Simla Agreement and Beyond

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By

Khalid Saleem[1]

ABSTRACT

(The Simla Agreement of 2 July 1972 represents in many ways a watershed in the relations between Pakistan and India. Despite the fact that large tracts of the agreement in question remain unimplemented to this day, what raises eyebrows is the actuality that successive Congress Party governments in India continue to profess adherence to the spirit, if not the letter, of this accord even after a lapse of forty odd years.

Not that the Indian Establishment (or the Congress Party for that matter) has shown any great enthusiasm to move towards its implementation, but any time they feel the urge to throw the book at Pakistan, it is the Simla Agreement that comes in handy. It is of some significance that, when the Congress Party led government took over the reins of power after defeating the Bharta Janata Party in the last general election, the first policy statement by the then Minister for External affairs contained a direct reference to the Simla Agreement in regard to Pakistan-India relations.

Now that India is on the threshold of a new election, it may perhaps be of the essence to have a closer look at the Simla Agreement and gauge the bearing this momentous Accord has had on the course of Pakistan-India ties over the past four decades. – Author)

It may be in order to take a closer look at the diverse episodes that led to the eventual holding of the Pakistan-India summit meeting at Simla in June/July 1972. One need not go into details of the course of the war of November/December that had led to the creation of Bangladesh since this epoch has already been well documented by various authorities. Suffice it to state that India, led by the charismatic Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, emerged out of the fray holding all the trump cards. The government of Pakistan, for its part, found itself on a tricky as well as sticky wicket, to borrow cricket parlance.

The rest of the world was looking on with detached interest at the almost intractable position in which the two countries had brought themselves after a messy battle as a result of which one of them was faced with possible permanent dismemberment.

What, then, brought the two antagonists to the negotiating table? India understandably was playing hard to get. With the breakdown of diplomatic relations, there was no direct line of communication between the two countries. The Swiss embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad were looking after the ‘interests’ of the two counties, but this channel does not appear to have been seriously activated as a go-between at the level of state politics.

The Secretary General of the United Nations made a half-hearted attempt at persuasion and/or mediation. The Director General of the UN European Office, Winspeare Guicardi, paid a visit to Pakistan in early 1972 and had discussions with (then) President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but this somewhat pro forma meeting, though cordial, failed to melt the ice.(1)

The United States apparently made no serious attempt at mediation. The Americans – not so surprisingly, given their somewhat cryptic role in the 1971 events – left the field open, as it turned out, for a Soviet initiative. President Bhutto also, for reasons he kept close to his chest, preferred to put all his eggs in the Soviet basket. By hindsight, this appears a trifle intriguing considering that he had fallen out with President Ayub Khan over the Soviet- brokered Tashkent Declaration (January 1966).

BHUTTO’S DISPLAYS A TRUMP CARD?

Be that as it may, Bhutto made his first tentative move on the chessboard during his visit to Moscow (16-18 March 1972). His meeting with Secretary-General Brezhnev – recorded in his inimitable style by Ambassador Jamsheed Marker – was devoted almost entirely to the role Soviet Union could play in bringing India to the negotiating table. Brezhnev tossed the idea of ‘a meeting which would conclude with an agreement on non-use of force and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs’.

Towards the end of the meeting Bhutto made his ground-breaking pitch. In Marker’s words: (2) “He said that relations with India, and the Kashmir question in particular, were not susceptible to ‘a declaration in a vacuum’. In outlining his step by step approach he suggested that an initial measure could be to change the name of the ‘Ceasefire Line’ and to call it a “Line of Control’ instead. The change in nomenclature would perhaps more accurately describe the existing realities. This radical proposal, slipped into the discussion in a manner that was more deliberate than casual, was to have significant consequences and became a landmark in the regional geopolitical developments that ensued…Brezhnev, of course, seized on the suggestion with alacrity, and appreciated it both as a recognition of reality and a gesture that would help the process of negotiations”

SOVIET PEACE INITIATIVE

Armed with this advance-displayed trump card (that Bhutto had let drop in their lap), the Soviet leadership not only managed to persuade India to come to the negotiating table, but also followed it up with constant contact with the leaderships of the Pakistan and India to ensure that the projected summit meeting did not end in failure.

The preparatory visit of D. P. Dhar to Pakistan helped to pave the way for the holding of the Simla summit. President Bhutto made just the right noises and Dhar appears to have gone back with the smug feeling that Pakistan would be willing to make concessions on the Kashmir issue under duress. J. N. Dixit, India’s former Foreign Secretary, (3) wrote that “Mrs. Gandhi and her advisers were clear in their mind that the basis for a durable solution to the Kashmir issue should be firmed up during the Simla talks…D.P. Dhar, who was an important adviser, desired a categorical and formal agreement by Pakistan to recognize the Line of Control as a de jure border”.

