After the Indian military action in Kashmir in October 1947, a set of multiple narratives was constructed almost straightaway. Politicians, journalists & film makers, all made use of those narratives, the traumas & sufferings of the people of Kashmir to strengthen a political argument in favor of the continued Indian hold on Kashmir.
But Kashmir is Kashmir and burning since 1947.It is longing for a solution despite propagation of those narratives in different forms & shapes. Few of those narratives vanished when confronted forcefully and few disappeared with the passage of time. But some of them still find their way in discourses related to Kashmir . As is rightly said, in a conflict zone, truth is the first causality and single truths are less likely because of an increased strength in a desire to push a single agenda.
Let me, in this article, discuss one of such narratives often put forward to thwart a valid argument in favor of Kashmir’s political settlement. That narrative informs (or misinforms) us that after Pakistan lost the 1971 war, Indira & Bhutoo, decided in Shimla to retain the portions of J&K State under their respective controls but the understanding was not made public at the request of Bhutoo, because of its unsaleabilty in his domestic political market. I found that narrative having been repeated in a recently released book by Tahir Malik, Tridivesh Singh Maini and Richard Bonney.In other words, People of Kashmir are told to forget a problem, about which the two Countries have already arrived at a settlement in Shimla as if Kashmir issue is not a problem of nearly fifteen million living souls but a territorial dispute between two warring neighbours.
In this context it will be useful to reenact the scene & background in which the bilateral meeting at Shimla took place. Pakistan had been defeated in 1971 War and its Ninety thousand soldiers had surrendered and held in India as Prisoners of War. To resolve the matter amicably, a bilateral meeting at Shimla was conceived by both Countries. Before emplaning for India, Bhutoo told his people that he will not let them down which was repeatedly broadcast on the airwaves. Similarly before departure, Indira said that she was not going to Shimla as Victor. The meeting took place in an atmosphere of distrust & tension but soon became cordial and after high dramas, ups & downs, it culminated in an international treaty known as “Shimla agreement. It is worthwhile to reproduce three important clauses of the treaty here.
(i)That the principles and purposes off the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the countries;
(ii) That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organization, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations.
iii) In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the cease-fire of December 17, 1971 shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognized position of either side.
Now let us assume for a discussion sake that Indira & Bhutoo did agree to hold on to the portions of Kashmir under their respective controls. That would mean an agreement on Indira’s part to concede a portion of J&K to Pakistan, which according to article 1(2) of Indian Constitution is an integral part of India. In other words what she did or attempted to do at Shimla was totally against her own Country’s Constitution. And that raises a big question -Was Indra Gandhi so naïve as not to realize the ramifications of such an agreement ? Did’nt she visualize that she can be tried for high treason for entering into an unconstitutional agreement involving ceding of Indian territory without any legislative approval ? Were her advisors, like Haksars, Kouls & Dhars also ignorant of the ramifications of such an agreement. Didn’t it occur to them that in case Bhutoo agrees to the arrangement at a later stage, when domestic conditions become favourable to him , how can the agreement be put into black & white?
There can be many other events or instances which can be advanced to establish that the Shimla narrative advanced by Indian political class is false. An ordinary in appearance but powerful in connotation is the fact that immediately after Indira-Sheikh accord was made public in 1975, barely three years after the Shimla accord, Bhutoo, the then Prime Minster of Pakistan, gave a strike call against the accord which was widely observed in both parts of Kashmir . But none in India reminded Bhutoo at that time of reneging on his promise made in Shimla. Instead Indira reiterated her “Atoot Ang” position which goes to prove that nothing of the sort as repeatedly told to us had happened in Shimla.
The fact of the matter is that in Shimla, Bhutoo deftly played his cards and gained diplomatically the credibility which he had lost militarily in war. He pulled a neat diplomatic coup and when the loss was evident to Indian establishment, a narrative was devised to offset the loss.
The three important clauses of Shimla agreement reproduced above make it abundantly clear that India & Pakistan are committed to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem. Of course, till the time that solution is arrived at,the two countries have to respect the Line of Control without prejudice to their known positions. In my humble opinion, the Shimla agreement also offers a scope for third party mediation, as the words “by any other peaceful means” appearing in clause (i) suggest. That is a “food for thought” for both the Countries.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Feed back at firstname.lastname@example.org)