Written by Brigadier Rattan Kaul (Retd)
For a soldier who fought in 1971 War, it is painful to recall how political guffaws, fixed ideas turned victory in the then East Pakistan into Defeat at Shimla only after about 6 months in Jun/Jul 72. The sacrifices and blood shed by thousands, including me, did not touch the powerful ones who sit above us. Field Marshal Manekshaw is quoted (reportedly), referring to Mr. Indira Gandhi about Shimla Agreement, “Bhutto has made a monkey of you”... ...
Rather Mrs. Gandhi was made a monkey by her inner coterie too. It was a smart, calculated and well orchestrated stance by Bhutto and naivety of Indira’s advisers which led to the outcome. The sequence of events that will be discussed are in the following order, first, the events which took place even before the surrender in Dacca took place to the time till Bhutto took over; covert and overt incidents from 16th December till the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his eventual return to Dacca. Thirdly, the signing of the Shimla Agreement, which took place on the 3rd of July, 1972.
Sheikh Mujib was arrested in the early hours of 26th March 1971 and was flown to Adiala Jail (Rawalpindi). Earlier in January, after the election results, Bhutto and Mujib had a secret meeting at Larkana, where Mujib had offered to Bhutto Presidency with Mujib as Prime Minister; Bhutto refused. Bhutto also refused Yahya’s scheme to appoint Bengali politician Nurul Amin as Prime Minister, with Bhutto as deputy prime minister. Soon Bhutto too was arrested for treason, similar to Mujib and was also put in Adiala Jail. During absence of Mujib, Bangladesh Government in exile took oath on 17th April 1971 at Mujib Nagar, at Baidyanathtala (Kustia district). Here is the rub: rumor goes that the setting of Bhutto and Mujib together was organized by ISI and they met each other and some sort of rapport established between them. With declaration of War, Yahya released Bhutto, nominated him Foreign Minister to represent Pakistan's case before the UNSC, who arrived at New York on 11th December 1971 and addressed UNSC on 15th December 1971.
Interestingly, on the 16th of December, at London, a Secret conclave was in progress. Abdus Samad Azad, foreign minister of the Bangladeshi government in exile, happened to be in London and on that very day, called a closed-door Top-Secret conclave at Charing Cross Hotel near Trafalgar Square, to which senior leaders of the ethno-sub-nationalities of West Pakistan, who had been camping in London for about a year for fear of military crackdown in their provinces, like in East Pakistan. Apparently Samad had received instructions to do so and must have planned and invited the invitees to it at least around 14th December. Those invited included: Khan Abdul Wali Khan, National Awami Party NWP, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti of Balochistan, Nawabzada Khair Baksh of Marri tribe from Balochistan, Ataullah Mengal of Mengal Tribe of Balochistan, representatives from Sindh’s Jiye Sindh Mahaz and few more second rung leaders attended. There was consensus that Pakistan Army, as vengeance, could launch military crackdown on the ethno-sub-national people; Baluch’s, Pashtun’s and Sindhi’s as they did in case of Bangladesh, thus they need to forge joint front of liberation struggle among the ethno-subgroups and become independent nations. With Pakistan in disarray, it was opportune moment to unite and act. Samad Azad assured them that India’s backing, would be unavoidable and Bangladesh leadership could talk to New Delhi and secure India’s support. For this Indian support assembled leaders possibly would have to declare their commitment to democracy, secularism, fundamental rights, pluralism, standing up for national aspirations and abjuring religious, intolerance and extremism. They, however, all agreed that this issue should have been addressed much earlier and India could have supported it covertly. At the end of the Secret Conclave at London on 16th December 1971, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti with a great amount of passion and regret said: “I am afraid India will have to fight another war with Pakistan for our sake to secure our freedom”. Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Khair Baksh Marri, supported as to what Bugti said. I Leave it here how prophetic it was, is and may be!
