20. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Habib)1

Ambassador Masters’ Views on Present Situation in Bangladesh and Recommended U.S. Programs (Summary of Dacca 246)2


Masters has been favorably impressed by General Zia.3 While not charismatic, he is sensible, hard working, incorrupt and a dedicated patriot. His policies, statements and actions are right, but as with virtually everything in Bangladesh, follow-through at lower levels of the government falls short. The Army is Zia’s power base. While not totally cohesive, it is by far the strongest political force in the country. Zia clearly commands wide support in the army, but there are other contenders for power which would be strengthened if the economic progress of the past year were to falter.

We cannot be certain how long Zia will remain in office or how repressive his government might become. We should, given the fragility of political institutions and traditions, avoid a commitment to him or any other single individual. Thus far there has been no significant opposition to Zia’s tightening of authoritarian control. Most people are more interested in adequate food, jobs and price stability than in elections under present circumstances. Zia probably has several years to show what he can do. By then, and by one means or another, he will have to (a) legitimize his own regime or return to a government which, directly or indirectly, is accountable to the people or (b) become more repressive to retain power against what is likely to be rising opposition.

In foreign policy Zia is conservative, non-communist but pragmatic. He seeks good relations with everyone but leans ideologically [Page 74] toward the U.S. and U.K. Zia would like us to undertake responsibility for Bangladesh’s defense. Masters has stressed that efforts to draw us too closely into these matters would not only fail, but would endanger the broad base of support for economic assistance within the U.S. Government. He believes Zia now understands this and that this, in part, explains the recent spreading of his international options, as by his successful trip to China.


Bangladesh shows clear signs of economic life. The Government has expanded the scope for private enterprise, controlled smuggling, encouraged exports, checked rampant inflation, and—taking advantage of good weather—produced a record rice crop.

But the pace of economic development measured by industrial production (still ten percent below 1969/70) and project implementation is disappointing. Also, family planning requires more vigorous action if Bangladesh is to survive. Population is growing at about three percent annually while agricultural production is growing at only one percent.


Our Objectives: Masters suggests two USG objectives in Bangladesh: first, to do what we can to contribute to stability in South Asia (and Bangladesh is undoubtedly its most vulnerable area) and, second, to fulfill our humanitarian desire to help these “poorest of the poor.” Except for these objectives, we have no vital or even very important interests there.

Program Recommendations: For these reasons, the major U.S. role should continue to be in the field of economic aid. This and three other areas require urgent attention.

1. Military Equipment and Training: Masters recommends we not get into a grant MAP or concessional sales program. He recommends the U.S. initiate the same type of limited military sales and other programs in Bangladesh as in other nations of South Asia. This would require a Presidential Determination. This would allow the sale of limited noncombat items available as excess U.S. equipment at reduced prices. He recommends establishing a small Defense Attache office.

2. USIS Activities: Masters recommends immediate assignment of a third USIS officer, upgrading of USIS Bangladesh from resource allocation group eight to at least group seven, and doubling of the present cultural exchange program.

3. Office Building: He urges moving ahead rapidly with construction of a new chancery. The Foreign Service Inspectors said last year that the Dacca Embassy was one of the worst in the world. He asks that [Page 75] everything possible be done in FY 77 so that construction can actually start at the beginning of the next fiscal year.

4. PL 480 Negotiating Instructions: To better encourage a vigorous BDG food grain procurement program, Masters requests prompt transmittal of PL 480 negotiating instructions.

Current Status of Recommendations

1. Presidential Determination (PD): We have recently sought a PD for Bangladesh but encountered objections from L, H, and DOD/ISA, partly on the grounds that the new Administration should make the decision. As soon as possible we will again seek a Determination.

Excess Equipment: With a PD, Bangladesh would be eligible for purchase of excess U.S. equipment. The BDG turned down our offer of a minesweeper which we offered them as a hydrographic research ship. (They asked for it to use as a minesweeper but we and DOD do not favor this.) We are still looking for another ship for hydrographic purposes.

2. Third USIS Officer and Upgrading Resource Allocation Group: USIA’s Deputy Assistant Director for INA will discuss the recommendations with Masters in Dacca this February.

Increasing Cultural Exchange Program: CU’s current planning figure for the FY 78 Bangladesh cultural exchange program would almost double the current level.

3. New Dacca Chancery: NEA is working closely with FBO to ensure that all possible steps are taken prior to availability of construction funds in FY 78.

4. PL 480 Negotiating Instructions: We are attempting to get USDA to provide the Embassy with instructions. USDA has dragged its feet due to a desire to get more food in the package than Embassy Dacca wished.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770025–0305. Secret. Drafted by Douglas B. Archard (NEA/PAB) on January 18. An unknown hand initialed the memorandum for Atherton.
  2. Telegram 246 from Dacca, January 14, transmitted Masters’s extended report. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770014–1034)
  3. General Ziaur (Zia) Rahman. When Sayem took office in November 1975, Zia took over Sayem’s former position as Chief Martial Law Administrator.