Unravelling history

Print edition : January 25, 2013

(Left to right) L.I. Brezhnev, A.N. Kosygin, Lal Bahadur Shastri and V.F. Promyslov in Presidium of Soviet Indian Friendship meeting at Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow on May 15, 1965. Photo: The Hindu Archives

June 28, 1972: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan before their summit talks in Shimla. Swaran Singh, Minister for External Affairs, is also in the picture. Photo: AP

THERE is a lot about India’s relations with Pakistan of which we know nothing. By a recent edict the Government of India even barred access to documents in the National Archives of India on the accession of the princely states to India, chiefly on Kashmir and Hyderabad. Students of India’s foreign policy, therefore, owe Avtar Singh Bhasin a huge debt for bringing to light documents that would have remained secret otherwise. He served in the Ministry of External Affairs for three decades in various capacities. Preparing notes or briefs from the records at short notice was one of his many tasks. After retirement, he published three sets of documents, of five volumes each, on India’s relations with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka besides an annual volume on “India’s Foreign Relations” from 2002 to 2011.

The present work represents a crowning triumph. It covers an enormous span of years and a host of subjects. More than half of the documents it contains are published for the first time. A detailed introduction by the editor reveals to a careful reader nuggets of information that none has suspected, demolishing myths galore. The 10 volumes cover 17 sections divided topic-wise. The first five volumes cover the political relationship (1947-2007), including the correspondence over five decades on the No-War Declaration. Volume 6 covers defence issues, the nuclear tangle, Junagadh and Kashmir. Volume 7 covers Kutch, the Indus Waters and the Eastern Waters. Volume 8 is devoted to trade and borders, Volume 9 to the minorities and evacuee property, and Volume 10 to financial issues, visas, etc. No topic is omitted in this indispensable work.

As early as on June 15, 1949, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru defined India’s policy in these emphatic terms: “Be absolutely firm and not go out of its [India’s] way to appease Pakistan”. Some material comes as no surprise. Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel demanded territory from Pakistan “to enable us to settle” the refugees from that country. Given his outlook, it is not surprising that President Rajendra Prasad agreed with him. But the document he wrote to Nehru on March 18, 1950, could not have pleased the Prime Minister. Entitled “A Suggestion for Securing the Life and Honour of Minorities in India and Pakistan”, it endorsed Vallabhbhai Patel’s line to occupy part of the territory of Pakistan.

One hopes that Bhasin will produce similar compilations of documents on India’s relations with China, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (and later Russia), and the United States. India-Pakistan relations are intertwined with the relations of both countries with these three powers. Some glimpses are offered in this work as well. “On 5 July 1956, Nehru met Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammad Ali in London, on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. They, among other subjects, discussed Kashmir. Nehru described Mohammad Ali’s ‘approach as intriguing’. Ali had blamed India for Pakistan’s military alliances and alignment with the West, to which India had taken exception. Mohammad Ali said, since India had failed to resolve the issues between them to Pakistan’s satisfaction, he had to enter into a military alliance. This thesis too was quoted by Foreign Minister Malik Feroz Khan Noon once again when the Soviet Ambassador in Pakistan met him in November. The Soviet Ambassador in New Delhi, reporting to Nehru on the meeting of his colleague in Karachi with Noon, told the Indian Prime Minister that Noon had offered to walk out of the Baghdad Pact, ‘provided the Soviet Union gave assurances to support Pakistan in the United Nations on the Kashmir issue and further assurances to give military aid to Pakistan if attacked by India’.”

Soviet stand on K ashmir

The volumes contain much material on India-Soviet relations, including a record of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s talks with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow on May 14, 1965. In 1964, the Soviet Union had shifted its stand on Kashmir to a more neutral one. Shastri did not conceal his disappointment.

“May I say, Mr Brezhnev, that India and the Indian people have great faith in the Soviet Union. They have appreciated greatly the Soviet Union’s attitude on Kashmir. Their expectation is that in the matter of recent Pakistan aggression the Soviet Union will lend its support to India. In fact, my visit here has been interpreted by the Indian people, at this difficult juncture, I shall get the Soviet Union’s moral support and it will help in changing the present climate which prevails in regard to this aggression by Pakistan. If there is no such indication, I might say that it would cause me and the people of my country much disappointment…. I do not mean to suggest that the Soviet Union should not advise us for a peaceful settlement, but if there is no indication in regard to Pakistan’s attitude it would in a sense weaken our policy of non-alignment. Those who are aligned will have the facility to commit aggression. It should not mean that those who uphold non-alignment should not express their views somewhat frankly.”

Brezhnev replied: “Mr Shastri, I request you to understand that the matter is not of strong words, but of dedication to policy. Each word of yours has a weight to it and force and strength behind it. It is very important that we do not spoil this policy by loud polemics—this policy of peace and peaceful coexistence…. In your statement I felt a hint that at some stages, the Soviet Union has not rendered sufficient help. With this I cannot agree. In the Sino-Indian conflict, we took a correct stand. It contributed to the fact that this conflict did not develop. The Chinese leaders consider our statements to have been wrong and still blame us. On the Kashmir question, we took a clear stand. We never changed it taking into consideration that whole complex…. We understand that you expect more firm support from us. But we assure you that would inflame the whole world. Mr Kaul [Ambassador] told me in a reception that we could make [changes] here or there. We shall consider this.”

