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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 32, July 25, 2009

Prospect from Simla

Monday 27 July 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

This month marked the 37th anniversary of the Simla Summit. On this occasion, we reproduce the following piece by N.C. in ‘Editor’s Notebook’ (Mainstream, July 8, 1972). This needs to be read in the context of the just concluded Manmohan-Gilani talks in Sharm-el-Sheikh. —Editor

If cautious optimism marked the approach of New Delhi to the Indo-Pak Summit before it took place, it persists, more or less in the same measure, even after the Simla Agreement. At the same time, there is no question of belittling the positive achievements of the accord reached between Smt Gandhi and Mr Bhutto.

It is difficult to draw up the balance-sheet of the Simla Summit at this moment because one is not clear how Mr Bhutto will not only be tackling his critics at home but how he himself would be viewing the problems involved in the establishment of a durable peace between the two countries, of which the Simla Agreement marks but the first, though a very important, step.

The two basic points in the Indian stand have throughout been that there must be no resort to arms in the settlement of all disputes between the two countries, and secondly, that there should be no third-party intervention in any of the Indo-Pak disputes, the two countries must adhere to the principle of bilateral approach. The very first chapter of the Simla Agreement elaborates both these basic points in great detail.

It is an open secret now that the Pakistan delegation at the Simla conference, particularly the seasoned officials in it, fought hard to retain the option of calling in the UN intervention in Indo-Pak disputes; but at the end, they subscribed to the Indian position as laid down in the opening chapter of the Agreement.

On this respect, the Simla Agreement marks a definite advance over the 1966 Tashkent Declaration. At Tashkent, the two sides stated: “They reaffirm their obligation under the Charter not to have recourse to force and to settle their disputes through peaceful means.” But nowhere was there any commitment to settle differences not only by peaceful means but “through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them”.

On the substantive question of Kashmir also, the advance made at Simla over Tashkent is noteworthy. The Tashkent Declaration only mentioned that “Jammu and Kashmir was discussed, and each of the sides set forth its respective positions”. In contrast, the Simla Agreement committed both the sides to meet “to discuss further the modalities and arrangements for the establishment of durable peace and normalisation of relations” and these were specifically to include “a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir”.

This is indeed the first time that India and Pakistan agreed to explore the ways and means for a final settlement of the vexed issue of Jammu and Kashmir, and that too, through the wisdom and statesmanship of their own leaders without outside help. This way, Simla marks a new stage in the maturity of Indo-Pak leadership in the field of diplomacy.

This is partly the result of the bitter experience of the last twentyfive years which has shown that neither periodic resort to arms nor protracted debates, negotiation and behind-the scene talks at the UN could bring the two countries nearer to a solution of the problem of Kashmir. Equally important contribution towards the evolution of this new bilateral approach has been provided—at last for Pakistan—by the fiasco of the military-bloc policy under the aegis of the USA. When Pakistan joined the US-sponsored military blocs in mid-fifties, its military leadership was supremely confident that the superiority in arms that this policy would fetch for them, would help them to overpower Indian defence, and so Kashmir could be seized without difficulty. It was not without significance that the first major attempt to do so was made in 1965 at the height of prestige and glory of President Ayub, who was the best product of the US-Pak military-bloc politics. And the second attempt to seize Kashmir was made last year when President Yahya Khan was sure of getting the arms backing of not only Washington but of Peking as well.

The failure of both these attempts made it clear that the military prowess generated by the politics of armed blocs can be no match for a democratic country whose basic strength lies in the support of the masses—an element which was totally lacking in the Pak leadership until Mr Bhutto came to the scene. It is therefore a testimony not only to the fiasco of the military bloc-politics that Pakistan has so long followed but to the sense of realism born out of an awareness of the mass urges that could enable Mr Bhutto to agree to the need for a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir.

At the same time, his inability to undertake the job of settling the Kashmir issue at Simla, is proof of the yet fragile structure of the democratic process in Pakistan itself. On the one hand, the hawks represented by the unrepentant section of the Generals and the die-hard civil servants—whose weight could not but be felt at Simla—and on the other, the disunity and mutual squabbling of the popular forces, stood in the way of a bold policy over Kashmir being followed by the Pakistani delegation at Simla. It was rather surprising that the political elements that came in Mr Bhutto’s entourage chose to play no role at all in the evolution of the Agreement; rather they gave one the impression of being waiting and watching to catch Mr Bhutto where and when he would trip. The maturity of India’s democratic order, with the unassailable mandate, has come out in bold relief when put side by side with the incipient democratic urges represented in the Pak delegation at Simla.