The details of the meeting reached New Delhi also. Possibly the conclave was not told of the Indian policy orchestrated by Haksar. In India on the other hand, on 11th December 1971, war was in full swing and outcome was not even close, the personal secretary of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, P.N. Haksar sent a “personal” telegram to the Indian Ambassador to USA, L. K. Jha, which read: “… no territorial claims or ambitions as far as Bangladesh is concerned … no claims against the territory of West Pakistan. And yet we have in the past said that we will not alter the status quo by force (in Jammu and Kashmir).” On December 13th, Haksar wrote to the Defense Secretary K. B. Lall: “… Anything that we may do or say or which gives the impression that we have serious intentions, expressed through military actions or dispositions and propaganda that we wish to detach parts of West Pakistan as well as that of Azad Kashmir would create a new situation.” These were indications that the Government was to be just satisfied in East only. Haksar sent a copy of this letter to R. C. Dutt, Secretary, Ministry of I&B for ‘information and guidance” with following instructions: “Such a publicity within our country has to be stopped forthwith and all PIB releases fanning Sindhi, Baluchi or Pathan irredentism must be withdrawn.” In the meantime, a six-point note had been drafted by Haksar for Mrs. Indira Gandhi for approval by the cabinet, which she got on 14th December. The sixth point is the relevant one: “… territorial gains made by the application of force shall not be retained … Respective armed forces shall immediately commence negotiations in the Western theatre of the war as soon as possible.” This was indicative enough to give the future line of action by India and fright of Versailles Treaty had been sown in them. This was the mind set ingrained into Indira Gandhi’s mind by Haksar, and as ill luck of India had it, at crucial stage of Shimla Agreement, Haksar negotiated to turn victory into defeat and brainwashed Indira Gandhi fell into the trap. Gleefully on Diplomatic channels of Pakistan, a code was passed- “Munda Hua” (Son is born indicative of POW’s would be repatriated).
In Pakistan on 17th December a highly ideal, professional and a firebrand, Brigadier F. B. Ali Artillery Brigade Commander of 6th Armored Division along with his colleagues and units rose in rebellion from Sialkot, which wittingly or unwittingly, played a major role in the drama that led to Yahya’s final ouster; reportedly directed by none other than the Chief of General Staff in GHQ, General Gul Hassan, who had enlisted Air Marshal Rahim Khan’s support for his plan to install Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the helm of affairs, that ‘would satisfy the dissenting public and defiant armed forces against its incompetent generals’. Persons privy to events leading to Yahya’s ouster believe Bhutto, was the mastermind to infuse General Gul, with the idea from New York itself with the idea to accomplish this task. The play was staged at two locales —President’s House in Rawalpindi and the Artillery Brigade Headquarters of the 6th Armoured Division, Sialkot. Yahya in this dramatic meeting, with opposing view by General Hameed to suppress the rebellion, where Gul literally barged in and skillfully played the cards of major rebellion, forced Yahya to give up power and handover reigns to Bhutto, who was at UN. Immediately in the same night Bhutto was sounded of success and to return home to take over from Yahya. A PIA aircraft was diverted to bring him but was instructed to call on US President Richard Nixon. The Generals then organized the return of Bhutto from New York.
Hereon starts another string of fateful events; the first step of return of the POWs, was not in political channels, but on Bhutto’s flamboyant past. Bhutto was contacted at New York itself and sounded that India is going to react positively to his taking over and would help on reciprocal basis; their concern was saving Mujib and his subsequent release. Bhutto’s Washington-Rawalpindi flight was scheduled for a refueling stopover at Heathrow in London. Indira was informed of travel plan but was keen to know Bhutto thinking about Mujib and his future; in the meeting were D. P. Dhar, R. N. Kao, PNK and T. N. Kaul. Here they had an unexpected “mole”. Muzafar Husain – Chief Secretary of East Pakistan had become a POW. His wife, Laila, was in London when war broke out, though stuck there, was in communication with her husband. Laila and Bhutto had been intimate friends for a long time and continued to be so. While in London she was coaxed to meet Bhutto; for old times sake. She had been informed of Bhutto’s future assignment, that he was en route to Islamabad and she was persuaded to meet Bhutto – for old time’s sake, her main task was to ask if he could help in getting her husband released from Delhi and anything else she could gather. Laila and Bhutto met, one on one, in Alcock and Brown Suite, marked by great cordiality and as convivial as could be. This encounter turned out to be of great historic significance; a thriller and a step towards the grand finale at Shimla. Bhutto, smilingly responded to Laila’s emotional appeal but shrewd as he was, he knew that Laila was doing it at the Indian Government’s bidding.
A twinkle in his eye, pulled her Closer, changed the subject and whispered to Laila, a very sensitive, top secret message for Mrs. Indira Gandhi: “Laila, I know what you want. I imagine you are [carrying a request] from Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Do please pass a message to her, that after I take charge of the office back home, I will shortly thereafter release Mujibur Rahman, allowing him to return home. What I want in return, I will let Mrs. Indira Gandhi know through another channel. You may now go.”
