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State Department Releases Latest Volume of the 1969-1976 U.S. Foreign Policy Record

The publication deals with the South Asia crisis of 1971

Posted: May 7, 2005

The Department of State announced on May 6 that it has released the latest volume in the ongoing official record of United States foreign policy. Volume XI of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, deals with the South Asia crisis of 1971.

The election of Bengali nationalists early that year in East Pakistan triggered a series of events that dramatically affected relations between Pakistan, India, the Soviet Union, China and the United States. The volume chronicles action taken by the administration of former President Richard Nixon within the context of the Cold War, the secret U.S. efforts for a diplomatic opening to China and the Soviet Union's alignment towards India against Pakistan.

The events depicted in the volume range from "serious contemplation in the White House that the crisis might lead to nuclear war... [or] a regional conventional war in South Asia pitting India and the Soviet Union against China, the United States, and Pakistan" to what ultimately was resolved by cease fire in a way that would "dramatically alter the Indian subcontinent."

Following is the press release announcing the volume's publication:

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U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesman
May 6, 2005

Release of Foreign Relations Volume XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971. This volume, part of the ongoing official record of U.S. foreign policy, presents key documentation on the Nixon Administration's policy immediately prior to and during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Included in this volume is full coverage of the "tilt" toward Pakistan by President Richard Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger.

The volume begins with the political crisis triggered by the electoral success of Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan, led by Sheik Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League, and the announcement by President Yahya Khan on March 1, 1971, that the scheduled meetings of the newly elected National Assembly would be postponed indefinitely. The announcement was met initially by popular demonstrations by the Awami League and the dispatch of additional troops to Dacca by Pakistan's martial-law government. On March 15, Rahman announced that he was taking over the administration of East Pakistan. Ten days later the army arrested him and moved to suppress what it viewed as a secessionist movement. The United States was loath to intervene in Pakistan's internal affairs, especially since Pakistan was Nixon's secret conduit for a diplomatic opening to the People's Republic of China.

The Pakistani army's campaign against Bengali dissidents eventually led the U.S. Consulate in Dacca to send a "dissent channel" message to Washington, which called for the United States to condemn the "indiscriminate killing." However, the Nixon Administration was not prepared to involve itself in a civil war on the Indian subcontinent. Nor did the Nixon Administration pay much attention to Indian concerns about "the carnage in East Pakistan" and the problems of refugees in West Bengal. When Indian officials such as Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came to Washington, the Nixon Administration counseled non-intervention, but assumed that India planned to go to war.

The signing of the India-Soviet Union Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation in August 1971, while not a mutual security treaty, was viewed in Washington as a blank check to India in its confrontation with Pakistan. President Nixon warned Soviet officials not to encourage India and informed India that if it started a war with Pakistan, the United States would cut off aid.

On November 22, India launched an offensive against East Pakistan. The Nixon Administration cut off economic aid to India, and Nixon himself decided to "tilt" toward Pakistan. This pro-Pakistan policy included support of Pakistan in the United Nations and pressure on the Soviets to discourage India, with accompanying hints that U.S.-Soviet détente would be in jeopardy if Moscow did not comply. When Nixon learned that Indian war plans were designed to liberate "Bangladesh" and southern Kashmir, and to destroy Pakistan's military armored and air strength, he ordered the U.S. carrier Enterprise and its escorts into the Bay of Bengal. At the President's instruction, Kissinger met with People's Republic of China Ambassador to the United Nations Huang Hua to brief him on the crisis and U.S. actions, and to suggest that China make coordinated military moves in support of Pakistan. The implication conveyed by Kissinger was that if the Soviet Union responded militarily, the United States would support China in any confrontation with the Soviet Union.

When the Chinese asked to meet with Kissinger in New York 2 days later, the White House assumed the worst and concluded that China had already decided to take military action against India. There was serious contemplation in the White House that the crisis might lead to nuclear war, but the general conclusion was that a regional conventional war in South Asia pitting India and the Soviet Union against China, the United States, and Pakistan was more likely. When the meeting took place, the Nixon White House learned that China's message had nothing to do with military moves in support of Pakistan. For his part, President Nixon correctly realized that "Russia and China aren't going to war." In mid-December, Pakistani military forces surrendered in East Pakistan. With U.S. encouragement, Pakistan accepted an Indian cease-fire offer that would dramatically alter the Indian subcontinent.

The text of the volume, the summary, and this press release are available at the Office of the Historian website http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/nixon/xi/ . Copies of this volume can be purchased from the U.S. Government Printing Office at http://bookstore.gpo.gov/index.html. For further information contact Edward Keefer, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, at (202) 663-1131; fax (202) 663-1289; e-mail history@state.gov.

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