39. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

[Page 1]


  • Talks Between Secretary Kissinger and Prime Minister Mujib of Bangladesh


  • Bangladesh:
    • Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman
    • Foreign Minister Kamal Hossain
    • Foreign Secretary Fakhruddin Ahmed
    • Ruhul Quddus, Principal Secretary to the Primin.
    • Dr. M. Abatis Sattar, Economic Sec. to Primin.
    • Abdul Bari, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • U.S.:
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Boster
    • Assistant Secretary Atherton
    • Robert Oakley, NSC
    • Ambassador Robert Anderson
    • Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Laingen

[The talks began following amenities during which American and Bengalee photographers were present.]

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I am grateful to you for finding the time to come here.

THE SECRETARY: You were kind enough to invite me.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I am glad you could see the love and affection of my people. It is sometimes very difficult to understand our position.

THE SECRETARY: Once I can associate the issues and personalities of a country by visiting the place, it tells me a great deal that will be helpful to me in the future. It is particularly so when I am received as warmly as I was here.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We can’t give you too much comfort in physical arrangements here.

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THE SECRETARY: You have been very helpful and the guest house is extremely comfortable and pleasant.

We reviewed with your Foreign Minister this afternoon a wide variety of problems. I would be happy to talk about whatever issues interest you most. We reviewed international events and I indicated in what areas we want to be helpful. The progress and development of Bangladesh are matters we have very much in mind.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: You know our stand on these things. Who doesn’t know you? As far as I am concerned, I can perhaps discuss subcontinental matters.

THE SECRETARY: That would be very interesting for me.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I don’t like to go into a great deal of background. If you review the history of our pre-independence period, however, you will find that East Pakistan earned as much as 75 percent of Pakistan’s foreign exchange. I was a member of the National Constituent Assembly in 1956. You know that background.

THE SECRETARY: What was the population then?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: In 1947 the population of this area was about 40 million.

Again, I don’t really like to go into the background of our troubles. But it should be remembered that it was the soil of Bangladesh that suffered in 1971 and not that of Pakistan. I showed Bhutto when he was here this summer some of the evidence of this. I showed him for example the order issued by General Farman Ali that “the green land of Bangladesh must be painted red”. That was an instruction to his forces. I have that and showed it to Bhutto.

We thought the Pakistanis would he generous. But I must be frank with you. Pakistan seeks only diplomatic relations with us. Nothing else. We did our part. We released all the POWs. But then when we want to discuss a division of assets they say nothing. We did not ask for a concrete assurance of assets but we ask that they give us some idea of what could be done.

But when Bhutto came, he didn’t agree to anything. He only spoke of diplomatic relations.

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I have got 75 million people who have nothing. I have nothing from the Pakistanis; they have the planes, the ships, the reserves.

THE SECRETARY: I talked to Aziz Ahmed following our last meeting in New York. He referred to your unwillingness to consider the problem of shared liabilities.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: But I have already assumed responsibility for the liabilities! We made an agreement on this with the creditors. But why can’t I get some assurance on assets?

And then there is the question of the Biharis. These people opted for Pakistan! Now they refuse to accept them. There are problems in doing this in Karachi, I know. But there should be no problem to absorb them in the Punjab. I have no land; only 75 million people. How long will it be before other countries do something to help us on this?

THE SECRETARY: Are they in camps now?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: That is almost the case. We have to give them rations. Those who have opted for Bangladesh can stay here. I have given them jobs.

THE SECRETARY: Are you proposing to permit the Biharis to stay if they want?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Yes, 400,000 of them. But another 300,000 opted for Pakistan. That is my point.

I have no hatred in my heart. I have no quarrel with anyone. I want peace with all countries. I cannot ask that other countries go on helping us indefinitely.

I have set up 5,303 food kitchens and we feed 100,000 people every day. Our problems are very difficult and the floods this year made things worse.

THE SECRETARY: This is obviously a very important reality that you are describing. We talked this afternoon about possibilities in the area of international flood control measures.

Did you want me to speak to Bhutto about some of these things?

[Page 4]

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: You are welcome to do so.

But one should not only talk; one should assist! They should know that people are dying here; they have land and can be helpful.

As for flood control, that is important. We have been suffering for a long time. For the big rivers we have the Joint River Commission with India.

THE SECRETARY: What causes the floods, the rivers or the sea?

FOREIGN MINISTER HOSSAIN: There are two aspects of the problem. This year it was the rivers. But in 1970, it was a tidal bore from the sea.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: If we could only control the rivers, it would be helpful through embankments and small projects. In five years, if we can mobilize our resources, we can cope with the food problem. Of course we need also to deal with population planning.

