Inking An Accord


The intellectual Congressman Jairam Ramesh, when not in power, writes books. His sixth book in four years is about P N Haksar, a top diplomat and aide of Indira Ghandi, whose lineage linked him to Raja Dina Nath, Ranjit Singhs finance minister who signed the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846. By the time the Kashmir origin Haksar, though not speaking Kashmiri, came to Kashmir for the first time in 1968, he had been associated with Kashmir since 1947. A key character in making of Bangladesh, Haksar played a key role in the Simla Accord. Coinciding with the 46th anniversary of the accord, Jairam offers a blow by blow account of the bilateral treaty

While Haksar’s manifold contributions to the emergence of Bangladesh are beyond dispute and are acknowledged handsomely in that country itself, his role in Simla thereafter has come under criticism especially in India. The Simla Summit began on 28 June 1972 and four days later the Simla Accord was signed under dramatic circumstances at well past midnight. How did the Simla summit come about in the first place?

On 31 January 1972, Pegov had called on Haksar ‘at his own instance’ to understand what India would do to counter Pakistan’s efforts to activate the UN Security Council to mediate between India and Pakistan. Haksar spelt out India’s approach and told the Soviet envoy in no uncertain terms that the Security Council should not allow itself to ‘become merely the vehicle for Pakistan’s propagandist efforts’. The record of this conversation prepared by Haksar for the prime minister the same day also went to say:

“The Ambassador enquired about the prospects of negotiations with President Bhutto. I said we were ready to engage in such negotiations. He said that in the conversations that Bhutto had with the Soviet Ambassador, he seemed anxious to have a dialogue with India. I asked him if the Soviet Ambassador in Islamabad had enquired how, where and with whom and when precisely would Bhutto be ready for these negotiations. The Soviet Ambassador asked me if he would have these questions put. I said he was certainly welcome to do so. In fact, these questions were so obvious that I thought that the Soviet Ambassador in Islamabad might have thought of them in the ordinary course.”

It was obvious to Haksar that given Bhutto’s aggressive lobbying at the United Nations India had to do something to wrest the initiative. On 12 February 1972, India formally informed the UN secretary general, through a letter drafted by Haksar, that it was ready to have direct talks with Pakistan at any time, at any level and without any preconditions. This communication from the prime minister went thus:

“India unilaterally offered to Pakistan a cease-fire on December 16, 1971. Upon its acceptance by Pakistan a cease-fire became effective from 2000 hrs Indian Standard Time on December 17, 1971. The Security Council Resolution No. 307 of December 21, 1971 took note of this. In all this India had been inspired by her consistent desire to contribute to the restoration of durable peace and stability.

The Government of India are firmly convinced that lasting peace between India and Pakistan can and should be achieved as soon as possible in the interest of both countries and peoples. For this purpose the Government of India are prepared to have direct talks with the Government of Pakistan at any time, at any level and without any preconditions. The Government of India believes that this is the best way of serving the principles and purposes of the [UN] Charter. The Government of India hope that the Government of Pakistan will respond to this initiative in a positive and constructive manner …”

A few days later this letter was shared with members of the Security Council and on 17 February 1972, the Swiss ambassador in Islamabad handed a copy of it to the Government of Pakistan as well. That very day, the Ceylon High Commission delivered a message from President Bhutto that said:

“… I am ready to meet her [Indira Gandhi] with an open mind and without any preconditions whatsoever … I would be willing to come to New Delhi on any mutually convenient date.”

