1971 War: The role, and tilt, of the USA

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The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79

Sajit Gandhi (editor)

December 16, 2002

Handwritten note from President Richard M. Nixon on an April 28, 1971, National Security Council decision paper: "To all hands. Don't squeeze Yahya at this time - RMN"

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On December 16, 2002, the 31st anniversary of the creation of Bangladesh, the National Security Archive published on the World Wide Web 46 declassified U.S. government Documents and audio clips concerned with United States policy towards India and Pakistan during the South Asian Crisis of 1971.

The Documents, declassified and available at the U.S. National Archives and the Presidential Library system detail how United States policy, directed by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, followed a course that became infamously known as "The Tilt."


The Documents published today show: • The brutal details of the genocide conducted in East Pakistan in March and April of 1971

• One of the first "dissent cables" questioning U.S. policy and morality at a time when, as the Consulate General in Dhaka Archer Blood writes, "unfortunately, the overworked term genocide is applicable."

• The role that Nixon's friendship with Yahya Khan and the China iniative played in U.S. policymaking leading to the tilt towards Pakistan

• George Bush Senior's view of Henry Kissinger

• Illegal American military assistance approved by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to Pakistan following a formal aid cutoff by the United States

• Henry Kissinger's duplicity to the press and towards the Indians vis-à-vis the Chinese


Pakistan's December 1970 elections, the first free democratic elections for the National Assembly in Pakistan's history, saw Sheikh Mujibur (Mujib) Rahman's East Pakistan-based Awami League party (AL) win 167 out of 169 seats contested in Pakistan's Eastern flank, giving the AL a majority and control of the 313-seat National Assembly. This was the first time that political power in Pakistan would be concentrated in its Eastern half.(1) West Pakistan's loss of political power over East Pakistan was devastating. Threatened by this development, on March 1, 1971, with the Assembly set to open in two days, the military dictator General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan (Yahya), postponed the opening indefinitely. Outraged by the West's disregard for their political rights, the ethnically Bengali East Pakistanis took to the streets demanding that Yahya and West Pakistan respect the election results.

On March 25, 1971, West Pakistani forces, commanded by General Yahya and the Martial Law Administrator, Lt. General Tikka Khan began a self-destructive course of repressive actions against their fellow Pakistanis in the East. The Martial Law Administrators did not discriminate, targeting anyone from Awami Leaguers to students. Large numbers of Bengalis -- Muslims and Hindus, businessmen and academics -- were killed during this period of martial law. The final tally of the dead, as reported by Mujib was approximately three million.(2)

As a result of the violence and instability caused in East Pakistan by the genocide, an estimated ten million Bengalis had fled across the border to India by May 1971.(3) The refugees were problematic for two main reasons: first, they created a strain on the Indian economy, an economy just coming to terms with development. Secondly, a group of refugees known as the Mukti Bahini, referred to by the Indians as "Bengali Freedom Fighters" were using India as a base from which to launch guerrilla attacks in efforts to fight against West Pakistani oppression.

The refugees became too much for India to handle. Eventually tensions between India and Pakistan grew uncontrollable, and among other things, the lack of a political solution in East Pakistan and Indian support for the guerrilla fighters led to war between the two neighbors. The end result of the conflict was the splitting of Pakistan into two separate states: Pakistan in its present form and an independent Bangladesh.

The U.S. Tilt Towards Pakistan

Discussing the martial law situation in East Pakistan during March of 1971, President Richard Nixon, in his February 9, 1972 State of the World report to Congrss indicated that the "United States did not support or condone this military action." Nevertheless, the U.S. did nothing to help curtail the genocide and never made any public statements in opposition to the West Pakistani repression.(4)

Instead, by using what Nixon and Kissinger called quiet diplomacy, the Administration gave a green light of sorts to the Pakistanis. In one instance, Nixon declared to a Pakistani delegation that, "Yahya is a good friend." Rather than express concern over the ongoing brutal military repression, Nixon explained that he "understands the anguish of the decisions which [Yahya] had to make." As a result of Yahya's importance to the China initiative and his friendship with Nixon and Kissinger, Nixon declares that the U.S. "would not do anything to complicate the situation for President Yahya or to embarrass him. (Document 9)." Much like the present situation post 9/11, Washington was hesitant to criticize Pakistan publicly out of fear that such a tactic might weaken the dictator's support for American interests

As the conflict in the Sub-continent began to grow, so did criticism of American policy leanings toward Pakistan. The administration denied that any specific anti-India policy was being followed. Declassified Documents show that in addition to tilting towards Pakistan in its public statements, the U.S. also followed a pro-Pakistan line in the UN, in discussions with China, and on the battlefield as well.

Not only did the United States publicly pronounce India as the aggressor in the war, but the U.S. sent the nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Enterprise, to the Bay of Bengal, and authorized the transfer of U.S. military supplies to Pakistan, despite the apparent illegality of doing so.(5) American Military assistance was formally cutoff to both India and Pakistan. A combination of Nixon's emotional attachment to General Yahya and his dislike for Indira Gandhi, West Pakistan's integral involvement with the China initiative and Kissinger's predilection for power politics greatly influenced American policy decision-making during this conflict.

New Documentation

The fact that the conflict occurred over 30 years ago makes it possible now to look at United States actions and policy through Documents released at the National Archives under the U.S. government's historical declassification program. The record is far from complete: numerous materials remain classified both by the State Department, CIA and other agencies as well as the Nixon Presidential Materials Project. Nevertheless, the available Documents offer many useful insights into how and why Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made important decisions during the 1971 South Asian Crisis.

