1971 : KREMLIN KEY
“You listen too much to the soldiers …. You should never trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.”
– Lord Salisbury’s warning to Lord Lytton (A.L. Kennedy; Salisbury 1830-1903: Portrait of a Statesman; page 106).
Jamsheed Marker has been the world’s longest serving Ambassador, from 1965 to 1995, making a mark in every single country in which he served. He was a prosperous businessman in Karachi, a bon vivant, cultured and widely read, noted for his commentary at Test cricket. He was not a career diplomat but took to diplomacy as an envoy to the manner born. A gentleman to his fingertips is a praise one hears of him from one and all. Students of diplomacy mi ght ponder as to why some non-professionals excel in the craft, as Foreign Ministers or envoys, while some professionals stumble. Training is important but it cannot supply qualities essential to success – calm, understanding, tact and the indefinable quality, personality.
Marker’s memoirs were awaited keenly and for long. The reader is not disappointed. The book grips his interest by its flashes of humour, its impeccable language and wise observations. Any of the anecdotes he records can find a place in the British Ambassador Sir John Ure’s delightful and well-researched compilation Diplomatic Bag (John Murray; 1994. Surely a second edition is overdue). Lively accounts of stewardship of the Embassy in each capital and each chapter with a brief survey “Meanwhile in Pakistan”. Marker always held an ear to the ground.
There are some factual errors that are astonishing in a person so well read and experienced. The “inaugural conference” of the Non-Aligned Movement was not held “in Bandung” (page 46) but in Belgrade in 1961. As every schoolboy knows, to borrow Macaulay’s stock phrase, Bandung hosted an Afro-Asian summit in 1955, at which Mohammed Ali Bogra represented Pakistan, then a “much-allied ally” of the United States. It made its debut in NAM at the Havana summit in 1979, where Marker was present.
THE HINDU ARCHIVES
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev during their visit to Moscow in July 1966. The Soviet Union held the keys to the fateful events of 1971. It was against a break-up of Pakistan. When that became inevitable, it did its best to see that the rest of Pakistan was preserved.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 shocked the world. But it is an error to speak of a newly christened “Brezhnev Doctrine” (page 258). It was propounded in 1968 in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Even more astonishing is the assertion that it was Indira Gandhi who “uttered the pre-agreed code words for success ‘Larka Lai’ [it is a boy; page 188]”. Uttered to whom? He does not reveal. As Benazir Bhutto recorded in her memoir Daughter of the East, that was a code arranged between father and daughter, which he uttered when he returned from a successful meeting with Indira Gandhi.
A Norwegian Ambassador claimed that Jawaharlal Nehru had “about eight or ten of his aides seated behind him at a respectful distance” when he met the Prime Minister (page 6). If Marker can believe this, he can believe anything he is told of Nehru or India. For, that envoy is singular in imagining such a scene. He contrasted this with Ayub Khan’s simplicity and remarked, “Can you tell me which one of these is the democracy and which the dictatorship?” The absurdity of the inference escapes Marker, who adds, “The question has never really lost its relevance” (page 6).
This, from one who readily and admiringly served every military dictator though he was not a career diplomat obliged to stay at his post. He could have resigned. Z.A. Bhutto is justly censured for his “latent fascist inclinations”. One looks in vain for comparable censures for the hideous Zia-ul-Haq and for Yahya Khan.
THE HINDU ARCHIVES
Indira Gandhi and Pakistan President Z.A. Bhutto signing the historic Shimla Agreement on bilateral relations on July 3, 1972.
It is, perhaps, not without significance that a book which lavishes praise, on almost every other page, on contemporaries, not one Indian counterpart at any of the capitals in which he served receives even a little of his munificence. The three Indians who do were in the employ of the United Nations. Incidentally, he was born in Hyderabad and educated at the Doon School.
These flaws are unfortunate in a person like Marker. The reader will find accounts of his stays in Ghana, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, Canada, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, the German Democratic Republic, Ireland, Japan, Germany, France and the U.S. fascinating, even more so of his tenure as Permanent Representative at the U.N.
But what is of enduring relevance is the record of his days as Ambassador in Moscow from 1969 to 1972. The then Foreign Secretary Sultan Muhammad Khan’s memoirs, Memories and Reflections (1997), recorded the moves by the Foreign Office. It was Marker’s lot to be posted to a country that held the key to the fateful events of 1971. His book is a solid contribution to diplomatic history and a service to the historical truth. Marker has received high praise; yet, he has received little recognition for the fight he put up for his country against all odds. The book belies the glib notion that Ambassadors do not matter.
