When a US President Was a Friend not Master...
By Ghazala Akbar
As Pakistan’s ‘battered wife’ relationship to the US hits an all-time low, members of the Ghairat Brigades, serial Uncle Sam effigy-burners and armchair theorists –- convinced of a Hindu–Zionist conspiracy and a perennial anti - Muslim bias of US policy should make an exception of at least one US President: Richard M. Nixon.
He may have bugged his opponents, he may have been ‘tricky Dick,’ but when it came to backing Pakistan in 1971, Nixon was truly masterful. A record of telephonic conversations in the dark days of December 1971, between the President and his chief mastermind, Henry Kissinger, reveal just how intensely the duo were prepared to battle for Pakistan.
Geo-political considerations of the Cold War, a personal liking for General Yahya Khan, (‘agood friend’) an intense dislike for Mrs. Indira Gandhi (‘Old witch’) were some of the factors that shaped their views during the War for Bangladesh in 1971. Pakistanis were ‘straightforward and sometimes extremely stupid’, Indians were ‘more devious...sometimesso smart that we fall for their line.’ Intriguingly, the conversations also reveal the possibility of an ‘Intelligence Mole’ in the Indian Cabinet!
After details of the bloody crackdown in East Pakistan had filtered to the outside world, there was worldwide sympathy for the Bengali cause. When War broke out, Nixon’s unqualified support for Yahya was at complete variance with the official US stance of neutrality, arms ban, pro-Indian views of the bureaucracy, the State Department, Liberal politicians and the American media. He took them all on.
In the final analysis, behind-the-scene orchestrations by the Nixon-Kissinger duo had no bearing on the outcome on the ground realities of the War in East Pakistan. It was a losing battle from the very beginning.
Arguably Nixon’s ministrations prevented Pakistan from further dismemberment, denied India an opportunity for making any meaningful gains in Kashmir and forcing a settlement. However, it is now acknowledged that US policy towards Pakistan and China did have an impact on India’s decision to conduct a Nuclear Test in 1974.
What is commendable is that the United States of America and other Western democracies periodically de-classify archival material -- albeit selectively – but even -- if some of the material is sometimes politically embarrassing. It is better to face up to history than sweep it under the carpet. If only the other players, Russia, India, China and Pakistan were equally forthcoming. Until we have all the facts, this is only a partial picture of the events of 1971.
Here is a selective transcript of three telephonic conversations between President Nixon (P or RN) and Kissinger (K or HAK)) on two significant days: 4th December1971, a day after all out war broke out on the western front between India and Pakistan. The second conversation takes place on 16 th December 1971, the day Pakistani forces surrendered in the East. The Telecons were summarized by General Alexander Haig and sent to Henry Kissinger in Jan 1972. The parts relating to Presidential authorization of arms shipments to Pakistan are underlined in the original copies. (Note1. I have added the designations of various persons in parenthesis 2. Blanks possibly denote expletives expunged from the original transcripts).
Telecon 1: December 4, 1971 10: 50 AM
P: How is the battle going today?
K: On the matter we discussed last evening, how to handle getting it to the Security Council we followed your instructions and it turned out to be exactly right. It appealed to Bill [William Rodgers, Secretary of State] when he understood he would be way out in front again.
P: On the announcement?
K: Yes, we had agreed to the day’s line-up. Take it there about Noon. State will put it out an announcement and Bush will call the Council.
P: Anything new on the fighting itself?
K: It is getting clear the Indians are the attackers.
P: Is that getting thru the Press?
K: I am getting with the Intelligence people at 11:00 and then getting Scali to put it out.
P: Turn Scali loose and on knocking the silly thing Church said down. [John Scali, ForeignAffairs Adviser, formerly of ABC News, Senator Frank Church, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee]
K: We have an urgent appeal from Yahya. Says his military supplies have been cut off — in very bad shape. Would we help through Iran?
P: Can we help?
K: I think if we tell the Iranians we will make it up to them, we can do it.
P: If it is leaking, we can have it denied. Have it done one-step away.
P: I like the idea...the main thing is to stop India from crumbling them up.
K: Russians have replied to the letter. They thought there should be a political solution first. Inconclusive. They are having a good time. We have informed the Chinese last night, we will probably go to the Security Council. No problem with that.
(Note: Page two of the original transcript now has initials as RN for Richard Nixon and HAK for Henry Kissinger)
RN: Now what else?
HAK: I think we should get off Letters of Credit worth 99M – that is underway. We should not be giving any economic aid to India. We gave 60% to economic development in India.
RN: Say, I want Scali to blame India.
HAK: I’ll get Scali.