Highlights from this briefing book include:

• Cable traffic from the United States Consulate in Dacca revealing the brutal details of the genocide conducted in East Pakistan by the West Pakistani Martial Law Administration. In the infamous Blood telegram (Document 8), the Consulate in Dacca condemns the United States for failing "to denounce the suppression of democracy," for failing "to denounce atrocities," and for "bending over backwards to placate the West Pak[istan] dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them." [Documents 1-8, 10-11, 26](6)

• Details of the role that the China initiative and Nixon's friendship with Yahya (and dislike of Indira Gandhi) played in U.S. policymaking, leading to the tilting of U.S. policy towards Pakistan. This includes a Memorandum of Conversation (Document 13) in which Kissinger indicates to Ambassador Keating, "the President has a special feeling for President Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life." [Documents 9, 13, 17-21, 24-25]

• Greater insight into the role played by the United States in South Asia. While the United States tried to ease the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan, it did not strongly endorse to Yahya the need for a political solution, which would have allowed the peaceful and safe return of refugees. While some historians believe the roots of the 1971 war were sown following the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the declassified Documents show that the 1971 war had its own specific causes: a tremendous refugee flow (approximately 10 million people), Indian support to the Mukti Bahini, and continued military repression in East Pakistan. All these causes were exacerbated by the lack of public White House criticism for the root cause of the South Asian crisis, the abrogation of the December 1970 election results, and the refugee crisis that ensued following genocide. [Documents 12, 16, 22, 27, 46]

• Henry Kissinger's duplicity to the press and toward the Indians vis-à-vis the Chinese. In July of 1971, while Kissinger was in India, he told Indian officials that "under any conceivable circumstance the U.S. would back India against any Chinese pressures." In that same July meeting Kissinger said, "In any dialogue with China, we would of course not encourage her against India." However, near the end of the India-Pakistan war, in a highly secret 12/10/1971 meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to the UN Huang Ha, Kissinger did exactly this encouraging the PRC to engage in the equivalent of military action against the Indians. [Documents 14-15, 30-32]

• Details of U.S. support for military assistance to Pakistan from China, the Middle East, and even from the United States itself. Henry Kissinger's otherwise thorough account of the India-Pakistan crisis of 1971 in his memoir White House Years, omits the role the United States played in Pakistan's procurement of American fighter planes, perhaps because of the apparent illegality of shipping American military supplies to either India or Pakistan after the announced cutoff.(7) Of particular importance in this selection of Documents is a series of transcripts of telephone conversations from December 4 and 16, 1971(Document 28) in which Kissinger and Nixon discuss, among other things, third-party transfers of fighter planes to Pakistan. Also of note is a cable from the Embassy in Iran dated December 29, 1971 (Document 44) which suggests that F-5 fighter aircraft, originally slated for Libya but which were being held in California, were flown to Pakistan via Iran. [23, 26, 28, 29, 33-45] ________________________________________


Note: In the original the following Documents were in PDF format.

You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1

U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Selective Genocide, March 28, 1971, Confidential, 2 pp. Source: Record Group 59, Subject Numeric File 1970-73, Pol and Def, Box 2530 Consul General Archer Blood reports of "a reign of terror by the Pak Military" in East Pakistan. Blood indicated that evidence is surfacing suggesting that Awami League supporters and Hindus are being systematically targeted by the Martial Law Administrators.

Document 2

Memorandum for Dr. Kissinger, Situation in Pakistan, March 28, 1971, Secret, 2 pp. Source: NPMP, National Security Council Files, Country Files, Middle East, Box 625 NSC official Sam Hoskinson tells Kissinger that events in East Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse. More significantly, this memorandum acknowledges both American recognition of the "reign of terror" conducted by West Pakistan, and the need to address the new policy issues that have been created as a result of the terror.

Document 3

U.S. Embassy (New Delhi) Cable, Selective Genocide, March 29, 1971, Confidential, 1 pp.

Source: Record Group 59, Subject Numeric File 1970-73, Pol and Def, Box 2530 Ambassador Keating expresses his dismay and concern at repression unleashed by the Martial Law Administrators with the use of American military equipment. He calls for the U.S. to "promptly, publicly, and prominently deplore" the brutality. Washington however, never publicly spoke out against West Pakistan.

Document 4

U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Killings at University, March 30, 1971, Confidential, 3 pp Source: Record Group 59, Subject Numeric File 1970-73, Pol and Def, Box 2530 Blood reports an American's observation of the atrocities committed at Dacca University. The observer indicates that students had been "shot down in rooms or mowed down when they came out of building in groups." In one instance, the MLA set a girls dormitory on fire and then the girls were "machine-gunned as they fled the building."

Document 5

U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Extent of Casualties in Dacca, March 31, 1971, Confidential, 2 pp.

Source: Record Group 59, Subject Numeric File 1970-73, Pol and Def, Box 2530 Blood reports that an estimated 4-6,000 people have "lost their lives as a result of military action" since martial law began on March 25. He also indicates that the West Pakistani objective "to hit hard and terrorize the population" has been fairly successful.

Document 6

U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Sitrep: Army Terror Campaign Continues in Dacca; Evidence Military Faces Some Difficulties Elsewhere, March 31, 1971, Confidential, 3 pp.

Source: Record Group 59, Subject Numeric File 1970-73, Pol and Def, Box 2530 Blood indicates that Martial Law Administrators are now focusing on predominantly Hindu areas. "Congen officer heard steady firing of approximately 1 shot per ten seconds for 30 minutes." Cable also reports that naked female bodies found "with bits of rope hanging from ceiling fans," after apparently being "raped, shot, and hung by heels" from the fans.

Document 7

U.S. Department of State Cable, USG Expression of Concern on East Pakistan; April 6, 1971, Confidential, 8 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578.