THE HINDU ARCHIVES
Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi (right), chief of Pakistan’s Eastern Command, signing the unconditional surrender of Pakistani troops in Dhaka in December 1971. The Indian side was represented by Lt Gen. J.S. Aurora (left).
Tashkent was a personal triumph for Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin. The Soviet Union began to speak of “the two countries of Hindustan”. In 1968, Kosygin went so far as to write to Indira Gandhi urging her to settle Kashmir and the Farakka Barrage disputes. After his highly successful visit to Pakistan in April, Russia announced in July 1968 its decision to supply arms to Pakistan, an ally of its estranged neighbour China. Both India and Pakistan vied with each other in proclaiming their dissociation in the United Nations Security Council, on August 23, 1968, from Western censures of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.
V.K. Krishna Menon rushed to Moscow’s defence on the arms deal, on July 18, 1968, with a remark whose significance was overlooked: “We are not the Soviet Union’s military ally.” When in February 1969 India’s Ambassador D.P. Dhar expostulated to Kosygin about the supply of arms to Pakistan, “the idea of a treaty first came up”. It was formally put forward by Defence Minister Marshal Grechko in his talks in New Delhi with Defence Minister Swaran Singh. Grechko arrived on March 2, 1969, the very day armed clashes took place at the Ussuri between Russian and Chinese forces. He carried a letter by Brezhnev to Indira Gandhi dated February 28. A formidable delegation of the top brass of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, along with A.A. Fomin, Director of the South Asia Department in the Foreign Office, came with him. Grechko’s draft treaty did not contain Article 9 of the treaty that India and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) signed on August 9, 1971, pledging: “In the event of either Party being subjected to an attack or threat thereof, the High Contracting Parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security.”
Grechko left for Pakistan on March 9. India learnt to its chagrin that its suitor had already sent to Pakistan nearly 40 tanks with adequate spare parts to equip a new armoured division plus spare parts for the MiG-19s it had obtained from China. Russia could not have been too pleased when Indira Gandhi held out an olive branch to China on New Year’s Day 1969. The mild-mannered Swaran Singh made an angry statement in Parliament on April 9, 1969, on Moscow’s change of front.
THE HINDU ARCHIVES
Alexei Kosygin, then Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, addressing Members of Parliament in New Delhi in March 1979.
Between that outburst and Foreign Minister Dinesh Singh’s visit to Moscow in September 1969, Moscow took two major initiatives. One was Kosygin’s plan for an overland trade route between India and the USSR, running through Pakistan and Afghanistan, which he mooted in New Delhi when he arrived on May 5 to attend the state funeral for President Zakir Hussain. The other was Brezhnev’s plan of June 7 for “a system of collective security in Asia”. Pakistan publicly rejected both. India did so publicly on the first and tacitly on the second.
Whatever be India’s motives, to the Soviet Union bilateral security treaties were links in the Brezhnev Plan. It signed one with the United Arab Republic (UAR) on May 27, 1971, Iraq on April 9, 1972, and Somalia on July 11, 1974. (For the texts, see the writer’s book Brezhnev Plan for Asian Security, 1975.) By March 1970, Soviet arms supplies to Pakistan ended.
Marker came to Moscow at a crucial moment. On his advice Yahya Khan did not raise the arms question during his visit to Moscow in June 1970. Surprisingly, Fomin asked Marker why Yahya had not raised the issue. The Ambassador advised the President to do so. After his return to Pakistan, Marker received a message from the Foreign Secretary that President Nikolai Podgorny and Prime Minister Kosygin had both “confirmed to the President the Soviet Union’s decision to resume arms supplies to Pakistan, and that I should take immediate steps with the relevant Soviet agencies for its implementation”. Yahya jubilantly informed the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army. But when Marker pursued the matter, he drew a blank. Kosygin would neither confirm nor deny his talk with Yahya. “The entire phenomenon has remained a mystery, and even though nearly forty years have passed it continues to puzzle me. I can find no clue or explanation for this bizarre episode.” This is understandable, but he might have guessed that the change was prompted by progress in possible parleys with India which had begun in 1969.