RN: Let’s get some Public Relations out on them –put the blame on India. It will also take some blame off us. Our story about getting off militarily didn’t get much play. They will feel the economic one. We have got to help re-build Pakistan.
RN: Sure -- major economic development for Pakistan in a month when the smoke clears.
RN: The US cannot be responsible for maintaining peace everywhere in the world. We can use our influence, but may not always be successful. US public will welcome that.
HAK: We won’t get blamed. Walters [Barbara Walters TV Anchor] was in the other day and she asked me about India and Pakistan and I gave her some facts. She said why not put it out for God’s sake. I couldn’t get any of the bureaucrats. We will get it out Mr. President.
RN: Meantime things will continue...
HK: If war does continue, give aid via Iran.
RN: Good at least Pakistan will be kept from being paralysed.
HAK: The PR is the important thing. Scali, Bush. We will put in a Resolution asking for withdrawal and ceasefire.
RN: How about Sanctioning?
HAK: No before we get it — we won’t get it thru at all...the Soviets will veto it if it gets a majority. Now that Indians will occupy all Pakistan, we will see their real motives. If the East Banglas get (BLANK), if they think the Pakistanis are brutal, wait till India gets them. India will push the Moslems into such a narrow area than they already have.
HAK: For all those reasons, the Indians will not run like injured victims in six months.
RN: Will the Press get the point – to talk as though the Indians are the aggressors. Call Sisco [Assistant Secretary of State forNear Eastern Affairs] to do the background and I expect to see it on the news summaries this evening.
Telecon 12/4/71 12:15 PM
RN: Upon studying these reports on Pakistan – the main thing that needs to be done is the PR side of it. As far as the White House, we are weaker than we should be. I want it to be a necessity to get Scali turned loose on whatever we are doing...what we have done and blame India. The ‘Libs’ can say we brought this on by the Arms support to Pakistan. That will be their argument. India will be doing PR to make Pakistan look like it caused it. Get the point?
RN: Be sure to give Scali full reign. He must understand it.
HAK: I am setting out to do some background.
RN: Let him be responsible. State [Department] should be pitching it.
HAK: They are being even-handed. They are more interested in how they look.
RN: Well I understand. When they (blank) thought the Russians were responsible, they were loving it. The Indian’s are picking up on China’s faults.
HAK: This is the worst setback for two weeks. We have known what is needed and couldn’t get it down. We should have (Blank, Blank) when they started two weeks ago.
RN: Going from here, this couldn’t or can’t go on long.
HAK: India is waging a full-scale war on East Pakistan. India will then be moving in on West Pakistan.
RN: What other lines can we go—what about the Security Council?
HAK: At the Security Council Indians and the Soviets are going to delay long enough so a Resolution cannot be passed. If it was, the Soviets will veto. The UN will be impotent. So the Security Council is just a paper exercise – it will get the Post and Times off our backs. And the Libs will be happy we turned it over to the UN. The damage won’t show up for a few years. At the moment we retrench around the world, this proves that countries can get away with brutality.
Page 4 of transcript
K: But not You, Mr. President.
P: No, but my point is we try everything we can, but we have to realise the Russians — we have to let them know our options.
HK: Our options are limited.
RN: Our options are limited but even then, we can’t deal with those Soviets and continue to talk about sales and other problems.
HK: Our options are not all that good.
RN: They are not good but they will get results. If after all these appeals...
HAK: They are going to continue to butter you up.
RN: My view is this. I won’t let them do this. Did the Jordans send planes? [Jordanians]
P: Well my point is so we have done a check on these little things. Now in the event we are going to end up by saying to the Russians you proved to be so untrustworthy, we can’t deal with you on any issues. Let’s use that card now.
HAK: We have pretty well told them that.
P: Well we told them that privately, they may not believe that.
K: Well if they don’t believe the President of the United States in a private meeting.
P: You don’t understand. We threatened it. Let’s do it.
K: No for that it is premature, Mr. President. That we cannot do for they may still get us a ceasefire. If they don’t get us a ceasefire, what do we then?
P: Cut off Middle East talks, pour Arms into Israel, discontinue our talks on the SALT and the Economic Security Council can go to the public and tell them what the danger is. It is a risk group but the right one. It is pretty clear. I would go one-step further. We have to stop talks on trade, don’t let Smith have any further things on the Middle East and stop seeing Dobrynin (Soviet Ambassador) under any circumstances.
K: That is right.
P: And be very cold in our public statements towards them. What I am getting at is that we are prepared to go and where -- we would not talk at all have a card to play. Another thing we would beef up the Defence Budget plans.
