Soon after the 1975 coup in Bangladesh when President Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated , the United States believed that India would make a militarily intervention.

Fresh evidence of the U.S.’ concern has surfaced in diplomatic cables obtained and made public by WikiLeaks recently.

The communications provide fascinating details about Washington’s nervousness.

On November 27, 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote to U.S. Ambassador to India William B. Saxbe “recommending” that he meet Foreign Minister [Y.B.] Chavan because “the situation demands immediate attention in New Delhi,” despite the fact that a high-level U.S.-India meeting was scheduled in Washington DC for later that month.

Saxbe was to convey the U.S. “fear that mutual Indian and Bgd [Bangladesh] misperceptions of each other’s intentions might create a dynamic of events that led to consequences neither country really desired. The USG continues to believe that India shares our view that it would be extremely detrimental to the prospects for stability and peace in the subcontinent, and would set in motion unpredictable chain reaction, if external powers were to intervene in the internal affairs of Bangladesh,” Kissinger’s wrote to the Ambassador (1975STATE281302_b, secret).

Concurring with the U.S. Embassy’s assessment that “Indians remain in the posture of watching the situation carefully on the ground but have not yet decided to act,” Kissinger said the U.S. believed “it is essential, while we may still have some ability to influence situation to convey to the GoI at a senior level the sense of Bengalee [Bangladesh’s] concerns, just as we have raised Indian concerns with the Bgd [Bangladesh].”

From intelligence documents archived in the State Department, it is known that a joint memorandum by the CIA, the Defence Intelligence Bureau, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department concluded that Indian military intervention “cannot be ruled out.”

U.S. persuades Iran

Washington was so convinced of India’s intentions that it persuaded Iran, then under the pro-American Shah, to dissuade New Delhi from any such action, and even actively sought the opinion of the Soviet Union, which would have stood by India.

U.S. Ambassador to Iran (who was a former CIA Director) Richard Helms after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Ali Khalatbary noted (1975TEHRAN11543_b, secret dated November 27, 1975): “Khalatbary responded that GoI [Government of Iran] was equally concerned about events in Bangladesh and possibility of Indian intervention... Ambassador urged Iran [to] weigh in with Delhi and Dacca to help defuse situation. When Khalatbary expressed doubts about influence Iran enjoyed in Delhi ambassador encouraged him not to underestimate important role Iran can play in this matter.”

In Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Walter J. Stoessel met Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolay Firyubin and inferred that “the soviets are less concerned about preventing possible Indian intervention than they are that it succeed decisively if undertaken (1975MOSCOW18221_b, secret dated Dec. 20).”

“Firyubin... left no doubt that from Moscow’s standpoint the question of regional stability, and by extension the prevention of a substantial increase in PRC [People’s Republic of China] influence in the area, were more important... I would not conclude from this that the Soviets are encouraging the Indians, but from Firyubin’s presentation it can be infer[r]ed that they might not do much to discourage them either.”

He added: “To my question about current Indian attitudes, he said that the Indians had been satisfied with the bilateral talks, but ‘only god knows’ what the future will bring.”

U.S. fears were fed by Bangladeshi officials: “During conversation at a reception January 3, an officer of Bangladesh deputy high commission told me, in response to my question about how relations are going between Bangladesh and India, that Indians are harbo[u]ring and training Bangladesh opposition personalities and force,” said a cable from the American consulate in Calcutta (1976CALCUT00023_b, secret).

“Source was visibly nervous about imparting the foregoing and moved on quickly after having done so,” the cable dated January 5, 1976 said. Bangladesh also sought the U.S. help. In response, Kissinger, in a cable to the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, said: “We will continue to be sympathetic to Bangladesh’s needs and concerns (1975STATE265069_b, secret).”

Indian denials

For their part, Indian officials denied any movement of troops to the Bangladesh front (1976NEWDE000693_b, confidential, dated January 14, 1976): “Indians, at every opportunity, have been telling visitors here that it is slanderous to say that Indian troops have been augmented along the Bangladesh border [Prime Minister] Mrs. Gandhi having made this point to Senator [Codel] McGovern most recently Jan. 9,” it said, referring to a Congressman’s visit to India and Bangladesh to ascertain the ground situation.

Indian High Commissioner Samar Sen also “scoffed at reports that India had acted in any way that threatened” Bangladesh (1976DACCA00272_b, confidential), notes a cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh at that time, Davis Eugene Boster.

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