Roots of the impasse

Avtar Singh Bhasin’s book on the India-Pakistan deadlock unravels secrets of many a crucial episode and provides full references to enable the reader to explore the matter further.

Published : Feb 27, 2019 12:30 IST

This very much applies to Narendra Modi’s Kashmir policy. The entire five-year term of a new and newly elected Government of India has been wasted by its adamant refusal to speak to the leaders of Pakistan unless they ended “terrorism” or to the leaders who truly represent the people of Kashmir.

The late Amanullah Khan, as chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said in an interview to Sunday  of March 18, 1990: “Our armed struggle started on July 31, 1988, by blasting three buildings belonging to the Government of India in Srinagar.” He fell out with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. The JKLF wanted independence of Kashmir. Pakistan sought Kashmir’s accession to it. “My experience tells me that we will not be able to enrol international support on the issue of accession, even among friends of Pakistan.... It becomes a territorial dispute in which no one will intervene. Whereas if it is a movement for national liberation, then it will generate international public opinion. It becomes a matter of conscience and can gain the U.N’s support” (Zahid Hussain, Newsline , a Karachi monthly, February 1990). Alarmed at the JKLF’s success in 1990, Pakistan floated the pro-accession Hizbul Mujahideen, driving the JKLF to declare a ceasefire.

The questions are why did Pakistan sponsor this venture and why has it succeeded in reviving the Kashmir dispute. The amusement at the first is obvious. After imposing the Simla Pact (1972) on a Pakistan defeated in Dhaka, India asserted that there was nothing to talk about, the pact had legitimised the status quo imposed by force of arms by the ceasefire on January 1, 1949. The answer to the second is equally obvious. The rigged elections to the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in 1987, which threw up a coalition forged by Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah, drove the people to despair. They lost faith in the ballot and took to the gun. India produced the alienation; Pakistan provided the gun. 

This is a dangerous game to play. It can get out of hand. It has not, only because both countries have nuclear weapons. But Pakistan is unwise if it imagines that India’s patience is unlimited. The Mumbai blasts took place 10 years ago. A decade later, we have the criminal attacks on India’s jawans at Pulwama. The whole country is rightly incensed. The immediate need of the hour is for Pakistan to take some steps to meet India’s legitimate grievances in this respect.


After 30 years of prolonged militancy, things have gone so far now in 2019 that even if Indian repression and military force crushes the armed militancy, the alienation will survive; if anything with greater intensity. The dispute will survive. New Delhi’s stooges will remain stooges in obscene prosperity.

Recall the excellent reportage from Colombo by Nirupama Subramanian in The Hindu. The Tamils were not supportive of the brutalities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but they felt that if it was crushed they would lose all leverage. Force is an instrument of change. Diplomacy without the support of force is impotent—a proposition which India accepts selectively where it suits its interests. Force unrelated realistically to achievable ends is sterile and destructive; a lesson Pakistan’s leaders refused to learn until General Pervez Musharraf came forth with a stunningly original and practicable peace plan which came within inches of success.

Come to think of it, India had no scruples about using brutal force on Sri Lanka’s soil to force President J.R. Jayewardene to come to the table. India armed and even trained the LTTE and other Tamil militant — “terrorist?” — groups.

The Sri Lankans are unlikely to forget and forgive this. Their silence is owed to their weak state today. Sri Lanka’s former President and current Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa is a staunch nationalist. He said in Bengaluru, on February 9, 2019, that “Sri Lanka and India must ensure that their territories were not used by groups inimical to the interests of either country” ( The Hindu , February 10, 2019). Why now? Because memories rankle still. Sri Lanka was never in a position to use its territory for action against India’s interests, least of all mount a “surgical strike” and brag about it endlessly. The Hindu ’s report provides a clue: “He pointed to the 1980s and 2014 as the most troubled of times between India and Sri Lanka.”

India refuses to reckon with any other country’s emotions and interests except its own. It has interfered with force in Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and by many other means in Pakistan. The present impasse should prompt serious reflection on both  sides. Having made the dormant dispute on Kashmir alive by its covert military operation, will Pakistan call it quits and wrap it up? No. But nor can Pakistan dictate terms to India or force it to come to the negotiating table unless it offers terms that reckon with India’s interests as Musharraf did.

From 1988 to 2014 India talked to Pakistan despite the latter’s support to militancy in Kashmir. India’s present stand stems from a radically different policy which is one part of a two-pronged policy—crush the militancy in Kashmir and call it “peace” and ask the Kashmiris to “lump it” . Operation All Out in Kashmir is a companion to the “no-talks” policy towards Pakistan. Both will fail—assuredly. 

In this situation, Avtar Singh Bhasin’s excellent study provides much food for thought. In 2012 he produced a ten-volume Documentary Study on India-Pakistan relations. Earlier, he had produced similar volumes of documents on India’s Relations with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and China. They were all accessed from the archives of the Ministry of External Affairs where he had served for 30 years. He retired as Director (Historical Division). That is reflected in his thoroughness. 

