How Pakistan Bluffed Nehru and his daughter

Signing of Shimla Agreement: Image courtesy: The Hans India

What the military gained in war, India’s politicians surrendered at the negotiation table, and this misfortune happened many times, twice most foolishly. That playing cleverly on the diplomatic chessboard of international politics matters much for national security is what Indian leaders missed in their dealings with its next-door neighbour, Pakistan. Pak leaders’ evil design to grab Kashmir never dawned to the Indian rulers in the beginning. Indian leaders were caught napping of Pakistan’s political and military move that started even before 1947 to annex Kashmir. Even during Indo-Pak armed conflict or at the time of truce none from India knew the Trojan horse.

Professor Muhammad Ishaq Qureshi, the right-hand man of the then Kashmir Muslim Conference chief, Chaudhury Gulam Abbas, wrote later in Nawa-e-Waqt, Lahore that Muhammad Ali Jinnah had planned to annex Kashmir even before Pakistan was born. Professor Qureshi wrote, “The Quaid-e-Azam called him and the Working President of K M C, Chaudhury Hamidullah to Delhi” where they met at his residence on 11 July 1947 and instructed to hatch a plot to annex Kashmir. He writes, “A guerrilla war was planned involving the fanatics from the secret camp in Srinagar already established by Jinnah’s Private Secretary Khurshid Ahmed and the weapons from the Punjab Muslim League Chief Nawab of Mamdot.” “As ordered by Jinnah, Liaqat Ali, Pakistan Prime Minister called Qureshi and Hamidullah for a meeting. Accordingly, on September 21, 1947, they attended the secret meet at Lahore where some Generals, NWFP Chief, Abdul Qayyum, Punjab Minister, Mian Iftikharduddin and Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan along with Zaman Kiani (formerly of Azad Hind Fauj) were present. They were taken into confidence about the plan to invade Jammu and Kashmir from Muzaffarabad and Shakkargarh-Sialkot side simultaneously. The plan was prepared by Liaqat Ali and his military and civil advisers,” wrote Nawa-e-Waqt.

Mian Iftikharduddin chaired the committee formed to draft the proclamation to be released at the time of the invasion. Professor Qureshi says, “I and Pakistan Times Editor, Faiz Ahmad Faiz were the members of the committee. We prepared the draft and sent it to the Prime Minister on October 1”. Meanwhile, Qureshi says, “Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan and Nawab of Mamdot were preparing to invade Kashmir through Muzaffarabad and Sialkot sectors. They planned to occupy Kathua that linked Kashmir with Pathankot by the Ravi Bridge and close this road to India. General Zaman Kiani, Brigadier Habibur Rahman and Brigadier Majid Kiani with headquarters at Sialkot would undertake this operation. And Pak army would advance from Shakkargarh, only 10 miles from Kathua border. From there Pak army would occupy Kashmir shortly and “Liaqat Ali would give the present of the ‘occupation of Kashmir’ to Jinnah on a silver plate”.

The Tribal Lashkar occupied Muzaffarabad on October 22, 1947, and entered Baramulla within three days, pushing the Dogras to the Srinagar airport. At that time the Kashmir King neither had an army nor had he signed the instrument of accession with India. Qureshi says it was easy to occupy Kashmir within no time had the Pak army moved on to the Eastern Sector. The story of the Pak occupation of Kashmir, told umpteen times, calls for no explanation. The Government of India began interest in the Kashmir affair after the Instrument of Accession signed by Raja Hari Singh and what followed was the blitzkrieg of Indian armed forces from October 27 and the tide began to turn in India’s favour and the whole of the Pakistani invading force was on the run”, wrote Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad of National Conference and later the Prime Minister of Kashmir.

An offended Jinnah though got no help from Pak troops now under the command of Field Marshal Auchinleck, mobilized the regular Pakistani troops that moved into Kashmir in January 1948, just to retreat before the advancing Indian Army. The whole dream of Jinnah who had camped at Abbottabad to ride in triumph into Kashmir was shattered.

Many, including Qureshi, claimed that Pakistan could have easily occupied the whole state of Kashmir, but for Liaqat Ali who “missed the easy catch”. But many years after the incident, Brigadier Shamasul Haq Kazi had exploded this myth. In a Nawae-e-waqt article of February 8, 1988 he wrote: “The fact of the matter is that at that time Mujahideen tribesmen and Pakistani Army were facing defeat after defeat in all sectors. Indian Army had occupied Mendhar Valley and it had liberated the beleaguered city of Poonch by joining hands from both the sides. Now it was making brisk preparations to attack Mirpur and Mangla via Kotil. Our reserve army was reduced to only one brigade. It was a very dangerous situation. Liaqat Ali, by bluffing the enemy as well as the Pakistanis, got ceasefire to save the prestige of his country”. What India’s valiant army would have achieved the politician at the helm of affairs signed off at the negotiation counter!

