Kashmir and the Simla Accord
3 April 2004
Lahore: Nobody can deny that right from the beginning, the Kashmir dispute has been at the heart of differences between the two countries. Today it is in the forefront more than ever and appears to have become an insuperable obstacle in the way of any genuine improvement of relations. It is futile to argue that it is anything less than the single substantive issue that blocks progress and, with the widely differing positions of the two sides, the prospects of a solution appear bleak indeed. The traditional Indian approach has been that overall improvement of relations will facilitate a peaceful solution of Kashmir. The Pakistan view has been that, without a solution of Kashmir, no meaningful progress can be made on the broad front. The one occasion when the positions were reversed was at Simla in 1972, where Mrs Gandhi was keen to settle Kashmir once and for all, but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called for progress on other fronts as a first step. A compromise was reached when Bhutto agreed to converting the Ceasefire Line established by the UN in 1949 into a Line of Control. Each side undertook to respect the control of the other in their respective areas, pending a 'final solution' to be sought through bilateral negotiations. Mrs Gandhi relented at the last minute and did not insist on making the Ceasefire Line, with minor adjustments, the permanent international boundary. Many of her advisers were unhappy at the time and claimed that she had missed a golden opportunity. This was still the view of many when I arrived in Delhi 12 years later. What exactly happened at Simla remains something of a mystery. I was not in the Foreign Office at the time, and my observations are based on detailed discussions with some of the participants, both in Delhi and in Islamabad. The Pakistan version is that it was a diplomatic triumph for Bhutto, because, with literally no cards in his hand, he was able to preserve his country's position on Kashmir, to regain 5000 square miles of occupied territory in West Pakistan and to pave the way for the release of 93,000 prisoners of war being held in India since December 1971. The inclusion of phrases like 'without prejudice to their wellknown positions' and 'commitment to the United Nations Charter' which appear in the text of the Agreement, negate in Islamabad's view, the interpretation that a de jure change had taken place with the mutual acceptance of the Line of Control or that the United Nation's resolutions on the subject had been superseded by the agreement to seek a bilateral solution. The Indian interpretation, as I was repeatedly reminded in Delhi, was different. They claimed that Mrs Gandhi made a last minute concession at Simla for a number of reasons. Firstly, she was impressed by the argument that an imposed solution based on a military victory would only mean that Pakistan's enmity with India would become permanent and defeat the underlying purpose of establishing a durable peace. A number of people in Delhi told me that this was the argument pressed by P.N. Haksar, her chief adviser, who strongly maintained that it would be unwise to force a Versailles-type settlement on Pakistan. When I called on him in New Delhi, Haksar said much the same thing to me. It would be foolish on the part of either side, he said, to believe that the Kashmir problem could be solved through the use of force. If anything, this would widen the gulf between the two countries and lead to permanent ill will. The then Foreign Secretary of India, T.N. Kaul, was, or so I learnt in Delhi, of a different mind and left Simla early under the impression that no accord could be reached. The second factor was that both the United States and the Soviet Union had brought strong pressure on Mrs Gandhi to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. They had earlier cooperated in stopping her from continuing the war against West Pakistan after her victory in the East in 1971. They now combined to dissuade her from imposing a unilateral settlement. Another important factor was that Bhutto had taken with him to Simla a number of Opposition leaders from the smaller provinces of Pakistan, including Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil, Governor of the North West Frontier Province and Ghous Baksh Bizenjo, Governor of Baluchistan. Some of them had been stalwarts of the All India Congress before Partition and had worked with Mrs Gandhi's father. She held them in high esteem and had specially brought Mohammed Yunus with her to Simla to act as a link with them. Through him they sent private entreaties to Mrs Gandhi not to send Bhutto back empty-handed and to give democracy in Pakistan a chance. They themselves had entered into a powersharing arrangement with him a few months earlier and decided to cooperate with him. Soon after Simla, they helped him get his new Constitution unanimously passed by the National Assembly. Within six months, however, he forced their elected governments in two provinces out of office and, not long afterwards, put the leaders of their parties behind bars. Like them, at Simla, Mrs Gandhi decided to put her faith in Bhutto. He convincingly argued that given enough time, he would be able to bring public opinion in Pakistan around to accepting the Line of