Muzafar Husain was great grandson Of Asif Jah, Nizam of Hyderabad, whose Grand Father had migrated to Sindh. He passed away on 24th October 2006 at the age of 83, and is survived by his wife Naiyer Muzafar Husain Khan, a member of the Pakistan civil service.
Bhutto returned home on 18th December 1971. On 20th December, he was taken to the President House in Rawalpindi, where he took over two positions from Yahya Khan, President and Chief Martial Law Administrator. (Some of these inputs are from Laila through Mr. Shashank Banerjee.)
The reported meeting of Laila & Bhutto and Bhutto’s subsequent response was confirmed by information received from Pakistan and confirmed the authenticity of Laila’s report. Indira confided to an advisor (Haksar, maybe) she now knew what Bhutto wanted from in return for Mujib's impending release. As a first gesture of reward, for Laila’s link with Bhutto, her husband Muzafar Husain was shifted as a VIP guest at the official residence of D. P. Dhar.
In Pakistan Bhutto had no option but to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first, the POWs would come later. He was sanguine of Gandhi’s sense of decency, in reciprocation of Mujib’s release, POW’s would come later. During next two days (18th-20th December), Bhutto made up his mind to release Mujib. He had two things in his mind; release Mujib and he could try with him for some sort of unity. Next for the release of the POWs, Indira would not hesitate in agreeing, if he personally asked her; as his gesture of generosity to India, release of Mujib would be met with a matching gesture.
On 21st December, Mujib was released and moved in a helicopter to a bungalow near Rawalpindi; to facilitate one to one talk with Mujib (Mujib in the meantime had been informed by his jailor that Bangladesh had been liberated). Bhutto met Mujib on 23rd December and wanted some links between Pakistan and Bangladesh and wanted Mujib to agree on foreign affairs, defense, and communication to be managed jointly or even for some fictional links. Mujib did not commit and told Bhutto that he cannot commit anything without consulting his people. Bhutto's purpose in releasing Mujib was in his words: "a nightingale which I allowed to go scot-free unnecessarily"; to retrieve, in the eyes of the international community, at least some of Pakistan's image. Bhutto also discussed the same proposal with Dr. Kamal Hossain, who later became the foreign minister of Bangladesh, who too was released from a West Pakistani jail after Mujib was set free. It is reported that he carried a message for Mujib on proposed links between Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Mujib was allowed to move out on 8th January 1972; wonder has it struck that after last meeting on 27th December 1971, it took 12 days to let Mujib return to Dacca. His release did not mean any change in Bhutto’s policy about Bangladesh, as if there was no war or no Bangladesh. In his first Presidential broadcast, 20th December 1971, he said: "We will continue to fight for the honor and integrity of Pakistan. East Pakistan is an inseparable and un-severable part of Pakistan." Was the planned script being modified?
During discussions with Bhutto, Mujib had suggested that he should be sent to Dacca directly or handed over to Red Cross or United Nations. These ideas were not accepted by Bhutto and suggested Tehran. Mujib refused and when London was presented as an alternative Mujib accepted it. But the British government was not aware beforehand of his departure and first heard of his release in a message from Islamabad which was received when the aircraft carrying him was only an hour away for London. He was appropriately received. Dr. Kamal Hossain also released along with Mujib flew with him. Mujib was invited by Edward Heath, the then Prime Minister of UK, to 10th Downing Street. In an hour-long meeting with Heath, Mujib requested recognition of Bangladesh as a sovereign country. For his return to Dacca, a Comet jet from the Royal Air Force carried him via Delhi on 10th January 1972, where his people were eagerly waiting for his return. The halt in Delhi was worked out on 9th January 1972; much to the happiness of Indira and People of India. Here is some tit bit from Heath to Nixon: “"He [Mujib] was anxious to reach Dacca as soon as possible and we gave him an RAF aircraft for the journey. It was his own choice that he should not transfer to an Indian aircraft in Delhi". (Other contents of this secret message are not relevant at this stage).
