July 15, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ J N Dixit

The Errors of Simla

Jyotindra Nath 'Mani' Dixit, the former foreign secretary, shares his memories of the Indo-Pak summit in Simla in 1972 with Sheela Bhatt.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah had tried to take over Jammu and Kashmir. Though he did not succeed, his actions affected the relationship between India and Pakistan. Even after his death and that of prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the relations between the two nations did not stabilise.

Jawaharlal Nehru did try for normalcy. He signed an agreement with Pakistan's prime minister Mohammad Ali Bogda. With the World Bank's help, we signed an Indus water treaty with Ayub Khan. That was some marginal development. But Pakistan's hostility did not go away and this resulted in the 1965 war. Pakistan did not succeed in its objectives, which was primarily aiming Kashmir. The interesting thing is Pakistan did not feel it was militarily defeated in 1965. America and the Soviet Union persuaded India to sign the Tashkent agreement. India had not won the war decisively, and was in difficulty.

The crisis in East Pakistan was a qualitatively different proposition. First of all, Pakistan thought that Chinese and American support would ensure the failure of the liberation struggle. President Yahya Khan thought if India launched a military operation in the east, he could do something in Kashmir and take it away. That is why he carried out a surprise, but it was no surprise to us.

We defeated them for the first and perhaps only time on both, the eastern and western fronts. We help the liberation of Bangladesh and captured large areas of Sind and southern Punjab. They didn't succeed in Kashmir, and we took 93,000 prisoners of war.

For the first time, Pakistan could not escape accepting the fact that it was politically throttled and militarily defeated. The result was the erosion and then, fading away of the Yahya Khan regime. The defeat also convinced Pakistan it must have conversations with India. Why we agreed to negotiations in Simla is worth analyzing. We had no political and military objectives, we had no desire to capture West Pakistan nor did we want to capture Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

The military regime in Pakistan had disappeared and a civilian -- Zulfikar Ali Bhutto -- had taken over, so we were at ease talking to him. Holding onto another nation's territory is a politically and financially expensive proposition. You have to appoint a military governor and you have to permanently station your troops. The population will be hostile. The age of aggressive imperialism is over. It is not in our tradition, so we decided to talk.

Remember Simla occurred after a series of meetings in Dhaka. P N Haksar, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's principal secretary, and Foreign Secretary T N Kaul had detailed discussion with Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka. Indira Gandhi conveyed to Mujib that India want normalcy in the sub-continent. Mujib, I suspect, had some informal contact with Bhutto when he was released in January 1972. Bhutto asked Mujib to help in the release of the Pakistani POWs and, if possible, not initiate war crime trials.

I was then director of the War desk at the ministry of external affairs. I was the first acting ambassador to Bangladesh. My frank analysis is Mujib was not keen on independence. He wanted to be prime minister of the whole of Pakistan. It is only because of the obstinate stand of the military regime and Bhutto that he was compelled to declare independence. He was willing to negotiate even then. It was the Awami League's youth wing who remained firm. He was not an active participant in the freedom struggle, as he was in prison.

India told him if you don't want to release the POWs, Bangladesh could keep them. Mujib was not prepared for that because he could not afford it. Bhutto was a clever man, he anticipated the pressure on us.

At Simla we had many objectives.

First, we wanted to stabilise the relationship and tell Pakistan: The war is over, you provoked it, we were compelled to respond, but that does not mean we have any ambitions, territorial or otherwise.

Second, we want the Kashmir issue to be resolved to the maximum extent.

Third, we wanted Bhutto to recognise Bangladesh. Not only had Pakistan not recognised Bangladesh, Islamabad was obstructing Dhaka getting UN membership.

Four, we wanted him to take back non-Biharis and non-Bengalis from Bangladesh. This was a demand on Bangladesh's behalf. All these was discussed first in Dhaka, then in Delhi and Murree in Pakistan. P N Haksar, D P Dhar, chairman of the policy planning committee, and T N Kaul were involved in the negotiations. Swaran Singh was our foreign minister, Jagjivan Ram the defence minister.

In January 1972 I was appointed acting ambassador to Bangladesh. I was in Simla for the first day-and-a-half. K P S Menon Jr, who later became foreign secretary, was also involved in the negotiations. India's strength was that we had won the war, but importantly, we had gone through internal discussions to decide what we want to achieve.

