The White House and
Pakistan: Secret Declassified Documents, 1969-1974
(Excerpts form two conversations between Dr Henry
Kissinger, then adviser to US President Richard Nixon, and Chinese Prime
Minister Chou En-lai on the afternoon of July 10, 1971, at the Great Hall of
the People in Beijing.)
India should leave its neighbours alone’
EN-LAI: In other words, tension is also chaos. In our view, in the
twenty-five years since World War II, the world has all along been in
turmoil, the present has not yet settled down and is still in turmoil. In
the example that you mentioned yesterday, the possibility that India will
attack Pakistan in South Asia, from news which we received today it seems
that the tense atmosphere has been stepped up.
KISSINGER: Has something new happened?
EN-LAI: There has been more propaganda from the Indian side. I also said
yesterday that we believed that such a possibility existed. The question of
India is a question in which you two big powers, the US and the USSR, are
taking a hand in.
KISSINGER: We (the US) taking a hand?
EN-LAI: You are taking an interest in the affair because, as you said
yesterday, you warned India when you went there. Of course, the Soviet union
has also declared that it hopes that the two sides (India and Pakistan) will
reach conciliation. Didn’t they (the Soviets) issue the so-called Tashkent
Declaration before? But these are only superficial things. With India able
to get such a large amount of military equipment, it will take expansionist
KISSINGER: Mr Prime, Minister, India doesn’t get arms from us.
EN-LAI: That’s what I have heard, but you are giving Pakistan some
KISSINGER: Yes, but so are you.
EN-LAI: We do so because India committed aggression against Pakistan. They
also committed aggression against us, too, as you said yesterday...
KISSINGER: No, you mentioned it.
EN-LAI: ... in accordance with Nehru’s traditional thinking as expressed in
the book, Discovery of India. So with respect to the issue of the South
Asian subcontinent, this region continues to be in turmoil and is not
settling down. The turmoil in East Pakistan in a very great way is due to
India. The so-called Government of Bangla Desh set up its headquarters.
Isn’t that subversion of the Pakistani Government?
KISSINGER: The Prime Minister doesn’t think that we are cooperating with
this, does he?
EN-LAI: I would not like to draw a conclusion on that at present, but simply
want to point out the phenomenon-we cannot but pay attention to this.
Perhaps because our attention will be even greater than yours. This issue is
before our eyes. In our opinion, if India continues on its present course of
disregard of world opinion, it will continue to go on recklessly. We,
however, support the stand of Pakistan. This is known to the world. If they
(the Indians) are bent on provoking such a situation, then we cannot sit
idly by. On May Day
1970 Chairman Mao met the Indian Charge on the Tien An Men, and he suggested
that we exchange ambassadors speedily. Actually, that could have been done,
and we are prepared to do it now. They asked us to send our ambassador
first, which was no great problem, but they have been spreading rumours
throughout the world that they are going to seek out the Chinese for
negotiations and there haven’t been any. They are just spreading rumours. Of
course, when one speaks of the South Asian subcontinent, this mainly means
India and Pakistan. However, China also has a part there. You said you were
pressing India not to provoke a disturbance, and we also believe that you
would like to improve your relations with Pakistan. I believe that you
probably did say to India what you told us. We also support your opinion,
that is advise India not to provoke a disturbance, because President Yahya
Khan is most concerned about the situation. For its part, Pakistan would
never provoke a disturbance because in all military situations, Pakistan is
in a weaker position than India. We can bear witness to that fact because we
have contacts in such a sense with India, and if India is going to go ahead
and provoke disturbances in the subcontinent, then India itself will be the
victim. India, I believe, is one of the countries most heavily in debt, and
it also well known that the life of the Indian people is not easy-if such a
disturbance is created, they will be the victims. Those who suffer will also
be the rulers of India.
KISSINGER: Mr Prime Minister, with respect to South Asia, I think our
analysis is not too different from yours. We have, of course, friendly
relations with India, and we have given, in conjunction with other
countries, substantial economic assistance. We have not given any military
assistance of any kind since 1965. In connection with East Pakistan, we have
some given humanitarian aid to help the refugees.
You know from President Yahya Khan the strong friendship we feel for him and
his country. We strongly oppose any military action to solve the problems of
East Pakistan. And if India takes action in East Pakistan, we strongly
oppose any military action and publicly disapprove of it. Furthermore, we
would under no circumstances encourage military adventures against the
People’s Republic of China. Now would we permit the indirect use of our aid
for such purposes.
We want the people of India to develop their own future, but we also want
them to leave their neighbours alone.
EN-LAI: It’s also possible to misunderstand the origins of the Sino-Indian
EN-LAI: The Indians said that we created the Ladakh incident. It occurred on
a peak of the Karakorums on the Aksai-chin Plateau of Sinkiang. At this
point a ridge of the Karakorums falls off very sharply downward on the
Kashmir side. The elevation is very high and even the Soviet helicopters
used by the Indians could only gradually work their way up the steep slope.
