A conversation between Henry Kissinger and General Westmoreland about the birth of Bangladesh
Three days after a full-scale war between India and Pakistan in the eastern frontier and Bangladesh-India jointly against Pakistan in the eastern theatre, Henry Kissinger asked how long could the Pakistan troops hold in Bangladesh.
The meeting held in Washington DC, in the morning of December 6, 1971, was attended by senior officials of departments of state, defence, joint chief of staffs, CIA, USAID, and others.
US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, at the onset of the meeting asked Gen Westmoreland: “What is your military assessment? How long can Pakistan hold out in the east” (Bangladesh war zone)?
Gen Westmoreland candidly said up to three weeks. Once the Pakistan Army runs out of supplies, all the troops in East Pakistan [Bangladesh] will become hostage. The officials discussed whether there were any possibilities of Pakistan troop's evacuation. Gen Westmoreland responded in negative.
A senior official of the State Department asked Gen Westmoreland that assuming the Indians took over Bangladesh, how did he think it would happen?
Gen Westmoreland replied, “I think their primary thrust will be to cut off the seaport of Chittagong. This will virtually cut off any possibility of resupply. Then they will move to destroy the Pakistan regular forces, in cooperation with the Mukti Bahini. They will then be faced with the major job of restoring some order to the country. I think there will be a revenge massacre — possibly the greatest in the twentieth century.”
Kissinger asked whether the Indians would withdraw their army once the Pakistan forces were disarmed.
Gen Westmoreland replied that he thought they [Indian] would leave three or four divisions to work with the Mukti Bahini, and pull the remainder back to the West.
The officials expected that the Indians would pull out as quickly as they could. Once the Pakistan forces were disarmed, the Indians would have a friendly population. They could afford to move back to the border areas quickly.
Another official predicted that after the Indian Army had been in Bangladesh for two or three weeks, they would be accepted as a “Hindu army of occupation.”
Kissinger asked: “What will India do with Bangladesh? Will they see it as an independent state or have them negotiate with Islamabad?”
An official responded that India had already recognized Bangladesh as an independent country. Kissinger said then that there was no hope for Pakistan to negotiate with Bangladesh. The objective of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government was to force a surrender of the Pakistani troops in Bangladesh within 10 days.
In a telegram from New Delhi on December 6, US Ambassador Kenneth Barnard Keating reported that Indian Foreign Secretary Triloki Nath Kaul had expressed “disappointment, shock and surprise” that the United States had tabled the resolution it did in the UNSC.
On December 5, the Soviet representative on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vetoed an eight-power draft resolution that called for a ceasefire and mutual withdrawal of forces, as well as intensified efforts to create the conditions necessary for the return of refugees to their homes.
The United States sriously wanted to stick with withdrawal and ceasefire, not a surrender of Pakistan troops. Kissinger assured the Pakistan regime that they were doing the best they could do diplomatically.
The resolution, which was tabled by Argentina, Belgium, Burundi, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Sierra-Leone, and Somalia, garnered a vote of 11 to 2 with 2 abstentions but was not adopted because of the negative vote of the Soviet Union (USSR). However, the UN Security Council accepted on December 6 that an impasse had been reached in its deliberations on the conflict in South Asia, and referred the issue to the General Assembly.
An estimated 93,000 Pakistan troops and civilians made an unconditional public surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, which is observed as Victory Day each year.
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <[email protected]>; Twitter @saleemsamad.