Nothing short of this was the humiliation Indian suffered when Pakistan diplomatically defeated her at Shimla in 1971. Pakistan with East Bengal off its political map and its army rounded up by Indian military had no other alternative than surrender and truce. It was the most convenient juncture for India to settle all the scores with Pakistan including the Kashmir question. India could have bargained for the POK as price to evacuate the Pak territories and release the prisoners of war. But nothing of the sort happened and the fish slipped out of net.

Despite all the disagreements on the first two days of the Shimla meet with Kashmir figuring a Gordian knot the third day i.e. July 2, 1971 saw the entire iceberg melting as if by a magic wand. Both nations agreed to maintain the status quo ante. It was agreed that in Jammu and Kashmir “the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides”. It was a one-to-one meeting with no one else present either to record or divulge what happened or as James P Sterba reported in the New York Times, a secret agreement”. Sterba’s guess proved right when replying to a query in this regard from A B Vajpeyee on April 10, 1978 the official spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said: “I do not know about it. I am not competent to talk about it. It is not on record anywhere”.

The Indo-Pak hostility came to a temporary halt with the signing of the Shimla Agreement. In the summit, which opened on June 28, 1972 in Shimla, Indira Gandhi warmly welcomed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto said that he too was sincere to respond to the wishes of the people of the subcontinent who were fed up with the past strife and conflicts and were eager to see a chapter of friendship and amity opened in Indo-Pak relations. On the second day of the summit the talks reached a “crucial stage” with Indira Gandhi insisting on an overall settlement which would cover some basic issues along with those arising from the December War. Since such a settlement would involve the Kashmir problem also, Pakistan remained silent on it. In fact Pakistan’s stand was very much judicious. She wanted to get back the occupied territories and the prisoners of war before the talks would pass on to the Kashmir dispute.

On the fourth day of the summit, India drew the attention of Pakistan to the need of solving the outstanding disputes and the establishment of a durable peace, which would be possible only through the settlement of the Kashmir issue. But Bhutto wanted that the Kashmir issue be “frozen and tackled at a more propitious time”. On the contrary, he demanded the release of the prisoners of war by India as a preliminary step towards a durable peace, and to give up the trial of a selected number of Pakistani military officers on war crime charges by Bangladesh. Pakistan also demanded to get back the occupied territory from India notwithstanding that it had been illegally occupying Azad Kashmir since 1947. As could be expected Pakistan conveniently did not refer to Azad Kashmir when she demanded back the territories which India occupied in 1971. Naturally such a programme was bound only to collapse, and it seemed the summit would fail. But Bhutto said that he was “not going to shut the door”. It is also interesting to note that he could not shut the door since such an arrogant and uncompromising stand would have shut up inside India both Pakistan’s territories and the prisoners of war. Were he to shut the door, he would have had to return home empty-handed. 

But the third day brought about a sudden bolt from the blue. The impasse disappeared dramatically and all the hurdles seemed to have disappeared and India and Pakistan signed an agreement on July 2, 1972. What was the immediate reason for this sudden and unexpected change in the attitude of India, which signed the agreement without terms and conditions, still remains an enigma. The Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan hailed this signing ceremony as a “new beginning in the relations between India and Pakistan”. It was bilaterally agreed that “the principles and purposes of the U N Charter shall govern the relationship between the two countries” and that they would settle “their differences by peaceful means mutually through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. It was agreed to respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty by observing the policy of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and to abstain from the threat or the use of force. Prevention of hostile propaganda and the resumption of communication were on the accord, and as a means towards attaining durable peace the signatories agreed to withdraw the armed forces “to their side of international border”. It was agreed that in Jammu and Kashmir “the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides”. Both the parties agreed that any settlement between the two nations could be reached at through bilateral talks and “other peaceful means”.

