January 9, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

Another summit, another surrender?

It now seems certain that another Indian prime minister will meet another Pak boss at another 'summit' in yet another effort to resolve the J&K imbroglio. Vajpayee's latest media musings from Kerala have indicated his willingness to do just that. And Farooq Abdullah sees that happening soon enough.

Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express has, in his column dated January 6, 2001, even interpreted one of those musings to mean that in order to convert his present unilateral cease-fire into a genuine long-term reality, Vajpayee is willing for a highest-level dialogue directly on J&K 1. without pre-conditions 2. without the 'pretence' (sic) of J&K being a part of a composite dialogue and so on. What's more, Gupta has whole-heartedly welcomed what he calls this 'most audacious peace initiative' and believes that 'the prime minister has done well to realise that he does not need to get his thoughts cleared by the country desks in South Block.'

Such eulogistic endorsement from a top journalist is bound to snowball into support from 'peace at any cost liberals'. The time then is appropriate to remind Indians here and abroad of what exactly our previous 'peace-loving' PMs achieved in their 'summits' with jihadi Pakistan.

Jawaharlal Nehru (who else) began top-level bilateral talks exactly 38 years ago.

The first encounter was a six-round affair starting in December 1962 when Ayub Khan was Pakistan's president and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto its prime minister. Led by Swaran Singh, our then minister for steel, mines and fuel, the Indian delegation met Bhutto's team as follows:

1. In Rawalpindi on December 27-28, 1962
2. In Delhi on January 16-18, 1963
3. In Karachi on February 8-10, 1963
4. In Calcutta on March 12-14, 1963
5. In Karachi on April 22-25, 1963
6. In Delhi on May 15-16, 1963.

A fairly detailed account of those rounds of high-level bilateral talks is to be found in the book Outside The Archives (Sangam Books India Pvt. Ltd, 1964) authored by Y D Gundevia, ICS, Nehru's last foreign secretary.

While only sterility emerged from them, those talks reveal the thinking on both sides. More importantly, they show how rash Nehru's government was in seeking its declared goal of a lasting peaceful solution to Indo-Pak relations.

As narrated by Gundevia, what Pakistan asked for in those talks at one time or another was:

  • A territorial division of J&K that takes into account the composition of the population of the state, the control of rivers, the requirements of defence, and other considerations that might seem relevant to the determination of an international boundary acceptable to the people of the state.
  • Plebiscite in J&K in one year.
  • Sovereignty over the entire Kashmir Valley except Kathua on the Himachal border.
  • Water storage facilities on River Chenab, even if it meant rewriting the successfully operated Indus Water Treaty brought about under the good offices of the World Bank after years of discussion and signed between the two countries in Karachi in 1960.

Pakistan's demands were egged on by the back door efforts of senior diplomats from America and Britain. The latter countries were trying to virtually blackmail the Indian bureaucracy to capitulate to Pak's demands in exchange for the considerable quantity of arms that India was seeking from the West after its Himalayan humiliation in the 1962 war against China.

Fortunately, India didn't succumb to the pressure and to Pak's demands. However, what is frightening in retrospect today is how imprudent and impetuous India's approach was to those critical bilateral talks. The pick of such actions were:

  • Decision about offering Pakistan a new international border in J&K was approved at a full-dress Cabinet meeting without anyone asking for maps or wanting to see where the new line would be! When someone asked, vaguely, "What about sovereignty?" the prime minister said he did not understand the question -- sovereignty over what?
  • The new international line should be "in favour of Pakistan", giving something east and north of the Kashmir Valley, conceding some 1,500 more miles.
  • To avoid border clashes, the withdrawal of troops from the Cease-Fire Line to a substantial distance of a mile or two miles or five miles -- the distance to be named by Pakistan! Nehru approved this at an impromptu meeting with his foreign secretary after the latter had already made the spur-of-the-moment proposal to Pakistan despite knowing that Srinagar was just some 15 miles from the Cease-Fire Line.