Control, with marginal adjustments, as the permanent international boundary. Some of those present at the time, told me in Delhi that he said to her, 'Aap mujh pe bharosa rakhen' (you must have trust in me). He maintained that, if he was seen as having yielded to pressure, the Pakistan army, defeated though it might be, would have his head. -Herald Tribune There was also much talk in Delhi when I was there that, in fact, Bhutto had a verbal agreement with Mrs Gandhi that the proposals he was making were in the nature of an interim agreement, hence the language in one clause of the Simla Agreement that a 'final' solution would be reached at a later meeting between Heads of Government. There is no hard evidence to prove this allegation about an oral understanding. It is nevertheless true that it did not suit either leader to put anything like this in writing. Mrs Gandhi would face domestic criticism that despite India's unassailable position at Simla, she had relinquished the claim to a large part of Kashmir while Bhutto would have little chance of political survival in Pakistan. In spite of their divergent interpretations of the Simla Agreement, both parties continue to pay lip service to its centrality in the context of Kashmir. The difference is that, while India calls for a settlement in accordance with Simla, Pakistan prefers to cite, 'The Simla Agreement and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.' By and large, this Agreement has held the field till now and, in the opinion of some, averted an armed conflict for 30 years. This is perhaps an oversimplification because many other factors have since entered the equation. Anyway, it cannot be said that either side has stuck unswervingly to the letter and the spirit of the accord. The Indian occupation of Siachen was the first open violation. Many years later, Pakistan undertook the misadventure in Kargil. Both these violations resulted in armed hostilities which, mercifully, did not expand beyond a local scale. The spirit of Simla clearly commits both sides to working for a peaceful solution of Kashmir. It also states that such a solution should be sought through bilateral negotiations. The Pakistan case that the bilateralism clause does not in any way rule out other peaceful methods authorized by the UN Charter may be legalistically arguable but it is not exactly in keeping with the underlying spirit of the accord. Clearly, both sides agreed to give primacy to the bilateral course. But that was only laid down as the procedure of first preference. There is nothing in the agreement that changes the substantive position of either side, unless one accepts the argument that the establishment of the Line of Control was the initial step in a direction which would be followed through to a final conclusion by making it the permanent international boundary. The Indian position that a solution can only be reached through bilateral negotiations also appears to me to be excessively rigid. After all, the bilateralism clause itself allows for 'any other method mutually agreed upon. Surely, if bilateral negotiations have failed for 50 years, it may be time to agree on some other mutually acceptable procedure. Indeed, in recent years, India has itself invoked international intervention on an issue which has become central to the Kashmir dispute, the issue of 'cross-border terrorism. It is most unlikely that any solution suggested by a neutral party would give either side all that it claims, nor would it ignore the ground realities. Some sort of workable compromise would be suggested and it would be less difficult for both sides to entertain a compromise proposed by a third party. Neither side, on its own, will find it easy to initiate moves towards a compromise, even though it is clear that no solution is possible without one. Today, the Kashmir dispute appears to have become more intractable than ever before and, indeed a greater threat to regional and global stability than it has ever been. Yet, over the years, subtle movements have taken place. For example, since the mid-90s, whenever a dialogue has been initiated, the Indian formulation of the agenda has included a special mention of Kashmir as one of the subjects to be discussed. This constitutes a significant departure from the past when any specific reference to Kashmir as a dispute was anathema to the Indians. As for Pakistan, it still insists on the primacy of Kashmir, but now seems ready to discuss other aspects of normalization alongside it. The trouble starts when talks actually begin. India says, 'Let us tackle the easier issues first and then move on to the most difficult one.' Pakistan says, 'No progress is possible on other issues until we solve the main problem'. These are, of course, extreme positions and prevent negotiations from taking off. Past experience has, however, shown that different rates of progress can be attained on different issues and this progress should not be cast aside lightly. My own view is that even the most intractable issues can be resolved more easily in an overall atmosphere of cooperation and even the easiest issues are unlikely to be resolved in an atmosphere of confrontation. Perhaps a compromise will one day be reached when all issues will once more be put on the table but more urgent and intensive focus will be maintained