The year 1970 ended with that impasse. In March 1971 came Yahya’s brutal crackdown in Dhaka, and the challenges facing Marker mounted. Four truths must be faced alike by Pakistanis and Indians. First, Indira Gandhi had decided to break up Pakistan as early as “on 6 April”, A.K. Ray, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs Branch Secretariat in Kolkata from May 1971 to February 1972, authoritatively disclosed (Indian Express, December 19, 1996). The memoirs of Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob, Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command, who oversaw the surrender at Dhaka, confirm this (pages 35-36). The refugee influx which followed was a false pretext.
Secondly, after the brutal crackdown, East Pakistan was lost. Burke’s wise words on March 22, 1775, are apposite: “Terror is not always the effect of force; and an armament is not a victory.” That is, even if force succeeds. But, “if you do not succeed you are without resource; for conciliation, failing force remains; but, force failing no further hope of reconciliation is left.”
Thirdly, the Soviet Union was agains t a break-up of Pakistan. When it became inevitable, it did its best to see that the rest of Pakistan was preserved. On December 12, 1971, Brezhnev wrote to Nixon: “Our contacts with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suggest that Indira Gandhi does not intend to take any military action against West Pakistan.” (Anatoly Dobrynin; In Confidence; page 236. Dobrynin was then Soviet Ambassador to the U.S.) This was a mild version of the strong demarche Soviet Ambassador Pegov had made to the Prime Minister. It was not the treaty in August but Indira Gandhi’s visit to Moscow in September that compelled the USSR to support her fully. Pakistan’s existence is a vital Great Power interest. Moscow was torn between losing a growing alliance with India and impairment of that interest.
Lastly, the U.S. was clueless. Kissinger moved from wooing Awami Leaguers in Kolkata to instigating China on December 10 to attack India. China knew better. Its military attache Chao Kuanchih had been warned off in Kathmandu on December 8 or 9 by Loginov, defence attache in the USSR Embassy. As early as on June 3, before Indian help and operations had increased, Kissinger said, “Our judgment is that East Pakistan will eventually become independent…. The problem is how to bell the cat. The President has chosen to do it gradually. In all honesty … the President has a special feeling for President Yahya. One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life” (National Security Archive’s The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971; edited by Sajit Gandhi; December 16, 2002; Document 13). His attempts to “bell the cat” failed because he sought to preserve Pakistan’s unity for some time (“gradually”) when time was fast running out.
Hostile Messages From USSR
These were the harsh realities that Pakistan and its envoy in the key capital faced. Moscow began early, in March, with “friendly attention” and polite concern. Marker reproduces the contents of “an Oral message from Kosygin” to Yahya on March 28, which was delivered to him in Karachi.
It pleaded for an end to the bloodshed. President Podgorny’s message to Yahya on April 3 was badly received. “On 17 April Kosygin sent another message to Yahya. It was somewhat cold and formal in tone and continued to stress the need for peaceful settlement, but for the first time made an ominous reference to ‘the lawful wishes of the parties’ and to ‘the interest of the population of both West and East Pakistan’. Yahya did not respond to this message but sent instead a special envoy M. Arshad Husain, a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan and also former Ambassador in Moscow. He was received by Kosygin on 26 April, and although the meeting was lengthy and frank, it was by no means friendly …. In my report to the Ministry, at the conclusion of Arshad Husain’s visit I stated that …. They would, in the overall interests of peace and stability, prefer a united Pakistan, but they had doubts about our ability to bring the situation in East Pakistan under control, and feared that a continuation of instability would help Chinese interests to prosper in the region.”
It was a sound assessment. “From July onwards Soviet messages became increasingly hostile, and so did our responses resulting in a mutual contribution to deteriorating relations.”
The author reproduces texts of the exchanges. On June 22, a desperate Kosygin, hemmed in between a deaf Yahya and a shrill Indira, told him, “Please understand me, Mr. Ambassador. The President will be speaking at an acute moment upon issues which are almost about war and peace. If the President’s statement does not take into consideration the Indian attitude there will be a sharp response from the other side. If both sides make sharp public pronouncements then it would be difficult to control the situation.” Marker notes that “Kosygin spoke more in sorrow than in anger”, but he answered back as duty required of him. He is less than objective in attributing Kosygin’s stance to Swaran Singh’s eloquence.
