Gujral and Vajpayee on Kashmir

Published : Sep 30, 2015 12:30 IST

KHURSHID MAHMUD KASURI was disturbed by I.K. Gujral’s criticism of remarks by Pakistani Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqoob Khan, a man of courage and integrity, during his visit to New Delhi at the height of the militancy in Kashmir. He went to great lengths to ascertain the truth. He could have spared himself the trouble by consulting Gujral’s memoirs, Matters of Discretion (Hay House, 2011). It clearly reveals that Gujral was pulling a fast one on him as he did on his Cabinet colleagues and Prime Minister V.P. Singh.

Gujral writes: “The next day [January 22, 1990] Yaqoob and I met for nearly two hours for one-to-one talks. He avoided looking into my eyes while delivering the message that had been approved at a very high level in Islamabad. He informed me that he had been instructed to say that the situation in Kashmir was risky and could lead to ‘perilous consequences’ .… There are critical differences in our perceptions regarding Kashmir that [are] causing resentment, animus and even hatred that could lead to prospects of hostilities and confrontations. He did not use words such as ultimatum or war, but the tone of the hard message was clearly to that effect. His main motive, as it became clear later, was to drive home the point that Pakistan had never accepted that Kashmir is a settled issue. It remains disputed territory and our claims to it are very much there. The Simla Agreement itself had recognised this. I pointed out to him that this was not so, adding that the Simla Agreement was perceptive [sic] since it had emphasised ‘peaceful means’ and ‘bilateral talks’ … And you know fully well under what circumstances it was signed by the two sides. It would be useful if Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were to recall the background of this agreement since she herself was present at Simla. My oration had little effect on Yaqoob. His tone remained shrill, though after delivering the offending message, he seemed somewhat relaxed.

“I requested Yaqoob to appreciate what the raising of tempers and slogans could ultimately lead to. Such situations could take us to the edge of a precipice that [might] be beyond recall. I had to ultimately tell him: I hope you realise and appreciate that my pleas of peace are not out of weakness or lack of the needed political will to confront the situations. I hope [that] being a military man yourself you do not underestimate the strength and tenacity of the Indian state. He replied that he did not but added: ‘We are not talking of the 1965 style of war. Please be assured we are not thinking or planning any such steps. But as you know the sympathies of our people are with the Kashmiris and most of them have … relatives and friends on our side. It affects their sentiments. … I told Yaqoob that there was a vast umma in our country too and any situation in Kashmir would affect adversely the Hindu-Muslim relationships here. But he reverted to his stand that their perception and our perception of J&K were different and forcefully asserted: ‘We are forced to tell the whole world about it. It will lead to tensions but let us try to manage [them] … it would be useful to keep open all channels of communications.’

“We had another one-to-one session from 10.40 p.m. for about an hour in the Pakistan High Commissioner’s library at his residence. This time I took the initiative and told him in a firm tone that we had a high-level meeting to discuss what we believe was a war ultimatum to me and I have been instructed to tell you in no uncertain terms that you would be well advised to appreciate the strength and resilience of the Indian state. We have both the will and the strength to safeguard our interests. I also told him clearly that though you had not used the word ‘ultimatum’ what, in reality you have conveyed is that. My statement made him relent. He replied: ‘No, it was not meant to be an ultimatum and if by my enunciations you have understood that Pakistan was about to launch an adventure like that of 1965 then it was not my intention …. War no, but surely we should try to reduce the damage, though some damage is inevitable. He went round and round for quite some time and, in the end, I summed it up to say that what I had understood was: (1) No war and (2) the tensions were inevitable, which may lead to talks as channels of communication would be kept open to reduce the damage. Yaqoob confirmed that was what he had meant. I also told Yaqoob that he must know that the Indian psyche, shaped by a history of thousands of years, would go through anything, even genocide, but it would not permit cession [sic].

“On the way back home, I briefed J.N. Dixit (who had come over to Delhi) about my interaction with Yaqoob and asked him to put it on record. It was obvious that India and Pakistan were on the confrontationist path that could even lead to a war. Yaqoob left New Delhi on 23 January afternoon. Earlier in the day, the two delegations met in an amicable atmosphere to finalise schedules for the meetings of the joint sub-commissions and the joint commission in June-July 1990.”

Gujral swiftly moved the Cabinet to earn his brownie points. This writer was in New Delhi then and met Gujral as well as a senior and responsible diplomat in Pakistan’s High Commission. Since Gujral’s version had gone viral, the diplomat, very alarmed, met me to say that Gujral had misinterpreted Yaqoob Khan’s prose. He specifically cited the word “perilous”, which Gujral records. The chapter is entitled “A ‘War Ultimatum’ from Pakistan”, a falsehood. But note that he even resented Pakistan’s fair assertion that Kashmir was not a settled issue. Also, Gujral wantonly dragged in “Hindu-Muslim relationship here” (in India) in the context of Kashmir. He wanted to earn brownie points in the Cabinet. Small wonder that he sabotaged the Composite Dialogue Accord (June 23, 1997) and in 2001 advised A.B. Vajpayee not to discuss Kashmir at Agra. Vajpayee was privy to the sabotage: “Working Group [on Kashmir] kya work karenge (What work will the working group do)?”

While in power, Vajpayee successfully sabotaged peace talks in 2000 with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and with Pakistan in 2001 at Agra. (After Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, he tried the same ploy from 2005 onwards.) No serious peacenik would have nominated a person like R.K. Mishra as his envoy in 1999.

A.G. Noorani

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