It was decided if Pakistan agreed to the new border and recognised Bangladesh, we would release the POWs.

We also told Pakistan if they recognised Bangladesh, we would persuade Bangladesh not to initiate a war crimes trial.

Mrs Gandhi went to Simla with Sardar Swaran Singh, Haksar, Dhar and Kaul.

There was a business-like atmosphere in Simla. The chemistry of cooperation was absent between the two leaders. Mrs Gandhi was not there to forget and forgive. Bhutto's stand was, "Whatever you say is right, but I was not responsible." He was a clever man.

The discussions were very difficult. Bhutto kept harping, "Look, I am in a weak position. I have just taken over. If you make very harsh demands and if I concede them I may not survive back home. Already, there is a lot of anger and frustration in Pakistan. We don't want an extremist Muslim or military government to come back. So please help me stabilise myself in office."

People often ask why did we give back the territory we won? Holding foreign territory is expensive militarily. It would also have not been acceptable to the international community. The 93,000 POWs lived in pucca housing. Our troops guarding them lived in tents. For a year they lived in tents. Under the Geneva Convention you have to give certain facilities to POWs. It affected the morale of our soldiers. They thought we defeated the Pakistanis, but they are living comfortably while we are in slums. There was the tension of keeping 93,000 hostile soldiers. It was a complex predicament and we wanted to get rid of them.

We talked about Kashmir in Simla; we wanted to settle it once and all.

Till the last day we kept saying the military commanders would draw a new line. It would not be called a cease-fire line, but the Line of Control. It would be the first step towards making it an international boundary. Kashmir would not be considered a dispute. We discussed this at a formal meeting too. Bhutto said, "I have no problem. I will do it, but please don't put it in the agreement, formally."

Mrs Gandhi insisted upon this, but internal differences surfaced in our delegation. Jagjivan Ram, Dhar and Kaul wanted Bhutto to put this in the agreement, but Swaran Singh and Haksar cited history. If you put this in the agreement, they said, it would be in the manner of an imposed clause. The last time such an agreement was signed was after the first world war. After Hitler came to power he said this is an imposed agreement, it has no validity, he violated it and there was war.

This was the argument Mrs Gandhi was given. They said, "If Bhutto says he will do it, then don't insist on including it (Bhutto’s promise on Kashmir to India) in the agreement."

My personal view is we should have insisted that Bhutto's promise on Kashmir be included in the Simla agreement. I don't know what was working in their minds, what the compulsions were. On the last night, at the meeting with Mrs Gandhi, Bhutto agreed he would formally declare the Line of Control as an acceptable boundary in four years' time. This too was not put on record. The Simla agreement just said Kashmir is an issue which should be discussed, and has to be resolved peacefully and bilaterally. We made another mistake by writing 'other means;' we agreed to solve it 'by other means.'

Till the last day it was certain the meeting would be a failure. There was great anxiety. The mood was tense. If the talks failed, it would mean we would have to keep 93.000 POWs and Pakistan territory. The overriding feeling was that it is okay, if he is giving us this assurance on Kashmir, maybe it will lead to a durable peace. The agreement was signed on the very last day.

From July 1972 to 1974, Bhutto did take steps confirming his promise to Mrs Gandhi. The level of violence on the border was not high. He merged the northern areas into the Pakistan federation. He created a separate Kashmir ministry. Of course, he started the nuclear weapons programme, saying Pakistan would never again be defeated in war.

By 1974, Mrs Gandhi was in trouble because of the Navnirman agitation. Bhutto had become very strong by then. Even the military was subject to his influence. The Emergency made Mrs Gandhi unpopular. She had to concentrate on internal problems.

Bhutto was a political opportunist. He saw Mrs Gandhi was weak and reduced by 50% the value of the Simla agreement by 1976. He said, "Kashmir is a dispute." He didn't fulfill the other parts of the agreement.

The value judgement of Simla that we didn't take advantage of our position is in the light of much later developments. It did improve our credibility. Henry Kissinger, who was our greatest critic during the Bangladesh war, signed an agreement with us on economic cooperation. The Simla agreement provided the framework of some peace for a decade-and-a-half.

Part I: Trouble in Tashkent

Part III: When Rajiv met Zia

The Rediff Specials

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