On 2 March 1972, Haksar asked Indira Gandhi to send this note to the foreign minister, Swaran Singh:

Jairam Ramesh

“The exchanges which have taken place so far between Pakistan and ourselves through the Swiss and Soviet Embassies as well as the High Commission of Ceylon indicate a readiness on the part of President Bhutto to engage in direct negotiations with India. He has also conveyed to us through the Soviet Embassy the timing of the commencement of such negotiations … We have now to carefully prepare for such a meeting, the venue, the procedural questions such as the level of the initial meeting as well as the more substantive questions relating to the objectives we seek to achieve through the means of these direct negotiations …”

On 20 March 1972, British Home Secretary Alec Douglas-Home sent a message to Indira Gandhi:

“I had a talk with President Bhutto this morning [in London]. He is very anxious to talk over with you the ways in which an entirely new relationship with India may be established … He is anxious that such a meeting should be convened quickly before the middle of next month … He would like the invitation to come from you …”

Earlier Bhutto had met Kosygin in Moscow on 17 March 1972 and had received the message from the Soviets that he should open a dialogue with Indira Gandhi. This would have been known to Haksar, thanks to his contacts with Pegov. Douglas-Home’s communication would lead Haksar to get Indira Gandhi to once again tell Swaran Singh on 25 March 1972:

“We discussed amongst ourselves the broad lines of approach to the forthcoming negotiations with Pakistan. We now have to evolve a more definitive position on a number of related questions. In his message, Sir Alec Douglas-Home had suggested that I might extend an invitation to President Bhutto to visit India. There is also the question whether we should firmly adhere to our view that prior to a summit meeting, our Special Envoys should meet. What would we say if President Bhutto were to take the initiative and says that he wants to come to New Delhi? We should also have a clear picture of what we should do if negotiations take place at whatever level …

Thereafter Haksar prepared an invitation from Indira Gandhi to Bhutto on 30 March 1972 that was handed over to the Swiss ambassador to be delivered to the Pakistani President:

It has always been my desire to have lasting peace between our two countries because of my firm belief that this would be to our mutual interest. I have tried to work towards this end …

Indo-Pak talks Indo-Pak agreement on POW’s repatriation signed in New Delhi on August 28, 1973. Mr Aziz Ahmed, Minister of Foreign and Defence Affairs of Pakistan and Shri P.N. Haksar Signing the agreement.

The tragic events and the sufferings of the last year would be mitigated to some extent if we could turn our backs on the past and, together, lay the foundations of an enduring peace between our two countries. This is the denouement we sincerely seek. The Government and the people of India are convinced that the pursuit of peace, cooperation and good neighbourliness are more worthwhile objectives than a confrontation which diverts our energies and resources from our war against poverty and backwardness …

On February 14, 1972, the Government of India wrote formally to the Secretary-General of the United Nations suggesting direct talks between Pakistan and India without any pre-conditions. This was also conveyed to you through the Swiss Government. Since then I have received a message through the courtesy of the Soviet government and one through Sir Alec Douglas-Home that you would like a meeting with me sometime in the first half of April 1972. I have also received a message through His Excellency M. Rene Keller [Swiss ambassador in Pakistan].

I agree that we should meet and in order to prepare the ground for such a meeting, I suggest that Special Emissaries who have our complete confidence and carry our full authority should meet to settle the modalities for the summit meeting and to delineate the subjects we should discuss …

Haksar then asked Subimal Dutt, India’s ambassador in Dacca to ‘acquaint Sheikh Mujibur Rahman immediately with the substance of the letter’.

On 12 April, India received Bhutto’s reply through the Swiss. Soon thereafter, DP Dhar was nominated as Indira Gandhi’s special emissary and his counterpart in Pakistan was to be Aziz Ahmed. When Dhar went to Islamabad in April 1972 to do the preparatory work for the summit with Aziz Ahmed, Haksar sent him a message on 29 April 1972 through a top secret channel:

(1) We should not be anxious to publish the agreed items of the Agenda [for the summit]…

(2) We should not show any anxiety to agree immediately on the implementation of any item of the Agenda except stoppage of hostile propaganda. Our idea is to give priority to an overall peace settlement including J&K

(3) If Aziz Ahmed’s assertion that there is no pressure on Pakistan for return of Prisoners of War is true, then Pakistan need not give it such a priority …

(4) … It is only after the emissaries have agreed on the agenda and the priorities that the real summit to decide these matters can be held.

