Secret of Shimla agreement

via M P Ajithkumar published on December 10, 2006




M P Ajithkumar

(Lecturer in History, Sanathana Dharma College, Alappuzha)




      The period that constituted the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, the liberation of Bangladesh and the Shimla accord formed one of the momentous times in the history of India’s relations with its next-door nation. The war that formed one of the great conflagrations in Asia of the last half a century resulted in the ultimate and unconditional victory of India over her enemy nation. It was indeed the moment of India shining as a superior military power and a reputed ally of one of the top super powers of the world, the USSR.


The oft-repeated statement that Shimla Accord is to be observed as the basis of all future relations between India and Pakistan has been a matter of queer reading. Most of the Foreign Affairs Ministers, irrespective of their political hues, have waxed eloquent over Shimla Accord as some thing, which is the only panacea that can cut the long-drawn India-Pakistan ice. Even academics too are sometimes mistaken on this. The many reported statements of successive Union Ministers of India for External Affairs, on Shimla were just stereotypes of the same folly. Indeed the talks about Shimla Accord still continue to be mere eyewash. But only the Pakistanis can repose faith in Shimla Pact, as they do know that it was India’s diplomatic defeat.  An ordinary analysis would reveal the actual picture and nature of this much-publicized agreement. 


The Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 came to a temporary halt with the signing of the Shimla Agreement. In the summit, which opened on 28 June 1972 in Shimla, Mrs. India Gandhi warmly welcomed Mr. Z A Bhutto. Bhutto said that he too was sincere to respond to the wishes of the people of the subcontinent who were fed up with the past strife and conflicts and were eager to see a chapter of friendship and amity opened in Indo-Pakistan relations1. On the second day of the summit the talks reached a “crucial stage” with Mrs. Gandhi insisting on an over all settlement which would cover some basic issues along with those arising from the December war. Since such a settlement would involve the Kashmir problem also, Pakistan remained silent on it. In fact Pakistan’s stand was very much judicious. She wanted to get back the occupied territories and the prisoners of war before the talks would pass on to the Kashmir dispute. Following this, India drew the attention of Pakistan to the need of solving the outstanding disputes and the establishment of a durable peace, which would be possible only through the settlement of the Kashmir issue. But Bhutto wanted that the Kashmir issue be “frozen and tackled at a more propitious time”. On the contrary, he demanded the release of the prisoners of war by India as a preliminary step towards a durable peace, and to give up the trial of a selected number of Pakistani military officers on war crime charges by Bangla Desh. Pakistan also demanded to get back the occupied territory from India notwithstanding that it had been illegally occupying Azad Kashmir since 1947. As could be expected Pakistan conveniently did not refer to Azad Kashmir when she demanded back the territories which India occupied in 1971. Naturally such a programme was bound only to collapse, and it seemed the summit would fail. But Bhutto said that he was “not going to shut the door”. It is also interesting to note that he could not shut the door since such an arrogant and uncompromising stand would have shut up inside India both Pakistan’s territories and the prisoners of war. Were he to shut the door, he would have had to return home empty-handed.


But there came a sudden bolt from the blue. The impasse disappeared dramatically and all the hurdles seemed to have disappeared and India and Pakistan signed an agreement on 2 July2. What was the immediate reason for this sudden and unexpected change in the attitude of India, which signed the agreement without terms and conditions, still remains an enigma. The Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan hailed this signing ceremony as a “new beginning in the relations between India and Pakistan”3. It was bilaterally agreed that “the principles and purposes of the U N charter shall govern the relationship between the two countries” and that they would settle “their differences by peaceful means mutually through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. It was agreed to respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty by observing the policy of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and to abstain from the threat or the use of force. Prevention of hostile propaganda and the resumption of communication were on the accord, and as a means towards attaining durable peace the signatories agreed to withdraw the armed forces “to their side of international border”. It was agreed that in Jammu and Kashmir “the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of 17 December 1971, shall be respected by both sides”4. Both the parties agreed that any settlement between the two nations could be reached at through bilateral talks and “other peaceful means”.



Though the Shimla Agreement was signed it could not provide a final solution to the Indo-Pak problem. For, after the signing of the Shimla Accord the Pakistani spokesman said, “we remain where we are until a final settlement is reached” which meant that this much publicized agreement was not a final one. More over the Pakistani delegation deliberately abstained from being a party to any kind of a “No War” declaration. Thus was signed the Shimla Agreement, leaving all the issues unsettled. It is interesting to notice that when the situation was highly favourable to India, India’s victory over the enemy being total, she failed to settle her longstanding issues with the aggressor state. With the support of the USSR having been already won, it was sure that even if India would take a tough stand there would not have been any interference of the other super powers. Besides, the victorious India had with her 90,000 prisoners of war and a large tract of Pakistani territory. In such a favourable state India could have turned a tough bargainer. She should not have made so large a concession as she did unless there was some compensation, which the accord does not record. Instead of asserting her moral will over the aggressor, she let Pakistan have all the advantage.



