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Dr Rudra Chaudhuri is Lecturer (South Asian Security & Strategic Studies), at Department of War Studies, King’s College London

Convince the Opposition

There must be political consensus before a Kashmir or any such solution is found.

n 28 December 1962, Sardar Swaran Singh, a lawyer by training and the Railways Minister led a team of Indian negotiators to Rawalpindi. The band, as Y.D. Gundevia, then the Commonwealth Secretary, recalls, represented the "whole of the Indian national anthem". Singh, a man of "elephantine patience," was joined by Gundevia, a Zoroastrian Parsi, and G. Parthasarthi, a South Indian Brahmin. They were in Pakistan's military capital to discuss Kashmir. This was the first of six rounds of talks between India and Pakistan that ended in May 1963. On the Pakistani side, they were led by the young, enigmatic, and weirdly charming Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

For Nehru, then a 73-year-old and somewhat tired PM, the talks were a non-starter. Yet, India had been recently outwitted and outrun by a stronger and better trained People's Liberation Army. Under excruciating circumstances, Nehru was forced to ask President Kennedy to supply India with planes and military hardware to stem the Chinese offensive. In exchange, he was to consider the dispute over Kashmir with his Pakistani counterparts. This was the context for the negotiations. Indeed, although the talks eventually failed to produce an agreement, they underscored the minimum and maximalist positions — including changes on actual maps — both sides would need to consider if this were to serve as a final agreement.

These discussions are not only important for the sake of history, but equally, to outline key and sometimes understudied aspects that require attention to construct a genuine constituency for peace. This is especially moot, following yet another round of talks between Indian and Pakistani principals in the first week of July 2012. To be sure, most interlocutors, whether they are Indian or Pakistani, are less aware of what transpired in the testing months between the winter of 1962 and summer of 1963. This is, of course, surprising, given that the documents are available in the National Archives in London. For those engaged in the business of peace, these papers — some 2,500 documents — are invaluable. Two inter-related points are worth bearing in mind.

The talks failed partially because of India's reasoned and justifiable refusal to hand over the Kashmir Valley, and Pakistan's surrender of territory (Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley) to China. This is known, as present day official British maps put it, "China administered Jammu and Kashmir". The stated Pakistani position, reiterated more recently at the UN has not changed. The idea, as Kennedy finally understood, was to "draw a line" on the "principle on which the 1947 partition had been based." Of course, this is ludicrous, and utterly unacceptable from an Indian standpoint. Since, much has been made about soft borders and the potential for joint patrolling. These were said to be the founding logic underlying the backchannel between General-President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a logic that too seems unworkable because of the less controllable nature of non-state or proto-state violence across the border.

Yet, and the question of the Valley aside, the talks in the 1960s broke down because of the lack of initiative on either the part of Nehru or Bhutto to generate internal consensus. Bhutto would often return to Islamabad from talks in Karachi or Delhi to be hemmed-in by elites in the military and the Opposition. In India, the Swatantra Party, led by C. Rajagopalachari, made it virtually impossible to engage peace. The key lesson, one which has found virtually zero traction in the current polity, is to do exactly what Nehru and Bhutto were unable or unwilling to do: engage partners and the Opposition at home.

Foreign secretaries will come and go. The discussions, as witnessed last week in Delhi, will no doubt continue, but there is only that much bureaucrats can do. In the end, it is for the political leadership to find meaning in difference. Nehru did not always understand this. There is little to show that the present leadership do. What does the BJP think? Would they support a Congress-led plan to sign on a dotted line? If the past teaches us anything, it's that political difference and opportunism often get the better of a good deal.

As Swaran Singh noted in despair in early 1963, the problem was not always with Bhutto, but the failure to understand the need to convince your Opposition.

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