A series of summits would not, in our opinion, be the best way to settle these matters …

You should contradict any suggestion that summit meeting will be held in any third country as has been put out by the Pakistani press and radio and attributed to a member of the Indian Delegation.

Finally it was decided to have the summit in Simla between 28 June and 2 July 1972. On 30 May 1972, Haksar laid out a timetable for the prime minister to help her prepare for the summit:

Haksar and PN Dhar with Indira Gandhi

I submitted to PM yesterday that it is necessary to go over the ground to be traversed in our negotiations with the President of Pakistan. For this purpose, a meeting should be called at PM’s earliest convenience … After the various steps for negotiations have been identified and aims and objectives defined, a meeting of the Political Affairs Committee of the Cabinet should be called. At this meeting it is essential for PM. to ask each member of it to express himself of his concept of the aims and objectives of our negotiations with Pakistan. As these negotiations are of cardinal importance, it is not enough for members to keep their counsel to themselves, as is customary with them. Later on, it might be necessary to call the Members of the Cabinet. At some stage … it will be necessary to call in the Chiefs of Staff …

Here was Haksar goading the prime minister to coax her senior-most colleagues (Jagjivan Ram, YB Chavan, Swaran Singh and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed) to speak out frankly. They were men of enormous political experience and sagacity but were careful of expressing their views—they would prefer to listen to the prime minister first before speaking.

One bit of preparation for the Simla Summit was actually quite hilarious. Foreign Secretary TN Kaul sent out instructions on 24 June 1972 that:

PM will stay at The Retreat along with some personal staff. The rest of PM’s Secretariat and staff will stay in Punjab Bhawan (Dane’s Folly). It should be referred to as Punjab Bhawan and not Dane’s Folly.

Before leaving for Simla, President Bhutto had addressed his nation on 27 June 1972. A day later, Haksar sent a detailed assessment of that speech to Indira Gandhi along with what he thought might be a structure of negotiations at Simla. He ended his analysis by saying:

The terrible legacy of the past has to be got over. And this can be got over if we are able today to enunciate the broad features of our future relationship in which the strongest element should be our firm resolve not to use force in settling our differences either as they exist, or might arise in future. Such a declaration accompanied by some concrete steps towards implementation of this resolve would put us on the new road to life of peace, amity and good neighbourliness. PM. might then ask President Bhutto: how do we set about it?

Negotiations started on 28 June 1972 with DP Dhar chairing the Indian side and Aziz Ahmed heading the Pakistani team. They continued the next day when Haksar said that ‘the UN Charter itself mentioned other peaceful means by which international disputes could be settled’. He went on, according to the official record of discussions, to make the following two points:

(a) that we should not allow ourselves to be influenced by the echoes of the past but come with new ideas and new approaches which can help us solve our problems ourselves, instead of either going to war or involving distant countries into our disputes.

(b) Indian politics has its own compulsions and complications. We consider it our business to manage our obscurantist and hard-core elements. We are similarly hopeful that you will be able to manage yours. But we cannot permit our individual internal compulsions to affect the settlement in favour of either party.

Haksar took over as head of the Indian delegation on 30 June 1972 since Dhar had, all of a sudden, suffered a heart attack and had to be evacuated to New Delhi. This was a second tragedy for Haksar personally in two days. As the Summit had got under way, Haksar had been informed that his close friend PN Kaul, then deputy high commissioner in London had suffered a heart attack and passed away.

On 29 June 1972, India shared with Pakistan a ‘Draft Treaty for Reconciliation, Good Neighbourliness and Durable Peace and added a note saying that whatever was agreed to on the question of Jammu and Kashmir that was to be discussed separately would be included appropriately in the Treaty. The next day, Pakistan shared its draft of an ‘Agreement on Bilateral Relations between the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan. The same day—that is on 30 June 1972—the two sides resumed negotiations with Haksar now chairing the Indian side. The official record of discussions reads:

Indian Delegation to the Indo-Pak Talks headed by Shri P.N. Haksar special Envoy of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Delhi Airport prior to their departure to Islamabad.