Pakistan Foreign Office Brief, on its part, made it clear that Pakistan’s recognized position on the Jammu and Kashmir issue was to be safeguarded at all cost. In the background was also the lurking apprehension that an understanding/agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah may be used to scuttle whatever chances remained of a meaningful dialogue aimed at an equitable settlement of the issue.

One day before the delegation’s departure for Simla, i.e. on 27 June 1972, the Soviet Ambassador to Pakistan, called on President Bhutto by special request. The meeting that took place in the afternoon in Governor’s House Lahore, was strictly one-to-one (with only the author present to take down the minutes)(4).

The Ambassador read out a personal message to President Bhutto from the Soviet leadership before handing over the text. In a symbolic gesture, the President folded the paper and put it in the inner pocket of his jacket. This was a signal that the contents of the message would not be reflected in the minutes. From memory, it can now be divulged that the message reminded the President of earlier exchanges and expressed the confidence of the Soviet leadership that the Simla meeting would not be allowed to end in failure. It also disclosed that an identical message was being delivered to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by the Soviet Ambassador to India.

Given this scenario, it can safely be surmised that failure at Simla was not an option. The precise outcome, though, would depend on the negotiating skill of either side!

THE SIMLA AGREEMENT, 1972

The details of the intricacy of the negotiations at Simla can be found in former Foreign Secretary and Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar’s book Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: 1947-2005 (5). It would be futile to repeat the same. Suffice it to state that those many analysts who have taken pains to describe the hard bargaining on the question of the conversion of the Ceasefire line into the Line of Control are way off the mark. Why should there have to be any ‘bargaining’ about a trump card that had already been played before hand?

HIDDEN CLAUSES?

The signing and coming into force of the Simla Agreement was, however, not the end of the story. Soon afterwards, differences on interpretation of various clauses emerged, including some Indian ‘disclosures’ about ‘hidden clauses’. Several ‘inspired disclosures’ mainly from India insinuated that the two leaders had ‘agreed’ to settle the Jammu and Kashmir issue on the basis of the Line of Control but none garnered official sanction from either side. Even Prime Minister Gandhi added her denial.

It is a fact that during the course of the Simla summit meeting, the two leaders had availed of at least three opportunities to have informal one-to-one discussions. No members of either delegation were present and there is no record available of any such understanding. The claims on this score can, therefore, only be attributed to either a misreading of the intentions of the two leaders, or even to frustration and/or wishful thinking. Be that as it may, such ‘understandings’ can be binding only if they are put down in black and white, if not in the Agreement itself, at least in the form of a confidential memorandum. This was not the case.

Mr. P. N. Dhar, former Secretary to the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (who was a member of the Indian delegation at Simla), writing in the Times of India in April 1995, made some (unsubstantiated) assertions (6). Among them:

–          “Bhutto agreed not only to change the ceasefire line into a line of control…but also agreed that the line would be gradually endowed with the characteristics of an international border”.

–          “This was the understanding between the leaders of the two countries and this was the Simla solution of the Kashmir problem”.

–          “It was agreed that the understanding would not be a written one. The insertion of secret clauses in the Agreement was considered inconsistent with the desire to build a structure of durable peace”.

Mr. Dhar’s assertions in 1995 are neither here nor there, especially considering that both leaders had since passed away. Indeed, Indira Gandhi had personally refuted Mr. Vajpayee’s claim in 1978 of the existence of a ‘secret understanding’ between herself and Bhutto at Simla.

STATE OF IMPLEMENTATION

The implementation of clause 6 of the Simla Agreement in respect of

“a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir” has made little headway over the years. Here, mention must be made of an initiative taken by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in August 1992. In a signed missive to Indian Prime Minister Narsimha Rao that was different from normal letters, Prime Minister Sharif formally proposed bilateral negotiation at the highest level under article 6 of the Simla Agreement. Rao’s reply, couched in language that was a tad less than diplomatic, stated, inter alia, that “Pakistan trying to utilize the Simla agreement selectively by referring to one clause, which talks about settling the Kashmir issue”, was not acceptable. He went on to allege that “Pakistan had been consistently violating all the other stipulations of the Simla Agreement”.(7)

