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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 38 New Delhi September 8, 2018

What Happened at the Simla Talks with Pakistan in June-July, 1972

Sunday 9 September 2018, by Ashok Parthasarathi

After the conclusion of the “Bangladesh War†on December 16, 1971 it was decided through diplomatic channels that post-War talks would be held over June 30 and July 2 between Mrs Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had become the President of a wobbly civilian government in Pakistan and their respective top Ministers and officials. Mrs Gandhi had with her, Foreign Minister Swaran Singh, D.P. Dhar, Chairman, Policy Planning Committee in the Ministry of External Affairs with the rank of a Minister of State, and Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul. G.P., though at that time formally the Vice-Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, had just started his super-secret talks on J&K with Mirza Afzal Beg, the closest aide of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, relating to the Sheikh giving up his long-standing demand for a plebiscite in J&K with the obective of bringing him back into the national mainstream. More than that, G.P. was Indiraji’s closest adviser not only on foreign affairs and national security, but also on internal political problems as well. Bhutto, for his part, had not only his daughter Benazir (who was later to become herself the Prime Minister of Pakistan on two occasions), the Secretary-General of the Pakistan Foreign Office, Aziz Ahmed, and Aga Shahi, the Foreign Secretary.

The talks, to be held for three days, began on June 30 to July 2, 1972 and were held in the beautiful Viceregal Lodge in Simla.

The meeting opened with some “welcome remarks†by Indiraji. Contrary to her usually warm demeanour, this time her face was expressionless and she made it quite clear to Bhutto and his delegation that all she was doing was a formality.

Bhutto also formally thanked Mrs Gandhi for welcoming him and his delegation to Shimla. He than began speaking. Bhutto had built up a reputation worldwide for (a) his histrionics; and (b) his foul language, even in public, for example, making repeated references to “Indian dogs†. But this time it was a very different Bhutto. He pleaded with Mrs Gandhi to recognise and appreciate his terrible predicament. He and his government were so weak that their very existence was a day-to-day mircale. The war had ravaged the country and not only the common people but many sections of the armed forces were thoroughly demoralised. He then made a remark most exceptional for Bhutto. He said: “Madam Prime Minister, please help me to rebuild my nation.†This was too much for our Foreign Minister, Swaran Singh. He raised his voice and said: “Zulfikar (Bhutto’s first name), you are a liar, a cheat and a genetically India hater†. (This is what my father told me later.—A.P.) Mrs Gandhi continued to keep her sombre demeanour. Bhutto then said another remarkable thing: “Madam, I swear by the Quaid-e-Azam that I, my government and the people of Pakistan are all eager to arrive at a settlement of not only Jammu and Kashmir but of all outstanding problems between our two countries.†Mrs Gandhi shot back: “I note your remark, Mr Bhutto, but none of the official statements made by your Foreign Office nor any part of the state-controlled media in Pakistan reflect your vow. The hate campaign has continued even after the War with the same vitriolic venom and wild and baseless allegations against us. Why don’t you make a beginning in what you say you wish our new bilateral relations to be. Have the hate campaign in your English, and more importantly, Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi press, radio and TV stopped at once. Such a step will give us some confidence that you mean what you say.†A sheepish Bhutto promised Indiraji that he would do so as soon as he returned home.

Bhutto, the past master of the English language, then changed the talk. He started pleading with Mrs Gandhi for time. “I need time to prepare my people.†Here Mrs Gandhi interjected—“and a huge and powerful Army which permeates all of Pakistani society and economy and which no civilian government hitherto can control†. Bhutto was speechless as Mrs Gandhi’s remark went to the very core of the Indo-Pak problem and Bhutto knew she was spot on.

