Simla Agreement: A Promise Never Kept

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Six months after Bangladesh was born in 1971, India and Pakistan reached an agreement to settle outstanding issues of the war. It was called the Simla Agreement. What went wrong with this deal and why?

Under the Simla Agreement, signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Simla on 2nd July 1972, India agreed to release 93,000 Pakistani POWs captured during the 1971 war.

The agreement, signed in July 2, 1972, bound the two countries "to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations" | India Vs Disinformation
The agreement, signed in July 2, 1972, bound the two countries "to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations" | India Vs Disinformation

India also agreed to return 5,000 square miles of Pakistani territory it had captured during the war, except those in the Jammu & Kashmir sectors. But there were two other crucial points the two countries agreed upon.

They agreed to convert the UN-sponsored ceasefire line of 1948 into the Line of Control (LOC) and to uphold its inviolability. They also resolved to settle issues via “bilateral talks and other means”, ruling out third-party mediation, including via the United Nations.

Indira had said that converting the UN-sponsored 1948 ceasefire line into the international boundary (LOC) in Kashmir would be a win-win for both India and Pakistan. Bhutto agreed and promised to implement it later. He said he simply could not put it in writing.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi | Dawn
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi | Dawn

Bhutto went back on his word and Pakistan has never recognised the LOC as an international boundary. After assuming power as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 1973, he even talked about initiating a “1,000-year war" against India over Kashmir.

To this day, Indira is criticised for failing to leverage India’s position of strength in the negotiations with Pakistan at Simla. After all, she had a bargaining chip of 93,000 Pakistani POWs captured during the Bangladesh War.

P N Haksar | Wikimedia Commons
P N Haksar | Wikimedia Commons

But there’s another way of looking at it. Indira’s powerful Principal Secretary and key strategist, P N Haksar, pointed out that that the Simla summit shouldn’t be viewed as a negotiation between victor and vanquished.

He said India had a strong vested interest in seeing democracy in Pakistan; a frustrated neighbour would be a danger to peace. He pointed out that after the World War I, Allied Powers had forced their will on a defeated Germany, which had led to the rise of Hitler and Nazism.

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