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Could India have solved the Kashmir problem in Simla?

By Jairam Ramesh
July 18, 2018 11:37 IST
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'Indira Gandhi and P N Haksar did not want Pakistan to leave as an embittered foe hell-bent on taking revenge for being humiliated so comprehensively,' reveals Jairam Ramesh in his book Intertwined Lives: P N Haksar and Indira Gandhi.
An exclusive excerpt:

IMAGE: Then prime minister Indira Gandhi with Air Chief Marshal P C Lal, then chief of the air staff, right, in April 1972. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

The Simla Summit began on 28 June 1972 and four days later the Simla Accord was signed under dramatic circumstances at well past midnight.

How did the Simla summit come about in the first place?

On 31 January 1972, (the Soviet ambassador to India Nikolay) Pegov had called on (Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's principal secretary P N) Haksar ... to understand what India would do to counter Pakistan's efforts to activate the United Nations Security Council to mediate between India and Pakistan.

Haksar spelt out India's approach and told the Soviet envoy in no uncertain terms that the Security Council should not allow itself to 'become merely the vehicle for Pakistan's propagandist efforts'.

It was obvious to Haksar that given (then Pakistan president Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto's aggressive lobbying at the UN, India had to do something to wrest the initiative.


On February 12, 1972, India formally informed the UN secretary general, through a letter drafted by Haksar, that it was ready to have direct talks with Pakistan at any time, at any level and without any preconditions.

A few days later this letter was shared with members of the Security Council and on February 17, 1972, the Swiss ambassador in Islamabad handed a copy of it to the government of Pakistan as well.

That very day, the Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) high commission delivered a message from President Bhutto that said 'I am ready to meet her [Indira Gandhi] with an open mind and without any preconditions whatsoever... I would be willing to come to New Delhi on any mutually convenient date'.

Haksar prepared an invitation from Indira Gandhi to Bhutto on March 30, 1972 that was handed over to the Swiss ambassador to be delivered to the Pakistani president.

On April 12, India received Bhutto's reply through the Swiss.

Finally it was decided to have the summit in Simla between June 28 and July 2, 1972.

Negotiations started with D P Dhar chairing the Indian side and Aziz Ahmed heading the Pakistani team.

Haksar took over as head of the Indian delegation on June 30, 1972 since Dhar had, all of a sudden, suffered a heart attack and had to be evacuated to New Delhi.

On June 29, 1972, India shared with Pakistan a 'Draft Treaty for Reconciliation, Good Neighbourliness and Durable Peace' and added a note saying that whatever was agreed to on the question of Jammu and Kashmir that was to be discussed separately would be included appropriately in the Treaty.

The next day, Pakistan shared its draft of an 'Agreement on Bilateral Relations between the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan'.

The same day -- that is on June 30, 1972 -- the two sides resumed negotiations.

The official record of discussions reads:

'Principal Secretary [PNH] said that he had few observations to make. We had deliberately not called into witness the past history of our relations. Both sides had their own respective 'mythologies'.'

'What was now required was to work for durable peace.'

Secondly, India believes that her own domestic compulsions would also have to be reckoned with in any consideration of the question of peace in the area.'

'If we accept the Pakistani draft our people would feel that the sourest factor of our relations had not even been referred to and no hope or direction had been indicated as to how the problem could be resolved.'

'Mr Ahmed stated, 'Why was it necessary to settle the Kashmir question today, especially when Pakistan did not enjoy equality in negotiations? Let us wait for a few months, perhaps a year.'

'Principal Secretary wondered whether there was any way of persuading Pakistan to accept that discussions were being conducted on one basis -- that of equality... We would like to remove the endless curse of conflicts on the question of Kashmir.'

'There are differences in our positions... While we believe that Jammu and Kashmir is part and parcel of India, as stated in our Constitution, President Bhutto keeps calling for a solution through self-determination.'

'We frankly do not understand what this means... We do not accept the concept of self-determination for integral parts of a country... We would, however, like to find some solution.'

'For this, Principal Secretary said, it would be useful to know the parameters within which Pakistan envisaged a solution to the question of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan should take us into confidence even if we do not come to any agreement...