Though the Shimla Agreement was signed it could not provide a final solution to the Indo-Pak problem. For, after the signing of the Shimla Accord the Pakistani spokesman said, “We remain where we are until a final settlement is reached” which meant that this much publicized agreement was not a final one. Moreover, the Pakistani delegation deliberately abstained from being a party to any kind of a “No War” declaration. Thus was signed the Shimla Agreement, leaving all the issues unsettled. It is interesting to notice that when the situation was highly favourable to India, India’s victory over the enemy being total, she failed to settle her longstanding issues with the aggressor state. With the support of the USSR having been already won, it was sure that even if India would take a tough stand there would not have been any interference of the other super powers. Besides, the victorious India had with her 90,000 prisoners of war and a large tract of Pakistani territory. In such a favourable state India could have turned a tough bargainer. She should not have made so large a concession as she did unless there was some compensation, which the accord does not record. Instead of asserting her moral will over the aggressor, she let Pakistan have all the advantage.

There was a widespread dissatisfaction in India about the Shimla Accord among the various nationalist outfits, intellectuals and patriots. Strongly condemning this agreement, A B Vajpayee, the leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, described it as a “sell out” and called upon all the parties to demonstrate against this “black agreement”. According to him Pakistan’s agreement to renounce the use of force was totally meaningless since ‘renunciation’ had been agreed upon by Pakistan several times earlier only to be thrown to the winds shortly thereafter. Besides, he argued that the agreement to settle the disputes by “other peaceful means” was likely to keep the doors open for a third party intervention. He further criticized that the agreement to withdraw the troops to the international border would only imply that India would give up more than 5000 square miles of Pakistani territory while 3000 square miles of India’s territory in Kashmir would remain with Pakistan. He charged that there had been “some sort of secret understanding” between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during their talks at Shimla. True, by stating so Vajpayee was not casting doubt on the patriotism of Gandhi. But he called the attention of the nation to the fact that she should have taken her cabinet colleagues also into confidence in regard to the provisions of the agreement which had come as a bolt from the blue after the talks of the days immediately preceding the agreement had been written off as having failed.

It is again interesting to note that Sterba’s report on the Shimla Agreement in the New York Times was headlined “Simla Accord: Behind the progress report there is possibility of a secret agreement”. Years after when Vajpayee demanded answers in this regard and a full text of Indira Gandhi’s talks with Bhutto at Shimla he got only an unsatisfactory reply. Replying to his query, the official spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said on April 10, 1978: “I do not know about it. I am not competent to talk about it. It is not on record anywhere” and he suggested that the parties directly concerned, Gandhi and Bhutto may be approached. Indeed one may be prompted to ponder whether these talks concerning the fate of the two nations were as silly and insignificant as to be kept only in the memories of the parties directly concerned.

In his memoirs titled A Diplomat’s Diary India’s former diplomat Triloki Nath Kaul expresses disappointment with Indira Gandhi’s performance at the Shimla Summit with Z A Bhutto. It is true that “she was hailed as Durga, the Goddess of war by Atal Behari Vajpayee because of her toughness during the war”, he says. However she squandered away its gains in her eagerness to show “magnanimity in victory”. T N Kaul further criticizes her “for not getting a final settlement of the Kashmir question at Shimla”, and writes: “She tried hard but Bhutto said if he agreed to a final settlement at Shimla he would be overthrown and the military would take over power and increase tension with India. When I suggested it at the conference table, Bhutto, addressing Gandhi, said, ‘Madam, I assure you that within two weeks of my return to Pakistan I shall prepare the ground for it (a final settlement of Kashmir Question)”.

Thinking that the Shimla meet would end in failure, Kaul left Shimla a few hours prior to the conference ending at late night of July 2, 1972 and came to Chandigarh to make arrangements for the return of Bhutto and his daughter Benazir. But what happened at Shimla was contrary to what Kaul thought. Indira Gandhi signed an agreement on the night of July 2 after a one-to-one meeting with Bhutto at “The Retreat” after the parties had packed their luggage for the return. “No one else was present”, but Gandhi’s secretary and economic advisor who was outside the room and has said that there was verbal understanding for a final settlement of the Kashmir question along with an agreement on the Line of Control. But this final settlement from the part of Bhutto had never come. He could not save himself from the military coup about which he had spoken at Shimla.

Kaul makes an interesting revelation of the reason why Gandhi failed to get an agreement converting the ceasefire line in Kashmir into the international border in the parleys held at Shimla from June 28 to July 2. It was a gesture of goodwill towards the People of Pakistan that would befriend them in course of time. Indeed this wild goose chase had started from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, which had yielded no result at all. Better to say the policy of appeasing Muslims, started from the time of Mahatma Gandhi as a means to gain the goodwill of Muslim League and which continued in post-independent India, yielded no result. In fact it only made the Muslim League and its creation, Pakistan, more arrogant, uncompromising and audacious enough to pooh-pooh the foolish generosity of India and its leaders. And this was the chief characteristic of Pakistan in all its dealings with India.

