No alternative to good Indo-Pak relations

There is some hope of lessening tension between India and Pakistan. This follows India’s foreign Minister’s visit to Pakistan and the talk in cordial atmosphere with Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. This is welcome because we unnecessarily bring in the past by invoking the wars between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.

1965 was a no win for either Pakistan or India. India had to give up its march to Lahore and Pak’s initial success in Khemkaran was shattered by soldiers like Abdul Hamid (the recipient of first Paramvir Chakra) and dogged refusal to withdraw and instead fired by local patriotism of Punjab General Harbakh Singh resulted in Pakistan Patton tank graveyard at Khemkaran in East Punjab. We both agreed to a settlement supervised by a third nation.

The year 1971 was forced on us. Pakistan army’s attack on East Bengal and the refugees fleeing for safely was creating an intolerable burden on India - both because of human rights considerations and massive, almost back-breaking, financial strain of providing relief to millions of East Pakistani Bengalis.

Indira Gandhi tried her best to persuade President Nixon, who was symphetic to Pakistan, to intervene at an early stage. In July 1971, Kissinger had a stop over in India on his secret visit to China.  Indira Gandhi invited Kissinger for a private breakfast for consultation.

However, in the previous evening, Indira Gandhi telephoned General Manneckshaw, our then Army Chief, and told him that she would like him to come and meet her at breakfast next morning. She further told him to come in army uniform.     

At that meeting, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was persistent in asking Kissinger to plead with Nixon that he should try to restrain Pakistan from what was being done in East Pakistan because the conditions there were becoming intolerable and it was almost becoming impossible for India to remain silent. Kissinger, however, went on prevaricating and would not really give a straight answer. Rather, he tried to underplay the situation. Obviously rattled, Mrs. Gandhi said if that was the position she may have to do something herself which she was reluctant to do.

At this Kissinger again expressed his inability on his and Nixon’s behalf to do anything and asked her, rather ironically, as to what she intended to do. At that time she stood up and pointing towards the General (who was in full army uniform) told Kissinger that if the US President could control the situation then she was going to ask him (meaning the General) to do the same. There was stunning silence for a minute but the sharp message was conveyed to Kissinger. Nixon and Kissinger had their egos deflated and never forgave Mrs. Gandhi for such an attitude.

India obviously could not take any initiative against Pakistan as that would have been breach of international law. There had to be proper justification for India to act against Pakistan and hence a necessary wait.

In the meanwhile refugees were continuing to pour in from East Bengal. Sidharath Shankar Ray was in charge looking after the refugee welfare. On one of the usual visits by Mrs. Gandhi to the border a public meeting was to be held to reassure the refugees that they would be looked after properly. On this visit to Kolkata she told Ray that after the public meeting she would go back to Delhi, and Ray should stay for some days in Kolkata and come back later.

At the public meeting while Mrs. Gandhi was speaking, one of her aides handed her a small paper - she read it and put it in her pocket and continued with her speech. After the meeting ended, on way to the airport she told Ray that he should come along with her to Delhi. Ray was a little surprised at this sudden change of his programme. But her followers did not ask questions of Indira Gandhi - there was implicit compliance. After about 15 minutes of flight onward to Delhi, Mrs. Gandhi leaned back in her seat, a bit relaxed, took out the paper given to her at public meeting and told Ray “Pakistan has attacked”. At first blush it would seem strange that Mrs. Gandhi should seem relaxed on knowing about Pak attack. But there was obvious logic - India was reeling under refugee influx and yet it dared not attack East Bengal, because then the world opinion would call it the aggressor. An excuse was necessary and Pakistan had now conveniently provided it - obviously on the wrong information that our aircrafts were still at Pathankot as usual. But India had moved them to Nagpur.

However, fairness demands that we must be objective - war on East Bengal front was all weighed in favour of India. As General Arora told me, though to start with some hard knocks were taken, it was a smooth march - the whole population of East Bengal was against Pakistan. The movements of Pak army were leaked in detail by Mukti Bahni and their volunteers to Indian army whose task was made smooth. To make matters still worse Indian air force had no opposition and bombarded General Niazi’s official residence. As one of the Air Chiefs told me, “You can’t imagine the panic - the utter helplessness at being bombarded from above by enemy planes, knowing fully well that you cannot even send one plane to stop them. It was inevitable that Niazi surrendered without much fight. But let us not gloat over it. We have a history of a thousand years of joint living and culture - it would be an unimaginable tragedy to ignore it.

Wrong deduction from history and culture are being spread to fan Indo-Pakistan hostilities. I do not deny that the history of a people, a state or a nation is part of its culture, its tradition and its identity and they can no more be forgotten than an individual can forget his or her personal history. I do not deny that those experiences contribute to the present hostility between India and Pakistan. Yet maturity is a process in which those experience are absorbed and reinterpreted in such a way as to enable individuals and nations to live in the present and not in the past.

A correct and impartial reading of history will show us that the people who can learn to look forward instead of backwards, need not be condemned to relive the past and consequently learn to live with each other harmoniously.

Let India and Pakistan not ignore this warning, especially when both are nuclear power.  

The author is a former chief justice of Delhi high court

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2016 on page no. 11

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