During a conversation with Assistant Secretary Sisco, Pakistani Ambassador Agha Hilaly asks that "due allowance be made for behavior of Pak officials and others during what had amounted to civil war for a few days," because the "army had to kill people in order to keep country together." Expressing concern over the situation and bloodshed as well as use of U.S. arms in repression, Sisco observed that the US is "keenly sensitive to problems and feelings on developments [in East Pakistan]."

Document 8

U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Dissent from U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan, April 6, 1971, Confidential, 5 pp. Includes Signatures from the Department of State. Source: RG 59, SN 70-73 Pol and Def. From: Pol Pak-U.S. To: Pol 17-1 Pak-U.S. Box 2535

In one of the first "Dissent Cables," Blood transmits a message denouncing American policy towards the South Asia crisis. The transmission suggests that the United States is "bending over backwards to placate the West Pak [sic] dominated government and to lessen likely and deservedly negative international public relations impact against them." The cable goes on to question U.S. morality at a time when "unfortunately, the overworked term genocide is applicable."

Document 9

Memorandum for the President, Policy Options Toward Pakistan, April 28, 1971, Secret, 6 pp. Includes Nixon's handwritten Nixon note

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Country Files: Middle East, Box 625

Kissinger presents Nixon with U.S. policy options directed towards the crisis in East Pakistan. Nixon and Kissinger both feel the third is the best as it, as Kissinger writes, "would have the advantage of making the most of the relationship with Yahya, while engaging in a serious effort to move the situation toward conditions less damaging to US and Pakistani interests." At the end of the last page Nixon writes, "To all hands: Don't squeeze Yahya at this time."

Document 10

Memorandum of Conversation (Memcon) M.M. Ahmad, Agha Hilaly, Henry Kissinger and Harold H. Saunders May 10, 1971, (3:05 - 3:30 p.m.), Secret /NODIS, 4 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578.

U.S. and Pakistani officials discuss the potential for a political solution in East Pakistan. Kissinger indicates Nixon's "high regard" and "personal affection" for Yahya and that "the last thing one does in this situation is to take advantage of a friend in need." He also offers American assistance so as to not compound "the anguish" that Pakistan "is already suffering," as a result of the repression in East Pakistan.

Document 11

Memcon The President, M.M. Ahmad, Agha Hilaly, and Harold H. Saunders, May 10, 1971, (4:45 - 5:20 p.m.), Secret /NODIS, 4 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578.

Nixon and Pakistani officials discuss a potential political solution in East Pakistan. Nixon expresses sympathy for Pakistan by indicating that "Yahya is a good friend," and seemingly in response to the genocide like repression in the East, says he "could understand the anguish of the decisions which [Yahya] had to make." Nixon also declares that the U.S. "would not do anything to complicate the situation for President Yahya or to embarrass him."

Document 12

Department of State, Memorandum for the President, Possible India-Pakistan War, May 26, 1971, Secret, 4 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 575.

As early as May 1971 the State Department became aware that a war was possible between India and Pakistan. This memorandum denotes three causes that may lead to an India-Pakistan war: (1)continued military repression in the East, (2) the refugee flow into India, and (3) Indian cross-border support to Bengali guerillas (the Mukti Bahini).

Document 13

Memcon Kenneth Keating, Henry Kissinger, and Harold Saunders June 3, 1971, (4:00 P.M.). Attached to Cover Sheet Dated June 21, 1971, Secret /NODIS, 6 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files Country Files: Middle East, Box 596.

Kissinger, Keating, and Saunders discuss the situation in Pakistan and American military assistance. Kissinger indicates that Nixon wants to give Yahya a few months to fix the situation, but that East Pakistan will eventually become independent. Kissinger points out that "the President has a special feeling for President Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life."

Document 14

Memorandum for RADM Daniel J. Murphy, Dr. Kissinger's Reports of Conversations in New Delhi, July 7, 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only, 4 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Haig Chron, Box 983.

Relaying his impressions of his visit to India, Kissinger describes the strong feelings about the heavy burden placed upon India by the refugees from East Pakistan. In his meetings with Indian officials, Kissinger discussed the East Pakistan situation, military assistance to Pakistan, and China. He assures the Indians that the U.S. "would take the gravest view of any unprovoked aggression against India."

Document 15

Memcon, Dr. Sarabhai, Dr. Haksar, Dr. Kissinger, Mr. Winston Lord, July 7, 1971, (1:10 - 2:50 p.m.), Secret/Sensitive, 4pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Pres/HAK Memcons, Box 1025

Just days before Kissinger's secret trip to China, Indian and U.S. officials discuss numerous issues, including the Soviet Union, the situation in East Pakistan, arms transfers to Pakistan, and China. During the conversation, Kissinger assures the Indians that "under any conceivable circumstance the U.S. would back India against any Chinese pressures." He also states that "In any dialogue with China, we would of course not encourage her against India."

Document 16

Department of State, Cable, Indo-Pakistan Situation, July 15, 1971, Secret, 7 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578.

Indian Ambassador to the United States L.K. Jha and Acting Secretary John Irwin discuss the East Pakistan situation, a possible political solution, American military assistance to Pakistan, and the role of the UN in refugee camps.

Document 17

Memorandum for Dr, Kissinger, Military Assistance to Pakistan and the Trip to Peking, July 19, 1971, Secret, 2 pp. Includes handwritten Kissinger note on bottom of second page.

Source: NPMP NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 574

Saunders discusses U.S. Aid to South Asia, specifically noting the connections between U.S. military assistance to Pakistan and Pakistan's role in the China initiative. Kissinger writes, "But it is of course clear that we have some special relationship to Pakistan."