For Indira Gandhi, return and stopover of Mujib at Delhi on 10th January 1972 was a personal triumph. From May 1971 onwards she had raised a Slogan; “Honorable Return of Refugees”. Consciously she had clubbed release and safe return of Mujib in her political goal, determined as she was, directed all efforts towards this mission. She was apprehensive, at least outwardly, that Yahya may hang Mujib as per the court verdict. Frankly there was no indication or action in Pakistan towards this. It would have meant upheaval in erstwhile East Bengal and reverse massacre of Bihari’s and Non-Bengali’s. This apprehension prompted her for getting Bhutto, covertly or overtly, to give positive indicators. She finally rewarded the gratis, and could not (she or her close advisors) fathom Bhutto’s game plan and that Adiala Jail (Rawalpindi) script was being modified to cater for a bigger game plan: August 1975. Just two days back I got feedback from a friend, that Mujib was kept in newly constructed Jail at Layalpur, while another mentioned Faisalabad where Mujib was tried for treason.
With Mujib Home, safe and alive, Refugees starting to return, it was so far all thumbs up for Indira and India. 93000 POWs, captured territory could keep India on top bargaining position provided India orchestrated towards a meaningful settlement. Though POWs had to be repatriated, but it was subject to certain joint agreement and Pakistan had to be more worried than India, but it seemed to be other way around. There was anxiety in Pakistan over the POW’s with unanimous demand in press and national assembly for their early repatriation and “Pakistanis are prepared to sacrifice their land for the sake of the prisoners -- it is better to have the POWs returned than to have the land back.”
With ground realities in India’s favor, it was question of squeezing Bhutto to come to an agreement, which at least could give some peace to the Sub Continent. For the first time, Pakistan could not escape accepting the fact that it was politically throttled, militarily defeated and India should have let Pakistan ask for negotiations. Why we agreed to negotiations in Shimla is worth analyzing. We had no political or military ambitions, no desire to capture West Pakistan nor did we want to capture Pakistan occupied Kashmir. We wanted to Liberate East Pakistan, which itself divided Pakistan. Admittedly the economic condition was weak due to Refugees, the War and POW’s.
When Shimla occurred, India was keener than Pakistan. From 12th January 1972, after Mujib had reached Dacca and had been with his people, both countries showed inclination for dialogue mostly through press statements. This was followed by Track 2 contacts with Bhutto’s emissaries; “informal talks in London” between Haksar and Bhutto’s two emissaries, which took place before series of meetings in Dacca with Mujib. Haksar and Foreign Secretary T N Kaul, thereafter, had detailed discussion to discuss stand of Bangladesh; on War Crimes Trial, Recognition of Bangladesh and repatriation of Pakistani’s and Non-Bengali’s to West Pakistan. Mujib was conveyed that India wanted normalcy in the sub-continent; Mujib readily agreed to a certain comedown. Here is the rub: Haksar had also stressed on Mujib, his theory of Versailles Treaty and given indication of thought process ingrained that it will not be forced agreement on Pakistan. Mujib, it seems, during their meeting in December 1971, had some informal understanding with Bhutto; help in the release of the POWs, war crime trials. In reciprocation Bhutto had toned down his suggestion of unification in form of a Federation and promised recognition of Bangladesh.
Consequent to the parlays with Mujib by Haksar and Kaul, in Dacca, Indira Gandhi in the first week of April 1972 wrote to Bhutto, inviting him for talks, which he accepted. The preliminary emissary level talks took place from 26th to 29th April 1972, at Murree in Pakistan, between D. P. Dhar and Aziz Ahmed of Pakistan. An agreement was signed on 29th April 1972, stating that a summit meeting would be held in India during the last week of May 1972 between Indira Gandhi and Bhutto. Ironically D. P. Dhar during this was more concerned with the issue of recognition of Bangladesh by Pakistan than the core issue of finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, while all along Aziz played ball. Possibly this was to indicate; if you want it, so be it- we will try our best. Before the meeting of emissaries in Murree, Bhutto had told Indian journalists that in the meeting a settlement of the Kashmir issue would emerge on the basis of a ‘line of peace’ and that the right of self-determination, in his view, was not to be exported from outside. "Kashmir troubles me a lot", he said. Apparently in India the reaction was that with Bhutto so cornered, “We will have cake and eat it too”.
At the MEA Team level in South Block, preparing for the Shimla meeting, there was no doubt that Pakistani’s led by Bhutto would go for two things: one was the withdrawal of Indian forces from the territories occupied and return of POW’s. With POW’s card Pakistan would agree to some solution to Kashmir imbroglio. On the other hand, Bhutto had made his own calculations and plan. To get the territory back, to get the POWs back, avoid committing to anything more than that, apart from generalities like peace, friendship, coexistence, cooperation, etc., that India was talking about. I am of the firm opinion that Bhutto and his advisors had carried out a detailed assessment of Indira, her advisors and possible agreement contours and how to handle them. India on the other hand, unlike the focus and realism of the Pakistani position, were fired by their zeal of victory and idealism. Three months before Shimla Conference Bhutto had told Oriana Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist: "Well, in politics you sometimes have to have light and flexible fingers ... Have you ever seen a bird sitting on its eggs in the nest? Well, a politician must have fairly light, fairly flexible fingers, to insinuate them under the bird and take away the eggs. One by one. Without the bird realizing it.” This is called dynamic politics in the form of diplomatic skill.
