making process both in Pakistan and at the UN had evolved to date.
The conversation returned to the UNHCR. Ambassador Hilaly said that the Commissioner was beginning to talk about a political solution. This was playing into Indiaʼs hands. Prince Sadruddin (the UNHCR) had been attacked by the British press, particularly the Guardian. Sadruddin seems to be back-peddling in concern over these press attacks.
Ambassador Hilaly said that he is trying to be U Thantʼs successor.
[At this point, the Foreign Secretary made a note on a paper he had in his pocket: “ECOSOC—announce package deal and invite India to cooperate.”]2[Page 240]
Ambassador Hilaly said, referring to India, “You found them all hawks?”
Dr. Kissinger said that he was “really shocked by the hostility, bitterness and hawkishness of the Indians.” [Sultan Khan also made a note of that phrase. It was repeated two days later to Mr. Saunders in the Foreign Ministry, so the Foreign Secretary must have debriefed.] He said he felt that this issue needs to be defused in the next few months. He acknowledged that some of the Indian feeling may have been put on for his benefit.
The Foreign Secretary recalled that this was the sense of President Yahyaʼs last message3 to President Nixon—that India was building a momentum toward attack which perhaps it could not stop. Mr. Ahmad referred to Neville Maxwellʼs book on the 1962 war4 and commented how hysteria had developed and how each step produced a momentum for war.
The Foreign Secretary described efforts to hold a meeting between President Yahya and Mrs. Gandhi. The Shah had offered to provide neutral ground for an Indo-Pakistani meeting. Mrs. Gandhi had rejected it out of hand. The Shah was so angry that he has withdrawn the offer. Similarly, Podgorny and Kosygin had wanted to arrange a meeting in June of last year. It had been October before there was an Indian reply, and the reply was that a summit meeting was not appropriate at that time, that discussion should begin at the level of Secretary.
Ambassador Hilaly said, “The lady is unpredictable. She is maneuvering for a fight.”
Dr. Kissinger acknowledged that she may not be trying to settle the refugee question. However, time must be gained. The world must see that Pakistan is trying to settle the problem. The refugees today can be represented to the world by India as a cause of war. On the other hand, what kind of political arrangement Pakistan makes in East Pakistan cannot be presented as a justifiable cause of war.
The Foreign Secretary said that he did not feel that India would allow separation of these two issues.
Dr. Kissinger said he felt he was important to inject a civil presence into the refugee context.
Dr. Kissinger continued that he had talked to the US Mission in Islamabad.5 They feel that if Pakistan can make some effort to restore [Page 241] normal administration, it would be helpful. He said that the AID Mission felt that there were four elements that should be a part of a favorable economic development program to present to the consortium countries. When he asked Mr. Saunders what these points were, it was suggested that perhaps they could be taken up in detail with Mr. Ahmad at the specialized talk on economic affairs that was scheduled for the following day.
[These four points were: (1) the importance of a program for East Pakistan development with special emphasis in the strategy for labor intensive rural work; (2) a greater nation-wide effort at resource mobilization; (3) exchange reform; (4) restoration of emphasis on development in the Pakistani government budget rather than on military spending. These points were mentioned by Mr. Saunders to Mr. Ahmad in two conversations the next two days. Mr. Saunders hoped the Pakistani government could work with AID and achieve an understanding on a satisfactory development program.]
Dr. Kissinger continued that the US would do what it could to help if Pakistan could put forward a plausible development program. That would be helpful on the refugee front as well. One of the arguments the Indians are making is that a big food shortage can be expected in September which will drive a whole new batch of refugees into India.
At this point, the Foreign Secretary suggested that the conversation conclude so that Dr. Kissinger could go and talk with President Yahya.6
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–US. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held at the Presidentʼs Guest House in Rawalpindi. Kissinger arrived in Rawalpindi on July 8; he met with Sultan Khan and M.M. Ahmad in the afternoon and in the evening with President Yahya. Kissinger left Rawalpindi on July 11, stopped in Paris on July 12, and returned to the United States on July 13. Kissingerʼs visit to Pakistan provided the cover for a secret trip to China undertaken with the collaboration of Yahya Khan. Dennis Kux, the political counselor of the Embassy, writes that knowledge of Kissingerʼs primary objective in visiting Pakistan was limited to “practically only Ambassador Joseph Farland.” Kissingerʼs cover story for his flight on July 9 from Pakistan to Peking was that he was suffering from “Delhi belly” or dysentery and had accepted Yahyaʼs offer of a day of rest at the mountain resort of Nathiagali. (Dennis Kux, India and the United States: Estranged Democracies, Washington, D. C.: National Defense University Press, 1993, p. 321)↩
- All brackets in the source text.↩
- Reference is to Document 76.↩
- Neville Maxwell, Indiaʼs China War (New York: Anchor Books, 1971).↩
- A memorandum of Kissingerʼs conversation on July 8 with the staff of the Embassy in Islamabad and the Consulate General in Dacca is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL INDIA–US.↩
- Kissinger met privately with Yahya on July 8 and apparently did not prepare a full record of that meeting. Telegram 6990 from Islamabad, July 11, which summarized Kissingerʼs conversation with Ahmad and Sultan Khan, concludes by noting that Kissinger covered much the same ground in his first conversation with Yahya. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1327, NSC Unfiled Material, 1971, 5 of 12) Kissinger included a brief paragraph on his meeting with Yahya in the report he prepared on July 9 for the President (See Document 97). In his memoirs, Kissinger summarized his conversation with Yahya as follows: “I had several conversations with President Yahya and Foreign Secretary Sultan Khan. I urged them to put forward a comprehensive proposal to encourage refugees to return home and to deny India a pretext for going to war. I urged Yahya and his associates to go a step further in the internationalization of relief by admitting the United Nations to supervise its distribution. And I recommended the early appointment of a civilian governor for East Pakistan. Yahya promised to consider these suggestions. But fundamentally he was oblivious to his perils and unprepared to face necessities. He and his colleagues did not feel that India was planning war; if so, they were convinced that they would win. When I asked as tactfully as I could about the Indian advantage in numbers and equipment, Yahya and his colleagues answered with bravado about the historic superiority of Moslem fighters.” (White House Years, p. 861)↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