The 1971 India-Pakistan and the Shimla Agreement of July 2, 1972, are some of the most important events of the 20th-century history of the Indian subcontinent.
While the 1971 war has been extensively analysed and commented upon, the Shimla conference that dealt with its aftermath has not attracted enough research as it ought to have.
Analysing the decision-making process at the Shimla talks of 1972 is important. The decisions taken/not taken then continue to affect the Indian subcontinent and even more importantly the rationale, mindsets and logic on display then continues to be part of Indian decision-making on war and peace even 46 years after the event.
The Indian syndrome of inability to exploit battlefield victory and frittering away the advantage gained at the cost of soldiers’ blood continues. It is therefore of utmost importance for future and not merely of historical interest to analyse and understand the events of July 2, 1972.
It is necessary to understand the context of national euphoria that existed then. Indira Gandhi was the flavour of the season and as one senior Congress leader Dev Kant Borooah went so far as to coin the phrase ‘Indira is India.’
know exactly what happened
At the Shimla conference in 1972, Indira Gandhi was at the zenith of her power. The Shimla agreement, therefore, escaped critical scrutiny.
During the 1971 war, Mrs Gandhi’s strategic perception and control on the five fronts (diplomatic, political, economic, military and psychological) was superb. She used persuasion, hindrance and coercion on all five fronts without opening hostilities.
Military force was only used as a last resort. Men of the three defence services rose to the occasion and displayed tactical initiative and skill of a high order.
The war was a triumph for individuals who transcended an out-of-date institutional politico-military decision-making system. The 1971 war culminated in the capture of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners and a unilateral declaration of a cease-fire by India after our ground forces had made minor incursions into West Pakistan.
The main agenda at Shimla was to deal with the aftermath of the 1971 War and usher in durable peace between India and Pakistan.
There were widespread concern and anxiety in Pakistan over the prisoners of war in India’s hands. There were unanimous demands in the press and Pakistan national assembly for their early repatriation. Some Pakistani politicians said, ‘Pakistanis are prepared to sacrifice their land for the sake of the prisoners — it is better to have the POWs returned than to have the land back.’
Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto kept blowing hot and cold. Bhutto spoke with two voices. In Pakistan, he said, ‘Your (POWs) humiliation is our humiliation and we will bend backwards to see to it that no a moment is wasted for correct results (their release).’
With India, Bhutto would show no great concern for the POWs’ early return. In these circumstances, there was nothing immoral or illegal about using the POWs issue as leverage to ensure a just and durable peace.
India seems to have been confused about its war aim. The Shimla Accord was never linked to the issue of POWs and the withdrawal of Indian troops from Pakistani territory. This was a major blunder on Indira Gandhi’s part.
The worthless decision
Our negotiators lacked the realisation that diplomatic treaties, which are not backed by military power, are worthless. They did not involve our military leaders in security policy planning.
After winning a stunning victory, Indian leaders behaved as if the armed forces had done something immoral or committed a sin. In the Indian mind ‘statesmanship’ is inexorably linked with ‘peace.’
Not unlike (due to false Gandhism) our penchant to celebrate and flaunt ‘weakness’ and equate it with morality. Indira Gandhi proved herself a great war leader but failed as a statesman.
At Shimla, we accepted Kashmir as a ‘dispute.’ We also gave equal status to Pakistan by permitting it to retain land occupied by it in J&K, thus sowing the seeds of Kargil- like adventures in the future, all this, when we held all the cards and Kashmir, was not the cause of the 1971 War.
Indira Gandhi got carried away by euphoria, trusted Bhutto and let down the country and its soldiers.
In the end, all we were left was an empty promise by Bhutto: ‘Aap hum per bharosa ki jije (Trust me).’