Document 18

Memorandum for the Presidents File, President's Meeting with Ambassador Joseph Farland, July 28, 1971, Secret, 5 pp. Attached to Cover Memoranda

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Country Files: Middle East, Box 626 Nixon expresses his concern over the South Asian conflict to Ambassador Farland, "not only for its intrinsic tragedy and danger, but also because it could disrupt our steady course in our policy toward China."

Document 19

NSC Paper, South Asia: Cutting of Military and Economic Assistance, July 30, 1971, Secret, 5 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 570.

The NSC staff discusses Congrssional reaction to the conflict in East Pakistan and American military assistance. The Administration has chosen quiet diplomacy as means to motivate Yahya to avert famine and create conditions in which the refugees may return from India. "We have not openly condemned Yahya. He appreciates this."

Document 20

Handwritten Letter from President Nixon to President Yahya, August 7, 1971, 4 pp. Attached to cover page.

Source: RG 59 PPC S/P, Directors Files (Winston Lord), Box 330.

Nixon writes to personally thank Yahya for his assistance in arranging contacts between the U.S. and China. At a time when West Pakistani troops were engaging in a repression of East Pakistan, Nixon told Yahya that "Those who want a more peaceful world in the generation to come will forever be in your debt."

Document 21

Memorandum for the Record: The President, Henry Kissinger, John Irwin, Thomas Moorer, Robert Cushman, Maurice Williams, Joseph Sisco, Armistead Seldon, and Harold Saunders, August 11, 1971, Secret, 7 pp.

Source: NPMP NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578

The NSC Senior Review Group discusses the situation in East Pakistan and increasing tensions between India and Pakistan. The President indicates that "the big story is Pakistan," and he expresses his concern from the standpoint of human suffering. While Nixon suggests that some Indian and Pakistani interest might be served by war, it is not in American interests as "the new China relationship would be imperiled, probably beyond repair." While stating that the Indians are more "devious" than the "sometimes extremely stupid" Pakistanis, the U.S. "must not-cannot-allow" India to use the refugees as a pretext for breaking up Pakistan. Despite the conditions in the East, which Ambassador Blood described as "selective genocide," Nixon states that "We will not measure our relationship with the government in terms of what it has done in East Pakistan. By that criterion, we would cut off relations with every Communist government in the world because of the slaughter that has taken place in the Communist countries."

Document 22

Department of State, Cable, Letter from Prime Minister Gandhi, August 14, 1971, Secret, 4 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578.

Indira Gandhi, in a letter to President Nixon, notes that the refugee flow has not slowed, and has reached approximately seven million. She questions U.S. efforts to work towards a political solution in East Pakistan as well as American arms transfers to Pakistan.

Document 23

Memorandum for the President, My August 16 Meeting with the Chinese Ambassador in Paris, August 16, 1971, Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only, 16 pp. Includes Memorandum of Conversation between Huang Chen, Tsao Kuei Sheng, Wei Tung, Henry Kissinger, Vernon Walters, and Winston Lord Dated August 19, 1971.

Source: RG 59, PPC S/P, Directors Files (Winston Lord), Box 330.

Kissinger in a memorandum to Nixon describes his talks with the Chinese Ambassador in Paris. Kissinger explains to the Chinese that the U.S. is prevented from giving any military assistance to Pakistan because of Congrss, but supports Chinese assistance by stating that the U.S. would "understand it if other friends of Pakistan will give them the equipment they need." He also declares that the U.S. "will do nothing to embarrass the government of Pakistan by any public statements."

Document 24

Memorandum for the President, Implications of the Situation in South Asia, August 18, 1971, Secret, 4 pp.

Source: NPMP NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 570

Kissinger discusses the developments in South Asia including Yahya's stand to not grant independence in the East, the serious insurgency movement underway in East Pakistan, and the continued flow of refugees into India. He suggests that American strategy give Yahya a face-saving way of taking the political steps necessary to re-establish normal conditions. While Kissinger wrote in his memoirs, "We had no national interest to prevent self-determination for East Pakistan," the Documents show he believed otherwise. In this record, at a time when rapprochement with China was in the national interest, Kissinger suggests that "a U.S. effort to split off part of Pakistan in the name of self-determination would have implications for Taiwan and Tibet in Peking's eyes."

Document 25

U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, Arrests of East Pakistan Intellectuals, September 17, 1971, Confidential, 3 pp.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 576.

Indicates that repression of intellectuals in the East continues, but on a reduced scale. Ambassador Farland advises that the best policy is to continue the current practice of "persistent but quiet pressure on GOP toward better treatment of East Pakistanis in all categories."

Document 26

Memorandum for General Haig, Pakistan/India Contingency Planning, Secret/Eyes Only, November 15, 1971, 3 pp. Includes JCS Cable.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 570

The U.S. disguising the movement of the nuclear aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal for evacuation purposes, gladly lets the ship movement represent possible American involvement in the conflict, especially if it expanded to a superpower confrontation. Admiral Welander from the NSC Staff indicates that the JCS has approved, for planning purposes only, the CINCPAC concept to ready a USS attack carrier to dissuade "third party" involvement in the South Asia crisis.

Document 27

United States Embassy (Islamabad) Cable, Pakistan Crisis, November 18, 1971, Secret, 9 pp. Attached to Presidents Saturday Briefing and includes United Stated Embassy (New Delhi) Cables Dated November 15 and 16, 1971.

Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NPMP), National Security Council Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 570

Keating suggests that Gandhi is trying to "cool" the political climate in India while continuing to exert pressure on Pakistan. The Presidents Briefing indicates however, that India is stepping up its support for the guerillas fighting in East Pakistan, action that could "goat" the Pakistanis into a full scale war.