'Principal Secretary reiterated that for India the question of Kashmir was very important and if there was no understanding, a new situation would be created which would require serious consideration.'

Indira Gandhi and Bhutto then met at 3.45 pm on July 1, 1972 accompanied by their top aides. The officials of the two sides met again at 3.30 pm on July 2, 1972, but the meeting did not yield any agreement.

The dinner took place and, thereafter Indira Gandhi and Bhutto had a one-on-one conversation.

It looked all was lost but miraculously at 40 minutes past midnight the two leaders signed the Simla Agreement.

How different was this final agreement from the Indian draft of the morning of July 2, 1972?

The change that India agreed to was in Para 4(ii) of its draft of July 1, 1972 which now read:

'In Jammu and Kashmir, the Line of Control resulting from the cease-fire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side.'

'Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations.'

'Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this Line.' (italics mine)

The italicised portion was indeed a concession to Bhutto in order to bring Pakistan on board.

Conceivably, Indira Gandhi and Haksar did not want Pakistan to leave as an embittered foe hell-bent on taking revenge for being humiliated so comprehensively.

Whether he got her around to his point of view or whether she was determined to have an agreement of her own volition is impossible to know.

Dhar has written that she may have been mindful of what the Soviet position was: That Bhutto should not leave Simla empty handed.

On 15 July 1972, in response to a request from the prime minister, he (Haksar) sent a note to Chandrajit Yadav, general secretary of the Congress in connection with a pamphlet it was proposing to publish on the Simla Agreement to counter its critics, mainly the Jan Sangh.

Haksar wrote:

ii. The agreement signed on July 2, 1972 at Simla between Prime Minister of India and President of Pakistan has been welcomed all over the world. In our own country too it has been widely welcomed.

Naturally, amongst some sections doubts have been expressed about it. This is understandable considering the history of our past relations with Pakistan... These doubts expressed in some quarters, however, are of a different category and kind from the jingoistic and immature postures of the super-patriots of the Jan Sangh who are like the twin brothers of their Pakistani counterparts who think that confrontation, conflict and mouthing slogans are a substitute for a sober, finely balanced statecraft...

iii. In order to understand the true meaning and significance of the Simla agreement, it is not enough merely to look at the words of the agreement.

One must see the totality of facts and circumstances.

The first most important fact to be remembered is that Pakistan with which India was negotiating at Simla was totally different from Pakistan of Ayub Khan with which India negotiated the Tashkent agreement...

The most populous part of it has seceded from it and established itself as a sovereign, independent State which is today recognised by more than 82 sovereign States.

Within the residue of Pakistan, democratic forces had emerged for the first time in the last 25 years...

iv. Historians now say that if those who sat around the table at Versailles to conclude a peace with Germany defeated during the First World War had acted with wisdom and not imposed upon Germany humiliating terms of peace, not only rise of Nazism would have been avoided but also the seeds of the Second World war would not have been sown [If] India behaved with immaturity and appeared internationally as a country dictating terms to a vanquished country, we would have played into the hands of those interested in fomenting discord in the sub-continent...

v. Simla agreement is entirely and exclusively a bilateral agreement.

And unlike the Tashkent agreement, the Simla agreement has been subject to debate and discussion in Pakistan and a solemn ratification by a democratically elected parliament of Pakistan.

vi. 'The Simla agreement is based on the assumption of common interests of the people of India and the people of Pakistan in peace, democracy, economic development and social progress. [italics mine]

There is a lot of retrospective angst on the Simla Accord, especially in view of the acrimonious and tense bilateral relationship that has existed between India and Pakistan since the mid-1980s.

In my view, this is what has given that agreement a bad name in India.

The revisionism on the Simla Accord simply does not take into account the full facts.

There were definite limits on what India could accomplish after the military victory on the eastern front on 16 December 1971.

There has been criticism of Haksar that he did not insist that this Line of Control become the international border, but even well-meaning critics of Haksar's stance at Simla like Shankar Bajpai, the distinguished diplomat, concede that to expect that would happen at Simla was totally unrealistic.

Excerpted from Intertwined Lives: P N Haksar and Indira Gandhi by Jairam Ramesh, with the kind permission of the publishers, Simon and Schuster, India.

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