Revisiting Shimla

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ajtr, Jul 2, 2012.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Revisiting Shimla

    Many still wonder how India’s most clear-eyed and hard-headed PM agreed to trust Bhutto’s word

    On July 2 falls the 40th anniversary of the Shimla Agreement. Some may ask, pertinently enough, whether there is any point in harking back to this accord when the great expectation of a brave new era of a lasting peace between India and Pakistan it had aroused was smashed by Pakistan’s then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He had brazenly reneged on the solemn word he had given to Indira Gandhi. Even so, there are good reasons to look back on what happened in the summer of 1972.

    First, the younger generation that constitutes a majority of the Indian population hardly knows anything about Shimla, even if it is vaguely aware of the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, to which the Shimla summit was the natural sequel. Second, as was perhaps to be expected, in the run up to its 40th anniversary, Pakistan has once again started a barrage of propaganda to deny that Bhutto ever gave any verbal assurance to his Indian counterpart. Facts may be on our side but our Pakistani friends are on a stronger wicket. For, as US movie mogul Sam Goldwyn famously said, an oral agreement is “not worth the paper it is written on”.

    P.N. Dhar, who had headed the PM’s secretariat from 1970 to 1977, first published a candid and detailed account of the talks between the two PMs well after the Shimla negotiations were declared a “failure”. He even quoted Bhutto’s exact words — “aap mujh par bharosa keejiye (please do trust me)”. Almost immediately there was an avalanche of disdainful denials from across the border. Close to the bone, however, was an article by Humayun Gohar. While praising Bhutto’s “diplomatic artistry”, he wrote: “Face it Mr Dhar, even if we accept what you say, Mr Bhutto fooled your prime minister”.

    In view of this, it is all the more necessary to go over everything that happened so that hereafter negotiators of this country do not repeat the mistakes made then. Excessive trust devoid of verification or even caution has been the cause of severe disappointment in our dealings with the western neighbour. Large-scale infiltrations into Kashmir, the prelude to the 1965 war, began five days after the signing of the Kutch agreement. In 1999 the attack on Kargil occurred within weeks of the Lahore Summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif. What lends a sharper edge to all this is the present Pakistani government’s persistent denial of the very existence of the understandings on Kashmir reached through the “back channel” by PM Manmohan Singh and the then Pakistan president, General Pervez Musharraf.

    During the last few months an atmosphere of promise and hope had been created again by encouraging developments such as an agreement on trade, an agreement ready for signatures on the reform of the restrictive visa system and a meeting of minds on Sir Creek. It was first dented by Pakistan’s (in fact, its army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani’s) insistence that demilitarisation of Siachen must take precedence over all other matters. This, as Defence Minister A.K. Antony has made clear in Parliament, is unacceptable to India. Now, Islamabad’s shocking reaction to Abu Jundal’s damning disclosures about 26/11 has made the situation fraught, and it could get worse.

    In the Bangladesh War, India’s victory was decisive. Pakistan’s defeat was complete. The 93,000 Pakistani troops that laid down their arms at Dhaka (the largest surrender since World War II) were in Indian custody. Nearly 5,000 square miles of Pakistani territory were also in this country’s possession. These were powerful leverages, and many blame Indira Gandhi for not using them to the full. There may be something in this assertion, but the reality is that the custody of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers was a big problem for the Indian army too. An equal number of its officers and men had to vacate their accommodation and live in tents to house the prisoners properly. Moreover, under the Geneva Convention, PoWs cannot be held beyond a time.

    A unique feature of Shimla was that it was the first occasion when, after a war, India and Pakistan were negotiating peace by themselves. After the first Kashmir War (1947-48) the UN was the virtual arbiter of the ceasefire and party to delineating the ceasefire line. After the 1965 war, the Soviet Union played an intermediary role at Tashkent.

    India’s main objective at Shimla was to get a final solution to the vexed Kashmir issue. To this end, it got Bhutto’s agreement to convert the UN-sponsored ceasefire line into the Line of Control. This much is part and parcel of the Shimla Agreement. The agreement also includes a commitment by both sides to respect the LoC and not to try to change it by the use of force or threat of use of force, “without prejudice to the basic position of either side”.

    The nub of the matter at this stage was to have a credible commitment by Bhutto “gradually” to change this line (he at one stage suggested it may be called the “Line of Peace”) into an international border. That is where his plea that he could not commit himself to this in writing and his word should be trusted came in. Indira Gandhi accepted it. Later, when she and Bhutto disclosed their agreement to their respective top advisers, P.N. Dhar demurred and she frowned on him.

    In the Indian strategic community and among many informed foreigners there is a consensus that the Indian delegation was in the thrall of “Versailles Syndrome” — never to treat a defeated enemy too harshly, as the allied powers treated Germany after World War I. However, many still wonder how India’s most clear-eyed and hardheaded PM agreed to trust Bhutto’s word.