Principal Secretary [PNH] said that he had few observations to make. We had deliberately not called into witness the past history of our relations. Both sides had their own respective “mythologies”. What was now required was to work for durable peace. Secondly, India believes that her own domestic compulsions would also have to be reckoned with in any consideration of the question of peace in the area. If we accept the Pakistani draft our people would feel that the sourest factor of our relations had not even been referred to and no hope or direction had been indicated as to how the problem could be resolved. Mr. Ahmed stated … why was it necessary to settle the Kashmir question today, especially when Pakistan did not enjoy equality in negotiations? Let us wait for a few months, perhaps a year.

Principal Secretary … wondered whether there was any way of persuading Pakistan to accept that discussions were being conducted on one basis—that of equality … We would like to remove the endless curse of conflicts on the question of Kashmir. There are differences in our positions … While we believe that Jammu and Kashmir is part and parcel of India, as stated in our Constitution, President Bhutto keeps calling for a solution through self-determination. We frankly do not understand what this means … We do not accept the concept of self-determination for integral parts of a country … We would, however, like to find some solution. For this, Principal Secretary said, it would be useful to know the parameters within which Pakistan envisaged a solution to the question of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan should take us into confidence even if we do not come to any agreement … Principal Secretary reiterated that for India the question of Kashmir was very important and if there was no understanding, a new situation would be created which would require serious consideration.

Indira Gandhi and Bhutto then met at 3.45 pm on 1 July 1972 accompanied by their top aides. In this meeting, Haksar remarked:

The officials have met and we have exchanged ideas. We feel that we are on the eve of a new kind of relationship. Discussions at our level could not produce results on the question of POWs Mr Aziz Ahmed had suggested that we have the Bangladesh Government’s agreement on this subject in our pocket. That is not so. We are leaving some difficult questions behind, not because we have forgotten about them but for discussion at future meetings … We are not using them as pressure points but there is need to discuss them further in order to solve them.

Confidence would have grown by the time when we meet next; other obstacles would have been removed. There is agreement about good neighbourliness and to solve problems peacefully.

On the same day, that is on 1 July 1972 India handed over to Pakistan a draft called Agreement on Bilateral Relations between the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan. Two formulations in this draft had Jammu and Kashmir in mind.

Para 1 (ii) said that: … the countries will not use forces for the settlement of any differences between them and will resolve them exclusively (by peaceful means) through bilateral negotiations …

Para 1 (iv) went to state that: … the basic issues and cause of conflict which have bedevilled the relations between the two countries for the last 25 years shall be resolved bilaterally and by peaceful means.

This draft ended by saying: Both Governments agree that their respective Heads will meet again at a mutually convenient time in the future 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 question of Jammu & Kashmir, repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees, withdrawal of all armed forces to their respective territories and the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Pakistan, too, submitted a counter draft on 1 July 1972. The same day Haksar sent Indira Gandhi a note:

PM has with her the draft which the Pakistanis gave us yesterday. PM will kindly see that there is a reference there to a UN Resolution. PM may wish to see the text of that Resolution which I attach to this note. The Pakistanis might ask why we are objecting to a reference to this Resolution in their text. Our answer is that this Resolution does not, by any means, replace the [UN] Charter and cannot be deemed to be an amendment of the Charter. Consequently, reference to it has no greater sanctity than a reference to the Charter itself and that even in this Resolution, paragraph 6 strictly provides that the parties are free to use “other peaceful means of their choice”. Since in the context of the Indo-Pakistani relations, we have not got anywhere by invoking the United Nations and in particular the Security Council, we have felt all along that if two of us cannot settle anything by mutual agreement, nothing can be settled by any other processes. I thought that PM. should have this background just in case the matter is raised.

A day later in the morning of 2 July 1972, India handed over yet another draft agreement to Pakistan marked Final Indian Draft. Para 4(ii) read:

In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the cease-fire of December 17, 1971, shall henceforth be respected by both sides, as a line of peace. 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.

The concluding para 6 of this draft now read:

Both sides agree that their respective Heads will meet again at a mutually convenient time in the future 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 question of repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees, a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations.

