Sep 26, 2023
Sep 26, 2023
by H.N. Bali
Indira Gandhi at Shimla Conference
Worrisome Tinkering with Defense Portfolio – Part IV
One of the legacies of Jawaharlal was the Kashmir albatross that India has worn around its neck for over six and a half decades. A godsend opportunity to resolve the solution-defying problem presented itself at the Shimla Conference after the 1971 Bangladesh war. If ever a person holding three aces lost in a rummy round to those with very weak hands, that person was Nehru’s beloved daughter, Indira Gandhi.
If ever in history a nation won a war but threw away the fruits of victory, it was India in 1971. As Rajeshwar Dayal, a veteran civil-servant-turned-diplomat who in his lifetime had the opportunity to observe world statesmen play their hands with dexterity, sums up: “Bhutto returned from the Shimla Conference triumphant, having fully secured his aims, while Indira Gandhi returned to New Delhi nursing a scrap of paper.”
Many explanations have been offered for Bhutto’s sleight of hand. And let’s not forget it was under the nose of such heavy weights that constituted the Indian delegation: D P Dhar, P N. Haksar, T N Kaul and R N Kaw. (Why the Home and Defense Secretaries were left out is a mystery!). As per the available version of the actual goings-on at Shimla, it was D P Dhar who conducted the negotiations since he then enjoyed Indira Gandhi’s confidence the most. The main negotiator from the Pakistani side was Aziz Ahmed with grandiloquent title of Secretary General in the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. It was, however, Bhutto who called the shots.
Whatever was known to the Indian side about Bhutto till then added up to a reputation of being an extremely unscrupulous, wily opportunist who put his self-interest above everything. It was he who had prevented Sheikh Mujib from becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan despite the Awami League’s majority in Pakistan’s Federal Assembly. Anyone who knew Bhutto knew him to be utterly untrustworthy despite a facade of switch-on-switch-off suavity. He had betrayed Ayub to whom he owed his entry into Pakistani politics. He also had stabbed Yahya in the back to upstage him.
Aziz Ahmed’s deep animosity towards India was fairly well-known. He was one of those inveterate India-baiters whom Bhutto allowed a free hand in negotiations. The Bhutto-Aziz combination was absolutely lethal and poor Dhar was no match for it.
What actually happened in the closed-door parleys will perhaps never be known. Neither of the two principal players − Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali − survived to write their memoirs. Twenty years after the event, PN Dhar ventured to tell us something about what happened. (Why was he waiting for this unconscionably long spell?) In a two-part article in Times of India in April 1995 he revealed for the first time in public as to what happened. The Pakistani side of the story is contained in a series of articles that Abdus Sattar published in the Pakistani press as a rejoinder to Dhar’s account.
Both India and Pakistan had brought incompatible agendas to the conference table at Shimla. Pakistan wanted everything without giving anything. India’s intentions are summed up by Dhar in the above-mentioned article in the Times of India, namely, “to put an end to its adversarial relations with Pakistan and to forge an instrument that would help to build a structure of durable peace”. PN Haksar in the Indian delegation counseled to avoid at all cost repetition of another Treaty of Versailles which, by imposing impossibly harsh terms and conditions on Germany, including indemnity for the war, facilitated the emergence of the Nazi regime. (If Haksar thought that the Treaty alone was responsible for the rise of Hitler, he hadn’t learnt much from his study of international relations).
Someone in the delegation should have carried a copy of Chanakya’s treatise on statecraft to remind his colleagues how they should be conducting negotiations with an enemy forced to the wall. India had all the cards stacked in its favor: some 93,000 POWs and a vast territory of Sindh province under its control besides having cut Pakistan to its size.
Ask a schoolboy in Pakistan what’s it that plagues Indo-Pakistan relations, he would unhesitatingly say: Kashmir. Somehow Pakistanis are convinced − the Government as much as its people − that India cheated them of Kashmir’s accession and they must make their Muslim brothers in Kashmir return to Pakistan’s Islamic embrace. And till that holy task is accomplished, Pakistan can’t live on terms of peace with the infidels of India.
Is Pakistan really reconciled to the fate of some 15 crore of their co-religionists who stayed on in India to live with the non-believers? Or after getting Kashmir, would a special status for them be the next item on the Pakistani political agenda?
India should have unreservedly tied up a full and final settlement of the so-called Kashmir problem with the return of the occupied territory and POWs. And if Pakistan wasn’t ready to accept unconditionally to converting the Line of Actual Control as the international border, India should have played the card of handing over 93,000 POWs to Bangladesh where the Awami League leaders would have been only too keen to try them for their war crimes on the lines of Nuremberg trials. The atrocities of the Pakistani army inflicted on the people of Bangladesh had left festering wounds in the Bangladeshi psyche. And such a trial − you don’t need a Chanakya to tell you − would have soured the Pakistan-Bangladesh relations for decades to come, much to the diplomatic advantage of India. Again, handing back the occupied Sindh territory shouldn’t have been unconditional.
What on earth paralyzed the Indian negotiating skills at Shimla would always remain a mystery. Indeed, dictating humiliating terms to a defeated adversary isn’t far-sighted statesmanship. But striking a deal in your favor is a matter of skillful negotiation. One would need to have his head examined to agree to Bhutto’s reported request to Indira Gandhi in a private session − as per Dhar’s version − that he may be granted some time − reportedly six months − to veer the public opinion in favor of the proposal that he personally agreed with. He wanted time to deal with what he called ‘Lahore Lobby’ i.e., the Punjabi top brass in Pakistan’s army and bureaucracy.