At the end of the last sitting in Delhi on May 13, 1963, Bhutto didn't even want to issue the proverbial joint communiqué. After some persuasion from the Indian side, he suggested, and we agreed, to the brusque text of "… the ministers recorded, with regret, that no agreement could be reached on the settlement of the Kashmir dispute", refusing to include in it words of any suggestion on further steps for a peaceful solution.

But Nehru had not had enough of Pakistan's intransigence and arrogance. After all, didn't he have to live up to the image of willing to bend backward for international peace?

The opportunity came a year after Bhutto had left Delhi in huff. On April 29, 1964, Nehru's dear, fellow friend from the Kashmir Valley, Sheikh Abdullah, was released from jail where he had been since August 9, 1953. Almost immediately he wished to engage himself in solo peace talks with Ayub Khan, no less. And Nehru said "Let Sheikh try."

Abdullah wanted to put forward to the president of Pakistan the idea of a "Federation or Confederation of India, Pakistan and the State of Jammu and Kashmir." It was a proposal that -- even after two or three sessions of discussion -- he could not explain to Gundevia as to how or why it could provide a solution to our problems.

Nehru himself had some misgivings in regard to a confederation in which J&K might come to be some sort of a separate unit. But, like Gundevia, he believed that the odds were that Pakistan would turn the whole thing down because Ayub Khan would fear losing Pakistan itself by a gradual process of disintegration. On that hunch alone, Nehru gave the green signal to Abdullah's idea at a short session of the Emergency Committee of his Cabinet.

In Rawalpindi on May 26, 1964, Ayub Khan did indeed turn down the concept of a confederation straight away -- fortunately for India yet again. But Abdullah that day got Ayub Khan to agree to a 'summit' meeting with Nehru -- an idea he had had certainly not discussed with India's foreign secretary, and probably not with the nation's prime minister himself.

That 'summit' never came about -- on May 27, 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru died.

But other 'summits' happened subsequently -- Tashkent in January 1966, Simla in July 1972 and Lahore in February 1999. All of them have come and gone, interspersed with scores of meetings between various officials of the two countries. Despite the high hopes they generated through extensive media publicity, the J&K conundrum has refused to go.

The only significant outcome of those 'summits' has been the delineation of a new boundary termed as the 'Line of Control' under the Simla Agreement. The LOC, a modification of the earlier Cease-Fire Line of July 1949, is believed not to favour Pakistan this time, except in the small Chhamb-Jaurian sector.

What is sad for an Indian is that we held the aces at the Tashkent and Simla meets, but our prime ministers did not use them to forge meaningful advantages on the J&K front.

Thus, in the 1965 war, we had gone well across the Cease-Fire Line. But in accordance with the terms of Tashkent, we returned the re-conquered Pak-occupied territory in J&K, and pulled our troops back to the Cease-Fire Line.

In the Bangladesh war of 1971, when the Pak army surrendered at Dacca after two weeks, then prime minister Indira Gandhi called for cease-fire in the western sector, and Yahya Khan, the Pak dictator, gladly accepted. We had taken 93,000 prisoners then. But in the Simla agreement of July 1972, we agreed to return all of them, to pull all our troops back to the international India-Pak boundary and to give back to Pakistan the 5,139 square miles of territory that our forces had won in Punjab, Kutch and Sind.

Our performance in Tashkent, 1966, and in Simla, 1972, was in line with what had happened in J&K itself in 1947 -- when we stopped at an arbitrary line though we could surely have thrown the invaders right out of the state in a few more days.

Idealists and moralists have been inclined to describe India's above conduct of diplomatic and military affairs as unparalleled in the observance of international ethics. However, nice guys always finish second, if not last, don't they? Remember, the bus ride to Lahore in 1999 brought us Kargil in return.

But Vajpayee seems to have indeed forgotten that as he prepares to march ahead with his insaniyat which, Ram forbid, could turn out to be insanity. Maybe then Vajpayee will tilt his head, lift his right hand, pause, blink his eyes, and, like Nehru, say "Let Farooq try."

Arvind Lavakare

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