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‘Yahya is not an ogre’

Updated Jan 26, 2017 10:07am

The following is an excerpt from a declassified document released online by America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as part of a searchable database on its website Room Reading. Declassified documents were previously only available to the public at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

In a 1971 DIA Intelligence Appraisal report on the Indo-Pak situation, one unidentified US ambassador writes to his/her government to apprise them of the situation between India and Pakistan shortly before the fall of Dhaka.

The telegram, marked ‘secret’ and stamped with the 'Department of State Telegram', provides an interesting insight into the notes taken by a US ambassador at the time on meetings with then Indian High Commissioner J K Atal as well as former President Yahya Khan.

“He [Atal] had begun his mission, he said, by a lengthy conversation with Azres. Yahya, whom he discovered not repeat not to be quote an ogre unquote as reflected in the Indian press and as characterised by various GOI officials at high levels. Rather, he said, he found him to be, though bound by the complexes of a military mind, extremely amenable to suggestion and most desirous of ameliorating the tensions extant in the subcontinent.”

“As an example of Yahya’s cooperativeness, Atal reported, he had concluded his conversation with Yahya with a discussion of Yahya’s forthcoming Eid message, which in final published form contained certain statements actually dictated by Atal at the time for inclusion therein.”

Another telegram in the same chain includes the US ambassadors notes on Atal’s meeting with Mrs Gandhi . “Atal particularly emphasised the fact that India was not seeking a break up of Pakistan and said that he was going to make clear this point with sultan Khan when he saw him this afternoon.

“I told him that I was surprised that the name Mujibur Rahman had not entered into the message in as much as both his PM and foreign minister had repeatedly made sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s release a precondition to any dialogue towards political settlement.

Atal disaffirmed this as a reflecting current thinking and said, in confidence, that as far as he was concerned he thought Mujibur was a quote stupid fool unquote. He added that, in his opinion, Mujibur and Bhutto were primarily responsible for the present debacle.”


The above-mentioned document is part of a database of 930,000 previously confidential files released by the CIA on January 17, 2017. The CIA had disseminated historical declassified documents to its CIA Records Search Tool (Crest) since 1999.

To view Dawn.com's compilation of extracts from the declassified CIA documents, click here.