Bottomline | Misplaced Bravado

PM Narendra Modi should uphold the spirit of the Simla agreement for better Indo-Pak ties

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

After the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which was graciously attended by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it was felt that both nations would rise to a new dawn.

Three events which have belied this expectation are: Pakistan’s high commissioner Abdul Basit’s meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders in Delhi; increased firing on the Line of Control (LC), especially on the 185km Jammu border called the working boundary in Pakistan; and unparalleled domestic turmoil in Pakistan which have imbalanced civil-military relations there with the army chief, General Raheel Sharif ensconced firmly in the driving seat.

The big takeaway from the recent meeting of Pakistan High Commissioner in India, Abdul Basit with Kashmir separatist leaders in Delhi which led to India cancelling foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan scheduled for August 25 was: Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to do a Line of Actual Control (with China) on the Line of Control (with Pakistan); a freezing of border resolution.

Just as India has accepted that border dispute with China can wait overall betterment of bilateral relations, Modi wants the Kashmir dispute to hold till other less emotionally-charged bilateral disputes are resolved. Therefore, by sticking to the letter of the July 1972 Simla agreement, he has abandoned the spirit of the agreement and the mechanism for the Kashmir resolution.

Let’s start with the Simla agreement, on which, a good insight has been provided by P.N. Dhar, who headed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s secretariat and was one of her closest advisors in the Seventies, in his book: Indira Gandhi, the Emergency and Indian Democracy. According to Dhar: “The transformation of the ceasefire line into the Line of Control was the core of the Indian solution to the Kashmir problem. The de facto Line of Control was meant to be graduated to the level of de jure border.” This, of course, was based on Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s verbal assurance to the Indian Prime Minister. Dhar writes that, “Bhutto agreed not only to change the ceasefire line into a Line of Control, for which he had earlier proposed the term ‘line of peace’, he also agreed that the line would be gradually endowed with the characteristics of an international border.”

As preparation for the next summit meeting between India and Pakistan where verbal understanding reached at Simla was to be formally enunciated, Mrs Gandhi felt that ‘the aspirations of Valley Muslims need to be satisfied.’ The Indira-Abdullah accord was the answer to this issue, where the Kashmiris, represented by Sheikh Abdullah, became stakeholder to the bilateral Kashmir resolution between India and Pakistan.

Since that time, all governments in India have followed the twin track for a possible Kashmir resolution: talks with Pakistan and talks within. At the height of the insurgency in the Valley, when the Hurriyat, a conglomeration of separatist leaders, was formed in May 1993, it, willy-nilly, came to be regarded by Delhi, as a part of internal stakeholders, in addition to the political representatives in Kashmir. Both the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments met and interacted, in varying degrees, with moderate Hurriyat leadership. Pakistan has done the same to understand the mood in the Valley.

By taking exceptional umbrage to Basit’s meeting with the Hurriyat, the Modi government has signalled a suspension of Kashmir resolution. India appears to be favouring the unanimous resolution passed in the Parliament on 22 February 1994 that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India; and Pakistan should vacate territory under its occupation. To begin with, the resolution was passed under extraordinary circumstances.

Pakistan had, for the first time in 1993, taken the issue of Human Rights violations in Kashmir by Indian security forces to the United Nations General Assembly. To pre-empt the damage wrought by it, India, under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, had decided to play the ultra-nationalist card, something that few politicians, cutting across governments, have believed in. Without exception, all political leaders have understood that converting the LC into an international border as envisaged in the Simla agreement provides the only viable option.

Take the case of the Vajpayee government. Strobe Talbott, the US deputy secretary of state in Clinton administration, who held 13 rounds of talks with Jaswant Singh after India’s 1988 nuclear tests, writes in his book, Engaging India, “Jaswant Singh mentioned that his government might consider converting the Line of Control, which was based on the 1949 ceasefire line between Pakistan and Indian portions of the territory, into an international border — a significant departure from the long-established BJP position that India should persist in seeking the integration of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.”

Is Prime Minister Modi attempting to go back to the original BJP position by rough-shodding the spirit of the Simla agreement? If this is correct, it will be difficult times for India-Pakistan relations. The Pakistan Army as the custodian of Pakistan’s India policy will never accept it.


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