In the 1971 Indo Pak war, all attention was focused on the Eastern front. In the West Indian successes in Punjab, (Shakarhgarh, Chicken’s neck near Akhnoor) and thrust towards NayaChor in deserts were substantial. We however lost small areas in Fazilka sector.
If the India had plans to retain the captured territory in J&K, a major thrust towards Skardu or Gilgit could have threatened the land access between Pakistan and China.
In Kashmir, Pakistan gained some territory in Chhamb as the Indian army poised for offensive was caught off guard by Pakistani attack. A determined Pakistani attack against city of Poonch was thwarted by superior Indian strength. India captured strategic out posts in Kargilarea, posts that dominated the Srinagar – Ladakh road link and was a constant irritant. In a war fought at the height of winter, the better-trained and equipped Indian mountain troops also captured vast areas in North of Leh in Partapur and Turtuk sector. With the exception of ‘local’ initiatives in Ladakh, largely due to valiant efforts of the great Colonel Chewang Rinchen and his Ladakh Scouts, rest of cease fire line (as it was then called) did not see any major offensive action from our side. Kashmir was not an issue at all in that war.
Later at the Shimla Peace Conference, India brought in Kashmir issue. The Cease Fire Line (agreed as per Karachi agreement of 1949) was converted to LC or Line of Control, a sort of halfway house between cease fire line and international border. Though not marked on the ground, it is marked on the map in great detail after a joint ground survey. But at the conference it was also agreed to Let Each Side Retain The Territory Captured By Each Other In The Jammu And Kashmir while withdrawing to own side of the international border ( Clause 6, section 4 and 5 Simla Agreement).
This created a peculiar situation in areas bordering Jammu as India committed to withdraw from captured area (since the captured areas were in Pakistani Punjab and not J&K), areas captured by Pakistan were to be retained by that country- village Thakochak! When this anomaly dawned on to the government it fielded the formidable Lt. Gen. PremBhagat (Victoria Cross, and universally respected as a soldier in India and Pakistan) to stonewall and finally browbeat the Pakistanis- who incidentally were technically right! The Thakochak episode showed the perils of keeping the military out of any negotiations even as advisors.
The acceptance of disputed status of Kashmir was a major diplomatic blunder and India continues to pay a heavy price for it.
This author had a chance to do extensive study of all the official documents connected with this war (including the minutes of the meeting of CCPA or Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, the top decision making body in the country at the time). In addition to this I had consultation with person who was part of the Cabinet Secretariat military wing. This brought me to conclusion that there is no hint that retention of captured territory in J&K was a considered policy of the govt. of India BEFORE the war. The armed forces were certainly not aware of it.
Effect of this lack of forethought was that on the western front, much of the military effort was concentrated in the plains sector in Punjab, gains that had to be given up. On the other hand, an excellent opportunity to consolidate Kashmir or strategic Pak-occupied Northern areas was wasted. If the India had plans to retain the captured territory in J&K, a major thrust towards Skardu or Gilgit could have threatened the land access between Pakistan and China.
Unlike in 1965 when the Chinese served an ultimatum, in 1971 due to the Soviet build up on Sino – Soviet border on the Amur River border (of almost 44 divisions from the normal 3-4), China kept out of this conflict. An opportunity that is unlikely to present itself in future. As India faces a Sino-Pak joint military threat in the North one can only wonder the effect this blunder has had. It is difficult to blame the military leadership only for this as in retrospect it appears that the decision to retain gains in Kashmir was a `spur of the moment after thought’. It is amazing to note the cavalier manner in which issues of war and peace continued to be dealt in independent India.
The second blunder was the explicit recognition that India gave to the ‘Kashmir dispute’ in Simla agreement.
Indians have forgotten that Ashoka embarked upon his ‘peace offensive’ only after the Kalinga victory. 1971 was a decisive victory only in the East, and the Pak army remained largely undefeated in the West.