Adjusting herself in her chair, Mrs Gandhi said: “Mr Bhutto, you know my senior aide G.P. well. G.P. was involved in all the six rounds of talks you had with him (G.P.) and with Sardar Swaran Singh who is here, in the mid-1960s. Most unfortunately, those talks ended in nothing. So, I now put the following proposition to you. You and G.P. have detailed discussions on the most important outstanding problem between our two countries, namely, Kashmir. Either he convinces you or you convince him.â€

So, with Bhutto’s agreement of Indiraji’s proposition the talks began in a beautiful side-room of the Viceregal Lodge. They lasted six hours. But all of G.P.’s famous negotiating skills were of no avail. Bhutto preferred not to budge, despite the fact that several alternative propositions were put to him on Kashmir.

So, at the end G.P. went back to Indiraji and said: “He is absolutely rigid. I do not think he is serious about working out a settlement, Perhaps, his political position in Pakistan is far too weak for him to take the risk of that position at home. So, Indira, when the main talks resume this afternoon you have to ‘Read the Riot Act’ to him and say that the only way to break the impasse is: within 15 days of the close of the current talks, the two Surveyors General have to meet and work out an alignment of the Line of Control (LOC) in J&K which is logical, which is in conformity with international law and which is such as to be implementable on the ground. They should then prepare new maps of J&K reflecting the new alignment. These signed maps could then be used by the Foreign Ministers to conduct political negotiations.†G.P. went on to advise the PM that should Bhutto not accept her proposition, then the 90,000 Pakistani POWs we had captured in the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) would not be sent back to Pakistan and remain POWs in India until a mutually acceptable solution on Jammu and Kashmir is reached.

Thus when the two delegations re-convened in the afternoon of the second day of the talks, Indiraji made an opening statement along the lines of what G.P. had advised. Bhutto hit the roof. He said: “Madam, this is atrocious. It is a gross violation of international law and the UN Charter. We will leave no stone unturned to mobilise world opinion against such a barbarous act. Indeed, we will fight a 1000 year war to get our POWs back from you.†He also threatened to walk out of the talks along with his delegation.

At this outburst by Bhutto, Indiraji called a recess in the talks. She and the whole Indian delegation adjourned to another smaller room. Indiraji sought the views of her advisers. Some, like Swaran Singh, advised that she should reiterate her proposition and not be worried by Bhutto’s outburst, some others advised that we should give in. However, after half-an-hour‘s discussion a via-media was unanimously agreed upon. The core of this solution was that we would agree to a

phased

return of the 93,000 Pak POWs. In parallel near-continuous talks would be held by Swaran Singh and G.P. on our side and Aziz Ahmed and Aga Shahi on their side. The two sides would earnestly and intensively negotiate Mrs Gandhi’s proposition of joint work by the Surveyors General to produce a new map wherein the LoC’s alignment was so altered as to make it an administrable and rational International Border in Kashmir. Using such a map the two teams would hold intense negotiations meeting every two months. If the negotiations made progress, the return flow of POWs would continue; if not, the flow would slow down. It was a carrot and stick approach. After careful study and further discussion Indiraji approved the proposal.

She and our delegation went back to the main room and put this modified proposal. Bhutto’s initial reaction was to reject the modified proposal out of hand. Then, at Indiraji’s instance, Bhutto and G.P. again moved to the small room where they had met earlier and hard bargaining took place. Finally, G.P.’s persuasion-cum-pressure worked. Bhutto agreed to a further modified proposed in which we (India) would immediately release 30,000 of the 93,000 Pak PoWs. Concurrently the talks on Kashmir would start. Thereafter the conditional phased release of the remaining 63,000 PoWs would begin. The two sides agreed that to keep the “optics†correct, this super-secret compromise agreement would not be

fully

put into the official Joint Simla agreement. The “whole package†would be contained in a secret side-Memorandum to the Agreement and would be signed by both Indiraji and Bhutto. It may be mentioned that this compromise agreement worked out well in practice. However, it has never been made public before. It is being made public for the first time.

Prof Ashok Parthasarathi is a former Science and Technology Adviser to late PM Indira Gandhi.

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