51. Telegram From the Embassy in Bangladesh to the Department of State1

1877. Subject: Attitudes Toward US Policy and Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Ref: State 88475.2

1. S–Entire text.

2. Summary. The initial BDG reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was one of genuine concern and strong opposition, an attitude reflected in its active role in the Security Council’s consideration of Afghanistan. Subsequently, concern over anticipated Soviet and Indian pressures appeared to cause a certain pulling back. High-level BDGGOI meetings seemed to ease these apprehensions, and the BDG’s posture gradually resumed its firmness; by late February, its stance was at least as firm as it has been at the time of the invasion. U.S. responses allayed to a considerable degree initial BDG skepticism that US actions would be adequate, although some doubts about US constancy and firmness linger. The BDG was generally supportive of our proposals to aid Pakistan, although we have recently heard echoes of the Pakistani view that the size of our proposed military package was such that it would have increased Pakistan’s vulnerability rather than enhancing its security.3 End summary.

3. The initial BDG reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was generally a strong one. While the government itself tended to be cautious in its public statement, preferring formulation which referred to foreign troops rather than explicitly condemning the Soviets, the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party, at a meeting presided over by President Ziaur Rahman, adopted a resolution explicitly condemning the presence of Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Privately, senior BDG officials made it clear that they regarded the Soviet intervention as far more than a defensive move; they saw it as an extension of Soviet power into the region, which has aims beyond Afghanistan and which could cause a sort of domino effect among nations of the region. Hence, the BDG saw the Soviet move as a matter of immediate concern to Bangladesh. In line with this view, the BDG played a leading and prominent role in calling for a Security Council meeting on Afghani [Page 132] stan and offered to help draft the Security Council resolution on Afghanistan.4

4. During the first half of January, we sensed a certain pulling back by the BDG, and President Zia even told the Ambassador later that the BDG had felt that it had gotten “too far out front” on the Afghan issue. It was reliably reported that the Soviets had spoken in strong terms to the Bangladeshis and threatened various types of retaliation; the BDG was also concerned about the Soviet potential for stirring up subversion in Bangladesh. In addition, the BDG was concerned by Mrs. Gandhi’s initial statements on Afghanistan5 and probably feared that too forward a policy on Afghanistan could jeopardize relations with India. Hence, at the time of the Uniting for Peace initiative,6 the BDG was less active, and Bangladeshi representatives were even reported to have told others at the UN that this time the initiative should be left to the Western nations (although the BDG eventually co-sponsored the UNGA resolution). At the same time, the BDG tried to downplay its role in calling for a special Foreign Ministers meeting of the Islamic Conference on Afghanistan.7

5. Following President Zia’s January 21–22 meetings with Mrs. Gandhi, the BDG’s apprehensions appeared to begin to wane. Evidently the BDG sensed that the Indians themselves were taken aback by the strength of world reaction against the Soviet intervention and were unlikely to put strong pressure on the BDG to moderate its policy. By late January the BDG seemed to be returning to a stronger policy. Although the BDG Foreign Minister apparently avoided mentioning the Soviets by name in his address to the January 26–28 Islamic Foreign Ministers Conference, the BDG appears to have played an active role there; it was not among those who lodged reservations to provisions of the resolution adopted by the conference, and Bangladesh was named in the final declaration of the conference as the country which had called for the meeting. The February 12–14 visit to Dacca of Indian External Affairs Secretary Gonsalves appeared to further ease BDG apprehension, and we understand that the Bangladeshis spoke quite [Page 133] bluntly to the Indians about the Soviet intervention during that visit. Shortly afterward, the BDG decided to cancel Bangladesh’s planned participation in the Moscow Olympics.

6. The foreign policy debate in Parliament in the last week of February also indicated that the BDG was following a firm and unambiguous line on Afghanistan. The Foreign Minister described Soviet intervention as a violation of the principles of non-interference and renunciation of force and argued that it therefore dictated a strong BDG response in international fora. The Prime Minister also strongly denounced the Soviet intervention. While there have been no subsequent occasions for Bangladesh to speak out publicly on Afghanistan, we believe there has been no change in BDG policy since then. Indeed, in his March meeting with DAS Coon, President Zia took a firm position on the Soviet intervention.8

7. The immediate BDG attitude toward the US in the wake of the Soviet intervention was skepticism that the US would act sufficiently firmly. However, most BDG officials were favorably impressed by the measures the US took, particularly the reaffirmation of the 1959 commitment to Pakistan,9 the cancellation of grain sales, and the Olympic boycott. These measures allayed BDG skepticism to a considerable degree, although it has been clear from private conversations that BDG officials still harbor some doubts about U.S. constancy and willingness to fight if necessary.

8. Initially at least, the BDG was also generally supportive of our proposals to aid Pakistan militarily and economically, despite some carping about our perhaps not having consulted the Indians adequately before plunging in. In conversations with BDG officials, it was clear that they regarded Pakistan’s defense needs as more sizeable than what we were prepared to provide, but they seemed to believe that our proposed assistance would be useful. Since Pakistan’s rejection of our aid package,10 however, we have heard some echoes of the GOP’s views from BDG officials. In a recent meeting with the Australian High Commissioner, the Foreign Minister reportedly took the line that the military package the U.S. had offered was so small that it would have made Pakistan more vulnerable rather than enhancing its security.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800190–0382, D800169–0652. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. Not found.
  3. See Document 423.
  4. The January 7 draft Security Council resolution was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The Security Council members in favor of the resolution called an emergency special session of the General Assembly, which adopted the resolution on January 14. See footnote 5, Document 413.
  5. See footnote 1, Document 166.
  6. “Uniting for Peace” is a procedural maneuver in the United Nations that is stipulated in section A of UN Resolution 377 A (V), whereby the General Assembly may recommend actions to respond to a threat to international peace and security in the event that the Security Council is unable to do so as a result of a split vote among its permanent members. This procedural maneuver made possible the January 14 resolution by the emergency special session of the General Assembly. (See footnote 4 above)
  7. See footnote 3, Document 422.
  8. Telegram 1367 from Dacca, March 10, reported Coon’s March 8 meeting with Zia. Coon briefed Zia on U.S. positions on the Afghan and Iranian crises. Zia remarked that “Bangladesh in the UN, in the Islamic Council, and in the NAM had done everything a small nation could do to indicate opposition to Soviet aggression.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800124–0746)
  9. See Document 406.
  10. See Document 423.