{Here it may be of interest to append an aside about the inclusion of the matter of “the resumption of diplomatic relations”in clause 6 among other (weighty) outstanding issues. Some time prior to the Simla meeting, President Bhutto had nominated Sardar Shahnawaz as Pakistan’s future High Commissioner to India and had consequently included him in his delegation. After arrival in Simla, Bhutto in his meeting with the press introduced him as such. Indira Gandhi was said to be furious at this instance of jumping the gun and issued orders to her delegation to ensure that restoration of diplomatic relations be kept low down in the list of priorities. As it turned out, this is exactly what happened.}

{Text of the Agreement on Bilateral Relations between the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India (Simla Agreement, 1972) is annexed}

After coming into force of the Agreement, only article 4 can be said to have been implemented in a way. This Article related to the withdrawal of forces of either side to the International Border and respect by both sides of the “Line of Control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971….without prejudice to the recognized position of either side.” Violations of article 4(ii) subsequently will be discussed later.

Article 6 of the Agreement was implemented in part only. Repatriation of the prisoners of war and civilian internees was possible only in 1974 after India had safely extracted its pound of flesh i.e. Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh. Resumption of diplomatic relations came about even later. The meeting of the ‘respective Heads’ to discuss ‘a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir’ has yet to take place.

All in all, the declared (and laudable) goal of “the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of durable peace in the sub-continent, so that both countries may henceforth devote their resources and energies to the pressing task of advancing the welfare of their peoples” remains as elusive as ever to this day.

VIOLATIONS OF THE SIMLA AGREEMENT:

– The first major violation of the Simla agreement occurred circa 1982, when India moved its forces to the Siachin glacier area and set up a formidable military post at the Saltoro range. Subsequently, circa 1984, Pakistan too moved its troops to the area. Since then, the two forces are sitting eyeball to eyeball in what Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh graphically described as the world’s highest battle field. Going into details of the Siachin squabble is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to state that several sessions of bilateral negotiations have failed to break the deadlock.

– Another major violation occurred as a result of General Parvez Musharaf’s ill-advised and ill-planned Kargil adventure. This ‘plan’ back-fired and only US President Clinton’s behind-the scenes intervention averted what could have developed into a disastrous outbreak of hostilities between the two neighbours.

– Meanwhile, India went ahead with its plan to erect a ‘fence’ along the Line of Control. This too constituted a violation, certainly of the spirit if not the letter, of Article 4(ii), that stipulates that: “Neither side shall seek to alter it (LOC) unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations.”

FUTURE PROSPECTS

Despite the much-vaunted Composite Dialogue (initiated as a result of post-Simla Joint Declarations) and the ensuing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), little progress has been made in moving ahead to tackle the various contentious issues that form the basis of the mistrust and suspicion that continue to bedevil the relations between the two neighbours. Meanwhile, the ‘establishments’ of the two countries are back at the old self-defeating game of pointing fingers and garnering brownie points at the expense of each other.

The promise of the Simla Agreement has all but evaporated. Whatever momentum that was once generated by it has long since been dissipated. Several pertinent questions present themselves, begging for answers.

-Where do the two parties stand now vis-à-vis the Simla Agreement? Is there any point in holding on to the shreds of the Agreement or should the two parties give it up as having outlived its usefulness and move on to newer horizons?

-Should the two governments now move ahead and negotiate at the highest level a new Treaty containing not just platitudes but, instead, laying down realistic and doable goals?

These and allied issues would need to be given serious thought in order to ensure that the world does not move on leaving South Asia far behind.

First, then, it may be in order to look at the Simla agreement from India’s point of view. What impact has this agreement had on India’s politics of today and over the years? The Congress Party of India appears to consider the Simla Agreement as its baby and is, therefore, adamant to ‘save’ it come what may. Its leaders consider, perhaps justifiably, that it was a Congress Prime Minister who got the Pakistani leader to acquiesce in what they believe is the “Simla Solution” to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute that they feel duty bound to impose on a reluctant Pakistan, no matter what it takes.

The aforementioned explains, but only partially, the fact that non-Congress Party governments in India have been a bit more forthcoming and have adopted a comparatively more flexible attitude when dealing with Pakistan. Can this state of affairs possibly be due to the fact they do not carry the baggage of the “Simla solution’, as against the various Congress Party governments that do? This question deserves serious thought.