There was widespread dissatisfaction in India about the Shimla Accord among the various nationalist outfits, intellectuals and patriots. Strongly condemning this agreement, A B Vajpayee, the leader of the Bharathiya Jana Sangh, described it as a “sell out” and called upon all the parties to demonstrate against this “black agreement”. According to him Pakistan’s agreement to renounce the use of force was totally meaningless since ‘renunciation’ had been agreed upon by Pakistan several times earlier only to be thrown to the winds shortly thereafter. Besides, he argued that the agreement to settle the disputes by “other peaceful means” was likely to keep the doors open for a third party intervention. He further criticized that the agreement to withdraw the troops to the international border would only imply that India would give up more than 5000 square miles of Pakistani territory while 3000 square miles of India’s territory in Kashmir would remain with Pakistan. He charged that there had been “some sort of secret understanding” between Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during their talks at Shimla. True, by stating so Mr. Vajpayee was not casting doubt on the patriotism of Mrs. Gandhi. But he called the attention of the nation to the fact that she should have taken her cabinet colleagues also into confidence in regard to the provisions of the agreement which had come as a bolt from the blue after the talks of the days immediately preceding the agreement had been written off as having failed5. It is again interesting to note that Mr. James P. Sterba’s report on the Shimla Agreement in the New York Times was headlined “Shimla Accord: Behind the progress report there is possibility of a secret agreement”6. Years after when Mr. Vajpayee demanded answers in this regard and a full text of Mrs. Gandhi’s talks with Mr. Bhutto at Shimla he got only an unsatisfactory reply. Replying to his query, the official spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said on 10 April 1978: “I do not know about it. I am not competent to talk about it. It is not on record anywhere”, and he suggested that the parties directly concerned, Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Bhutto may be approached7. Indeed one may be prompted to ponder whether these talks concerning the fate of the two nations were so silly and insignificant as to be kept only in the memories of the parties directly concerned.



In his memoirs titled A Diplomat’s Diary India’s former diplomat Triloki Nath Kaul expresses disappointment with Mrs. Gandhi’s performance at the Shimla Summit with Z A Bhutto. It is true that “she was hailed as Durga, the Goddess of war by Sri. Vajpayee because of her toughness during the war”, he says. However she squandered away its gains in her eagerness to show “magnanimity in victory”. T N Kaul further criticizes her “for not getting a final settlement of the Kashmir question at Shimla”, and writes,


She tried hard but Bhutto said if he agreed to a final settlement at Shimla he would be overthrown and the military would take over power and increase tension with India. When I suggested it at the conference table, Bhutto, addressing Smt. Gandhi, said, ‘Madam, I assure you that within two weeks of my return to Pakistan I shall prepare the ground for it (a final settlement of Kashmir Question)”. 


Thinking that the Shimla meet would end in failure, Kaul left Shimla a few hours prior to the conference ending at late night of 2 July 1972 and came to Chandigarh to make arrangements for the return of Bhutto and his daughter Benazir. But what happened at Shimla was contrary to what Kaul thought. Mrs. Gandhi signed an agreement on the night of 2 July after a one-to-one meeting with Bhutto at “The Retreat” after the parties had packed their luggage for the return. “No one else was present”, but Mrs. Gandhi’s Secretary and economic advisor who was outside the room and has said that there was verbal understanding for a final settlement of the Kashmir question along with an agreement on the Line of Control. But this final settlement from the part of Bhutto had never come. He could not save himself from the military coup about which he had spoken at Shimla.



Kaul makes an interesting revelation of the reason why Mrs. Gandhi failed to get an agreement converting the ceasefire line in Kashmir into the international border in the parleys held at Shimla from 28 June to 2 July. It was a gesture of goodwill towards the People of Pakistan that would befriend them in course of time. Indeed this wild goose chase had started from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, which had yielded no result at all8. Better to say, the policy of appeasing Muslims, started from the time of Gandhiji as a means to gain the goodwill of Muslim League and which continued in post-independent India, yielded no result. In fact it only made the Muslim League and its creation, Pakistan, more arrogant, uncompromising and audacious enough to pooh-pooh the foolish generosity of India and its leaders. And this was the chief characteristic of Pakistan in all its dealings with India.