“In 2014, courtesy Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, I got the permission from the Department of Culture, Government of India, to access the coveted Nehru Papers, which I could not get earlier. I found these papers to be a treasure trove. They gave a fresh perspective on some of the old issues that triggered the writing of this book.”

The book is not confined to the documents in his 12 volumes on Pakistan. It covers very many other documents of significance which were hitherto secret. He gives full references to the sources; a feature of the book that occurs throughout.

The harsh truth

Twice in 1947 India was about to go to war with Pakistan; first as early as in September 1947 on Junagadh, next around Christmas on Kashmir. The harsh truth which Indians still refuse to admit even now, in 2019, is that the people of Kashmir never, never wanted to accede to India . Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues as well as Sheikh Abdullah’s colleagues knew that. The raiders from Pakistan, sent with the full knowledge of its Governor General Mohammed Ali Jinnah, knew that. This was noted by Indira Gandhi in her letter to her father from Srinagar on May 31, 1948. That was when the raiders and Pakistan’s army were not too far from the gates of Srinagar. Kashmir lies at the heart of the disputes between the two countries, and this grim reality lies at its core. 

But 2019 is not 1947; equities have arisen since. Pakistan’s war in 1965 created some. It cannot get at the conference table or by plebiscite what it failed to get at its own forum of choice—the battlefield. India can never consent to Kashmir’s secession. The other side of this coin is that Pakistan can never accept the Line of Control (LoC) as an international boundary. It rejected it when Nehru offered it to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1948 and repeated it publicly at a public meeting in Delhi in 1956. 

But Kashmir belongs to neither. Both are concerned with its land; not its people. Kashmiris demand freedom (“azadi”) and unity of its two halves. Besotted with the land alone, very many in India and Pakistan treated the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf Four-Point formula with ill-bred scorn. It met all the four concerns and brought the Kashmir dispute to the very gates of a solution.

The Modi regime’s policy is to crush militancy in Kashmir, break the will of its people and destroy the morale of Pakistan. One American scholar likened it to Ronald Reagan’s policy towards the Soviet Union which, he claimed, brought it to the ground. It could not keep pace with the United States in the arms race. Modi, more accurately Ajit Doval, pursued another track—isolate Pakistan. In 2019 we can see that this approach has failed. Pakistan remains a vital interest for all the Big Five of the U.N. Security Council. As Edmund Burke said, “Reason is fatigued, invention is exhausted, experience has given judgment; but obstinacy is not conquered.”

Avtar Singh Bhasin’s able survey from 1947 to 2007 fortifies this conclusion although he will be the first to contest that. This writer disagrees with a lot of the comments in Bhasin’s work but respects him for the thoroughness and integrity which have produced this fine book.

It is not necessary to go through the entire span of 60 years. Suffice it to say that it unravels secrets of many a crucial episode and provides full references to enable the reader to explore the matter further. One learns that Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed was in clandestine correspondence with Nehru weeks before the coup of August 8, 1953, which led to the ouster of Bakshi’s leader, Sheikh Abdullah, from Premiership of Kashmir. Nehru encouraged  such a correspondence behind the back of his “friend” and Bakshi’s chief and cited the differences as a ground for Sheikh Abdullah’s ouster (see A.G. Noorani, “A dubious Constitution”, Frontline , February 1, 2019). It was a military operation in the superficial guise of a Cabinet crisis. Nehru lied to all—to the President, Parliament and even his daughter. Karan Singh was privy to this sordid action.

“Sheikh Abdullah’s continued detention worried Nehru and he was keen on his release. He was convinced that while he was part of the problem, a solution of Kashmir without him was not possible, despite [G.B.] Pant’s statement on the same matter. On 11 January 1956, not agreeing with the Sadar-i-Riyasat Karan Singh’s views that ‘it would be desirable to keep him in detention till it was found possible to declare that the Kashmir dispute is finally closed’, Nehru told him: ‘I think it is not feasible. In fact, so long as Sheikh Abdullah is in prison, the dispute will not be finally closed . It is only when he has been released and we have faced the consequences of that release and survived them that it will be possible for the situation to develop towards a final end.’” This reveals Karan Singh’s communal outlook for which Indira Gandhi rebuked him in a letter. Nehru clearly realised that the coup of 1953 had failed. No lessons are learnt from this.

On his release from imprisonment in 1964, Sheikh Abdullah propounded his ideas for a solution. “(i) Sheikh Abdullah reiterated the desire to solve the Kashmir issue in a way which would promote Indo-Pakistan friendship and cooperation; (ii) provided the solution should not, in any way, weaken the secular ideal of the Indian Constitution or the policy of the government ; and (iii) the solution should be one which would not weaken the position of the minorities in either country, but bring about a greater sense of security and welfare to them” (emphasis added throughout).

The author rightly remarks, “It is unfortunate that Nehru repeatedly sought to link the fate of Indian Muslims to the Kashmir issue, thereby exposing the fragility of Indian secularism. In a manner of speaking, the Indian Muslims became a hostage to the solution of Kashmir.” Nehru exploited this theme (page 124).