    Many years later I took this question to her confidant, the legendary spymaster R. N. Kao. To my surprise he answered it frankly and allowed me to quote him. “I am also totally surprised”, he said. “Before leaving for Shimla, she had asked me ‘Can I trust Bhutto? People tell me that if I shake hands with him, I should immediately count my fingers’.”

    The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Ready for a Marsh Mellow?

    There is a rising din that the Sir Creek dispute is a low-hanging fruit ripe for plucking. But the ground reality belies any such optimism, says Ashok Malik

    EVER SINCE Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari travelled to New Delhi and Ajmer on Easter Sunday and invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Islamabad, there has been speculation in New Delhi about the political content of a possible Indian prime ministerial visit. Will agreements be signed? Will long-standing issues be resolved?.

    While much of the focus has been on the Siachen Glacier, there is a growing perception that the Sir Creek dispute is “doable”. The phrase was apparently used in the Zardari-Singh conversation on 8 April. On 14 May, a Pakistani delegation was supposed to arrive in Delhi and discuss the Sir Creek dispute. At the 11th hour, it announced a postponement to 22 June.

    Ironically, this deferring of dates was seen as an indicator of Sir Creek’s “doability”. The Siachen talks begin on 11 June. Pakistan is keen on demilitarisation, which would amount to India conceding altitudinal and strategic advantage. Islamabad, analysts suggest, is holding the more “doable” Sir Creek agreement hostage till New Delhi agrees to a Siachen agreement on its terms. The assumption is the Indian side will be desperate for some sort of settlement to showcase before the prime minister crosses the Wagah border.

    There are two issues. First, do Manmohan Singh and the UPA government have the domestic political capital to push through agreements, whether on Siachen or Sir Creek or otherwise? Second, exactly how “doable” is Sir Creek? An examination of the facts and interviews with government sources suggests an imminent solution is unlikely. In fact, if anything it is getting more complicated. “This line about Sir Creek being ‘doable’ has acquired a momentum of its own,” says an official, “frankly I don’t see where it is coming from.”

    The Sir Creek dispute goes back almost exactly 100 years. The Creek is a 63 mile (about 100 km) long water body that stretches from the marshes at the edge of the Rann of Kutch to the Arabian Sea. In 1913, it came to be contested between the Rao Saheb of Kutch and the Chief Commissioner of Sindh. There was a difference of perceptions between the Indian princely state and the British province as to the boundary between them.

    Sir Creek was not seen as particularly valuable. The conflict had arisen because locals from both provinces had begun to explore the Creek area for firewood and were squabbling. The case was referred to the government of Bombay. It conducted a survey and offered its opinion in 1914. The verdict, the centenary of which will be reached in two years, is at the root of the current India-Pakistan dispute. It offers two contradictory assessments:
    • Paragraph nine says the boundary between Kutch and Sindh lies “to the east of the Creek”. This would imply the Creek belongs to Sindh and thereby to Pakistan
    • Paragraph 10 says as per the chief commissioner of Sindh (the winner according to the previous paragraph) Sir Creek is navigable most of the year. As such, given international law, a boundary can only be fixed in the middle of the navigable channel. This would imply the Creek is to be divided between Sindh and Kutch, and thereby India and Pakistan

    For the past 60 years, Pakistan has hammered away at paragraph nine of the 1914 Bombay government order. India has emphasised paragraph 10.

    In 1914, both Sindh and Kutch walked away with different interpretations of the verdict, and both declared victory. In 1925, a map of the region was drawn and showed a “green riband to the east of the Creek”. Pakistan uses this map to say that the green riband marked the boundary between Sindh and Kutch, and left the Creek with Sindh. India says the Creek itself was depicted as a thin line on the map and it is “normal cartographic practice” to mark a maritime boundary to the right or left of a water body “so as not to obliterate the marking of the water body on the map”.

    In 1947, India and Pakistan became independent and Sir Creek was now part of a gamut of contested boundaries. The Rann of Kutch itself was the location of the 1965 war. After the war, India and Pakistan agreed to a UN-facilitated international arbitration tribunal to demarcate the India-Pakistan border in the Kutch sector. In 1968, the tribunal gave its award and drew a boundary of some 450 km between the two countries, and between the state of Gujarat (into which the old Kutch had been incorporated) and the Sindh province.

    However, this tribunal judged the land boundary but stopped short of Sir Creek. It identified Border Post (BP) 1175 in Kutch as parallel to the head of Sir Creek, the northern tip where the Creek meets land. From BP 1175 to the head of the Creek, it laid 67 pillars at a distance of half a mile from each other. These 67 pillars and 33.5 miles were entirely east of the Creek. They were undisputed Indian territory, and acknowledged as such by Pakistan. However, the straight line of 67 pillars was important to mark the head (top or source) of the Creek. The head of the Creek in turn had to be agreed upon before any negotiations. In a marshy landscape, where exactly the Creek began was itself a tricky question.

