Avtar Singh Bhasin, a former diplomat, has wide authorship and research as senior fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Institute for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library. He has produced volumes of documentary studies on India’s relations with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. The author has produced a 10-volume study on India-Pakistan relations. His latest study in five volumes has been published in January 2018 on India-China relations. In May 2018, his latest study on India-Pakistan, Neighbours at Odds is available on shelves across the country and abroad.
This study is in 34 chapters in a more than 500 pages book. It starts with Pakistan’s insecurity — whether Partition solved any problems is not certain; what is clearly spelt out is it created so many. The last chapter details out 26/11 — “Terrorism and Pakistan”. The book ends with a message that both countries must end hostilities and antagonism, and live in peace and enjoy the fruits of the 21st century and that both the countries must make up for the losses that past hostile approaches have inflicted.
The initial chapters focus largely on Kashmir and shed light on the progress of military operations as also the accompanying diplomacy both bilaterally and in the United Nations. In this narrative the original reference to the United Nations followed from the “uncertain military situation”.
In India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds, the author mentions and records: A summit of the two countries Prime Ministers was held in New Delhi in May 1955. Kashmir was uppermost on Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s mind as first item to be discussed, Pandit Nehru started discussing an incident in Nekowal that had happened a week before the scheduled summit, in which five Indian Army personnel and six Indian civilians were killed. It led to very long correspondence between the two Prime Ministers but the diplomatic process was not severed.
Kashmir was uppermost on Ayub Khan’s mind when Nehru came to Karachi in September 1960 to sign the Indus Water Treaty. He stressed to Nehru the need to solve India-Pakistan problems, particularly Kashmir, in their lifetime.
Conceding that in the past Pakistan was not justified, particularly in laying claim to Junagadh or Hyderabad, since these could only have acceded to India, he sought to establish Pakistan’s locus standi in Kashmir. Seeking to disabuse him of any such notion, Nehru repeated his earlier apprehensions once again and warned Ayub Khan that any change in the status quo would not only “have an upsetting effect in Kashmir itself, but also in India. We have a large population of Muslims in India and on the whole they had been integrated. But any wrong step taken by us would affect them injuriously and prevent further integration”. He was therefore afraid that interfering with the Kashmir’s status quo in any direction would make the position of Muslims in India untenable and also lead to a fresh wave of migration, upsetting the peace between the two countries.
It is clear that Nehru repeatedly sought to link the fate of Indian Muslims to the Kashmir issue, thereby exhibiting commitment to Indian secularism. In a manner of speaking, the Indian Muslims became a part to the solution of Kashmir.
On May 13, foreign secretary Gundevia approached a prominent lawyer V.K.T. Chari (brother-in-law of high commissioner Parthasarathy) to examine the implications of “confederation” purely on a private and confidential basis. He was told that it was desired by the Prime Minister. He was advised that the examination was to be conducted in the context of “the present position of India, Pakistan and Kashmir”, but cautioned him that “if there is to be a confederation and there can be a confederation, we need not do anything which would look like an annulment of the partition of India. Pakistan and India must remain separate sovereign states and Kashmir must be brought into the confederation. The question is: Must Kashmir by itself be a separate sovereign entity?”
What happened to this suggestion, however, remained a mystery. Underlying the urgency, the letter requested Chari to give his note by May 18-19. However, with a couple of weeks of the proposal, Nehru died on May 27.
Regretfully no more papers could be traced, and one would not know what happened to the note, and if Chari prepared it at all. What was important was the timing of the proposal. It showed Nehru’s keenness to resolve the Kashmir issue, given the state of his health. He was prepared to look at all the options if the Kashmir question could be resolved in his lifetime writes the author.
The book is valuable also in illustrating the thinking in the ministry of external affairs as it sought to balance relations between the United States and the USSR through the 1950s and the 1960s. Particularly interesting in this regard is the history of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971 from its beginning in 1969 when developments in East Pakistan were not still in the foreground but the China-USSR split was. After the 1971 war, the ramifications of the POW issue and the consequent international pressure on India on this count also clarify that the negotiating space for India was not as much as is assumed in hindsight.
On the Shimla negotiations itself sensible suggestion is that Indira Gandhi “wanted to bury the past and move towards a new future” and also was concerned about the consequences of the meeting terminating without an agreement. Similarly, there is a great deal of fresh detail on the trajectory of bilateral relations through the 1980s, 1990s and later. Shimla Agreement at that point represented the genuine and sincere desire of India and Pakistan to end past era of confrontation and usher in a new chapter of cooperation, friendship and durable peace. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made a U-turn on his reaching Pakistan on the bilateral understanding reached to resolve the Kashmir issue. While addressing the National Assembly on July 14, he said he has not compromised on the Kashmir issue. The issue of POWs was the major issue and Bhutto’s fond love for Kashmir remained subdued in the talks. Bhutto said that despite all cards in favour of India and in its hand was not a generous negotiator.
The book is a valuable addition to the literature on India Pakistan relations.
The writer is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and chairman Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. He can be reached at email@example.com...