The road to Tashkent

Inder Malhotra

How the Soviet Union brought India and Pakistan to the negotiating table after the 1965 war

As early as August 18, 1965, the Soviet prime minister, Alexei Kosygin, had written to his Indian counterpart, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Pakistan President Ayub Khan, asking them "not to take any steps that might lead to a major conflict". He wrote again on September 4 appealing for "an immediate cessation of hostilities and a reciprocal withdrawal of troops behind the ceasefire line". He also offered the Soviet Union's "good offices" in negotiating a peaceful settlement of differences between India and Pakistan. Neither country reacted to this offer for the obvious reason that two days later the war had escalated, and the Indian army was on the march to the prized Pakistani city of Lahore.

On September 18, Kosygin sent his third letter to the two South Asian leaders, proposing that they "should meet in Tashkent or any other Soviet city for negotiations", and even offered to take part in the discussions himself, "if both sides so desired". He underscored his serious concern because the war was taking place "close to the Soviet Union's borders".

Shastri waited until September 23, when the ceasefire came into force, before disclosing to Parliament the Soviet offer, adding that he had "informed Mr Kosygin that we would welcome his efforts and good offices". In Pakistan, however, there was complete silence on the subject because of its extreme reluctance to take part in Soviet-sponsored negotiations.

"Ayub," records his closest confidant and biographer Altaf Gauhar, "was quite disturbed that the US and the British should leave the field to the Soviet Union... the subcontinent had been traditionally the area of Western influence, and the induction of the Soviet Union into the region as a mediator would only strengthen India's position". Consequently, even after agreeing to the Tashkent talks on November 11, he decided to go to London and Washington to persuade Harold Wilson, the British prime minister, and US President Lyndon Johnson to so arrange things that some "self-executing machinery" could be set up to resolve Kashmir, preferably before the Tashkent meeting. In both capitals he drew a blank. Wilson bluntly told Ayub that China was the "greatest danger in the region because it was far more expansionist than the Soviet Union or India". His foreign secretary added that in its present mood, "China was an extremely dangerous friend to have". Wilson's concluding remark at the end of a marathon meeting was: "We cannot hurry the Kashmir issue, though we realise the conflict is driving India and Pakistan to orbits we fear".

On way to Washington, Ayub stopped over in New York to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly. He devoted it almost entirely to Kashmir and ended his oration with the demand: "Let India honour her agreement as we would, to let all the people of Kashmir settle their own future through self-determination, in accordance with past pledges." In Washington the next day, at his prolonged meeting with Johnson, he returned to this theme and said with some emotion that the Kashmir problem must be resolved. "If India could not comply with the UN resolutions then arbitration by an independent body was the only peaceful way to settle the dispute."

According to Gauhar's account, Johnson said little about Kashmir but dilated at some length on America's problems in Vietnam, where both the Soviet Union and China were helping North Vietnam. The US president then told his guest that he was "praying for the success of the Tashkent meeting". Whereupon Ayub "regretted" that US and Soviet policy "had come to coincide in India, and that was why the Soviet Union was helping India, and the US, too, had allowed itself to be 'suckered' by the Indians".

While the two presidents were engaged in one-to-one talks, Pakistan officials told their American opposite numbers that throughout the "crisis", the feeling in Pakistan was that the US "had let down Pakistan and equated it with the aggressor". Ayub said the same thing somewhat politely at his final meeting with Johnson: "Let us hope we get more comfort in future out of our alliance with the US."

As was perhaps to be expected, China acted promptly to vindicate Johnson's apprehension that it would "fish in troubled waters" in both South Asia and Indochina. No sooner had Pakistan announced its willingness to partake in the Tashkent talks under Soviet auspices, that the Chinese tried to throw a spanner in the works by suddenly opening fire on two Indian posts on the Sikkim-China border and making repeated intrusions across this frontier. What added to Indian worries was a report by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies that China had "massed 15 divisions in Tibet, of which at least six were stationed near the borders of Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal". However, New Delhi's assessment was that Beijing was only trying to create tensions and wasn't paving the way to a renewed invasion.