Another aspect cannot be swept under the proverbial rug. The role of the ‘Indian Establishment’ can under no circumstances be under-estimated. The Establishment, quite naturally, has a larger-than-life clout and, more often than not, has not hesitated in the exercise of its veto power against decisions freely arrived at by government functionaries, particularly in relation to Pakistan-India issues. It may be a coincidence but it is borne out in several instances over the past many years when events point to the conclusion that it has suited the ‘establishment’ to back  only such decisions as bore out the Congress Party interpretation of the Simla Agreement.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD IN STORE?

In order to ensure that the course of events move in a positive direction and in the interest of normalization of relations between Pakistan and India, time may be ripe for both parties to shed some of the extra baggage they continue to carry as a consequence of the Simla Agreement. After forty years and more, it would hardly be in the fitness of things to hold on to certain assumptions that ostensibly stand in the way of progress on the bilateral front. Once the extra baggage is shed, the way may be open to evolve and promote new paradigms in Pakistan-India relations.

One way out would be to sponsor a new summit meeting to evolve a fresh roadmap that would be workable and also in line with the march of events. The decision-makers of the two countries would be well advised to bend their minds to the feasibility of meeting afresh at the highest level with the mandate to arrive at the elements of a modus vivendi that would help put the relations between the two neighbours on an even keel and, at the same time, bring the sub-continent in line with the etiology of the new (Asian?) Century.

A new, comprehensive, fine-tuned and doable strategy – mutually agreed – could form the bedrock of a new Treaty on Bilateral Relations. The only pre- condition would be that it would (i) be based less on clichés and more on practical stratagems; and (ii) specify a definite time-frame for the completion of each sub-task. Needless to add that time is of the essence.

ANNEXURE

AGREEMENT ON BILATERAL RELATIONS BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN AND THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

  1. 1. The Government of Pakistan and the Government of India are resolved that the two countries put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of durable peace in the sub-continent, so that both countries may henceforth devote their resources and energies to the pressing task of advancing the welfare of their peoples.

In order to achieve this objective, the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India have agreed as follows:

(i) That the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries;

(ii) That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organization, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations;

(iii) That the pre-requisite for reconciliation, good neighbourliness and durable peace between them is a commitment by both the countries to peaceful co-existence, respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, on the basis of equality and mutual benefit;

(iv) That the basic issues and causes of conflict which have bedeviled the relations between the two countries for the last 25 years shall be resolved by peaceful means;

(v) That they shall always respect each other’s national unity, territorial integrity, political independence and sovereign equality;

(vi) That in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations they will refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of each other.

  1. 2. Both governments will take all steps within their power to prevent hostile propaganda directed against each other. Both countries will encourage the dissemination of such information as would promote the development of friendly relations between them.

  1. 3. In order progressively to restore and normalize relations between the two countries step by step, it was agreed that:

(i) Steps shall be taken to resume communications, postal, telegraphic, sea, land including border posts, and air links including overflights;

(ii) Appropriate steps shall be taken to promote travel facilities for the nationals of the other country;

(iii) Trade and cooperation in economic and other agreed fields will be resumed as far as possible;

(iv) Exchange in the fields of science and culture will be promoted.

In this connection, delegations from the two countries will meet from time to time to work out the necessary details.

  1. 4. In order to initiate the process of the establishment of durable peace, both the governments agree that:

(i)   Pakistani and Indian forces shall be withdrawn to their side of the     international border;

(ii)  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 recognized 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.

(iii) The withdrawals shall commence upon entry into force of this agreement and shall be completed within a period of 30 days thereof.

  1. 5. This Agreement will be subject to ratification by both countries in accordance with their respective constitutional procedures, and will come into force with effect from the date on which the Instruments of Ratification are exchanged.
  2. 6. 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 normalization of relations, including the questions of repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees, a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations.

(ZULFIKAR ALI BHUTTO)                                (INDIRA GANDHI)

President                                                         Prime Minister

Islamic Republic of Pakistan                                 Republic of India

Simla, the 2nd July, 1972

NOTES

  1. 1. The author was present at the meeting
  2. 2. Jamsheed Marker  – Quiet Diplomacy – Oxford University Press, 2010 –                                                    (Pp 159-160.)
  3. 3. J. N. Dixit – Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance – Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd. ( Pp 33-34)
  4. 4. The author was present at the meeting.
  5. 5. Abdul Sattar – Pakistan’s Foreign Policy – Oxford University Press, 2007 – (Chapter 11)
  6. 6. Times of India – 04 April 1995
  7. 7. J. N. Dixit – Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance, 1995 (Pp 166-167)


The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and former Assistant Secretary General of the OIC. His first book is a collection of essays titled Halfway up The Tree.