At Shimla Bhutto was given two clear alternatives. He was asked whether he wanted to get back first the prisoners of war or the 5000 square miles of territory India captured form Pakistan. Bhutto outfoxed Indira Gandhi by asking the territory first. Bhutto’s daughter Benazir who accompanied him to Shimla explains the evil and clever design behind such a demand. She writes in her autobiography Daughter of the East that she was in fact surprised at such a topsy-turvy priority of her father as there was an impatient demand for the release of such a large number of prisoners of war. But father Bhutto calmed her and told:

The POW’s will be freed in any case. Prisoners are human problem. The magnitude is increased when there are 93000 of them. It would be inhuman to keep them indefinitely. And it will also be a problem to keep on feeding and housing them. Territory on the other hand is not a human problem. Territory can be assimilated. Prisoners cannot. The Arabs have still not succeeded in regaining territory lost in the 1967 war with Israel. The capturing of land does not cry out for international attention the same way as the prisoners do.

But this diplomatic fact of history did not dawn on India’s Iron Lady. This was the first great victory of Z A Bhutto. Second, Bhutto like all his predecessors was determined to keep alive in future a vital bone of contention, and he knew that any settlement regarding the Line of Control and the Kashmir Question would only undo this. It was in the interest of Pakistan that the Ceasefire Line should not be converted into an international border. Again Bhutto proved successful in getting the issue of Kashmir inserted into the Shimla Agreement as an unsettled one between India and Pakistan so that the latter could project it as the reason for any conflict between the two nations in future. By signing such an agreement Indira Gandhi was indirectly, though inadvertently, accepting that the Kashmir issue was something yet to be settled.

Indira Gandhi’s Secretary and Economic Advisor, P N Dhar gives his version of her tame surrender to Bhutto at Shimla. He says that Bhutto used all wily and shameless tactics to save the talks from breaking down. When Bhutto and Indira Gandhi were alone talking Bhutto softened her by saying that he had to prepare his country and its National Assembly to accept the Line of Control as a permanent border for which he needed two weeks. Dhar who was standing outside the room probably overheard everything. Mujh par bharosakijye (Trust me), Bhutto implored her again and again and won over her. But Dhar says that this was only an oral and not written agreement. Spoken words vanished into thin air and what remained were India’s unsolved problems as they did prior to 1972. What the soldiers of India gained militarily the Prime Minister of India fretted away diplomatically!

True, love of peace and magnanimity to the neighbour are good qualities a nation must develop. But it should not have jeopardized national interests. However the Lady of the Shimla Agreement did not take this into consideration with the result that it only aggravated the aggressiveness of the enemy. No wonder, after going home in a victorious mood, he took all the credit for striking a winning bargain and threw all his promises to winds. While addressing his nation on his return from India, an elated and audacious Bhutto said, “I had gone to India with two views, first to get our territory back and then to get our Prisoners of War back. I have done the first in five months (a judicious gain) what the Arabs could not get done in five years”. He further said that “I will get the POWs back too because India cannot keep them for long because international pressure is turning against India”.

The moderate diction and the slipper-licking diplomacy Bhutto resorted to while on Indian soil gave way to the reckless and arrogant statements, the moment he landed in Pakistan. There was no moderation in his words. On the other hand, as V P Bhatia observes, he started preparing for a nuclear arsenal to checkmate India forever. The chameleon made contradictory and villainous statements about the Accord. On July 3 1972, while addressing a cheering and frenzied mob he felt no shame or prick of conscience to air his inborn vile that “the right of self-determination is the Kashmiris’ right and no one can take it away from them”. Thus the Shimla ‘understanding’ or the Shimla Accord could only boost the Pakistani arrogance. It was one of the great tragedies of Indian history and a great national misfortune that the Prime Minister of India could be easily fooled by her Pakistani counterpart.

The author is Kerala State President, Unnatha Vidyabhyasa Adhyapaka Sangham, higher education wing of Akhil Bharatiya Saikshik Mahasangh in Kerala. The article is an excerpt from the author’s book India-Pakistan Relations: The Story of a Fractured Fraternity.

The signing of Shimla Agreement: Image courtesy: The Hans India