This para 6 was to remain the final para 6 in the Simla Agreement that was soon to be signed. The officials of the two sides met again at 3.30 pm on 2 July 1972 but the meeting did not yield any agreement. Aziz Ahmed rejected the latest Indian draft of that very morning and suggested a Joint Communiqué instead. Haksar countered Ahmed’s objections by saying that India was not asking Pakistan to give up her position on J&K, but India would certainly resist Pakistan’s thrusting the UN Resolution down its throat. He also pointed out that India was offering to vacate Pakistani territory captured during the December 1971 conflict. While deeply regretting Pakistan’s dismissal of the Indian draft, Haksar handed over a draft communiqué with Aziz Ahmed promising to share his version before the dinner that night.

The dinner took place and, thereafter Indira Gandhi and Bhutto had a one-on-one conversation. It looked all was lost but miraculously at minutes past midnight the two leaders signed the Simla Agreement. How different was this final agreement from the Indian draft of the morning of 2 July 1972? Para 6 was identical. The change that India agreed to was in Para 4 (ii) of its draft of 1 July 1972 which now read:

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. [italics mine]

The italicized portion was indeed a concession to Bhutto in order to bring Pakistan on board.

The Accord has been both hailed and attacked. Interestingly this is true not just in India but in Pakistan as well. Conceivably Indira Gandhi and Haksar did not want Pakistan to leave as an embittered foe hell-bent on taking revenge for being humiliated so comprehensively. Whether he got her around to his point of view or whether she was determined to have an agreement of her own volition is impossible to know. Dhar has written that she may have been mindful of what the Soviet position was: that Bhutto should not leave Simla empty handed. Sharada Prasad has written:

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi signing the Shimla Agreement.

I vividly remember a particular meeting of the Political Affairs Committee [of the Cabinet]at which Indira Gandhi met with uncomfortable, noncommittal silence from her colleagues when she mentioned her proposal about releasing prisoners of war and returning territory. She then asked Haksar to set forth the reasons for the proposal. This he did, taking almost three-quarters of an hour. It was a masterly exposition, notable for its incisiveness and grasp of political realities and psychological insights.

When he had done, Indira Gandhi posed the question again, and one by one, Jagjivan Ram, YB Chavan, Swaran Singh and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed indicated their assent.

On his return from Simla, Haksar must have briefed the intrepid journalist A Raghavan of the Blitz for that tabloid carried a detailed account of what had transpired at Simla. Blitz’s publisher RK Karanjia and Haksar were close personal friends so much so that Karanjia’s wife Aileen would complain to Haksar about her husband’s colourful personal life. Raghavan himself had been a member of the CPI. His article called ‘Five Days That Changed History appeared in publication’s 5 July 1972 issue. It carried snippets that are not there in the official records. Writing of what happened on 1 July 1972, Raghavan wrote:

About 7 PM. Pakistan officials return to the negotiating table. The Indian delegation, headed by Haksar, presents a revised version. Expressions like “no-war pact” and “treaty” have been shunned. “No-war pact” has been replaced by “renunciation of force” and “treaty” by “agreement”. This, for the first time, offers the withdrawal of Indian troops and the vacation of Pakistani territory occupied on either side of the international frontier during the December war. Pakistan should do the same. As for Jammu and Kashmir, says the new draft, the line of control resulting from the cease-fire on December 17 shall be respected by both sides.

Aziz Ahmed explodes. Calls the document “a step back”. He says the international position of Jammu and Kashmir is not mentioned. Nor is the role of the UN mentioned. No solution offered to the issue of prisoners of war and so on and so forth …

Haksar tells the Pak delegation leader that the pull-out is a major concession made by the Prime Minister in consultation with her Cabinet colleagues. If he rejects such a concession, WELL THEY CAN WIND UP.

Thereupon, Aziz Ahmed offers to withdraw his angry remarks. Haksar says there is no need for amends. The negotiating table in the Himachal Secretariat is not the United Nations where everything goes on record, he concludes.