Our people were on top of this ridge and could see down on the Soviet
helicopters gradually coming up. The Aksai-chin Plateau is the route along
which we is the route along which we have to travel when crossing from
Sinkiang to the Ali district of Tibet. The height of the plateau is 5000
meters. We started to build this highway in 1951...
KISSINGER: The Indians call this region Ladakh.
EN-LAI: Ladakh is farther below, but the Indians call all of this region
Ladakh. Even the British colonial maps do not show this as part of India,
and Nehru was only able to provide a claim on the basis of a map drawn by a
British traveller. Even three years after the road was built, Nehru didn’t
know about it. It runs all the way from Western Sinkiang to Ali district of
In my discussions with Nehru on the Sino-Indian boundary in 1956 he suddenly
raised the issue of the road. I said, ‘‘You didn’t even know we were
building a road the last three years, and now you suddenly say that it is
your territory’’. I remarked upon how strange this was. Although the
so-called McMahon Line was a line that no Chinese government ever recognised,
at least it was a line drawn by a Britisher, even though in drawing it he
included more than 90,000 square kilometres of our territory in India.
However, in the western sector there was no such line.
There was no agreement with us either in 1956 or 1957. And so in 1959 the
Indians sent small patrols crawling up the steep slopes to attack our post.
Our guards were at the passes. This was in December and the weather was
extremely cold-40 degree below zero. Our post was in the form of a fort and
we could see them climbing up. So when the Indians attacked they suffered
more heavy losses than we. However, we did have some wounded, and we raised
a protest with the Indian government. TASS said of this incident that the
Chinese committed aggression against India, Khrushschev, without inquiring,
took the same position on the grounds that the Indians had suffered such
heavy casualties. This was the first such anti-China statement from the
(The excerpts below look at what followed after President Richard Nixon
met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on November 4 and 5, 1971; at an internal
report that agonised over Yahya Khan’s “complete isolation” in East
Pakistan; and at a meeting days before the end of the war where Kissinger
told his team they simply had to “tilt towards Pakistan”)
Thursday, October 10, 2002
‘I’m getting hell from the President that we’re not being tough enough on
President Nixon has left a deceptively bland record of his meeting with Mrs
Gandhi in his memoir (see Nixon (1978), P 525). Dr Kissinger’s more detailed
account of the Nixon/Gandhi meetings described them as a classic dialogue of
the deaf. He asserted that if the two leaders appeared to fail in
communicating with each other, ‘it was not because they did not understand
each other but because they understood each other only too well’. (See
Kissinger 1979, pp 879-882). Mrs Gandhi’s own reactions were revealed in
various interviews she gave later. Talking to Jonathan Power of the
Washington Post, she responded to his question:
POWER: You said when you were talking with Mr Nixon you found small talk
GANDHI: I don’t like small talk. There are a lot of interesting things
happening in the world and this is not small talk. I did not know whether
the President was interested in any of the things which are happening in
India or what India is’’.
And in another interview in 1979, Mrs Gandhi recalled her encounter:
‘‘...Nixon would talk for a few minutes and would then say, ‘‘Isn’t that
right, Henry?’’ and from then on Henry would talk for quite awhile and then
Nixon would say two words and then he would say, ‘‘Wouldn’t you say so,
Henry?’’ I would talk with Henry rather than with Nixon. According to her,
Nixon was unwilling to accept my assessment of any situation. (Quoted in
Horsh (1983) p. 456).
(Report by Mr M Williams for Secretary of State, 5
November 1971. Subject: A.I.D. Deputy Administrator’s Report on Pakistan)
President Yahya Khan’s control in East Pakistan is increasingly limited. In
Islamabad October 27, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Secretary to the Cabinet, told me
that President Yahya was increasingly isolated from events in East Pakistan.
He believed the Army’s reporting from East Pakistan has been misleading the
President about recent developments.
Autonomous Army Control in East Pakistan: The Pakistan Army in East Pakistan
has achieved nearly autonomous control of the province, in many respects,
independent of the policies and direction of President Yahya Khan. Only
foreign affairs affecting East Pakistan is firmly in the hands of Islamabad.
Myth and Reality on Civilian Support in East Pakistan: President Yahya Khan
told us October 28 that ‘‘civilisation’’ of government in East Pakistan,
under Governor Malik and his Cabinet, is succeeding in stabilising the
political situation. Although the Army openly runs these elections, Yahya
Khan believes the political stability after elections will assure that India
’s strategy of supporting insurrection will have been defeated-and that Mrs
Gandhi will then have nothing in hand to achieve her objectives except
recourse to war... The reality is that Army policies and operations-behind
the facade of a civilian government-are progressively and seriously
alienating the Bengali population in East Pakistan, and that the seeds of
rebellion are not only those sown by India.