Shastri's greater worry was about the withdrawal of troops to the positions they held before Pakistan's infiltrations into Kashmir on August 5. The Indian army had paid a heavy price to wrest from Pakistan the highly strategic Haji Pir Pass, the most convenient route for Pakistan's infiltrators. There was a strong feeling in the country that Haji Pir should never be returned to Pakistan. Though normally a cautious man, Shastri himself intensified this sentiment by declaring repeatedly that if Haji Pir were to be given back to Pakistan, "some other prime minister would do it".

Meanwhile, the Soviets invited foreign minister Swaran Singh to Moscow a week before the start of the Tashkent conference. The message he brought back was that while the Soviet Union stuck to its traditional stand that Kashmir was a part of India, it was also of the firm view that peace between India and Pakistan must be established on the basis of the UN Security Council resolution of September 20, which demanded the "withdrawal of all armed personnel to positions held prior to August 5, 1965".

This, as we shall see, was to be a source of great trouble during the Tashkent talks, as well as afterwards.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

courtesy : "The Indian Express", 04.02.2013


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

The recent electoral victory of Narendra Modi, his third consecutive one (Dec 2012), has drawn lot of applause from a section of society and he is being projected as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. It’s another matter that BJP, itself is in shambles as far as electoral arena is concerned and its NDA allies are unlikely to endorse Modi, given his aggressive communal politics and the authoritarian style of his functioning. One knows that this victory of Modi was predicted by many exit polls, one also knows his victory was not a smooth sail, as by now the dissatisfaction from his policies, his style of functioning is adversely affecting a large number of Gujarat population. The people of Gujarat turned out in big numbers to cast their vote.

Many commentators feel that his win is due to his development policies, that he has won again is an endorsement of his claims of development of Gujarat. The development model undertaken by Modi is a total surrender to the favored industrial houses, which are having a gala time in Gujarat. The shiny malls and roads of Gujarat hide behind them the travails of the deprived and marginalized sections of Gujarat, the villages in particular. Every Nano car rolling out from Tata car is subsidized by the state to the extent of Rs 60000. The hype of development propaganda, managed by the American Company APCO Worldwide, which has already worked for notorious dictators like Sani Abacha (Nigeria) and Nurusultan NAzarbayev (Life President of Kazagistan), has done its job well again. The job by this agency has been done so well that anybody questioning the development of Gujarat is receives various derogatory labels. As a matter of fact what Modi has done is nothing unusual and states like Maharashtra have achieved much better in this direction, without the hype. Here comes one of the roles of Modi, not only to hire an image maker but also to act like Goebbels.

This so called development hides that the social indices of Gujarat which are very much on the lower side when compared to many other Indian states. What matters in popular perception is the image more than reality. So this aspect of Modi’s propaganda did sell well for a section of middle class not only in Gujarat but all over the country. Many a commentators do buy this uncritically and attribute Modi’s victory to this factor. As its not only the mall going middle class but even the suicide committing farmers families, the starving dalits and Adivasis, who also vote, they feel the reality of the ‘development’ of Gujarat in their lives, so a large turn out to vote and in rural areas they did show that the so called development is from the annals of make believe World.

The major factor which has worked in Modi’s favor is the polarization which has taken place in Gujarat after the 2002 carnage. This is one episode of violence, which has separated the communities on religious lines. While Hindus, have bought the line that it is only due to Modi that they are safe, at the same time Muslims know that they have not only been the major victim of 2002, but also that post 2002, they have been totally marginalized in physical space, with ghettoization taking place. They know that they are physically not safe and have been pushed back economically and socially. The real fear is stalking the lives of Muslim community as a whole. They have been relegated to second class citizenship. Modi has given a clear message that the nine percent Muslims don’t matter to him as he has made up his vote bank by consolidating the Hindus by instilling the fear amongst them. Still all Muslims do not vote against them. To begin with the Muslim majority areas have been delimited in a way that they can’t influence in the electoral result, or the impact of their voting is minimized. A section of trader-businessmen Muslims did vote for Modi for sure. Another section had to vote for him out of fear.