Similar exchanges take place on other matters … P.N. Dhar, a member of the Indian delegation and a distinguished economist … analyses incisively the Pakistan budget and concludes that 9 per cent of Pakistan’s national income is spent on its defence, while India spends only 3.6 per cent. Ahmed and his aides enter the caveat: Defence expenditure at home [in Pakistan]is the concern of technical experts, meaning military experts. Haksar would not let go such juicy bone of contention. He quotes the adage that war is too serious a business to be left to the generals, and adds that in India civilians are in command …

Rafi Raza gives an account of the industrial and technical backwardness of Pakistan … He pleads for exchanges in science and technology. Progress is barred by other types of “old sticks” like Mullahs and Sardars. Haksar jumps in and avers that he has a vested interest in Indo-Pak cooperation in science and technology. India has its own Mullahs—both Muslim and Hindu. He hopes that the process of modernization in Pakistan will enlighten the co-religionists in India. [italics mine]

Thereafter, Haksar prepared the resolution passed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) hailing the Simla Agreement. But the Cabinet had also to formally approve it to secure its ratification. On 11 July 1972, in a communication to the foreign secretary who was preparing the note for the Cabinet, Haksar asked him to make the following points:

(i) The Simla Agreement, which is annexed to this note, was signed by the Prime Minister of India with the approval of the Political Affairs Committee of the Cabinet and is now submitted for the approval of the Cabinet.

(ii) The important features of the Agreement are:

(a) That for the first time in 25 years, Pakistan has jettisoned all references to the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Kashmir.

(b) That contrary to her earlier position, Pakistan had given up its insistent demand for a self-executing machinery to deal with the question of Kashmir, e.g., mediation, arbitration, judicial settlement, etc.

(c) That Pakistan had agreed to the doctrine of non-use of force in settlement of bilateral disputes. That paragraphs 1 (ii) and 1 (iv) of the Agreement, when read in the context of Pakistan’s consistent stand all these years is, in all material particulars a ‘No War Pact’ which Pakistan all these years resisted;

(d) That despite strenuous efforts to retain the cease-fire line in Kashmir as it obtained in 1949 and subjected to U.N. supervision, Pakistan has now agreed in paragraph 4 (ii) to accept the cease-fire line as on December 17, 1971 and has further agreed not to alter it unilaterally or by use of force; and

(e) That Pakistan did not succeed in basing its case for withdrawal of the armed forces as well as the question of the release of prisoners of war on the Security Council Resolution.

But Haksar did not forget the ‘small things of life’ in his pre-occupations with drafting the CWC Resolution and Cabinet note on Simla. On 12 July 1972, he wrote to KN Channa, chief secretary of Himachal Pradesh:

One of your officers, Shri AS Jaswal, left an indelible impression on my mind of quiet efficiency combined with a tremendous sense of devotion and dedication to duty. I and my colleagues, who stayed at “Hem Kunj” in Simla, often made demands on him in the midst of all the hectic activities in which we were all engaged and we found him always responding without a trace of being harassed. I thought I should write to you about him, and I shall be glad if you will convey my deep sense of appreciation to him.

It is gestures like this that would characterize his entire life and make him what he was: shorn of all the power and the glory, a deeply compassionate and caring human being.

The same day, on 12 July 1972, Haksar was asked by the prime minister to speak to the minister of state of home affairs, KC Pant, on a sensitive issue which had been hanging fire for the past few months—that of the fate of Hindus who were Pakistani citizens who had crossed the border in Gujarat and Rajasthan because of the 1971 war and had stayed back in India. After the meeting, Haksar told the prime minister:

Shri KC Pant says that “an immediate decision has, indeed, become necessary”. I asked myself: Decision on what? I gathered the impression that we are being … pressurised into accepting the proposition that Hindus living in Pakistan are our responsibility. In the whole history of Indo–Pakistan relations, this psychology has proved disastrous and in my view the Nehru-Liaquat Agreement was one such major disaster where Pakistanis acquired a locus standi in safeguarding the interests of Muslims in India and we acquired a similar interest in being the guardians of Hindus in Pakistan. Thus, we became, unwittingly, the victims of the two-nation theory, even when we denounced it from house-tops …