Mr Bhutto did represent the consensus inside Pakistan when in his press conference a few hours before the Agreement was signed, he said that over the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan was sticking to the “principle” while India to its “position”. On the face of it, this sounds rather patronising as if the Indian position in Kashmir is bereft of principle—particularly when it was India that had originally lodged the complaint against the Pak invasion of Kashmir, which had legally and constitutionally opted to join the Indian Union. However, Mr Bhutto’s phraseology was the politician’s way of putting across the suggestion that Pakistan was only propagating the principle of self-determination while the Indian position was born out of the reality of the Kashmir situation.

It was obvious that at Simla this question could hardly be thrashed out: since Mr Bhutto by his own admission during the talks was scared of the attack he would have to face at home if he had explicitly abandoned the political position that the Pak rulers had so long been preaching about Kashmir’s right of self-determination, he left it in no doubt during the talks at the highest level, that he did not believe in the theory of exporting self-determination.

In the Agreement itself, Mr Bhutto had to concede that “in Jammu and Kahsmir the line of control resulting from the ceasefire 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”.

Moerover, in the very fist chapter, the commitment was jointly made that “pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations”.

This puts the stamp of a commitment not to encourage saboteurs, infiltrators and the raising of the so-called Azad Kashmir forces on the part of Pakistan. Incidentally, the Tashkent Declaration did not on this score go beyond declaring that the relations between the two countries “shall be based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of each other”.

Another indication of the recognition, by implication, of the need for a final settlement on Kashmir is provided by the stipulation in the Simla Agreement that the Cease Fire Line in Jammu and Kashmir would be the one of actual control as it stood at the end of the December conflict. This is an admission by the Pakistani authorities that the UN fiat would no longer hold good in Jammu and Kashmir, for the UN had always insisted on the 1949 Cease Fire Line, a point which was conceded by both sides at Tashkent. An obvious by-product of this stand should be that the UN Observers still clinging on to the Jammu and Kashmir border should be asked to withdraw, since they no longer can claim to have any locus standi.

Regarding the other aspects of the Simla Agreement, India has vindicated her stand that there could be no settlement behind the back of Bangladesh on the question of repatriation of the POWs. Although this was made clear at Murree, the Pak delegation in the initial round of Simla talks gave the impression that they could persuade India to treat Sheikh Mujibur Rahman much in the same way as they were used to treating the so-called Azad Kashmir leaders. When Mr Bhutto and his team found that Smt Gandhi not only regarded Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign state but that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as entrenched in the confidene of the people in Bangladesh as much as she herself in India or Mr Bhutto in Pakistan, the sense of realism led him not to press for the release the POWs until he had sorted out the question of the recognition of Bangladesh, which, according to informed sources, he is expected to do by the middle of August, if not earlier.

The entire question has brought out a significant dimension in India’s foreign policy. If New Delhi is keen on burying the dead past in its relations with Islamabad, it is equally eager on strengthening the edifice of friendship and solidarity that has already been consolidated in the ordeal of struggle in its relations with Dacca. There can be no question of placating the one at the expense of the other, however difficult and complex this new responsibility may be.

The Simla talks have also brought out the correctness of India’s sense of priorities. It started by laying down the general principles that should guide the relations between the two countries. Once that framework of durable peace was conceded, India had no hesitation in accommodating Pakistan’s demand for step-by-step approach. Hence, the resilience on India’s part not to try to force a settlement of the Kashmir issue at Simla and the commitment was readily made in the Agreement itself that the Heads of the two Governments “will meet again at a mutually convenient time in the future” and in the meanwhile, the representatives of the two sides would be sorting out all the details towards normalisation of relations, which include, besides Kashmir, the question of not only POWs but civilian internees as well, and also the question of resumption of diplomatic relations.

From Tashkent and the experience that followed from it, there is reason for India to activate its approach to Pakistan in the coming months. Once Mr Bhutto succeeds in getting the Simla Agreement ratified by the Pak National Assembly, it will be the responsibility of India as the more powerful of the two parties to initiate in a sustained manner, the drive towards détente in all spheres—from political to cultural, from the exchange of scientific delegations to working out the norms of what the Simla Agreement lays down as “the dissemination of such information as would promote the development of friendly relations between them”.

There are sufficient indications, available even during the hectic days at Simla, that the response to such an initiative will be definitely positive and fruitful as could be made out from the brief but significant statement made by one of the leading progressive figures in Pakistan today, Mr Mazhar Ali Khan, who, when taking off on his return journey, hailed the Simla Agreement as “the first step” and held out the hope that the last war would be “the last in every sense”. It would be the urgent task as well as the final responsibility for the forward-looking forces in this country to act in such a way that such forces are strengthened and the wall of hate between the two countries built over the years is finally pulled down.

For that, the progressives in both countries will have to pledge themselves never to allow the forces of imperialism to gain a foothold and sow the seeds of discord, and in this noble endeavour they have to welcome with open arms the brothers in Bangladesh to form a new fraternity of friendship and mutual help, providing a model for the rest of Asia.

(Mainstream, July 8, 1972)

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