On April 23, 1964, The Statesman  published the broad outlines of a solution which Abdullah had in mind. One suspects he had confided to its Resident Editor, Kuldip Nayar. The author sums them up thus: 

“(i) An overall plebiscite in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir including ‘Azad Kashmir’ to determine whether the people wanted to join India or Pakistan or remain independent; (ii) Outright independence of Jammu and Kashmir guaranteed by India, Pakistan, the U.N. and China; (iii) A condominium between India and Pakistan; and (iv) A modified version of the Dixon Plan namely Ladakh and Jammu should be merged with India while ‘Azad Kashmir’ be merged with Pakistan and a plebiscite held in the Kashmir valley to decide whether the valley wished to join India or Pakistan or remain independent.”

The author records that Nehru “had tried to convince Liaquat Ali Khan to make an ‘out of court’ settlement. He met the Pakistani Prime Minister in London in October 1948 on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference and made the offer to retain what he had grabbed, and end the fighting. Liaquat, quick to perceive his weakness, refused to fall for it. Probably he was convinced that given the profile of the State, a plebiscite would give Pakistan the whole State.”

Interestingly, in a meeting with the British High Commissioner Archibald Nye, a former Governor of Madras, on September 9, 1949, Nehru said “though he disliked the rough and ready plan of trying to divide the country, he was becoming more and more convinced that this was the most promising solution. While he did not accept for one moment the suggestion that the majority of Muslims, because they were Muslims, would vote for Pakistan, he thought that it was true to say that the result of a free and impartial plebiscite, if one could be held, would be for the Poonch area to go to Pakistan and for the Jammu area to go to India. Whilst it was doubtful which way the valley would vote. He thought further that a solution on the lines of Western Kashmir going to Pakistan, Jammu and possibly Ladakh to India, and a plebiscite being confined to the valley and the area north of it excluding Gilgit was worthy of consideration.”

Informed view

Since there has been a lot of ignorant criticism of Nehru on the ceasefire of January 1, 1949, it is important to note the author’s informed view. “Panic was oozing out of communications exchanged between Nehru and his Commander-in-Chief just before the ceasefire. On 29 December 1948 Nehru described Pakistan’s destruction of Beripattan Bridge ‘completely without justification’. He wondered if Pakistan was ‘building up its strength and shelling Indian positions in preparation for some other operation.’ Talking of two alternatives before India, he said: ‘a ceasefire at the instance of the U.N. Kashmir Commission or our taking military measures in strength against the Pakistan army.’ Having little faith in Pakistan’s assurances, he preferred the latter course. Having said that he added ‘at the present moment, it is, for a variety of reasons, undesirable for us to indulge in any offensive action’... ‘there is always a possibility that if Pakistan is foolish enough to indulge in any attack on us, we shall counter it even by crossing Pakistan territory towards Wazirabad or Sialkot.’ But [Gen. Roy] Bucher’s letter of 31 December 1948 must have been a dampener to any such plan of Nehru since he said: ‘Today and for some time to come, the adverse supply position in Jammu and Kashmir renders any large scale activities impossible.’”

The book sheds new light on the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation of 1971 and on the Simla Pact. The truth is that India’s army entered East Pakistan on November 21, 1971, and a full-scale war was to begin on December 4, 1971. Yahya Khan helped us by his aerial attacks on December 3 (B.K. Nehru, Nice Guys Finish Second , Viking, page 491). Nehru had been tipped off by Major General Gurbaksh Singh. On December 21, 1971, External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh told the U.N. Security Council, “The State of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. However, in order to avoid bloodshed and for preserving peace, we have respected the ceasefire line supervised by UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan]. In the course of this conflict, as also in 1965, it was crossed by troops of Pakistan at various places. India had therefore to cross this line then, as now. There is thus need to avoid the repetition of such incidents by making some adjustments in the ceasefire line in order to make it more stable, rational and viable . This we propose to discuss and settle with Pakistan.”

Replacement of the ceasefire line with an LoC and a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute on that basis was clearly one of India’s war objectives at the very outset. The Simla Pact was its fulfilment. There does  exist in the Government of India’s papers a written record of the secret oral understanding between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto before they signed the Simla Pact on July 3, 1972. Otherwise the External Affairs Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, could not have referred to it on April 8 and 18, 1978. She did not deny it in categorical terms, afraid that she would be contradicted. It was, however, revealed by James P. Sterba in The New York Times  of July 3, 1972. Quick work this. His informant was Bhutto’s aide, Rafi Raza. 

The Simla Pact is patently unconstitutional. It is violative of the proviso to Article 253 of India’s Constitution since the State government was not consulted—never mind that it was New Delhi’s puppet. It is also immoral since it did not reckon with the sentiments of the people. Sheikh Abdullah objected to it. Indira used a military victory in Dhaka to impose terms on Kashmir at Shimla.

We are paying for chauvinistic short-sightedness that has marked India’s policy on Kashmir. The record shows that Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel tried to secure its accession to India through the ruler Hari Singh behind the back of Sheikh Abdullah while he was still in prison. Morality? My foot.


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