Document 28

White House, Telephone Conversations (Telcon), Dated December 4 and December 16, 1971, 11 pp. Includes Cover Sheet Dated January 19, 1972

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Country Files: Middle East, Box 643. These telcons show Nixon and Kissinger's knowledge of third party transfers of military supplies to Pakistan. Haig summarizes the Telcons to Kissinger by writing that the telcons, "confirm the President's knowledge of, approval for and, if you will, directive to provide aircraft to Iran and Jordan," in exchange for providing aircraft to Pakistan. The telcons also show that Kissinger and Nixon, following the advice of Barbara Walters, decide to put out a White House version of the facts involved with the South Asian crisis through John Scali. Nixon express his desire to, "get some PR out on the- - put the blame on India. It will also take some blame off us."

Document 29

National Security Council Memorandum for Henry Kissinger, Jordanian Transfer of F-104's to Pakistan, Secret, December 7, 1971, 7 pp. Includes State Department Cable to Jordan, State Department Memo to Kissinger, and United States Embassy (Amman) cable. First page has handwritten Kissinger note in which he, in reference to the title and secrecy of the issue, suggests "that title should have been omitted."

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 575 Saunders discusses Yahya's request for military equipment from the U.S. and other sources, specifically Jordan. He also observes that "by law," the U.S. "cannot authorize" any military transfers unless the administration was willing "to change our own policy and provide the equipment directly." This would rule out any transfer of American military equipment for Pakistan, supplied by the U.S., or any third party.

Document 30

Background Briefing with Henry Kissinger, December 7, 1971, 14 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 572 As a result of American media criticism towards the U.S. position on the India-Pakistan conflict, Kissinger in an attempt to straighten the record conducts a "background" press briefing. Kissinger presents the U.S. position using many questionable facts.

Document 31

United States Embassy (New Delhi) Cable, U.S. Public Position on Road to War, Secret, December 8, 1971, 3 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 572.

Responding to a news story based on Kissinger's background briefing, Keating argues that many of Kissinger's statements can not be supported. Specifically, Keating questions Kissinger's reference to Indian requests for a relief program, the Pakistani offer of amnesty to Awami Leaguers, and his claim that Washington has favored autonomy for East Pakistan.

Document 32

Event Summary by George H.W. Bush, December 10, 1971, 7 pp.

Source: George Bush Presidential Library. George H.W. Bush Collection. Series: United Nations File, 1971-1972, Box 4.

UN Ambassador Bush describes the December 10 meeting between Kissinger and the Chinese delegation to the United Nations. While discussing the India-Pakistan crisis, Kissinger reveals that the American position on the issue was parallel to that of the Chinese. Kissinger disclosed that the U.S. would be moving some ships into the area, and also that military aid was being sent from Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. Some of this aid was illegally transferred because it was American in origin. Bush also reports that Kissinger gives his tacit approval for China to provide militarily support for Pakistani operations against India. Bush expresses his personal doubts in the administration's "Two State Departments thing," and takes issue with Kissinger's style, in one instance calling him paranoid and arrogant.

Document 33

NSC List, Courses of Actions Associated with India/Pakistan Crisis, Top Secret/Sensistive, December 8, 1971, 2 pp.

Source: NPMP, Country Files: Middle East, Box 643.

Possible American courses of action with regards to the India/Pakistan crisis included notification to China that the U.S. would "look with favor on steps taken" by Beijing to "demonstrate its determination to intervene by force if necessary to preserve the territorial integrity of West Pakistan to include subtle assurance the Government of the United States will not stand by should the Soviet Union launch attacks against the PRC."

Document 34

Department of State Cable, Pakistan Request for F-104's, Secret, December 9, 1971, 2 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 573.

The transfer of F-104 planes to Pakistan from both Jordan and Iran is under review at "very high level of USG."

Document 35

Defense Intelligence Agency Intelligence Appraisal, Communist China's Capability to Support Pakistan, Secret, December 9, 1971, 3 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 572.

The DIA assesses the limits and possibility of Chinese support to the Pakistanis. It opines that while Chinese support will be limited to political, diplomatic, and propaganda for the time being, the PRC could initiate small attacks in the high mountainous areas in the East, and therefore occupy Indian troops without "provoking Soviet retaliatory moves."

Document 36

Memcon, Huang Ha, T'ang Wen-sheng, Shih Yen-hua, Alexander Haig, Winston Lord, Top Secret/Sensitive, Exclusively Eyes Only, December 12, 1971 (3:50-4:20), 9 pp.

Source: RG 59, PPC S/P, Directors Files (Winston Lord), Box 330.

In a discussion of the India-Pakistan situation, Haig declares that the U.S. is doing everything it can do to facilitate transfers of fighter planes and military supplies from Jordan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.

Document 37

Department of State of Cable, Carrier Deployment in Indian Ocean, Secret, December 14, 1971, 2 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 578

Indian Ambassador Jha expresses his concern over American deployment of a Nuclear Carrier in the Indian ocean.

Document 38

Department of State, Situation Report #41, Situation in India-Pakistan as of 0700 hours (EST), Secret, December 14, 1971, 4 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 573

The State Department sees the possibility of a ceasefire in the East; Notes that Eleven Jordanian F-104 fighter aircraft have possibly been sent to Pakistan.

Document 39

Department of State, Situation Report #44, Situation in India-Pakistan as of 0700 hours (EST), Secret, December 15, 1971, 4 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 573

Heavy fighting is turning in favor of the Indians, while cease-fire plans continue to be in the works. A controversy is brewing with regards over the U.S. decision to send a nuclear carrier into the Bay of Bengal.

Document 40

United States Embassy (Islamabad) Cable, Top Secret/ Exclusive Eyes Only, December 15, 1971, 1 pp.

