‘We will either have a divided India or a destroyed India’ were M.A. Jinnah’s words announcing 16 August 1946 as Direct Action Day.
The division, described as a ‘parting kick’ of the British by the then Minister of Communications of Pakistan, Abdur Rab Nishtar, took place a year later. Whatever the revisionist historiographers might say about Jinnah’s intent regarding Partition, he ended up presiding over Pakistan—‘maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten’—created as a consequence of the division of India.
The destruction part still seems to remain an objective, at least in the minds and actions of some sections in Pakistan.
The mindless violence of the Direct Action Day was a precursor to the horror that accompanied the Partition a year later. Countless lost their lives, were rendered homeless and brutalized in multiple ways. The polarization and consequent hatred, even enmity that developed between Hindus and Muslims led Sadat Hasan Manto to observe that the Congress had come to resemble a temple and the Muslim League a mosque. The bitterness, rancour, and distrust that flowed in consequence, left a legacy that is still to be overcome six-and-a-half decades later.
It is for this reason that this documentation—voluminous because it is so comprehensive—of the first sixty years of Indo-Pak relations assumes significance. It contains a wealth of material that should help us better understand the dynamics of the thought processes informing mutual perceptions and the actual conduct of the relationship. The initial days, months and years were spent in coming to grips with the new reality of divided territories and sovereignties that had been imposed on an ancient land and peoples. It was not just, as A.S. Bhasin notes in his Introduction, a division of land and rivers, of a single market transformed into two, of barriers springing up overnight to free movement of peoples; it meant also dividing up assets and liabilities down to chairs and tables, pens and pencils!
The biggest fear that Pakistan nurtured was that India had not accepted the reality of the Partition and the creation of Pakistan. It went to the very top. Thus, Mountbatten recorded that Jinnah had said to him on 1 November 1947 that, ‘it was quite clear that the Dominion of India was out to throttle and choke the Dominion of Pakistan at birth and that if they continued with their oppression there would be nothing for it but to face the consequences. However depressing the prospect might be, he was not afraid, for the situation was already so bad that there was little that could happen to make it worse.’ Earlier, in September 1947, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, addressing the Muslim League Council in Lahore, had lamented that Pakistan was ‘surrounded on all sides, by forces which are out to destroy’ it because ‘they fear that with the consolidation of Pakistan, their cherished dream to rule all over the sub-continent of India will not be realised’; there was ‘an unholy plan chalked out by the enemies of Pakistan to sabotage it on its very birth’. The 1971 war that led to the emergence of Bangladesh reinforced those fears. It also gave birth to revanchist sentiments. Nearly seven decades later, that underlying theme still finds resonance in Pakistan.
At the same time, Pakistan arrogated to itself the right to be the spokesman for the Muslims of the subcontinent and the arbiter of the treatment of the Muslim minority in India even though a sizeable section of the Muslim population stayed on in India. Jinnah articulated his view on the issue of treatment of minorities to the Cabinet Mission of 1946. When asked if the minorities were to be treated as hostages, he respond-ed: ‘Exactly. If one state mistreats its minorities, the other state will retaliate against its minorities. It will be tit for tat.’ Each would seek to protect the interests of its co-religionists in the territory of the other. Thus, till the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, this issue remained on the bilateral agenda leading to acrimonious exchanges which, in turn, reinforced the existing animosity. Thereafter, particularly given the atrocities meted out to the population in Bangladesh, Pakistan effectively lost the moral right to assume the role of the spokesman or defender of minority rights. As Ayesha Jalal has noted in her Pity of Partition (Harper Collins, 2013), ‘If religion was indeed the primary driving force in the partition of India, it proved to be utterly irrelevant twenty-four years later to the political dynamics that led to the emergence of Bangladesh.’ The treatment of the Muslim minority in India, with exceptions, no longer animates bilateral discussions though it remains a refrain in domestic discourse in Pakistan as also in finger-pointing at India’s secular credentials.