Mrs. Gandhi wasn’t meeting Bhutto, an unknown entity. Didn’t she remember how Bhutto had threatened a thousand years’ war and called Indians, “dogs”, in the United Nations debate on the Kashmir issue? How the empty verbiage of Bhutto’s utterances could cast a spell on Mrs. Gandhi is flabbergasting. The acquiescence of other members of the delegation to what Indira Gandhi agreed to is ‘however’ understandable, given the proclivity of our bureaucrats to bend over backwards to placate their political bosses and invent justifications for the favored line of thinking.
P N Dhar, one of the key players at the Conference gives his version in his book, Indira Gandhi, the ‘Emergency’ and Indian Democracy:
I have tried to understand the psychology behind this attitude without success. Perhaps it was Indira Gandhi’s view − namely that it would be unbecoming for us as victors to behave victoriously while hosting the summit − that infected our attitudes. Or perhaps our collective historical experience makes us feel more at home with setbacks. (Italics added)
Wasn’t it – to call a spade a bl**dy shovel − nothing but the gene of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? Let the readers decide.
All said, the Shimla agreement was, in the words of Rajeshwar Dayal − a diplomat seasoned in the vagaries of the cold war − “a most remarkable trick on Mrs. Gandhi, a woman who was not the most trusting of persons”. He quotes Abdus Sattar for a possible answer as to why and how did she succumb to Bhutto’s charms:
Was she under pressure from the great powers to conclude a peace treaty? Did she feel that India, having already cut Pakistan into two, should legitimize the gain by securing Pakistan’s agreement? Was she influenced by the thought that the elected leaders of Pakistan should not return empty-handed? Or was she beguiled by Bhutto’s eloquence and promises?
Somebody beguiling Indira Gandhi isn’t easy to stomach. But then, it did happen. History has to reckon with the list of its fait accompli − howsoever unpalatable and inexplicable they may be.
We lose no opportunity to emphasize in one international forum after another, that as per Shimla Agreement, Kashmir is a bilateral issue to be resolved between India and Pakistan. Is it so? The only concession that − what magnanimity by a man driven to the wall − Bhutto made to Mrs. Gandhi in his last minute bid to salvage the talks was to agree to the 1949 cease-fire line in Kashmir to be called the “line of control”. The Indian side regarded this as ‘core’ of the solution they were striving for. In retrospect, one can’t even laugh at this naiveté of simpletons that such seasoned men – five Kashmiri Pundits at that − reduced themselves to be. Bhutto made the Indian delegation unthinkingly agree to the addition of innocent sounding additional legalese: “without prejudice to the recognized position of either side”.
Anyone who wasn’t “high” in the Indian delegation that cold night in Shimla would have understood that the additional clause cancelled the first part of the statement which called upon both the parties to respect the Line of Control. Rajeshwar Dayal’s assessment can’t be faulted that “Indira Gandhi returned (from Shimla) to New Delhi nursing a scrap of paper”. Bhutto and his wily aides thrust it in her hand as a lollypop after wresting all the concessions they needed to survive politically, i.e., the release of POWs and the occupied territory in Sindh.
Besides that “scrap of paper” Indira Gandhi had the consolation of being told: “Aap mujhpe bharosa keejiye”. (Do trust me). Whatever promise or promises Bhutto might have made were never meant to be kept. The most convincing act of bad faith on the part of Pakistan was that in 1973 itself − i.e. just one year after signing the Shimla Accord − Pakistan chose to go to the International Court of Justice charging India with having violated the Geneva Convention on prisoners-of-war. The appropriate course for India should, in fact, have followed was to watch from a distance the trial of Gen. Niazi and his men in Dacca as war criminals. The Nuremberg trials had established a ready-at-hand precedent.
Ever since 1972, we have been reiterating at every international forum (wherever there is a mention of the Kashmir problem) that the conflict is a bilateral issue to be resolved mutually between India and Pakistan. According to our stand, interference by others is unacceptable. Abdul Sattar, stating Pakistan’s case, poured scorn on Dhar’s interpretation of the Shimla agreement. According to him, the first substantive paragraph of the agreement stipulates that “both sides have undertaken to abide by the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations”. He infers from this acceptance by both the parties of all the modes and methods of resolving differences between the two sovereign states as spelt out in the UN Charter, which rules out exclusive resort to “bilateralism”.
All we are left with − over four decades after the event − are two irreconcilable versions, namely, the accounts of Dhar and Sattar, both completely different from each other. Sattar emphatically denies Bhutto having extended any commitment to Mrs. Gandhi to accept later on the Line of Control as the international border. Altogether, the Shimla Agreement was a colossal failure of Indian diplomacy. As Dayal sums up: “the Shimla Agreement was a lamentable case of the squandering away of a unique opportunity to resolve the Kashmir problem once and for all”. And the responsibility for that has to be shared by all those who constituted the Indian delegation and, most of all, Indira Gandhi.
Human behavioral geneticists, who study the inheritance of behavioral traits, do not universally agree whether genetics (“nature”) or the environment (“nurture”) has the stronger influence on behavior. It is generally believed that human behavior is determined by complex interactions of both nature and nurture. However, the Nehrus − both father and daughter − provide enough evidence for the proponents of Mendelian inheritance. Let the new generation of leadership adopt, the Bhagavad Gita, instead, as their lodestar and remember forever what Krishna told Arjun: reluctance on account of compassion to annihilate your enemies arraigned on the battlefield, is klabyam i.e., Impotence (Chapter2:3)
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|H N Bali,|
What erudite writing and to the point analysis. The last line must describe the pandits of Kashmir aptly, both father and daughter suffered the same plight.