When a US President Was a Friend not Master...
By Ghazala Akbar
London, England


As Pakistan’s ‘battered wife’ relationship to the US recovers and improves from an all-time low, members of the Ghairat Brigades, serial 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...sometimes so 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, behindthe- 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. (Note. 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. P: Good (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? HK: Yes. 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 evenhanded. 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 Indians 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 fullscale 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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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