THE SECRETARY: Are you reclaiming land from the Bay of Bengal?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Yes, a total of 200 square miles in one area will be available next year.

THE SECRETARY: Will you settle people there for cultivation?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Yes, we must do it.

I thank you very much for the 150,000 tons of food grains and the 100,000 additional tons you are providing now.

THE SECRETARY: It is essential in the present situation.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We need one or two years more of food support. I need massive assistance to make my country self-sufficient. We need help in raw materials for our industries. We need better prices for our jute.

THE SECRETARY: You seem to get hit from all sides.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We have a fertilizer factory now being built with Japanese support. We have experts coming from Japan and the UK to assist in our fertilizer plants and especially to look into [Page 5] the plant which recently suffered an explosion. We don’t blame anyone for this. Certainly not the Japanese who are our good friends. The UK experts will also help us. Until they have done this the facts are difficult to come by as to this explosion.

We can be self-sufficient in area production. We are also getting some additional fertilizer factory help from India.

AMBASSADOR BOSTER: The U.S. is also helping in this area, with a $30 million loan for the Ashugan fertilizer factory.

THE SECRETARY: That is the real way to deal with the food production problem. We and others can help, but the real effort must be made by your country.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We are not sitting idle. We are producing food from our own land. We have a compulsory procurement effort underway to get reserves.

THE SECRETARY: Are you trying to build up your stocks?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We need to build a buffer for emergencies.

FOREIGN MINISTER HOSSAIN: It is essentially an anti-hoarding measure.

THE SECRETARY: I told the Foreign Minister earlier that I am giving a major speech next week at the World Food Conference in which I will describe our overall approach to the food problem. Thereafter we will try to better organize ourselves within our own government. What we need to do is not simply provide help in food but also, and perhaps more important, assist with technology and fertilizer so that other countries can grow more food. Ambassador Boster will be following up with you on this after my speech.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Unfortunately we are not getting any assistance or recognition from the Chinese.

THE SECRETARY: I have the impression, however, that this will come along.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We are waiting and ready for relations.

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THE SECRETARY: They may prefer to wait until Pakistan has established relations with you.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: That might be. They are a big power and it is up to them.

Unfortunately many of my people are dying every day. In part because Pakistan has taken everything from me.

We have no problem with good Pakistan-U.S. relations. You can be a friend with everyone. China too can do what it wishes.

THE SECRETARY: May I repeat your views to the Chinese regarding your desire for better relations?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Of course. I know Chou En-Lai. He came to Dacca at one time and I went there as the head of a delegation from Pakistan in 1957. I was there in 1952 also. He came here in 1956. That was a turning point in our relations with China at that time.

THE SECRETARY: That was an astonishing turn of events. I never thought at that time that Pakistan and China would become so close.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Chou En-Lai got a very good reception when he visited Pakistan the first time.

THE SECRETARY: I told your Foreign Minister earlier that I thought the Chinese could establish a very good relationship here. President Ford very much appreciated meeting you in Washington. You bamboozled him!

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I liked him very much. He was very frank.

THE SECRETARY: He gave instructions thereafter to us to see what we could do further to help on food for Bangladesh.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Please give him my warm regards. He would be welcome to come to Bangladesh. He can come here when he goes to India.

THE SECRETARY: Yes. When he comes to India he could come here too. However, we don’t think we need the permission of India in any way in our dealings with Bangladesh.

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PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: That is right. When you deal with Bangladesh you are dealing with us and not with someone else.

I’d like you to see the food camps we have set up. My people are dying from hunger. The cattle are dying. I have to feed my people and I must give them jobs. This comes on top of our rehabilitation effort. We face very serious problems.

THE SECRETARY: Our problem is that we no longer have food surpluses. Five years ago we did and were in a position to make long-term projections. Now we need to wait until each year’s crop is in before we attempt any projections.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I know you have great difficulty in this respect.

THE SECRETARY: But Bangladesh has very high priority with us.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Pakistan gives us no help. They are not prepared to give us any ships or to share their reserves. None the less, we have tried to make do on our own.

THE SECRETARY: Obviously you have made progress in improving your position.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We have done something in three years. We have restored communications, repaired roads, restored bridges and resumed cultivation. We’ve done something!

THE SECRETARY: I know. And world inflation trends make things very difficult for you.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Will you have some tea? Bananas?

THE SECRETARY: I am trying to reduce.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: The Pakistanis also destroyed my banana trees.

THE SECRETARY: Has your climate changed in any way?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I don’t know but we faced serious problems in the flood this summer. Seventeen districts were underwater. I have very fertile land and can produce wheat and rice and we are already self-sufficient in sugar this year.

