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Soviet vetoes blamed by US for Pakistan's 1971 division

February 28, 2005

WASHINGTON, Feb 27: The United States believed that an overwhelming majority of UN members were against the division of Pakistan in 1971 but Russian vetoes prevented the world body from playing any role in the crisis.

This assessment is included in a set of classified documents the US State Department released this week to the media on US relations with the United Nations from 1969 to 1972.

Summing up the UN role during the 1971 crisis, the US permanent mission at the United Nations informs the State Department: "On Dec 7, the UN General Assembly, acting under the Uniting for Peace procedure, recommended by an overwhelming majority a cease fire and withdrawal of troops to their own territories and the creation of conditions for voluntary return of refugees." These were Bengali refugees who had fled to the Indian state of West Bengal after the 1971 military action in former East Pakistan.

As many as 104 member states voted for the resolution, 10, including India and the former Soviet Union, voted against it and 11 abstained. "The vote showed the strong sentiment in the United Nations against the use of military force to divide a member state," the US mission observes.

In a separate memo assessing the proceedings of the 26th General Assembly which dealt with the 1971 crisis, the US permanent mission writes: "The overwhelming majority (voted) for a resolution calling for a cease fire and withdrawal of troops in the Indo-Pakistan war (but) the Security Council was prevented from acting by Soviet vetoes."

Despite the world body's failure to enforce a cease fire, the US mission says that "in the India-Pakistan crisis, the General Assembly showed its utility. Early attempts by Secretary General U. Thant to persuade the permanent members of the Security Council to address the crisis over East Pakistan had foundered mainly on Soviet objections."

The memo points out that in December 1971, following the outbreak of hostilities, the US had brought the dispute before the Security Council but repeated Soviet vetoes blocked action.

"The Security Council belatedly adopted a resolution endorsing a cease fire and pointing toward withdrawal of troops, political accommodation, and humanitarian relief under UN auspices," says the internal memo.

In an earlier memo sent to the US permanent mission at the UN on Sept 3, 1971, the State Department predicts that the 26th UNGA could well be "a turbulent one" and the situation in Pakistan, "fraught with danger of conflict, could also lead to heated debates."

The memorandum suggests that the then US Secretary of State William Pierce Rogers "should give major emphasis to South Asia" in his address to the 26th General Assembly, underlining the dangers of war in the area, and especially focusing "attention on the humanitarian problem in India and East Pakistan".

"The secretary should underline the UN role of leadership in dealing with these problems and should provide vigorous support to the secretary-general's appeal for contributions and support from the world community," the memo says.

The memo urged Mr Rogers to include the following points in his speech: a) the threat to peace poses dangers not only to India and Pakistan but to the world community, b) the threat of famine in East Pakistan and the problem posed by the influx of refugees into India must also concern the international community, c) the international community, and India and Pakistan, have a responsibility for ensuring the peace, for averting famine and relieving human misery, d) we look to the UN to continue asserting vigorous leadership and coordination of efforts to deal with the food situation in East Pakistan and refugee relief in India.

We intend continuing our support for these efforts, e) we recognize that the political problems in Pakistan must be resolved by the Pakistanis themselves, f) we trust both India and Pakistan will avoid actions which can increase tensions and will also be alert to the opportunities for dealing with the refugee problem so as to reduce tensions.

Mr Rogers, who died at the age of 87 four years ago, delivered his speech on Oct 4, 1971, focusing on the points suggested by his aides. Another State Department memo, written after the speech, says that both Indian and Pakistani representatives (Agha Shahi) commented that the speech was clear and balanced.

"Naturally Indians would have preferred greater stress on political settlement in East Pakistan and Pakistanis less, but in general their reactions were decidedly favourable."