K: The Defence Budget plan is being worked on.
P: You will have that done by Friday Night.
P: Now Henry, I am not satisfied and I am rally dissatisfied that this Assistance report is not down here. LDX it down here in two hours – Indian aid for next year and last how much PL-480, how much economic assistance, unilateral assistance, I want to see it.
K: We have got it but we will get it down.
P: I know the bigger game is the Russian game but the Indians have also played us for squares here. They have done this one and when it is over, they will come to ask to forgive and forget. This we must not do. If they want to be, dependent on the Russians let them be but when the chips are down India have shown it is a Russian satellite. What I am really saying here and what I am proposing to do – if India pursues that course, then we will re-evaluate their program of aid and cut it off. Has anybody told them that?
K: We would but you have to remember that everything is being done out of this office. We have a bureaucratic system to deal with. I think it would be better if State told them.
P: Call Cisco. He is to call in the Indian Ambassador and tell him that the US under the circumstances, if there is not a ceasefire we will have no choice and all Indian Assistance of all types will be taken out of the budget and call me in one hour.
K: Yes, Mr. President.
Telecon 3: 16/12/71 9:30 AM
P: On the India-Pakistan thing, Dacca has surrendered and now the issue is...
K: Now if in the next 24 hours, the Indians don’t agree to a ceasefire in the West we are in for it. Up until now, it could be explained that the Soviets wanted to wait until Dacca had surrendered.
P: Has the proposal been put up in...
K: No, it has been tabled and there will probably be a vote today. And that will be the test.
P: Will they veto it?
K: Well, I don’t know. They aren’t saying anymore.
P: Then under the circumstances won’t they just continue the War?
K: They are three possibilities: First, the British proposal carries. Second, India and Pakistan ceasefire, the Indians continue till they sink the Pakistanis in Kashmir. Now we have had another appeal from the Pakistanis last night. Action is picking up in the West and they are asking for American planes but we cannot even consider this. If this isn’t settled by tomorrow night, we will know the Russians have put it to us.
P: The one thing I am disappointed about, really teed off is that you were unable to get out that India Cabinet meeting thing. We have got to get it out.
K: We will do it.
P: I know there are a lot of pro-Indian people at State and who are trying to delay this. But I want it. We ought to be pressing the Indians every day. Now that Dacca has fallen we have got to get that Ambassador in here and tell him the President is outraged about what he has done using our TV and Radio facilities to do it. Second someone has got to say something about the Indian Aid. The figures they have been using is not correct. I want a report. I want everything in it. PL 480, unilateral and multi-lateral assistance, because some pressure has got to go. The Russians will go as far as the Indians want to go. The Indians have got to make a decision whether they want to be a Russian Satellite or not. Also, there have been these Indian Cabinet meetings. We have to get reports on them.
K: Yes Mr. President.
P: Actually with regard to the Indian Aid thing, couldn’t Javits [Senator Jacob Javits] or one of the Liberals on the Hill see if they couldn’t stop this now...
K: The next think we could do is there is $ 123 million in goods that is moving to India. We could seize those but that would get us into endless litigation.
P: Goods, of what type?
K: Things that have been part of the economic programs. It has been paid for already. It has been done before.
P: If the Indians continue the course they are on we even have to break diplomatic relations with them. Don’t you agree, Henry?
K: I agree. There is already a strong Victory statement and an unbelievable setback for the Chinese which is none of our business but they have certainly humiliated them.
P: And also let it be known that they have done nothing.
K: That is right.
P: In the event they (blank) West Pakistan, is there anything more that can be done? Are they going ...
K: They gave us flat assurances there wouldn’t be. If that happens, we will have to re-assess our position with the Russians. We will have until Saturday morning to see that.
P: What are they doing?
K: I said to Vorontsov [Counsellor at Soviet Embassy] if you don’t do it at the UN do it as a bilateral exchange of letters.
P: And have they responded?
K: No, it is a little too early, they could have if they wanted to.
P: The question is...
H: Well, the question is let’s look at it objectively. So they put it to us and they saw because you acted in such a(blank blank) way here, we are going to drop the Summit.[US- USSRSummit scheduled for May 1972 after Nixon’s visit to Chinain February 1972]
P: Well dropping the Summit is not the first thing I would do.
K: Well you have to look to see how much we are willing to pay in terms of where we are going.
P: To keep ourselves in perspective we have to realise the Russians have put it to us previously in other parts of the world so we have to grin and bear it. Right?
End of telecon summary
Hostilities on the Western front between India and Pakistan ended a day later after India declared a Unilateral Ceasefire. The US – USSR Summit went ahead as planned in May, 1972.