Notwithstanding pre-meeting parlays of Indian Emissaries, a core team in MEA under Ashok Chib Joint Secretary or Head of the Pakistan Division MEA with Pakistan expert diplomats and tasked to draft possible contours of the meeting, and collectively lay down certain objectives for negotiations with Pakistan: stabilize relationship, resolution of Kashmir issue to maximum extent, recognition of Bangladesh, Pakistan ‘take back’ Pakistani and non-Bengalis from Bangladesh. If Pakistan was positive, India would persuade Bangladesh not to initiate a war crimes trial. These were discussed in London, Dacca, then in Delhi and Murree in Pakistan. The MEA team was asked to produce a draft agreement which was carefully modified several times and Team even prepared a possible dialogue between the Indira and Bhutto during their very first one-to-one meeting. It is a compliment to Late D. P. Dhar, that he gave free hand to the Team, encouraged them; a change in what he had orchestrated in a different line earlier. The feeling in the Team, post agreement was that the shape of the agreement possibly would have been different if D. P. Dhar had continued to negotiate, which he was interrupted due to his illness. Interestingly when the Team, briefed Foreign Secretary T. N. Kaul about Bhutto as a negotiator and slippery, it was not easy to convince him; He said, “Look, you fellows have spent a lot of time in Pakistan; your thinking has been colored, you have become subjective. The Pakistanis can’t be so diehard and impractical; circumstances have changed”. After one of the meetings in Shimla was over, same Kaul turned to his team saying, “Boys, you were right; these fellows are impossible.” .
Apart from Indira Swaran Singh, Haksar, DP Dhar, P. N. Dhar, T. N. Kaul and K. P. S. Menon Jr., who later became foreign secretary, were involved in the negotiations. J. N. Dixit acting Ambassador to Bangladesh was also present for first and half day. Consulting military leadership, before or during Shimla negotiations was deliberately avoided by the Advisors. General (later Field Marshal) SAM Manekshaw, had certainly not been consulted. The main reason was that after Liberation of Bangladesh, Sam’s image was at an epic level, which was not acceptable to the political leadership or the bureaucracy. In fact, they had drummed in the mind of Indira that Sam’s popularity is at her cost. The truth was that naivety in this regard was so marked that it took an Iron General, Lieutenant General Prem Bhagat Victoria Cross, to fix the revised Line of Control, as the bureaucrats, novices in military matters, had kept the wordings conveniently vague, which was advantageous to Pakistan.
Now about the Pakistani delegation and Bhutto. He would say people of ‘our two countries’ can make progress only in peace and must end history of conflict and war. His bane was being an elected leader, needed support in preserving democracy and an agreement that he could sell to his people, etc. The other role was played by Aziz Ahmed, leader of the Pakistani Official delegation; negative, inflexible, arrogant, spoke little but harp on same argument, in different words. Pakistan delegation was of 84 members; politicians, civil servants, intelligence officers, journalists, intellectuals, military men. Wali Khan, who had several friends and admirers in India and Chief Secretary of Punjab, a Kashmiri who knew many on Indian side. As part of the planned briefing of their delegation, messages flowed to known people, journalists; to help Bhutto, that India can’t allow Bhutto to return without an agreement or impose a harsh deal; as bureaucrats and the army are waiting and watching the mood and political opposition would ‘chew him up’. The members talked continuously to their friends and anyone else they could buttonhole. It was all planned, orchestrated, and coordinated. The whole team, including Benazir, before leaving for India, where briefed by a trained team on general behavior and demeanor during the stay; a long and apprehensive faces, no over social interaction, carefully worded briefs to journalists only by designated people. Benazir was specially briefed for her restricted interaction, remain somewhat aloof from social events and no comments on ongoing talks. The progress of the meeting, back home, was to be communicated by only top three members that too in code and through diplomatic channel Thus, started the Shimla Meeting from 28th June to 3rd July 1972.