Bhutto came to Simla as the head of a defeated nation with nothing to bargain. 93000 Pakistani prisoners were in India and tehsil of Shakargarh as well as large tracts of desert were under Indian occupation. The Pakistani state itself was tottering and the only card Bhutto had was to play on the Indian need to have a viable Pakistan survive. Using his weakness dexterously, Bhutto made sure that India could never drive a hard bargain. All that Pakistan conceded at Simla was that it will not use force to solve Kashmir problem a promise never kept as it supported the separatists there. It also agreed to deal with the issue bilaterally. It is indeed astonishing that a militarily weak and defeated nation promising `non use of force ‘ against another country ten times its size, being seen as a concession. This naiveté was to cause immense difficulties in future. The acceptance of disputed status of Kashmir was a major diplomatic blunder and India continues to pay a heavy price for it. In the words of a sports commentator, India snatched diplomatic defeat from the jaws of victory.
The ‘Ashoka Syndrome’ of Indian Leadership
Pandit Nehru was the original Ashoka of modern times. Out of all the historical period great rulers of India, that include Chandragupta, Samudragupta or Vikramaditya, Ashoka seems to fascinate all. From Nehru to Vajpayee, Man Mohan Singh and now Modi, all want to emulate the great emperor and usher in peace. Even a supreme realist and tough leader like Indira Gandhi succumbed to this temptation at Simla in 1972. Indians have forgotten that Ashoka embarked upon his ‘peace offensive’ only after the Kalinga victory. 1971 was a decisive victory only in the East, and the Pak army remained largely undefeated in the West.
Simla agreement was honoured by Pakistan till such time as the Indian troops did not vacate the captured territory and the Pakistani prisoners did not return. Once these two short-term objectives were achieved Pakistan found no reason to go on to implement the next step ie normalization of relations. Today after violating all the other clauses of the Simla agreement, Pakistan is harping on the article six that had provided for Indo-Pak talks at head of the govt. level to solve Kashmir issue. This is sheer sophistry but effective diplomacy.
In light of mountain of evidence about the Pakistani army atrocities, what did the Govt. of India do? We banned the short film made by S. Sukhdeo, “Nine Months to Freedom” at request of ZA Bhutto.
The greatest blunder was to let the Pakistani army get away with its ‘Genocide’ in Bangladesh. There is massive evidence of the Pakistani army brutality in Bangladesh. The evidence is from Pakistani sources itself, the report of the Justice Hamidur Rehaman Commission. Some of the testimony in that report makes a very chilling reading, even years after the event.
There is evidence to the effect that civilian shops and stores were broken into by the troops without preparing any record of what was taken and from where. It led to a general feeling among the troops, including their officers that they were entitled to take whatever they wanted from wherever they liked.
Pakistani troops used to say that when their Commander (Lt. Gen. Niazi) was himself a rapist, how could they be stopped.
During the Comilla Cantt massacre (on 27th/28th of March, 1971) under the orders of the then CO 53 Field Regiment,( Lt. Gen. Yakub Malik,)17 Bengali Officers and 915 men were just slain by a flick of one Officer’s fingers. In May, there was an order in writing to kill Hindus. In light of mountain of evidence about the Pakistani army atrocities, what did the Govt. of India do? We banned the short film made by S. Sukhdeo, “Nine Months to Freedom” at request of ZA Bhutto. The truth is Pakistani army selectively targeted Hindus, members of Awami League and Bangladesh intellectuals. It was no secret that bulk of the refugees (close to 70 percent) that crossed over to India were Hindus. The playing down of Pakistani genocide however let a ‘Rouge Army’ escape the consequences of its misbehavior. India only stored trouble for future.
Indira Gandhi is dead but India suffers the consequences of this blunder.
The Nazis were tried for massacring Jews, the Khemer Rouge, Saddam Hussein, Serbian militants; even Sri Lanka all faced enquries or were taken to the international courts-only Pakistani Army got away with murder, rape and loot. While Bangladesh is attempting to get justice to the victims, India is silent.
In 1192 AD Prithvi Raj Chauhan defeated Mohammad Gauri and captured him. Gauri begged for mercy and Prthviraj let him off the hook. Within a year Gauri returned with a larger army, defeated Prithviraj usurped his kingdom and tortured him to death.
In Simla on 2 July 1972, Indira Gandhi emulated Prithviraj and let Bhutto of the hook on mere promise “ Aap ham pe bharosa kijiye!” (Have faith in me).
Indira Gandhi is dead but India suffers the consequences of this blunder.