Forty years after Simla
THE agreement on bilateral relations between the governments of India and Pakistan, signed by president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and prime minister Indira Gandhi at Simla, is probably the only international agreement to bear a wrong date — July 2, 1972.
It was actually signed at 00.40 am the next day. A small matter; but it symbolises the false myths that grew up and the false claims that were later made over the accord.
Now, 40 years later, it is not only appropriate but necessary to dispel the myths and expose those claims. Especially since relations between the two countries have improved to a significant degree. The core dispute on Kashmir reached the gates of a settlement in 2006-07 but it was denied entry by a quirk of circumstances.
One might begin with putting aside the controversy over a ‘tacit understanding’ which P.N. Dhar, Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary claimed was reached between the two leaders at Simla. According to P.N. Dhar, the understanding was reached between the two leaders at the last minute and thus facilitated the accord. Thereafter Aziz Ahmad and he settled the text for signature. Abdul Sattar, later foreign minister of Pakistan, flatly rejected the claim. P.N. Dhar and Abdul Sattar are the only two surviving witnesses to the parleys at Simla. P.N. Dhar’s book Indira Gandhi, the ‘Emergency’ and Indian Democracy and Abdul Sattar’s book on Pakistan’s Foreign Policy contain detailed expositions of their respective views. Aziz Ahmad was then secretary general of the foreign ministry.
Dhar’s own account renders a detailed analysis unnecessary. He wrote: “The tacit understanding, no doubt was that gradually the Line of Control would emerge as an international border, and thus the Kashmir question would be settled. But this remained only a tacit understanding.”
A few pages earlier, Dhar spelt out in direct quotes the terms of that understanding — “the line would be gradually endowed with the characteristics of an international border (his [Bhutto’s] words)”. Thus, there was no accord on an immediate partition of Kashmir. It was to be a ‘gradual’ process.
More to the point. The ceasefire line or the Line of Control was not accepted as an international border proper. The claimed promise was to endow it with the ‘characteristics’ of such a border. To say that A has the characteristics of B is, indeed, to assert that A is not B but has its characteristic. An integral part of this claimed understanding was free movement across the line, which never happened.
Para 6 of the accord is crucial. It says: “Both governments agree that their respective heads will meet again at a mutually convenient time in the future and that, in the meanwhile, the representatives of the two sides will meet to discuss further the modalities and arrangements for the establishment of durable peace and normalisation of relations, including the question of repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees, a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations.”
Neither the ‘heads’ nor their ‘representatives’ met in order to arrive at ‘a final settlement’ of the Kashmir issue as Para 6 required. On Dec 18, 1972, Bhutto repeated his appeal to Indira Gandhi to visit Pakistan. Dhar provides a clue to her refusal. “We had thought of a second summit after reaching an accord with Sheikh Abdullah.” The Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord was concluded only in February 1975. By then the situation had changed. It was unwise to think that an accord with the Sheikh would have silenced Pakistan. Progress in recent talks on Kashmir was possible only when this approach was discarded.
Indira Gandhi insisted that, as the agreement required, all disputes should be settled bilaterally; but only to add that the Kashmir question was already settled. Pakistani foreign minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan said on June 3, 1986, that neither country had proposed a discussion on Kashmir in pursuance of the pact. Pakistan’s first formal proposal for a meeting “to initiate negotiations on the settlement of Jammu and Kashmir in terms of Article 6 of the Simla Agreement” was made in a letter which prime minister Nawaz Sharif wrote on July 14, 1992 to prime minister Narsimha Rao after militancy had erupted in Kashmir.
On Oct 28, 1993, the US assistant secretary of state Robin Raphel said: “It is a simple fact that the Simla Agreement has not been very effective up to this point … it’s fine to discuss the Kashmir dispute under the Simla accord, but it needs to happen and it hasn’t thus far. Therefore … it has not been very effective” — 20 years after it was concluded, an eloquent comment on its irrelevance to a solution.
The agreed text of the Agra Declaration of July 16, 2001, on which the Vajpayee government backed out, did not make even a ritual obeisance to the Simla pact either in the preamble or in the text proper. The pact was now history. The provisions on restoration of the status quo before the war were worked out. The rest fell by the wayside.
The UN Charter did not preserve global peace. The US — Soviet balance of power did that contrary to the myth, it is not the Simla Agreement which preserved the peace between Pakistan and India in these last 40 years but the good sense of their leaders and the military balance, including the nuclear deterrent.
The crises of Exercise Brasstacks (1987), the military build-up (1990), Kargil (1999) and India’s massing of troops along the Line of Control in Kashmir in 2001-2002 and along the international boundary were resolved by sensible diplomacy and also a measure of international mediation sought and accepted by both sides. So much for the bilateral cordon sanitaire of the agreement.
Gen Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not chant the mantra “Simla, Simla as they made such impressive progress in the talks from 2004-2007. In the days ahead it is not that accord of 1972 but the understanding that grew up between the leaders and completion of the unfinished work, which the two countries so courageously undertook since 2004, that will help in arriving at a settlement of the Kashmir dispute which the people yearn for; especially the hapless people of Kashmir.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.