The present trickle of Mig-19's and F-104's will not hold off the Indians. Handwriting next to Mig-19's notes "China" and next to F-104's notes "Jordan."

Document 41

United States Embassy (New Delhi), Cable, Deployment Carrier Task Force in Indian Ocean, Secret, December 15, 1971, 2 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 573

Keating describes his difficulty in explaining the rationale behind the deployment of a carrier task force. He also suggests that the decision to send the task force into the Indian Ocean has only encouraged Yahya to continue the Pakistani military effort.

Document 42

Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Memorandum, India-Pakistan Situation Report (As of 1200 EST), Top Secret, December 16, 1971, 6 pp.

Source: NPMP, May Release, MDR# 4.

India has ordered a unilateral cease fire upon the unconditional surrender of West Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. Despite the cease-fire, American officials in Dacca report that "no one seems to be in effective control of the situation," and that fighting continues "between Bengalis and scattered "Mujahid/Razakar/West Pakistani elements." Also, in a heavily excised paragraph, the CIA reports that a squadron of American origin, Jordanian F-104's was delivered to Pakistan on 13 December, despite an American embargo on military supplies to both India and Pakistan. This embargo includes third party transfers of American equipment to either of the parties.

Document 43

Department of State, Cable, Supply of Third Country US Arms to Pakistan, Secret, December 23, 1971, 1 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 575

Secretary Rogers suggests that Keating neither confirm nor deny allegations that the U.S. endorsed Jordanian and Iranian transfer of American arms to Pakistan.

Document 44

United States Embassy (Tehran), Cable, F-5 Aircraft to Pakistan, Secret, December 29, 1971, 3 pp. Includes DOD cable.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Indo-Pak War, Box 575

Embassy Iran reports that three F-5A Fighter aircraft, reportedly from the United States, had been flown to Pakistan to assist in the war efforts against India. A Northrop official matches the aircraft to a group of planes originally slated for sale to Libya, but which were then diverted to USG control in California. This information suggests that not only did Washington look the other way when Jordan and Iran supplied U.S. planes to Pakistan, but that despite the embargo placed on Pakistan, it directly supplied Pakistan with fighter planes.

Document 45

National Security Council, Notes, Anderson Papers Material, January 6, 1972, 5 pp.

Source: NPMP, NSC Files, Country Files: Middle East, Box 643.

The Nixon administration, during the East Pakistan crisis convened meetings of the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG) to discuss the situation in South Asia. Records of these meetings were kept, and somehow leaked to Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. Anderson's articles, based on classified WSAG minutes became contentious, not only because they quoted from leaked classified material, but also for their racy content. Kissinger and others in the administration became upset at Anderson's exposure of White House policies because, among other things, it revealed the tilt towards Pakistan, despite the genocidal conditions in the East. ________________________________________


1. Anderson, Jack with George Clifford. The Anderson Papers. (New York: Random House, 1973) 214.

2. Brown, W. Norman. The United States and India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972) 217. Other public estimates of the final death toll range from one to three million.

3. Ganguly, Sumit. Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions since 1947. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001) 61.

4. Anderson: 215.

5. American military assistance was cutoff to Pakistan following the commencement of violence in East Pakistan. Then in early December 1971, when the conflict grew to an India-Pakistan war, aid to India was also suspended. See

Documents 23 and 29. In the former, Kissinger acknowledges that American assistance to Pakistan is forbidden by Congrss, whereas in the latter Harold Saunders observes that "by law," the U.S. "cannot authorize" any military transfers, including third party transfers, unless the administration was willing "to change our own policy and provide the equipment directly."

6. Document 8, a cable transmission from Consul General Archer Blood to the State Department has been very controversial. Known as the "Blood Telegram," its low classification (Limited official use) led to its high dissemination among government officials. The day after it was sent, the State Department reclassified the message as secret, in efforts to limit its spread. Blood's role in the transmission of this cable has been blamed for his being transferred out of Dacca by the Administration. Kux, Dennis. The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies. (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson/Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Blood, Archer. Oral history interview, Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection. Georgetown University Library, June 1990.

7. See Note 5.

8. See Also Burr, William ed. The Kissinger Transcripts. (New York: The New Press, 1998); Ganguly, Sumit. Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions since 1947. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001); Hitchens, Christopher. The Trials of Henry Kissinger. (New York: Verso Books, 2001); Sisson, Richard and Leo E. Rose. War and Secession: India, Pakistan, the United States, and the Creation of Bangladesh. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Kissinger, Henry. The White House Years. (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1979).

Dr. Henry A. Kissinger’s revelations

The interview

The Atlantic

World Chaos and World Order: Conversations With Henry Kissinger

The former secretary of state reflects on war, peace, and the biggest tests facing the next president.

What follow [are the relevant, South Asia-related excerpts from a] transcript of several conversations on foreign policy [that Jeffrey Goldberg] had with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which formed the basis of a story in the December [2016] issue of The Atlantic .

Presidential advisor Henry A. Kissinger chatted with President Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, after his arrival, July 8, 1971

Goldberg: Was the opening [of thitherto non-existent US relations] to China worth the sacrifices, the deaths [in Bangladesh, the East Pakistan], experienced in the India-Pakistan Bangladesh crisis?

Kissinger: Human rights are an essential goal of American policy. But so is national security. In some situations, no choice between them is required, making the moral issue relatively simple. But there are situations in which a conflict arises, specifically when a country important to American security or international order engages in conduct contrary to our values, requiring the president to make a series of judgments: about the magnitude of the conflict; the resources available to remedy it; the impact of our actions on its foreseeable evolution; and finally, if the president identifies a path forward, the willingness of the American public to maintain that effort. Emphasizing human rights led us into failed nation-building in Iraq; ignoring them permitted genocide in Rwanda. Contemporary policymakers face this challenge all over the world, especially all over the Middle East.

