Zia’s exchange of letters with President Carter on food assistance

Bangladesh suffered from a famine in 1974 and due to the growing population problem, despite some immediate steps taken by the Zia administration, was struggling to harvest sufficient food for a country with a population of nine million. To avert another famine, Ziaur Rahman personally encouraged leaders of the developed world to provide food assistance to Bangladesh, as President.

President Zia on May 21, 1977, wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter of the U.S. for food assistance. President Carter replied back within a month and made some recommendations to President Zia regarding food assistance. The texts of the letters are here for the readers.

Letter From Bangladeshi President Zia to President Carter

Dear Mr. President,

I avail myself of this opportunity to express deep appreciation of the people of Bangladesh and that of my own for the generous assistance we have received from the Government and the people of your great country. On our part we have made a sustained effort to use this valuable assistance in a constructive manner for generating a process of rapid socio-economic development. We have taken various steps to streamline our administration and to increase productivity in all sectors of our economy. We are paying special attention to agriculture, population control and rural development with a view to improving the condition of life of our people.

2. In spite of priority attention to production of foodgrains Bangladesh continues to face a sizable annual deficit. Hence, we have been obliged to depend on substantial supplies of foodgrains from abroad. Unfortunately, our food production has suffered a set-back this year owing to natural causes, and the total yield is substantially below initial estimates. The full impact of this shortage will be felt during the latter part of this year.

3. In these compelling circumstances we have to act urgently to bridge the food gap. Failure to take timely action will result in spiralling of foodgrain prices as also of all other essentials, and thus place these commodities beyond the reach of the common man. Such an eventuality will seriously disturb the delicate socio-economic and political balance that the present Government has been striving so hard to maintain. At the same time if Bangladesh has to finance the import of large quantities of foodgrains out of her own limited resources it would deal a crippling blow to her economic development programmes.

4. I am writing to urge that, as the biggest food-donor to Bangladesh, your country would, as in the past, come to our help with the utmost expedition. It is my earnest request and sincere hope that you and your Government would please respond most urgently.

5. I am happy to inform you that we are taking all necessary measures to gear up the administrative machinery that would enable us to receive without difficulty additional shipments at our ports, ensure adequate and safe storage, prevention of wastage and speedy distribution of foodgrains to various parts of the country.

6. Kindly accept, Mr. President, my best wishes for your personal health and happiness and for the continued progress and prosperity of your people.

Major General Ziaur Rahman
President, People’s Republic of Bangladesh.


On June 23, 1977, President Carter sent a letter to President Zia that reads:

Letter From President Carter to Bangladeshi President Zia

Dear President Zia:

Thank you very much for the good wishes conveyed in your letter of May 212 which Ambassador Siddiqi delivered to the White House on June 10. I was pleased to hear about the steps that you have taken to streamline your Administration and increase productivity. I particularly welcome your wise choice of the crucial areas of population control and agricultural production for special attention, for I fully share the belief that economic development must in the first instance help those whose needs are greatest. I take great satisfaction in the role that the United States has been able to play in helping you meet these important goals.

The United States will certainly continue to give sympathetic consideration to your request for food, and we will do all that we can to help in your drive for self-sufficiency.

As you know, on April 1 our governments signed a PL 480 Title I agreement for 200,000 metric tons of foodgrain. This grain has now begun to arrive, only ten weeks after the signing. Currently, we are negotiating an amendment to the April agreement for an additional 150,000 tons. As soon as this is concluded, we will coordinate with your government to ensure as prompt arrival as Bangladeshi port conditions will allow. We hope to begin negotiations very soon on a second amendment to provide some of the vegetable oil which you have requested.

This is not as much grain and oil as you have asked for, partly because of considerations of price and availability in the United States. As you know, I do rely very heavily on the estimates and recommendations that Ambassador Masters provides to me from Dacca. If there are areas where you disagree with our assessments, it would be most useful if your officials discussed these further with the Ambassador. I do want to assure you that the needs of Bangladesh are very much in our mind. If it should become necessary to provide additional food in response to changed circumstances, I assure you that we will be able to move rapidly to help.

I have followed with great interest the recent political developments in Bangladesh and am pleased to hear of your recently announced plans to hold further local elections and to have general elections before the end of 1978.5 The cause of democracy is an important one to Americans, and I am pleased that we share it with nations such as yours.

I have also been pleased by the progressive normalization of relations among the nations of South Asia. All parties have shown truly impressive statesmanship at a time when there is much talk of peace in the world but the talk is seldom followed up by action. I have pledged myself and my Administration to the pursuit of peace through action. I look forward to working together with you in our varying ways to achieve the imperative goal of peace. As you know, I have made far-reaching proposals in such areas as the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons as our contribution to this process.

The problem of meeting the world’s legitimate energy needs without adding to the risk of nuclear proliferation is one of particular concern to me.

Ambassador Siddiqi also restated your desire to purchase an atomic research reactor. It will certainly be much easier for us, however, to deal on nuclear matters with nations that have adhered to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. A decision on this matter is, of course, one that you must make in terms of your own national interests. I hope, however, that you can see your way clear to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a contribution to our common goal of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons that can only be harmful to all of us.

Once again, thank you for your letter. You can be sure that this Administration will continue to accord high priority to helping you and your government in your efforts to improve the human condition in Bangladesh.


Jimmy Carter



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