The documents also provide a glimpse of individual predilections, with personal interest often disguised as service to a higher cause. The case of Josh Malihabadi is one such. In the mid-fifties, he decided that moving to Pakistan would serve him better. At one level, he argued that he saw no future for the Muslims in India, that the children in his family could not get reconciled to the disappearance of Urdu from educational institutions in India, that he could hardly understand the Hindi bulletins on the All India Radio. He was also honest enough to say that his move would be in the interest of his family as the people in Pakistan had raised a fund with which they were acquiring a property from the proceeds of which he could maintain himself and his family in Karachi; that both Naqvi, the Chief Commissioner of Karachi, and Iskandar Mirza were willing to help him in comfortably settling down in Karachi. He had been given a nice big house with a lot of accommodation. He planned to continue as an Indian citizen spending 8 months in India and 4 months in Pakistan. This was, of course, not acceptable to India and he was told he would have to choose between the two citizenships. In Pakistan itself there was a reaction with questions being raised: Why should Josh, the staunch opponent of Pakistan, who still retained his Indian nationality, be allotted lands and cinema and be given an advance of Rupees two lakhs and a permanent Dalmia Cement Agency while immigrant poets have nothing but a miserable lot. That Josh was a shining star on the literary firmament was not disputed but there was the issue of what could be expected of literature which did not glorify Islam.
The character of Indo-Pak relations has changed in many ways with the transformation that has taken place in the two societies since Independence. Pakistan, having alternated between representative governance and military rule has now reached a stage where religious extremism and liberalism are waging a war to define its identity. India has committed itself to a secular, democratic order that respects pluralism. The changing times have altered various aspects of the bilateral agenda: issues relating to Bangladesh, Division of Assets, Finances, Evacuee Property, Passports (visas remain a problem) are no longer relevant. Among the territorial issues, Hyderabad and Junagarh have become non-issues. But, Pakistan’s quest for parity continues causing it to seek defence preparedness much beyond its needs. Well informed and high-level Pakistani accounts consider Pakistan’s desire to change the status quo as a factor that has repeatedly led to conflicts. New issues have emerged, the most noteworthy being the emergence of the two countries as nuclear weapon states. Both these issues are documented in some detail, providing a rich source of research material.
For India, the choice for bilateral relations, in Jawaharlal Nehru’s words spoken at the Indian Council of World Affairs on 22 March 1949, was to be ‘either hostile to each other or very friendly’; he did not foresee being ‘indifferent neighbours’ as an option because ‘our interests are so closely inter-linked’. In 1982, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stated that she always felt a little saddened to hear comments in Pakistan that she had not reconciled herself to the creation of Pakistan. She noted that in India she was often blamed for the opposite. Her own view was that it was high time that we put an end to confrontation. The situation of the two countries was so similar that cooperation should be established, not only between us but in the entire subcontinent. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to the same conclusion a decade earlier. ‘It is inevitable for India and Pakistan to have close relations—very close relations—sometime or the other in the future.’ He said to P. N. Haksar on 30 July, 1973, ‘We cannot go on living in tension and confrontation……The only way for economic and social progress for Pakistan was in good relations with India.’ And now four decades later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said, according to a report of the official news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) on 12 August 2013, that it was vital India and Pakistan became ‘good friends’. ‘Let us make a new beginning. Let us sit together to resolve all outstanding issues in a friendly manner and in a peaceful atmosphere.’
Those wary of accepting such reassuring words at face value will also find supporting evidence in this documentation. Declarations of a change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India—so current in the wake of the re-establishment of democratic processes since 2008—were evident even in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Thus, we have Abdul Sattar who served as Foreign Secretary and later, during the Musharraf years, as Foreign Minister, telling Mrs Gandhi that the sea change in the attitude of Pakistan, its people and the Government, was not fully appreciated by people in India and that it was necessary to go around in Pakistan to see the situation. As the Afghan war was coming to a conclusion, it manifested itself in insurgency and turmoil in J&K.
The issue of Jammu and Kashmir continues to bedevil relations. It is described by Pakistan as a ‘core’ issue without the satisfactory resolution of which the two countries cannot have stable, friendly and cooperative relations. Pakistan views it as the ‘unfinished agenda of Partition’. In Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s words—reiterated recently—it is the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan. In consequence, the territorial aspect along with the issue of sharing of river waters despite the generous terms of the Indus Waters Treaty (1960) ignites passions and becomes the basis for rationalization of even ‘asymmetrical’ warfare including terrorism.