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THE SECRETARY: We have problems in our own Congress on aid matters. We have Congressional elections next Tuesday. Of course, we don’t predict that the Administration will win a majority of the kind you did in 1970!

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Don’t get that many seats! You see what happened when I did. The Pakistanis came and destroyed my country and they arrested me. My five-year old understood it perfectly; she said to me later, “Don’t ever stand for elections again!” My country suffered a tidal bore, civil war, cyclones, and full-scale war. That’s what I get for my election results!

THE SECRETARY: I assume that does not mean you intend to avoid elections for a while!

My own desire and that of President Ford is that we should do the maximum to help Bangladesh. On food, we can certainly do some more in the second half of fiscal 75.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Please don’t forget other things like flood control so that we can grow more food.

Population growth is difficult for us.

THE SECRETARY: That is happening everywhere.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Yes, but your people are educated. We have no variety of life. We have developed an overall health plan and this will help. I expect to go to Egypt on the fifth of this month, for four days.

THE SECRETARY: I may be there about the same time. I’m trying to find out what went on at Rabat.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: You are doing your best.

THE SECRETARY: I like Sadat. Do you?


THE SECRETARY: Do you like Assad?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Yes, I like him too. He is a dramatic person.

[Page 9]

THE SECRETARY: It’s not that Bangladesh’s leaders are without color!

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: We have had a long struggle and gone through catastrophic times. Twice the Pakistanis tried to kill me but I came out alive. Your government helped.

THE SECRETARY: We did apply pressure although we didn’t know exactly where they were keeping you. We made many representations.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: If I had been killed, the 93,000 Pakistani soldiers in Bangladesh at that time would have been in serious trouble immediately. But I have forgotten all of this. I want peace in the subcontinent. Just as you acted after your war in Germany. We want Pakistan to cooperate.

THE SECRETARY: So the major issues are the assets and repatriation questions?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Nothing else. It’s up to Pakistan. I have nothing in hand. Bhutto knows what the Pakistanis did to us. I showed him evidence that General Farman Ali tried to “paint the green of Bangladesh red”, a quotation which we found as an order by Farman Ali to his forces.

THE SECRETARY: What did Bhutto say?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: He was astonished and showed it to all his friends sitting here in this room.

THE SECRETARY: Aziz Ahmed told me in New York he wanted you to assume responsibility for liabilities, too; not only to consider the assets issue.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: But I have done that, for all visible projects in Bangladesh. Everything else is in Pakistan.

THE SECRETARY: Was it a deliberate Pakistani policy to keep the east wing backward?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Yes. We were colonized for 25 years! That was on top of 200 years in the British period.

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THE SECRETARY: When did you decide you wanted independence? Not at first, I think. You could have been Prime Minister of Pakistan!

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Of course. Ayub offered this to me at the time of his Round Table Conference. I was for a long time a leading political figure in Pakistan.

THE SECRETARY: Can Pakistan overcome its current political problems?

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: Force won’t do. The army is from the Punjab. They can’t keep the Baluchis down. But Bhutto is a politician and he will try to deal with it in that way. I hope he will do it.

I have agreed to the release of all the POWs because I wanted to help Bhutto. I have done it intentionally. If I had not done this the military would again have come to power in Pakistan.

THE SECRETARY: That was farsighted of you.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: A leader should lead his people and not let the people lead him.

With help I have resources in my country to build a strong economy. I have gas, limestone deposits, and we are working to control the floods. We have signed contracts with American companies to search for oil in the Bay of Bengal.

THE SECRETARY: If you find oil, you can join OPEC!

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I have natural gas to sell now. We can use this to make fertilizer and develop other resources. It is not that we do not have resources. We have them. We could produce three times the food we do now.

THE SECRETARY: But population control is obviously also very important.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: I have to educate my people for this. We are still recovering from the wounds of the war.

Let me repeat how glad I am that you have come to Bangladesh. When the President comes we hope you will come with him. We will make a treat for him; we can show him Bengal tigers!

I have always wanted friendship with the U.S. I said that as soon as I came out of prison in Pakistan.

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THE SECRETARY: You have shown great generosity of spirit.

PRIME MINISTER MUJIB: That reflects our overall policy of friendship to all and malice toward none.

[The Secretary and the Prime Minister at this point went to a separate room and met briefly with the press. The Secretary’s comments at this time are on public [Page 12] record.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Entry 5407, Box 5, Nodis Memoranda of Conversation, November 1974. Confidential. It was drafted by Laingen. The meeting took place in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
  2. Secretary of State Kissinger and Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman discussed the economic and political state of Bangladesh and its relations with Pakistan.