New Delhi: A midnight
summit between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Bhutto
pleading with Gandhi to free 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, a
failed Kashmir deal... The Simla accord, which marks its 40th
anniversary July 3, may be a distant echo today but its spirit of
resolving all issues bilaterally seems to have prevailed.
A resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the core strategic objective
of the so-called "tacit understanding" between Gandhi and Bhutto,
however, appears to be going nowhere. Both India and Pakistan
still stick to their stated positions.
In 1972, then president Bhutto travelled to Simla (now Shimla) to
sign a peace pact with prime minister Gandhi after the December
1971 war broke up Pakistan, with its eastern wing becoming an
According to K.N. Bakshi, who was India's assistant high
commissioner in Karachi and was in Simla to assist in the
negotiations, Bhutto's priority was to secure the withdrawal of
Indian forces from the 5,600 square miles of territory they had
occupied in the Punjab and Sind.
He also wanted the 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war released and
any final solution of the Kashmir dispute postponed given New
Delhi's post-war strategic advantages.
In all these objectives, Bhutto largely succeeded despite India's
After intense and tortuous negotiations that virtually collapsed
till Bhutto reportedly held one-on-one talks with Gandhi on the
evening of July 2, the Simla agreement was signed at 12.40 a.m. on
July 3, 1972.
The agreement laid down the principles to govern relations between
India and Pakistan and steps to be taken to further normalize
It bound the two countries "to settle their differences by
peaceful means through bilateral negotiations".
There was no explicit mention of the Kashmir issue. But there was
a tacit understanding that the the Line of Control (LoC) resulting
from the 1971 truce should be converted into the international
border, marking the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
Then bureaucrat M.K. Kaw, the author of "An Outsider Everywhere" (Konark
Publishers), has vivid memories of those fraught moments.
"The talks had collapsed and everyone had gone to sleep. Before
midnight, Bhutto got the idea and went to Indira Gandhi's room. He
fell at her feet and said he can't go home unless India released
Pakistani prisoners of war," recalls Kaw.
"He told Gandhi that he would be lynched if he went without an
honourable pact and pleaded with her to show the way."
Gandhi, according to Kaw, told him that she wanted the LoC to be
converted into international border. If that was done in writing,
Gandhi pledged to meet Bhutto's demands.
Kaw, assigned to look after the young Benazir Bhutto, rues that
Gandhi fell for Bhutto's persuasive skills.
According to P.N. Dhar, the then secretary to Indira Gandhi, the
Indian leader asked Bhutto: "Is this the understanding on which to
Bhutto replied: "Absolutely! Aap mujh par bharosa keejiye (trust
He never kept his word, and refused to have any written records of
Looking back, Kaw feels that the pact and the drama preceding it
showed that Pakistani leaders don't keep their word.
"Bhutto seemed to be a smart-alecky and smooth character. Bhutto
never had any intention to keep his word. It just shows duplicity
and equivocation Pakistan has used in its relations towards
Veteran journalist and Pakistan watcher Kuldip Nayar is not so
Looking at the legacy of the Simla accord, Nayar told IANS:
"Bilateralism has come to be established as the defining feature
of the India-Pakistan relations. Bilateral issues are no longer
being internationalised. That's its major achievement."
Another achievement, according to him, is that the ceasefire has
largely held. There has been no major war except for the 1999
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