I am afraid this matter requires political handling. The Congress workers of Gujarat and Rajasthan should be mobilized … [The refugees] should be told that there is no reason why they should leave their hearths and homes and be wandering nomads in India. We should also get in touch with the Pakistanis … and request them to look after their nationals belonging to the minority community … If we start ab initio by conceding that we have to absorb them automatically just because they happen to be Hindus, we shall be committing the gravest error. Of course, if the Congress Party in Gujarat and Rajasthan is totally paralysed and if the sentiment that Hindus all over the world are a special responsibility of India, then there is no problem. The more we have them, the merrier we shall all be. [italics mine]

This was the arch secular-nationalist in Haksar speaking. Amongst the hundreds of notes he would have sent to the prime minister during his tenure, this must rank as being among the most brutally honest and that went against the grain of conventional thinking. He even took Nehru to task for the 1950 agreement with the Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, but in this he was a bit unfair since he seemed to overlook the immediate background against which that accord had become necessary.

Sardar Patel too had defended that agreement. On 15 July 1972, in response to a request from the prime minister, he sent a note to Chandrajit Yadav, general secretary of the Congress party in connection with a pamphlet it was proposing to publish on the Simla Agreement to counter its critics, mainly the Jan Sangh. Haksar wrote:

(i) … I set out below some of the main points which need to be made in any article dealing with the Simla summit:

(ii) The agreement signed on July 2, 1972 at Simla between Prime Minister of India and President of Pakistan has been welcomed all over the world. In our own country too it has been widely welcomed. Naturally, amongst some sections doubts have been expressed about it. This is understandable considering the history of our past relations with Pakistan … These doubts expressed in some quarters however are of a different category and kind from the jingoistic and immature postures of the super-patriots of the Jan Sangh who are like the twin brothers of their Pakistani counterparts who think that confrontation, conflict and mouthing slogans are a substitute for a sober, finely balanced statecraft …

(iii) In order to understand the true meaning and significance of Simla agreement, it is not enough merely to look at the words of the agreement. One must see the totality of facts and circumstances. The first most important fact to be remembered is that Pakistan with which India was negotiating at Simla was totally different from Pakistan of Ayub Khan with which India negotiated the Tashkent agreement … The most populous part of it has seceded from it and established itself as a sovereign, independent State which is today recognized by more than sovereign States. Within the residue of Pakistan, democratic forces had emerged for the first time in the last 25 years …

(iv) Historians now say that if those who sat around the table at Versailles to conclude a peace with Germany defeated during the First World War had acted with wisdom and not imposed upon Germany humiliating terms of peace, not only rise of Nazism would have been avoided but also the seeds of the Second World war would not have been sown … [If] India behaved with immaturity and appeared internationally as a country dictating terms to a vanquished country, we would have played into the hands of those interested in fomenting discord in the sub-continent …

(v) Simla agreement is entirely and exclusively a bilateral agreement. And unlike the Tashkent agreement, the Simla agreement has been subject to debate and discussion in Pakistan and a solemn ratification by a democratically elected Parliament of Pakistan.

(vi) … The Simla agreement is based on the assumption of common interests of the people of India and the people of Pakistan in peace, democracy, economic development and social progress. [italics mine]

There is a lot of retrospective angst on the Simla Accord, especially in view of the acrimonious and tense bilateral relationship that has existed between India and Pakistan since the mid-1980s. In my view, this is what has given that agreement a bad name in India. But admittedly not all of Indira Gandhi’s opponents were critical. C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), had been ‘delighted’ with the Simla agreement calling it the ‘Pact of Good Hope.’ Rajaji had gone further and asked for an early second summit for resolving the unsettled issues. Jayaprakash Narayan, had issued a long statement and said that ‘every Indian desirous of peace in the subcontinent must give it hearty support’.

