146. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), British Foreign Secretary Douglas-Home, and the British Ambassador to the United States (Cromer)1 2
Douglas-Home: This India thing we have here is really very serious, indeed. The guerrilla warfare we have now is really operating in a very wide area of the countryside in East Pakistan, and it is [unclear] refugees out of East Pakistan, which is still not prepared for 4,000 a week, or even more than that. They’ll take [unclear] to run through there. In the last 3 weeks or so, 11 trips taking food and supplies to East Pakistan have helped a lot so far. And one of our shipping lines is now refusing to take any more stuff to East Pakistan and Chittagong. And, third, this is all going through that particular situation where I don’t know [unclear] however much the United Nations wants to rebuild communications to help all that. It’s not going to be possible with this guerrilla stuff going on.
Douglas-Home: We’ve done what we can, and then what you’ll do what you can to get Yahya Khan to move that quickly, on a visible front. And I just don’t know if he can make contact with the Bangladesh people in Bengal. And if he could, I think he will get more substantial people to cooperate than he is able to get now because the Indians have them, and the people he’s talking to in the civil administration now are people of no consequence. And they will all still be. Now this entire notion—but I suspect—
Kissinger: Speaking here in this room with the [unclear] for you [unclear]. We have been in touch with Bangladesh people in Calcutta. And we were trying to set up a meeting between the Bangladesh people and the West Pakistanis outside of India. And we had Yahya’s agreement to that. And the Indians have now totally thwarted it. They made it impossible for these people to deal with us; they’re forcing them to check everything with them, they are padding demands, which are totally incapable of fulfillment.
Nixon: We’ve really got a crisis. [unclear] They’re so—smug is the word, and—
Kissinger: It’s really hard to believe. Even I could get relief in there.
Douglas-Home: That’s very bad news.
Kissinger: They’ve cut, they’ve cut the supply lines into the food deficit areas you pointed out. We have offered them guarantees that the convoys or ships that go in there will not carry troops out, which is really a tremendous invasion of sovereignty, just to make sure there will be no additional refugees produced by another [unclear]. They refuse to cooperate with that.
Nixon: The Indians did insist there’s this, and, you know, they’re hypocrites and sanctimonious about this. Now there’s no question that Yahya has handled it really in a stupid way. I mean, and the only way you would expect in [with?] all the military backing. He’s a very decent man, but it’s just been handled badly. And in any case that the country is inevitable, as it’s inevitable this country will tear part, come apart. But the Indians, the Indians are playing—I’m afraid from all reports, they’re playing a game here that I think is wrong. I think they’re deliberately trying to make it insoluble. And if it becomes insoluble what happens? Well, what happens is you have India, which can’t even digest what they already have, probably—how the hell are they going to run that place? The other thing is that there is the danger, and there is the danger that a West Pakistani with a suicidal attitude will decide to have a fight.
Douglas-Home: Through Kashmir?
Kissinger: We’ve had an intelligence report today—I don’t know that [unclear]—Well, that they’re thinking of going into Kashmir because this situation, as the Foreign Secretary is pointing out, is getting unmanageable.
Nixon: What can we do? What can be done?
Kissinger: Well, we haven’t totally failed with the Indians because the Bangladesh people, as you correctly point out, are actually quite eager to talk.
Nixon: They are?
Kissinger: Yeah, but they—At first, they were willing to settle for autonomy, and as we all know autonomy would produce independence, there is no other way it can go.
Kissinger: Now the Indians have escalated their demand into total independence immediately. Well, that Yahya will never agree to. There has to be a face-saving formula and a transition period.
Douglas-Home: That’s right, and I think it will. I think two [unclear]with regard to everything. You’ve got to have it.
Kissinger: We told the Indians that if they could separate the political process and if they could give a little more time to that and to the relief process we think everyone could achieve this objective.
Douglas-Home: Mrs. Gandhi is coming to see US quite soon, and if you could—
Nixon: She’s seeing you?
Douglas-Home: She did stop by in London. She’s coming back.
Nixon: [unclear] and after that comes here, doesn’t she?
Kissinger: She’s coming in November [unclear]—
Douglas-Home: Well, if you could tell us, if you could, you know, keep US informed before she comes, we can all [unclear]—
Nixon: So that she doesn’t come in here and, frankly, pull our legs. I mean, let’s be sure we’re in contact on this thing. Can you tell US too?
Douglas-Home: And we’ll tell you [unclear]
Nixon: Now I raised this subject with Gromyko. And I was very tough with him. I said, “Now if there’s a war”—I said “We just can’t have a war. You can’t encourage the Indians because then Pakistan might—” He said, “Oh, we don’t want a war, and it’s what we’re, we have—” And he said they had told her that in Moscow. Right?
Kissinger: Yeah, but–
Nixon: I don’t know whether he was telling the truth or not.
Kissinger: But what the Indians are doing now is the, are equipping these guerrillas with really very advanced weapons and wanting them to [unclear–advance to this area?]
Douglas-Home: The only thing apparent in my mind as a part of this thing, is he is ranting about this thing. He can’t see any sense—
Nixon: You remember when he came in to see us. I told you that I didn’t like the way he handled himself.
Douglas-Home: [unclear] what can we do?
Kissinger: Well, I think that if we could shock the Indians we would—because our judgment is that Chinese almost certainly come in at the Indians—
Nixon: That’s the other thing.
Kissinger: And whether the Soviets then will forgo the opportunity to settle scores with the Chinese is ultimately—I think if the Indians could be shocked into being reasonable, if that’s possible the problem is soluble. But if they’re really concerned about East Bengal that problem is soluble. If they’re concerned with using East Bengal to disintegrate all of Pakistan, to say it never should have existed then that, I think, is in the back of this complicated Indian mind.
Douglas-Home: What I wanted to say, to maintain [unclear] above all things, is that they ought to be encouraging Yahya Khan in his political moves. [unclear]
Kissinger: That’s right.
Douglas-Home: Political realism.
Kissinger: And my judgment, I had a long talk with Yahya when I was on the way to China. And he’s really [unclear]. He’s not very bright, but he has tried.
Nixon: He’s a decent man, an honorable man.
Kissinger: He needs some face-saving formula to go to autonomy.
Douglas-Home: That’s right.
Kissinger: Given the difference in culture and in public leaning, autonomy must be the answer. There’s no other way it can go.
Nixon: Now let’s—this could be one, this could be a parable. This could be [unclear]. Wouldn’t that be something to have a [unclear] in that visible place? All that I can say is that I think the British got out too soon. Really, you know?
Nixon: I’ve been down that area, you know, the—I was there, I forget the last—but, and I know it’s inevitable. But when you think of India and Pakistan they just aren’t ready. They just aren’t ready, that’s all.
[Omitted here is concluding conversation unrelated to South Asia.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, Douglas-Home, and Cromer, Oval Office, Conversation 582–9. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation published here specifically for this volume.↩
- Nixon, Kissinger, and Douglas-Home shared their assessments of developments on the subcontinent and agreed to maintain close contacts in dealing with Prime Minister Gandhi concerning the crisis.↩