(First Published on 20 February 1990)
All those who have been praying for continued peace and friendship between India and Pakistan will need to keep their fingers crossed. Islamabad appears to have paused and pondered over its disastrous brinkmanship. The war clouds, which were gathering thick and fast, have largely dissipated. This is thanks mainly to four factors. First, the V.P. Singh Government’s firm response to developments within Jammu and Kashmir and its bold decision to give the State a new Governor in the person of Mr Jagmohan, an appropriate choice in the emergent circumstances. Second, the Foreign Minister, Mr I.K. Gujral’s fitting answer to the unfriendly message brought by Sahibzada Yaqub Khan last month. Third, India’s diplomatic initiative in promptly informing friendly countries about the developments and in rushing the Foreign Secretary, Mr S.K. Singh, first to Moscow and then to Washington. Fourth, the reaction of the United States and the Soviet Union to these developments as also those of the other major powers: Britain, France and China.
The Soviet Union has once again stood by India on Kashmir as a trusted friend. It has left Pakistan in no doubt about its firm opposition to any interference in India’s internal affairs. The US, too, has counseled Pakistan against brinkmanship on Kashmir and urged it to talk things over with India. In addition, its House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on South Asia, headed by Mr. Stephen Solarz, is now looking into India’s charge of Pakistani interference in its internal affairs and of Islamabad aiding and abetting terrorist activity in the Punjab and in Jammu and Kashmir. Such exercises, I am told, are part of the House Sub-Committee’s normal function of studying developments and making recommendations to the Administration. (Marshal Akhromeev, former Chief of General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, is known to have personally appeared before one such Congressional Committee on an important issue while on a visit to the US,) China, Britain and France, too, are known to have cautioned Pakistan against any precipitate action.
Importantly, Pakistan has failed to persuade even one of the five permanent members of the Security Council — US, Soviet Union, China, Britain and France — to raise the Kashmir issue in the UN Body, despite a determined effort by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s mother, Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto, through high-pressure lobbying. All these countries — and so also most Arab and other friends cultivated assiduously over the years — are clear that any war between the two countries would be calamitous for Pakistan, even if it hurts India deeply in the process. They would, therefore, like Islamabad to adhere to the Shimla Agreement both in its letter and spirit –and to adopt only such means as are available to it under the Accord for raising the Kashmir issue. Pakistan, for its part, tried hard and long to argue that the Shimla Accord provided scope for it to take up the Kashmir issue at the UN. But it was politely asked to take a close fresh look at the Agreement, as strongly urged by India.
There is no gainsaying the fact that recent developments in Kashmir have caused anxiety amongst India’s friends. They have noted with concern the aggressive demand by the militants and anti-national elements in the Valley for self determination. India has consequently been informally advised to set its house in order in the State and candidly told that Pakistan cannot be blamed entirely for what has come to pass. At best, it can be accused of fuelling the crisis and of taking advantage of it. India, as I recalled in my column on January 30, was willing to have a plebiscite in 1950. But Pakistan calculatedly evaded the exercise once it became clear that an overwhelming majority of the people was with Sheikh Abdullah and India. Few countries today therefore find it difficult to go along with Pakistan in its renewed demand for self determination in the light of facts and practical realities. They also agree it would be unfair to ask India to put the clock back against the backdrop of the Shimla Agreement — and its precise wording.
Islamabad concedes New Delhi’s stand that the Shimla Agreement provides for bilateral talks. But it contests India’s interpretation that the Accord implies mutual commitment to “bilateralism”. What, it asks, if the two countries are unable to resolve the Kashmir issue through bilateral negotiations? Candidly, India’s stand is more than borne out by the facts of the case. True, India did propose in the draft of the Shimla Agreement that the two countries would resolve their differences by peaceful means “exclusively through bilateral negotiations”. True also, Pakistan objected to this formulation and the word “exclusively” was dropped. Eventually both sides agreed to settle their differences by peaceful means “through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them”. (Pakistan proposed the addition of “by any other peaceful means and India the words “mutually agreed between them.”) India and Pakistan are thus committed to discussing their differences bilaterally.
Pakistan advances two other points in support of its claim that it is entitled to go back to the UN and explore other peaceful means for resolving the Kashmir issue. First, it argues that the Shimla Agreement stipulates: “In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971 shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognized position of either side.” This “recognized position”, it points out, was in regard to its stand at the UN on Kashmir, an item which is still inscribed on the agenda of the world body. Pakistan therefore feels it has every right to assert at the UN that it desires “durable peace” in the sub-continent and seeks “a final settlement of the Kashmir question”. Second, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s speech in the Pakistan Assembly while moving for a ratification of the Shimla Accord. He then stated that he had not only reactivated the Kashmir issue through the Agreement, but opened the way for Pakistan to take it to the UN.
New Delhi is nevertheless clear that the commitment to “bilateralism” overrides the reference in the Accord to six unexceptional principles, including adherence to the UN Charter, which would govern the relations between the two countries. What is more, the Shimla Agreement also adds upto a no-war pact as once pointed out by Gen. Zia himself. The Accord renounces the use of force not only in general terms under Article VI of the Accord but specifically in regard to Jammu and Kashmir. The relevant provision in the Agreement reads: “Neither side shall seek to alter it (the line) 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.” Indeed, India earnestly hopes that Islamabad will recognize two clear aspects of the Agreement. First, it gives the line of control the sanctity of an international border. Second, all differences between the two countries on Kashmir or other issues are to be resolved bilaterally.
- Not only that. The Shimla Agreement adopted a specific approach to restoring normal and friendly relations between the two countries. Both India and Pakistan recognized that their basic differences over Kashmir, which had led to three wars, could not be resolved overnight. They therefore, decided to adopt a step by step approach. It was agreed to put Kashmir aside and first seek a solution of the other areas relating to communications, travel facilities, trade and cooperation in economic and other fields and exchanges in science and culture. Importantly, the Agreement clearly specifies that this was needed “in order progressively to restore and normalize relations between the two countries step by step”. These steps were expected to improve the overall climate and prepare the ground for a final solution of the Kashmir question — bilaterally. Provision was even made for a meeting of the respective heads of the two Governments. Alas, most expectations have not come to be realized.
Instead, Mrs. Bhutto has chosen to go populist (like her father and Gen. Zia) and asserted that Pakistan will “not compromise” on the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. A joint session of the Pakistani Parliament has also adopted a resolution, appropriately described by India as “an unacceptable interference in the affairs of India”. Fortunately, the Chief of Pakistan Army, Gen. Aslam Beg, has now shown good sense in the face of India’s stern response to efforts by Pakistani “crowds” to cross the border. On Tuesday last week, he cautioned the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir against such emotional moves and described them as “suicidal”. But this by itself is not enough. Islamabad needs to take a good look at the Shimla Agreement again, especially its preamble. This records the resolve of the two countries to put an end to conflict and confrontation and work for friendly relations and a durable peace so that both countries may “henceforth devote their resources and energies to the pressing task of advancing the welfare of their people.” Any adventurist departure from this wise approach can only spell disaster.