On the 31st anniversary of the creation of Bangladesh, Washington-based National Security Archive on December 16, 2002 published 46 declassified US government documents and audio clips concerned with US policy towards India and Pakistan during the 1971 Liberation War.
The documents, declassified and available at the US National Archives and the Presidential Library system detail how US policy, directed by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, followed a course that became infamously known as "The Tilt".
The documents show the brutal details of the genocide conducted in the then East Pakistan in March and April of 1971.
One of the first "dissent cables" questioning US policy and morality at a time when, as the Consulate General in Dhaka Archer Blood writes the State Department, "unfortunately, the overworked term genocide is applicable”. Known as the "Blood Telegram," low classification (Limited official use) of Document 8 led to its high dissemination among government officials.
The role that Nixon's friendship with Yahya Khan and the China iniative played in US 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 US and Kissinger's duplicity to the press and towards the Indians vis-à-vis the Chinese.
Document 1: March 28, 1971: Selective Genocide (PDF)
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: March 28, 1971: Situation in Pakistan
Memorandum for Dr. Kissinger
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: March 29, 1971: Selective Genocide
U.S. Embassy (New Delhi) Cable
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 : March 30, 1971: Killings at University
U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable
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: March 31, 1971: Extent of Casualties in Dacca
US Consulate (Dacca) Cable
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: March 31, 1971: Army Terror Campaign Continues in Dacca; Evidence Military Faces Some Difficulties Elsewhere
U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Sitrep:, Confidential, 3 pp.
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: April 6, 1971: USG Expression of Concern on East Pakistan
U.S. Department of State Cable
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: April 6, 1971: Dissent from US Policy Toward East Pakistan
US Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Confidential, 5 pp. Includes Signatures from the Department of State.
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: April 28, 1971: Policy Options Toward Pakistan
Memorandum for the President, Includes Nixon's handwritten Nixon note
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: May 10, 1971: Memorandum of Conversation (Memcon) MM Ahmad, Agha Hilaly, Henry Kissinger and Harold H Saunders
US 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: May 10, 1971: Memcon The President, M.M. Ahmad, Agha Hilaly, and Harold H. Saunders
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: May 26, 1971: Possible India-Pakistan War
Department of State, Memorandum for the President
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: June 3, 1971: Memcon Kenneth Keating, Henry Kissinger, and Harold Saunders
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: July 7, 1971: Memorandum for RADM Daniel J. Murphy, Dr. Kissinger's Reports of Conversations in New Delhi
Top Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only, 4 pp.
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: July 7, 1971: Memcon, Dr. Sarabhai, Dr. Haksar, Dr. Kissinger, Mr. Winston Lord
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: July 15, 1971: Indo-Pakistan Situation
Department of State, Cable, Secret, 7 pp.
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: July 19, 1971: Memorandum for Dr, Kissinger, Military Assistance to Pakistan and the Trip to Peking
Secret, 2 pp. Includes handwritten Kissinger note on bottom of second page.
Saunders discusses US 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: July 28, 1971: Memorandum for the Presidents File, President's Meeting with Ambassador Joseph Farland
Secret, 5 pp. Attached to Cover Memoranda
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: July 30, 1971: NSC Paper, South Asia: Cutting of Military and Economic Assistance
The NSC staff discusses Congressional 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: August 7, 1971: Handwritten Letter from President Nixon to President Yahya
Nixon writes to personally thank Yahya for his assistance in arranging contacts between the US 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: August 11, 1971: Memorandum for the Record: The President, Henry Kissinger, John Irwin, Thomas Moorer, Robert Cushman, Maurice Williams, Joseph Sisco, Armistead Seldon, and Harold Saunders
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: August 14, 1971: Letter from Prime Minister Gandhi
Department of State Cable, Secret, 4 pp.
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: August 16, 1971: Memorandum for the President, My August 16 Meeting with the Chinese Ambassador in Paris
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.
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 Congress, 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: August 18, 1971: Memorandum for the President, Implications of the Situation in South Asia
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: September 17, 1971: Arrests of East Pakistan Intellectuals
US Embassy (Islamabad), Cable, Confidential, 3 pp.
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: November 15, 1971: Memorandum for General Haig, Pakistan/India Contingency Planning
Secret/Eyes Only, , 3 pp. Includes JCS Cable.
The US 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: November 18, 1971: Pakistan Crisis
United States Embassy (Islamabad) Cable, Secret, 9 pp. Attached to Presidents Saturday Briefing and includes United Stated Embassy (New Delhi) Cables Dated November 15 and 16, 1971.
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: December 4 and December 16, 1971: White House, Telephone Conversations (Telcon)
Dated 11 pp. Includes Cover Sheet Dated January 19, 1972
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: December 7, 1971: National Security Council Memorandum for Henry Kissinger, Jordanian Transfer of F-104's to Pakistan
Secret, 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."
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: December 7, 1971: Background Briefing with Henry Kissinger
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: December 8, 1971: US Public Position on Road to War
United States Embassy (New Delhi) Cable, Secret
Responding to a news story based on Kissinger's background briefing, Keating argues that many of Kissinger's statements cannot 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: December 10, 1971: Event Summary by George H.W. Bush
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: December 8, 1971: NSC List, Courses of Actions Associated with India/Pakistan Crisis
Top Secret/Sensitive, 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: December 9, 1971: Pakistan Request for F-104's
Department of State Cable, Secret, 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: December 9, 1971: Defense Intelligence Agency Intelligence Appraisal, Communist China's Capability to Support Pakistan
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: December 12, 1971: Memcon, Huang Ha, T'ang Wen-sheng, Shih Yen-hua, Alexander Haig, Winston Lord
Top Secret/Sensitive, Exclusively Eyes Only,
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: December 14, 1971: Carrier Deployment in Indian Ocean
Department of State of Cable, Secret
Indian Ambassador Jha expresses his concern over American deployment of a Nuclear Carrier in the Indian ocean.
Document 38: December 14, 1971: Situation in India-Pakistan as of 0700 hours (EST)
Department of State, Situation Report #41, Secret,, 4 pp.
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: December 15, 1971: Situation in India-Pakistan as of 0700 hours (EST)
Secret, Department of State, Situation Report #44,
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: December 15, 1971: United States Embassy (Islamabad) Cable
Top Secret/ Exclusive Eyes Only
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: December 15, 1971: Deployment Carrier Task Force in Indian Ocean
United States Embassy (New Delhi), Cable, Secret, 2 pp.
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: December 16, 1971: India-Pakistan Situation Report (As of 1200 EST)
Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Memorandum, Top Secret,
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: December 23, 1971: Supply of Third Country US Arms to Pakistan
Department of State, Cable, Secret
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: December 29, 1971: F-5 Aircraft to Pakistan
United States Embassy (Tehran), Cable, Secret, , 3 pp. Includes DOD cable.
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: January 6, 1972: National Security Council, Notes, Anderson Papers Material
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.