The revisionism on the Simla Accord simply does not take into account the full facts. There were definite limits on what India could accomplish after the military victory on the eastern front on 16 December 1971. Haksar was painfully aware of these constraints. India could not keep over 90,000 prisoners of war forever, nor could it hold on to West Pakistani territory in perpetuity. And we should not forget the pluses from Simla—the Cease Fire Line being replaced by the Line of Control and the Pakistani commitment to bilateralism. In some ways, the ‘mediation’ by the USSR at Tashkent in 1966 had undergone ‘remediation’ at Simla so as to make the Kashmir issue a matter to be settled between India and Pakistan themselves without outside intervention.

India gained immeasurably in terms of international support when in 1999, during the Kargil war, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided that India would not escalate the war with Pakistan beyond this Line of Control agreed to at Simla. There has been criticism of Haksar that he did not insist that this Line of Control become the international border but even well-meaning critics of Haksar’s stance at Simla like Shankar Bajpai, the distinguished diplomat, concede that to expect that would happen at Simla was totally unrealistic.

Criticism of the Simla Agreement fails to take into account what Bhutto himself wanted and what he ended up getting. Here is how another participant at Simla, TN Kaul, described it much later:

He [Bhutto] wanted India not only to vacate all West Pakistan territory occupied during the war, but also the immediate return of 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. He was reluctant to give up the use of force (as at Tashkent) or to accept the actual line of control in Jammu and Kashmir, which gave back to India about 400 sq miles more of her own territory than the old ceasefire line. He also wanted to bring in the UN machinery under Article 33 of the Charter—of arbitration, mediation, etc. to settle bilateral disputes. And what is more he did not want to mention Kashmir at all. He also wanted immediate restoration of diplomatic relations with India but would not recognize Bangladesh.

There was certainly one option available to Haksar—to advise Indira Gandhi not to sign any agreement unless the line of control became an international border. Would that have been acceptable to large sections of political opinion in India, especially since for decades the public discourse was based on the assertion that Pakistan was in illegal occupation of one third of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and that the entire state was an inalienable part of India? Further, would even India’s allies like the USSR been comfortable with President Bhutto returning to Pakistan from Simla without any agreement? The answers to both these questions have to be a resounding ‘no’.

How did Haksar come across to the other side at Simla? Abdul Sattar, the noted Pakistani diplomat who was at Simla and later wrote one of the classic books on Pakistan’s foreign policy was to recall much later:

PN Haksar, secretary general in the Indian prime minister’s office became the leader of the Indian official delegation at the conference after DP Dhar was taken ill. Without a peer in knowledge and erudition, he was also blessed with lucidity of expression to match the clarity of his thought. He seemed to relish saying: ‘Only the Devil knows what is in your mind; I can only go by the words you use’. But the chuckle at his own wisecrack instantly reassured everyone that he meant no offence. No one could doubt his desire for a positive outcome of negotiations …

Haksar himself did not write or say much publicly about what had happened in Simla. But, in 1984, while speaking at a seminar he looked back momentarily and allowed himself to say this:

While I had no great illusion about the durability of the Bhutto regime, the Simla Agreement was in the nature of an investment in the future and was, in my view at any rate, an attempt to make an impact upon the wide mass of people of Pakistan that India, in a moment of victory, would act as a long-term friend of the people of Pakistan and not as an enemy.

Alas, his hopes were belied. But that he was a realist is borne out by what he went on to say at that same seminar:

In the course of our discussions, a great deal was said about Pakistan’s nuclear probability. I have little doubt that they are developing such capabilities. The logic of development of these capabilities will produce, in time, nuclear weapons. In such an event, no government in India could fail to respond to Pakistan’s nuclear threat in the military field … India and Pakistan were to get overtly nuclear 14 years later.

(The excerpts are from Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi, arguably the only autobiography of P N Huksar, one of India’s most powerful civil servants known as Mrs Indira Gandhi’s alter ego. Simon and Schuster India published the book.)

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