As far as dalits and adivasis are concerned the social engineering unleashed by BJP associates VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan ashram has done its job and a section of these deprived sections has been won over to the Hindutva fold and vote for the BJP. The sense of insecurity amongst minorities and minority women is paramount, making them withdraw into their shells. The liberal space in the state of Gujarat has shrunk rapidly, more than in other states. The educational institutions have been thoroughly brought under the management of academics sympathetic to Modi’s ideology. The state now reminds one of a dictatorial state, as pointed out by the ex- BJP chief Minister Keshubhai Patel himself. It can be called as communal-semi fascist state. The major factor in the state is the polarization and abolition of liberal space. This is ‘Hindu Nation’ in one state. One is reminded of the USSR, where ‘Socialism in one state’ was the slogan to begin with. In India while there are many states ruled by BJP, it is Gujarat, which fits into this ‘Hindu Rashtra in one state’.

The real danger today, which is reminded by Modi’s victory are manifold. To begin with the communal fascism is creeping in India through deeper pores of the nation. It is said that RSS is not happy with Modi coming to power and becoming larger than the party, the BJP. This is a contradictory situation. RSS on one hand wants to create a Hindu Rashtra. On the other it wants to regulate the whole process. The contradiction is that RSS ideology pushes the nation towards dictatorial thinking, as RSS itself is modeled on Ek Chalak Anuvartita, (controlled by single supreme dictator), the Sar Sanghchalak, whose writ is unquestionable. At the same time one recalls that one of the characteristics of fascisms the single charismatic leader. Modi fits in to that model very well. It is being said that in Gujarat, the RSS and its progeny VHP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been marginalized. One should know that the RSS and its non electoral progeny is there to make the ground for creating a communal space in which BJP can then rough shod and work for Hindu Nation. In Gujarat, these organizations are redundant now as they have already played their role. With Modi’s victory it’s clear that in India the communal fascism is marching state by state, and in the social space, in a gradual manner.

Modi’s blatant proximity to industrial houses is again in tune with the pattern of a fascist state. Hitler was also the darling of big capital. Hitler had mass following amongst the middle classes and could co-opt the poor as its storm troopers, street fighters. Modi is walking the same path, the difference being that of speed and regional variation. India being the vast diverse nation, the Gujarat pattern stands out very clearly as a repeat of German fascist onslaught with many differences. The other BJP ruled states are adopting different paths, some features being common. These common features are cultural infiltration, and relegation of minorities to the margins.

It is in this situation that those committed to secular democracy need a rethink. At electoral level, the parties like Congress, Samajvadi, Communist and Socialist parties, do not perceive the threat to democracy and secularism as they should be doing. If they understand the implications of Hindu Rashtra, the impact of Modi in hiking up the communal politics and communal thinking, then they have to close their ranks. They need to rise above their electoral and prime ministerial ambitions and take this threat of communalism head on as a united front. That seems to be a very tall order to expect from these electoral formations which so far have not demonstrated their willingness to come together for the sake of principles. Is it thinkable at all these parties will contemplate more in terms of saving democracy and secularism rather than protecting their fiefdoms? Its time these parties wake and realize that unless they hang together, the danger of communal fascism taking over the country in the future is not ruled out. Still one knows all this is an optimistic urge. If wishes were horses!

What can secular elements do at this point of time? They have engaged in legal activism, advocacy work, done rehabilitation work and conducted awareness programs to the best of their capabilities. It seems their best is not good enough. The need for more innovative thinking to ward off the threat of looming communalism has become more menacing with the victory of Modi. It’s a warning signal of sorts to do our utmost to strengthen the values of freedom movement, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. It’s time to remind ourselves of what the preamble of our Constitution tells us. It’s time to build a real people’s platform for secularism and democracy. It’s time for social movements to take this issue in utmost seriousness before the situation is created that social movements will themselves will not be permitted to march forward for the cause of human rights of the deprived sections of society.


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features