The statesman can usually only reach his goal in stages and, by definition, imperfectly. The art of policy is to move through imperfect stages towards ever-more fulfilling goals.

Your question on Bangladesh demonstrates how this issue has been confused in our public debate. There was never the choice between suffering in Bangladesh and the opening to China. It is impossible to go into detail in one far-ranging interview. However, allow me to outline some principles:

The opening to China began in 1969.

The Bangladesh crisis began in March 1971.

By then, we had conducted a number of highly secret exchanges with China and were on the verge of a breakthrough.

These exchanges were conducted through Pakistan, which emerged as the interlocutor most acceptable to Beijing and Washington.

The Bangladesh crisis, in its essence, was an attempt of the Bengali part of Pakistan to achieve independence. Pakistan resisted with extreme violence and gross human-rights violations.

To condemn these violations publicly would have destroyed the Pakistani channel, which would be needed for months to complete the opening to China, which indeed was launched from Pakistan. The Nixon administration considered the opening to China as essential to a potential diplomatic recasting towards the Soviet Union and the pursuit of peace. The U.S. diplomats witnessing the Bangladesh tragedy were ignorant of the opening to China. Their descriptions were heartfelt and valid, but we could not respond publicly. But we made available vast quantities of food and undertook diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation.

After the opening to China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy to Bangladesh. In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March.

The following December, India, after having made a treaty including military provisions with the Soviet Union, and in order to relieve the strain of refugees, invaded East Pakistan [which is today Bangladesh].

The U.S. had to navigate between Soviet pressures; Indian objectives; Chinese suspicions; and Pakistani nationalism. Adjustments had to be made—and would require a book to cover—but the results require no apology. By March 1972—within less than a year of the commencement of the crisis—Bangladesh was independent; the India-Pakistan War ended; and the opening to China completed at a summit in Beijing in February 1972. A summit in Moscow in May 1972 resulted in a major nuclear arms control agreement [SALT I]. Relations with India were restored by 1974 with the creation of a U.S.-Indian Joint Commission [the Indo-U.S. Joint Commission on Economic, Commercial, Scientific, Technological, Educational and Cultural Cooperation], which remains part of the basis of contemporary U.S.-India relations. Compared with Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the sacrifices made in 1971 have had a far more clear-cut end.

The moderate Pakistani take on Dr Kissinger’s revelation

East Pakistan would be given independence, Pak president told US in November 1971 By Ahmad Noorani, November 24, 2016, The News

East Pakistan would be given independence, Pak president told US in November 1971

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger makes revelation in interview

ISLAMABAD: One of the world’s most famous and reputed diplomats Henry Kissinger has revealed in his latest interview to the magazine ‘The Atlantic’ that the then Pakistan’s president and its army chief had told United States President Richard Nixon in November 1971 that Pakistan would grant independence to East Pakistan.

This is stunning revelation as in November, 1971 India had not invaded East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. India invaded East Pakistan on December 3, 1971.

Henry Kissinger was 56th US Secretary of State and served from September 22, 1973 to January 20, 1977. Kissinger also served as US National Security Adviser from January 20, 1969 to November 3, 1975. Kissinger played a key role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977.

In his latest interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Atlantic’, Kissinger has discussed many issues ahead of recent US elections.

While narrating events of 1971 in context of US’ opening to China and Pakistan-India Bangladesh issue, Kissinger said, “After the opening to China via Pakistan, America engaged in increasingly urging Pakistan to grant autonomy to Bangladesh. In November, the Pakistani president agreed with Nixon to grant independence the following March.”

Husain Haqqani’s take

HUSAIN HAQQANI NOV 14, 2016, The Flaw in Kissinger's Grand Strategy, theatlantic

The U.S. wields enormous power, but its success in using it depends on the actions of other nations. The Bangladesh crisis is a case in point.

In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Henry Kissinger begins his description of America’s perpetual, eternal interests by saying, “We have to have faith in ourselves.” To him, the fundamental strategic question for Americans is: “What is it that we will not permit, no matter how it happens, no matter how legitimate it looks?”

That Kissinger has an incisive mind, an excellent grasp on history, and a special place in U.S. history as a strategic thinker goes almost without saying. But like all men confident of their greatness, he did not get everything right. An academic in government who understands the world is limited by the vision of the president he serves. Then there are political constraints to deal with. I admire Kissinger for much of what he has written in his 18 books, as well as for his accomplishments in government. One need not agree with everything he says or everything he has done to appreciate his contribution and his relevance.

In my view, Kissinger is right in his critique that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy involved insufficient exercise of U.S. power. Meanwhile others, such as former President George W. Bush, have often been criticized for going to war with insufficient forethought. Finding the right balance between asserting American force and avoiding incessant conflict is never easy. The U.S. is limited by the actions of other nations, both friend and foe. Kissinger’s desire for a stable U.S.-China relationship, for example, depends as much on China as it does on the United States. There’s no question that America wields great power, but it must assess correctly the intentions and actions of others in order to exert it effectively.

Numerous blunders in U.S. foreign policy are the result of failing to read others correctly, rather than mere errors in deploying American power. Several scholars now argue that understanding the North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh’s desire for independence, and dealing with him as a nationalist, might have helped avert the long and painful Vietnam War. Instead of considering him a stooge of the Soviets or the Chinese, the U.S. could have placated Ho with support for an independent and unified Vietnam. Kissinger’s benign assessment of China’s ambitions could possibly (though not certainly) result in an error of judgment in the opposite direction. The Chinese might be dangling the prospect of cooperation only to ensure their gradual, unimpeded rise to the point where they might challenge U.S. global leadership. If that is the case, the U.S. would have to consider more assertive use of “power” than Kissinger advocates.