on Kashmir. The basic starting point must be that both sides should realize that it is in their long-term strategic interest to cooperate and live peacefully with each other. Specific disputes can then be addressed with the broad understanding that both sides wish to preserve an overall relationship of peace and cooperation. There are numerous examples in the world where countries have taken this strategic decision and fashioned their policies accordingly. They have proceeded to improve relations on a broad front with countries with which they have serious differences on specific issues. China continues to work for good relations with the US despite the question of Taiwan. Similarly, it is improving its relations with India in spite of their boundary dispute. Of course, the Kashmir dispute has now become qualitatively different from others in that it has acquired an intensely emotional dimension and has become deeply enmeshed in the domestic politics of both India and Pakistan. It has been the cause of repeated armed conflict; it has seen much bloodshed, enormous economic costs and blatant violations of human rights. Worst of all, it has created vested interests that are powerful enough to thwart any attempts at a reasonable compromise. With the complexities of the issue multiplying over the years, it becomes more and more difficult for any leader in either country to accept compromise and to survive. This is particularly true of Pakistan. It would take a Sadat or a Rabin to break the deadlock, and the consequences could well be the same as those two brave men faced. Behind the scenes, a number of possible solutions have been debated, but the issue is so emotionally charged that backdoor diplomacy, though always helpful, would probably not win popular support if it produced anything in the nature of a surprise. Unfortunately, so far, neither side has made any effort to influence public opinion towards an ultimate compromise. In fact, they have both encouraged hardline thinking and sought to make political capital out of maintaining rigid positions. The conundrum, therefore, remains that though most people in both countries want a peaceful solution, their leaders publicly encourage them to favour the all-or-nothing attitude. Developments on a number of fronts have had both positive and negative effects on the Kashmir issue. The nuclearization of South Asia has rendered it an infinitely more dangerous flashpoint. Though there are many advocates of the so-called 'balance of terror' thesis who argue that nuclear weapons diminish the chances of conflict, I am convinced that the potential risks far outweigh the illusory sense of security that nuclear weapons provide. The one positive side to this is that the international community does not underestimate these risks and is now paying more attention to the situation. It has to be more proactive in this regard because both India and Pakistan want good relations with the industrialized nations, particularly the United States, and might be ready to listen. When I was in Delhi, the nuclear debate was just hotting up. At that time, Pakistan was in the dock for its clandestine efforts to acquire weapons capability. Despite its nuclear test at Pokharan 1 in 1974, India seemed to have convinced the international community that its programme was entirely peaceful. The US media and Congress were targeting Pakistan and the Indians happily joined the chorus. Ironically, it was India that was to become the first to break the barrier in 1998, forcing Pakistan to do the same. In the mid-80s, the first signs that the nuclear factor was entering the India-Pakistan equation were surfacing and India focused its attention on getting the US and the West to lean on Pakistan. Covertly, however, India was itself moving fast towards weaponization and knew perfectly well that Pakistan was in no way ahead. International opinion too was more focused on nonproliferation generally and not specifically in the context of Indo-Pakistan rivalry. The result was that interest in disputes between the two countries was not immediate enough to encourage intervention. Today; that has changed and there is great concern. Hopefully, this will result in greater international efforts, which could be most helpful in reaching a solution of the Kashmir dispute. The other important factor of very recent origin is, of course, terrorism-which is today at the centre of the world's concerns. It was barely talked of in the 1980s and then only in local contexts. After 11 September 2001, it is an international issue. Any form of violence which targets innocent people is defined as terrorism and there is no clear distinction made between those engaged in freedom struggles and terrorists. The latest stalemate between India and Pakistan is based on this issue with the Indians insisting that 'cross-border terrorism' must stop before any talks can be resumed. Pakistan is under heavy international pressure to curb the activities of what it calls freedom fighters operating from its side of the border. This was never a good policy anyway, because one thing has always been clear: India is never going to come to terms under pressure of force. Pakistan has tried this more than once with disastrous results and it might be in its own best interest to voluntarily abandon these methods.