Civil Affairs run by the Military Advisor to the Governor: Major General Rao
Farman Ali Khan is the Army’s civil affairs specialist. My call on General
Farman Ali Khan October 25th interrupted a meeting with some ten of his
military colleagues. They were, he said, selecting the men who would be
elected in the next Provincial elections. Army Policy is Selective Terror
and Reprisal: General Farman Ali Khan
described the level of Mukti guerrilla insurgency as somewhat intensified
but manageable because the newly trained Bengali guerrillas entering from
India feared to take action. Over 1,400 guerrillas had entered Dacca
district in the last 30 days but only a few had chosen to fight. He
acknowledged, off-the-record, that this was due to the terroristic reprisal
policy. He also acknowledged that terror and reprisal had an ‘‘unfortunate
effect on Bengali attitudes.’’ But he said, ‘‘All Army commanders had
concluded that insurgency was more a problem in areas where the Army had
been too lenient and had not demonstrated clean-up operations.’’
The Pakistan Army is one of the best disciplined infantry forces in the
world. Despite orders from Islamabad that the Army not engage in terrorist
operations against the civilian population-and repeated assurances to US
officials to this effect-Pakistan Army commanders continue to carry out
terror raids against the population and villages, even within the environs
of Dacca and in sight of its large foreign community.
Army policy to Clear East Pakistan of Hindus: The Pakistan Army is
ideologically anti-Hindu and their historic experience in West Pakistan,
from the time of partition, has been that Hindus should go to India. Hence,
reprisal operations continue to focus against Hindus. Without law or order,
except that sanctioned by the Army, Hindu lives and property are not safe in
East Pakistan today.
(December 3, 1971, 1100 hours, Situation Room, White House. Among the
participants: Henry Kissinger, Richard M Helms, Director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, John N Iwrin, Under Secretary of State, David Packard,
Deputy Secretary of Defense, Maurice J Williams, Deputy Administration (AID)
and Joseph J. Sisco, Assistant Secretary of State).
KISSINGER: I’m getting hell every half-hour from the President that we are
not being tough enough on India. He has just called me again. He does not
believe we are carrying out his wishes. He wants to tilt in favour of
Pakistan. He feels everything we do comes out otherwise.
HELMS: Concerning the attack in the west wing, there are conflicting reports
from both sides and the only common ground is the Pak attacks on Amritsar,
Pathankot and Srinagar airports. The Paks say the Indians are attacking all
across the border, but the Indian officials say this is a lie. In the east
wing the action is becoming larger and the Paks claim there are now seven
separate fronts involved.
KISSINGER: Are the Indians seizing territory?
HELMS: Yes; small bits of territory, definitely.
SISCO: It would help if you could provide a map with a shading of the areas
occupied by India. What is happening in the west-is a full-scale attack
MOORER: The present pattern is puzzling in that the Paks have only struck at
three small airfields which do not house significant numbers of Indian
HELMS: Mrs Gandhi’s speech at 1.30 may well announce recognition of
MOORER: The Pak attack is not credible. It has been made during late
afternoon, which does not make sense. We do not seem to have sufficient
facts on this yet.
KISSINGER: Is it possible that the Indians attacked first and the Paks
simply did what they could before dark in response?
MOORER: This is certainly possible.
KISSINGER: The president wants no more irrevocable letters of credit issued
under the $99 million credit. He wants the $72 million PL 480 credit also
WILLIAMS: Word will soon get around when we do this. Does the President
KISSINGER: That is his order, but I will check with the President again. If
asked, we can say we are reviewing our whole economic programme and that the
granting of fresh aid is being suspended in view of conditions on the
subcontinent. The next issue is the UN.
IRWIN: The Secretary is calling in the Pak Ambassador this afternoon, and
the Secretary leans toward making a US move in the UN soon.
KISSINGER: The President is in favour of this as soon as we have some
confirmation of this large-scale new action. If the UN can’t operate in this
kind of situation effectively, its utility has come to an end and it is
useless to think of UN guarantees in the Middle East.
SISCO: We will have a recommendation for you this afternoon. In order to
give the Ambassador time to wire home, we could tentatively plan to convene
the Security Council tomorrow.
KISSINGER: We have to take action. The President is blaming me, but you
people are in the clear.
WILLIAMS: Are we to take economic steps with Pakistan also?
KISSINGER: Wait until I talk with the President. He hasn’t addressed this
problem in connection with Pakistan yet.
SISCO: If we act on the Indian side, we can say we are keeping the Pakistan
situation ‘under review’.
KISSINGER: It’s hard to tilt toward Pakistan if we have to match every
Indian step with a Pakistan step. If you wait until Monday, I can get a
Presidential decision... We need to think about our treaty obligations. I
remember a letter or memo interpreting our existing treaty with a special