Indo-Pak dialogue regarding J&K has a long history. The documents show that the contours of the substantive discussions on the issue were framed in the fifties. There were many proposals discussed. These included Nehru’s proposal that status quo be accepted and such rectifications of the border as suited both sides could be considered. Back on 14 May 1955, Nehru had proposed to Prime Minister Moahmmed Ali and Interior Minister Iskander Mirza that the ‘only practical and safe way of dealing with it was to accept present conditions as they were, that is the status quo and then proceed on that basis … one could consider what rectifications of the border etc., could be made to suit both sides.’ The Pakistan side had proposed, at different points, transfer of large areas of J&K to Pakistan. In the fifties, a transfer of a large piece of territory north of the Chenab was suggested; in the sixties the then Foreign Minister Bhutto suggested that all territories west of Kathua in Himachal be handed over. And so on. None of these were acceptable to India for constitutional, demographic or administrative reasons. But Nehru did show willingness to consider a transfer of a ‘certain part of Poonch area’ though he never did define it with precision. The issue of joint control was also discussed. Nehru said he ‘could not conceive of any kind of joint control of Kashmir’. Yet, fifty years later, this joint control proposal was again brought into play by Musharraf when he was President. The dialogue continues. But there is little to show for it. The acceptance of the status quo that Nehru proposed in the fifties is the de facto ground reality even as attempts to create new realities continue—unsuccessfully thus far—despite four wars having been launched by Pakistan. Given known positions and inability of Pakistan to bring about the desired change in status quo in the ground situation, official level dialogues reflect the impasse.
What both sides seem to have failed to build on is the Pakistani position conveyed by the Soviet Union on 27 June 1972 to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on the eve of the Simla conference, based on what Aziz Ahmed had said during his visit to Moscow, that ‘Bhutto is ready, in principle, to consider the possibility of converting the ceasefire line into the permanent international frontier.’ The negotiating position, however, was the withdrawal of the troops in Kashmir to their previous positions at this stage. Bhutto was also ready, according to what Aziz Ahmed told the Soviets, to sign a political treaty or an agreement between India and Pakistan, which would ‘contain the party’s pledges not to use force and not to intervene in each others’ domestic affairs, etc.’ in Simla on the condition that ‘such agreement would remain strictly secret for some time, until the President paves the way in Pakistan for making this agreement public.’
Pakistan’s concept of bilateralism enshrined in the Simla agreement, was elucidated in the early eighties during the discussions pertaining to a ‘No War Pact’ proposed by Pakistan and a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation by India: the first draft of the Simla agreement had referred to the exclusive settlement of disputes by peaceful means but as this had not been acceptable to Pakistan, in the final agreement the word ‘exclusive’ was deleted. It was explained by the Indian side that their interpretation was not acceptable to India and indeed the results of pursuing bilateralism since Simla had been more fruitful than non-recourse to this principle earlier. The final version, in any case, spoke of resolution of disputes through bilateral discussions or any other peaceful means. These volumes also contain the detailed minutes of the Simla Conference and the conferences that were held in preparation for the Summit. Documents of this nature, hitherto not available, make these volumes a mine of new information.
In the last two decades, the added complication is the emergence of ‘non-state actors’—a euphemism for terrorism. These outfits, sponsored and used by the Pakistan army to wage a low cost war against India, have now morphed into Frankensteins threatening the state and society in Pakistan and even its patrons. Repeated assurances by Pakistani leaders—documented in these volumes—that Pakistani soil would not be allowed to be used for terrorism remains unimplemented. Pakistan remains in denial and refuses accountability.
The exhaustive documentation put together by A.S. Bhasin is the first such effort. It is an invaluable source material for researchers and for those interested in Indo-Pak relations. It has taken six years to compile. But it leaves a legacy of a lifetime.
T.C.A. Rangachari, a former diplomat, is presently the Director of the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.