Moscow exerted itself strongly to persuade New Delhi to stiffen its policy towards Beijing through a Treaty of Alliance with the USSR—and burn its bridges with China; the USSR remaining free, of course, to make up with China, as it did in 1986-89, leaving India high and dry very much like the U.S’ policy today. No one should be surprised at the full support of D.P. Dhar, India’s Ambassador in Moscow, to the Soviet proposal in a letter to Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul. We could have a secret agreement, he helpfully suggested. The Indo-Soviet Treaty fell short of an alliance proper.

After the Bangladesh War, the USSR presented an IOU for India to sign in acknowledgement of what it owed to the USSR. Bhasin records: “Soviet intentions for signing the Treaty of Peace unravelled themselves after the Bangladesh war, though it was clear to New Delhi even then that Moscow was obsessed with Peking. The Chief of the Army Staff [COAS], General Manekshaw along with D.P. Dhar (now Chairman of the Policy Planning Committee in the Ministry of External Affairs),visited Moscow in February 1972 with a shopping list intended to replenish the losses of the war and to further strengthen India’s defence potential. On February 25, 1972, they, together had a meeting with the Soviet General Staff, led by Defence Minister Marshal [Andrei] Grechko. The COAS talked of his apprehensions of a renewed round of conflict with Pakistan in the near future. Marshal Grechko felt that India was ‘overstating the Pakistan threat’ but ‘missed the ominous source from where the real threat to India emanates namely China’. Strategist as he was, Marshal Grechko, speaking in military terms, told both the Army chief and D.P. Dhar that ‘China was the real danger and India would be well advised to constantly remind herself of this fact. She could ignore this only at her own peril.’ Mincing no words, he delivered his lines, as in a dramatic performance. He said: “History has cast the role (of) allies (on us) against this menace.” Both must get to ‘defend them together against this menace and it would be wise for both the countries to coordinate their strategies and plans and harmonise their defence organisations for meeting such an eventuality’.

“Without making any bones, he specifically suggested a ‘military alliance’ between the two. Addressing directly Gen. Manekshaw, he said, ‘India would need the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union would need India and her support to deal with the designs of China.’ He advised that it was important, therefore, to talk in terms of realities of the situation rather than ‘little phantoms like Pakistan’. Answering the chief’s request for military hardware to strengthen the Indian defence potential, the Marshal put it straight and bluntly: ‘ If we have an alliance, I shall earmark 50 ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] for your defence against China. I shall not locate them on your soil but on my own so that you do not run any risk’.” (Emphasis added.)

Manekshaw adroitly evaded the issue. To her credit, Indira Gandhi, a nationalist to the marrow of her bones, rejected any suggestion of an alliance with the Soviet Union. The documents show what a powerful influence the USSR exerted on India and Pakistan prior to the Simla Agreement. They confirm the view that it was an unseen participant at the Simla Conference. We have a good record of its proceedings and those of other summits but not of the Tashkent Conference.

Particularly useful is the record of the Swaran Singh-Z.A. Bhutto talks on Kashmir. Bhasin does a service in reproducing full texts of the rival proposals made on January 19, 1963. They prove that by 1963 Pakistan had discarded a plebiscite in favour of a partition. It wanted all of the State minus Kathua. India was prepared to concede 3,500 square miles. The Anglo-American proposal envisaged partition of the valley, with Srinagar remaining with India. Fortunately, nothing came of this insultingly obscene proposal. The documents read thus: Pakistan Draft: “1. Without prejudice to the basic positions of the two parties with regard to a plebiscite in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, we should explore possibilities of a political settlement of the problem. 2. A political settlement must be just, equitable and final, and acceptable to the people of the State, taking into account the following factors: (i) India and Pakistan should seek the delineation of an international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir State. (ii) The territorial division should take into account the composition of the population of the State, control of rivers, the requirements of defence, and other considerations relevant to the determination of an international boundary. (iii) Disengagement of the forces of India and Pakistan in and around Kashmir with a view to removing all tensions should be an essential part of the settlement. 3. The settlement should also embody in a solemn declaration the determination of the two countries ‘to live side by side in peace and friendship’ and to solve all their other problems peacefully and to their mutual benefit. 4. Ways and means of developing practical cooperation between the two countries and removing other major irritants should be considered.”

Indian Draft: “1. Without prejudice to the basic stand of the two parties, we should explore possibilities of working out a political solution for the Kashmir problem. 2. A political settlement must be practical and realistic and must be final, taking into account the following factors: (i) India and Pakistan should seek the delineation of an international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir State. (ii) Territorial readjustments as may be considered necessary for this purpose should be on a rational basis, taking into account geographic, administrative and other considerations and involving the least disturbance to the life and welfare of the people. (iii) Disengagement of the forces of India and Pakistan in and around Kashmir with a view to removing all tensions should be an essential part of the settlement. (iv) If agreement is reached on the above points, measures to facilitate freer movement of persons, development of trade across the international boundary in Jammu and Kashmir State, etc. should be considered. 3. The settlement should also embody in a solemn declaration the determination of the two countries ‘to live side by side in peace and friendship’ and to solve all their problems peacefully and to their mutual benefit. 4. Ways and means of developing practical cooperation between the two countries and removing other major irritants should be considered.”

Besides matters of consequence, the volumes contain some revealing titbits. What is one to say of Aneurin Bevan writing to M.O. Mathai on October 22, 1958, with a warmth unusual in him: “My dear Mac, what is happening to you? Jennie and I have not heard from you for ages.” Both sent their “love”. H.S. Suhrawardy had to quit India for Pakistan because his creditors were pressing him hard for the return of money they had lent.

The work should interest scholars in Pakistan as well as in the U.S. and Europe. It has a mass of material on domestic politics as viewed by Indian diplomats based there.