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Nixon plotted war against India in 1971

Press Trust of India | May 7, 2005

Washington - Fearing that Soviets might get involved in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, then US President Richard Nixon had wanted China to make coordinated military moves in support of Pakistan, according to documents released by the State Department.

The Nixon administration was not prepared to involve itself in a war on the Indian sub-continent. Nor did it pay much attention to Indian concerns about "the carnage in East Pakistan" and the problems of refugees in West Bengal, said a State Department press release giving the gist of the papers on the Bangladesh War of Liberation, released yesterday.

But, 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, it said.

The US policy included support of Pakistan in UN and pressure on Soviets to discourage India, with hints that US-Soviet detente would be in jeopardy if Moscow did not comply.

At Nixon’s instruction, his assistance for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger met China's ambassador to the UN Huang Hua to suggest that Beijing make coordinated military moves in support of Pakistan. The implication conveyed by Kissinger was that if the soviets responded militarily, the US would support China in any confrontation with Soviet Union.

When the Chinese asked to meet Kissinger in New York two days later, the White House assumed the worst and concluded that China had already decided to take military action against India, the release said.

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 US 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 realised that "Russia and China aren’t going to war."

In mid-December, Pakistani military forces surrendered in East Pakistan.

With US encouragement, Pakistan accepted an Indian cease-fire offer that would dramatically alter the Indian subcontinent, the release noted.

Tracing the history of the war, the volume released by the State Department described 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 Pakistan 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 Dhaka by Pakistan's martial-law government. On March 15, Rahman announced that he was taking over the administration of East Pakistan and 10 days later the Army arrested him and moved to suppress what it viewed as a "secessionist" movement, the release said.

The United States was loath to intervene in Pakistan's internal affairs, especially since Islamabad was Nixon’s secret conduit for a diplomatic opening to China, according to the release.

The Pakistani Army's campaign against Bengali dissidents eventually led the US consulate in Dhaka to send a "dissent channel" message to Washington, which called for the United States to condemn the "indiscriminate killings."

When Indian officials such as Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came to Washington, the Nixon administration counselled non-intervention, but assumed that India planned to go to war, the release said.

President Nixon had also warned Soviet officials not to encourage India and informed New Delhi that if it started a war with Pakistan, the United States would cut off aid, it said.

On November 22, when the war began, the Nixon administration cut off economic aid to India, and Nixon himself decided to "tilt" toward Pakistan.

When Nixon learned that Indian war plans were designed to liberate "Bangladesh" and to destroy Pakistan's military armoured and air strength, he ordered the US carrier enterprise and its escorts into the Bay of Bengal, the release said.

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