Kissinger cautions against pursuing “an essentially reactive and passive foreign policy.” But an active policy requires deep knowledge of other nations, which might not in all cases be present either within the U.S. government or even in American academia. The U.S. should surely not withdraw from regions “where we can only make things worse,” as Kissinger believes Obama has done. U.S. interests remain global and smart engagement, not withdrawal, is the real alternative to ill-considered intervention. Equally important is not acting on insufficient and flawed intelligence, or on presumptions of other nations’ intent that might be incorrect. Having the kind of grand strategy Kissinger advocates is only one part of being a global leader. Another significant element in successful foreign relations is a better understanding of on-the-ground realities in various parts of a complex world.

Nothing illustrates the difficulty of pursuing an active foreign policy without regard for local considerations better than America’s policy over the years toward the Indian subcontinent. As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, I witnessed first-hand Washington’s penchant for disregarding historic patterns of behavior while expecting cooperation from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or India.

In his book World Order, Kissinger describes India as “a fulcrum of twenty-first century order: an indispensable element, based on its geography, resources and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and the concepts of order at whose intersection it stands.” But in 1971, when Pakistan’s erstwhile eastern wing fought to become Bangladesh, Kissinger had scorned India as “a Soviet stooge, supported with Soviet arms” over its support for Bangladeshi independence.

Then, America’s strategic judgment had been clouded by India’s refusal to formally align itself with the United States in the Cold War; at the same time, Pakistan had been a U.S. ally since the 1950s, partly to acquire U.S. arms for its military competition with India. Yet Pakistan’s support for the U.S. anti-communist effort was sporadic and never involved the deployment of the conventional forces maintained with American funding. Pakistan turned down U.S. requests for its troops’ participation in wars in Korea and Vietnam, saying its forces would be free to assist America once Pakistan’s outstanding disputes with India were resolved. On the other hand, U.S. arming of Pakistan became the principal reason the India turned to the Soviet Union as a weapons supplier.

The Bangladeshis to this day remember that the U.S. supported Pakistan’s army as it committed atrocities against them. India was no less important then than it is now. Its “geography, resources and tradition of sophisticated leadership”—recognized by Kissinger in recent years—were similar even if its policy of non-alignment was different. Many American officials, prominent among them the diplomats George Kennan and Chester Bowles, advocated distancing the U.S. from Pakistan to win over India. But U.S. diplomats beginning with John Foster Dulles, who served as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of state in the 1950s, embraced the notion that an unreliable ally in hand was better than a long-term friend that needed to be wooed. To be fair to Kissinger, he inherited the affection for Pakistan from his predecessors, and had the additional burden of working for a president who had been enamored of Pakistan since his first visit there in 1954.

During his first tour of Asia as Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon had liked the well-staged anticommunism he encountered in Pakistan, especially as it contrasted with his experience in India. He was offended by what he saw as Indians’ unwillingness to even discuss the notion that communism was the gravest threat to civilization. The Indians had lectured Nixon about global poverty and injustice, both of which, they said, Western colonialism had exacerbated. Conversely, the Pakistanis seemed eager to join the American-led ideological struggle, even though their real purpose might have been to ensure economic and military assistance.

In his memoirs Nixon described India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as “the least friendly leader” that he had met in Asia. He once told the National Security Council that “Pakistan is a country I would like to do everything for. The people have fewer complexes than the Indians.”

Debating the Lessons of Henry Kissinger

Writers assess the controversial statesman's ideas and his legacy Read more

By the time of the Bangladesh crisis in 1971—when Pakistan imposed martial law on what was then East Pakistan to crush the territory’s bid for more autonomy—Nixon felt he owed Pakistan’s military dictator General Yahya Khan a debt of gratitude for his government’s role in facilitating Kissinger’s secret trip to China. Ignoring reports of Pakistan’s military atrocities against Bangladeshi civilians, the U.S. actively supported Pakistan to the extent of violating congressional restrictions on supplying arms to Pakistani troops. Estimates of the human toll of what became known as the Pakistani Army’s genocide in Bangladesh range from 300,000 to 3 million fatalities.

As national security advisor, Kissinger visited both India and Pakistan several times during the Bangladesh crisis and fashioned the “tilt towards Pakistan”—a policy that avoided joining international condemnation of Pakistan’s actions in East Pakistan without expressly supporting them—that Nixon probably demanded. Nixon did not want “Soviet stooge” India to overrun “U.S. ally Pakistan” and wanted to spare the Pakistani Army from humiliation. In the end most of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s exertions proved futile. On December 16, 1971, Indian forces marched triumphantly into Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, where Pakistan’s army laid down its arms. Ninety thousand Pakistani troops, civilian officials, and allies became prisoners of war. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh was born and was, after some hesitation, recognized by the United States.

Although the United States, with Soviet help, had prevented India from overrunning West Pakistan as well, it received no gratitude from Pakistan for its efforts. The Indians claimed that they had no plans of doing that anyway, whereas the Pakistanis resented the United States for not stepping in with guns blazing to help save the country’s eastern wing. Meanwhile, the Indians often recall America’s failure to scare them from supporting the Bangladeshis. Nixon had ordered the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet to move to the Bay of Bengal to psych out India, though the fleet was instructed not to engage in conflict. The Bangladeshis to this day remember that the U.S. supported Pakistan’s army as it committed atrocities against them.

In this case, the Americans erred in determining “what is it that we will not permit.” Perhaps U.S. action motivated by errors of judgment or a president’s personal sentiment can sometimes be worse than inaction and passivity.

See also

1971 War: The role, and tilt, of the USA

Choudhury Mueenuddin

Ghulam Azam

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