    The pillars laid in the mid-1960s were ravaged by nature. In the decades that followed, erosion took place. The pillars disappeared. In 2005, a joint India-Pakistan team set out to excavate the 67 pillars. Only 37 were found, all in a straight line from BP 1175. It was then agreed to extend that line at half-mile intervals, till 67 pillars had notionally been identified. In this manner, the head of the Creek was agreed upon.

    IN RECENT years, two other key developments have taken place with regard to Sir Creek. In 2007, naval hydrography units from India and Pakistan together tested the channel for navigability. They found it was entirely navigable. Admirals from both sides initialled the findings.

    This evidence of navigability bolstered India’s case. It confirmed the Sindh chief commissioner’s declaration of 1914 that Sir Creek was navigable most of the year. It brought into application the Thalweg principle, which is used to draw up international water boundaries and holds that a navigable waterway must be divided midchannel. For instance, this is the principle used to identify American and Canadian interests in the Saint Lawrence river.

    In 2008, Pakistan reneged on the findings, denied the initials of their admiral and said navigability had not been established. This rejection of an agreed benchmark and empirical evidence has led to sections of the Indian military and the foreign ministry wondering if there is any value to a Pakistani signature, and to any final agreement that country may sign.

    The second development was a critical concession by India. The navigable channel of the Creek comes down (southwards) from the head and then veers sharply westwards, towards Sindhi land. If the navigable channel is divided equally, it will move the Indian boundary much closer to Sindh than Pakistan may be comfortable with.

    As such, India proposed ignoring the westward lunge of the channel — and notionally accepting that the channel actually descended straight, north to south. At this point, at the mouth of the Creek, India and Pakistan would accept a principle of equidistance and divide the waterway.

    This was a reasonable offer, officials say, and meant both nations would climb down from their maximalist positions. When India suggests Sir Creek is “doable”, it essentially means Pakistan should accept this Indian formula. “This is the most we can do,” says a negotiator, “it’s our bottom line.”

    The Pakistanis may not quite see it that way, and that’s due to another accident of geography. The dispute is now over where the mouth of the Creek is — where it meets the Arabian Sea. India identifies the mouth at one location. Pakistan identifies the mouth about 10 nautical miles further south. The consequences can be enormous.

    Why? In the early 20th century, Kutch built a canal on the eastern bank of Sir Creek. In the decades that followed, erosion and the shifting of sand and water broke the canal and ended up creating a new creek — the Pir Salai Creek. This new creek is entirely in Indian territory, but if Pakistan’s interpretation is accepted, it could be blocked by that country’s navy.

    As it happens, India has “substantial naval assets” in Pir Salai Creek. These assets are needed to monitor the Arabian Sea, check maritime infiltration from Pakistan and for any deep-sea mineral prospection. Pakistan’s version of the mouth will in effect allow it to blockade and nullify these Indian naval capacities.

    There is one other implication: mineral wealth. The boundary agreed at the Creek will determine the sea boundary and the exclusive economic zone of either country extending to 300 nautical miles. A single nautical mile concession in the channel (not to speak of a 10 nautical mile concession as Pakistan wants) could have an exponential effect in the deep sea.

    The sea is brimming with mineral wealth, including hydrocarbons. Sir Creek itself is believed to be a repository of shale gas, though some petroleum ministry officials in New Delhi say these sentiments are exaggerated. Nevertheless, it is part of the same geological formation as for instance the oil fields of Barmer (Rajasthan).

    There’s also a hint of politics. At the CMs’ security conclave in Delhi in April, Narendra Modi pointedly requested the Centre for help in exploring the Sir Creek region for hydrocarbon resources. Gujarat goes to the polls in December 2012. The prime minister hopes to visit Pakistan in September or October. After all this, does Sir Creek still sound “doable”?
  4. Tronic

    Tronic Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Mar 30, 2009
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    As if you still need to tell us that Pakistan is a characterless, dishonest, warmongering prick. I'm quite sure we've figured that out by now.
  5. hit&run

    hit&run Elite Member Elite Member

    May 29, 2009
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    One see clearly see these traits on their faces when they visit other states, make political statements and agreements wearing costlier suits. Indus water treaty could have been already gone into pieces if India have been the lower riparian instead of Pakistan, heck they have made ceasefire on IB and LOC look like a joke thrust upon India. Look at their joker Rehman Malik his priorities and tricks; rather coming to the point he is doing Lahori buffoonish talk and cheap nitpicks when clearly India is on receiving end and has been suffering a lot because of Pakistan state sponsored terrorism.

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