At Shimla Bhutto was given two clear alternatives. He was asked whether he wanted to get back first the prisoners of war or the 5000 square miles of territory India captured form Pakistan. Bhutto outfoxed Mrs.Gandhi by asking the territory first. Bhutto’s daughter Benazir who accompanied him to Shimla explains the evil and clever design behind such a demand. She writes in her autobiography Daughter of the East that she was in fact surprised at such a topsy-turvy priority of her father as there was an impatient demand for the release of such a large number of prisoners of war. But Bhutto calmed her and told,


The POW’s will be freed in any case. Prisoners are human problem. The magnitude is increased when there are 93000 of them. It would be inhuman to keep them indefinitely. And it will also be a problem to keep on feeding and housing them. Territory on the other hand is not a human problem. Territory can be assimilated. Prisoners cannot. The Arabs have still not succeeded in regaining territory lost in the 1967 war with Israel. The capturing of land does not cry out for international attention the same way as the prisoners do9.


But this diplomatic fact of history did not dawn on India’s Iron Lady. This was the first great victory of Bhutto. Second, Bhutto like all his predecessors was determined to keep alive in future a vital bone of contention, and he knew that any settlement regarding the Line of Control and the Kashmir Question would only undo this. It was in the interest of Pakistan that the Ceasefire Line should not be converted into an international border. Again Bhutto proved successful in getting the issue of Kashmir inserted into the Shimla Agreement as an unsettled one between India and Pakistan so that the latter could project it as the reason for any conflict between the two nations in future10. By signing such an agreement Mrs. Gandhi was indirectly, though inadvertently, accepting that the Kashmir issue was something yet to be settled.



Mrs. Gandhi’s Secretary and Economic Advisor, P N Dhar gives his version of her tame surrender to Bhutto at Shimla. He says that Bhutto used all wily and shameless tactics to save the talks from breaking down. When Bhutto and Indira Gandhi were alone talking Bhutto softened her by saying that he had to prepare his country and its National Assembly to accept the Line of Control as a permanent border for which he needed two weeks. Dhar who was standing outside the room probably overheard everything. Mujh par bharosa kijye (Trust me), Bhutto implored her again and again and won over her. But Dhar says that this was only an oral and not written agreement. Spoken words vanished into thin air and what remained were India’s unsolved problems as they did prior to 1972. What the soldiers of India gained militarily the Prime Minister of India fretted away diplomatically!



True, love of peace and magnanimity to the neighbour are good qualities a nation must develop. But it should not have jeopardized national interests. However the Lady of the Shimla Agreement did not take this into consideration with the result that it only aggravated the aggressiveness of the enemy. No wonder, after going home in a victorious mood, he took all the credit for striking a winning bargain and threw all his promises to winds. While addressing his nation on his return from India, an elated and audacious Bhutto said, “I had gone to India with two views, first to get our territory back and then to get our Prisoners of War back. I have done the first in five months [a judicious gain] what the Arabs could not get done in five years”. He further said that “I will get the POWs back too because India cannot keep them for long because international pressure is turning against India”. The moderate diction and the slipper-licking diplomacy Bhutto resorted to while in Indian soil gave way to the reckless and arrogant statements, the moment he landed in Pakistan. There was no moderation in his words. On the other hand, as V P Bhatia observes, he started preparing for a nuclear arsenal to checkmate India forever. The chameleon made contradictory and villainous statements about the Accord. On 3 July 1972, while addressing a cheering and frenzied mob he felt no shame or prick of conscience to air his inborn vile that “the right of self-determination is the Kashmiris’ right and no one can take it away from them”. Thus the Shimla ‘understanding’ or the Shimla Accord could only boost the Pakistani arrogance. It was one of the great tragedies of Indian history and a great national misfortune that Mrs. Gandhi’s Pakistani counterpart could easily fool her.


It is also to be noticed that Pakistan failed to honour its own commitments made in 1972 Shimla agreement. Later even Bhutto’s daughter herself denied Pakistan’s commitment to the Shimla accord. When asked about the 1972 Pakistani commitment made by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to the former Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Banazir only answered in an evasive manner, which was quite unbecoming of a Prime Minister. During his talks with Banazir, Dubey drew her attention to the assurance her father had given Mrs. Gandhi that the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir would be made the plank on which the Kashmir issue would be solved for good. Mr. J N Dixit thus writes about her interesting reactions to it:


She made two points in response: First, that though she was at Shimla, she was a young student then, so she did not recall any proposals or assurances of the type having been given by her father. She said that her father had not mentioned anything about his last private conversation with Mrs. Gandhi before the agreement was signed. She then went on to say that nearly two decades had elapsed since the Shimla discussions and, therefore, she did not know how relevant the discussions, or even some aspects of the Shimla agreement, were in the changed circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the subcontinent. She said that India should agree with Pakistan to examine the origins of the Kashmir issue and the right of self-determination of Muslims. This particular exchange between Dubey and Benazir led India to the definite conclusion that Pakistan no longer wished to adhere to Shimla agreement or the commitments, whatever lip service it may occasionally pay to certain clauses of the agreement as a matter of formality or convenience11. 

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