The author has done well to set out the record of the long meeting on June 22 at some length: “Mr. Ambassador, I do not want to turn this conversation into a debate. You are not a defendant and I am not a Prosecutor. We are both men of state who are discussing grave issues in a serious and friendly manner. I want you to know that we are very anxious for all disputes between Pakistan and India to be settled peacefully …. We say it to you and we say it to India …. We do not want to interfere in your internal affairs. This is for you alone to decide. We think a democratic government should find its legitimate rights. It will find it, sooner or later.”
THE HINDU ARCHIVES
General Yahya Khan was aware of what was in store as he went into the 1971 war.
Kosygin remarked, “I want to tell you that your mission is not an easy one.” Marker notes that for quite some time “the Kremlin attempted to maintain a semblance of balance between India and Pakistan. The controlled Soviet press was, for example, much less anti-Pakistan than the free press in the West. All this suddenly changed, however, with the news of Kissinger’s visit to Peking [now Beijing], and of Nixon’s forthcoming visit to China.”
D.P. Dhar, former Ambassador to the USSR, dashed to Moscow on August 2, followed by Andrei Gromyko’s equally sudden visit to New Delhi on August 7. The treaty was signed on August 9. It did not include “a clause obliging the parties to come to each other’s aid in case of a military attack”.
Article 9 quoted above was much weaker. The Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., the legendary Anatoly Dobrynin, held that it was “not the mutual assistance pact Indira Gandhi was seeking. As long as India stayed outside the nuclear club, the Soviet leader considered granting it protection against a nuclear threat by India, but caution prevailed” (In Confidence; page 236).
The finalised text was received by Dhar in Moscow. He apparently succeeded in correcting Gromyko’s impression, which had been conveyed to him by Ambassador Pegov, that the signatures were to take place in Moscow and by the heads of government and that Foreign Ministers would only be initialling it in Delhi.
On Recognising Bangladesh
It was signed in Delhi by the Foreign Ministers. The Times (London) correspondent in Moscow, David Bonavia, reported the impression in Moscow that the Russian Foreign Minister had “doubtless emphasised to his hosts that the Soviet Union will expect India to behave responsibly and avoid all possible causes of an armed conflict with Pakistan” (August 10).
The American impression, also, was that the Soviet Union had by signing the treaty with India dissuaded it from recognising Bangladesh, an act which would have provoked a war between India and Pakistan.
“According to intelligence reports reaching here,” The New York Times correspondent in Washington, Tad Szulc, said, “the message of India’s planned Monday (August 9) recognition of Bangladesh was delivered in Moscow by Durga Prasad Dhar, former Indian Ambassador to the Soviet Union, apparently acting as a special envoy for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Mr. Dhar flew to Moscow on August 2.” Gromyko was reported to have warned that recognition of Bangladesh could provoke a war and he himself proposed to visit New Delhi to use “whatever pressure was necessary” to dissuade Indira Gandhi from recognising Bangladesh at this time. Szulc added, “American officials surmised that Gromyko was successful in persuading India to defer its recognition of Bangladesh when he agreed to sign a friendship treaty immediately.”
A revealing document of the kind that normally does not find its way to the press was published shortly thereafter which fully bore out the impression that Russian policy regarding the recognition of Bangladesh had not changed much even after the signing of the treaty. It was the minutes of a meeting of Pakistani Ambassadors, which was held in Geneva on August 24-25, 1971, and was presided over by Foreign Secretary Sultan M. Khan. According to the minutes, the Foreign Secretary mentioned a letter which Kosygin wrote a week after the signing of the (August 17) treaty “promising Russia’s continued desire to help Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the USSR Marker gave his assessment: “Ambassador Jamsheed Marker believes that the Russians have no intention of severing ties with Pakistan and that the Indo-Soviet Treaty was mainly aimed at extending Russian influence in South-East Asia. He regarded the Treaty as more anti-Chinese than anti-Pakistan. The Soviet Union has given no indication that economic aid to Pakistan would be reduced.”
Next, “Ambassador K.M. Kaiser said that China wanted non-intervention. He stated that China had advised a political settlement maintaining the integrity of Pakistan. China suspects the Indian motives in supporting Bangladesh. China is ready to give aid for rehabilitation of E. Pakistan economy. The Chinese press did not publicise the Indo-Soviet Treaty and China believed that it is directed against China. China intends to strengthen her relations with Afghanistan, Ceylon, Nepal and Burma. China would like to see Pakistan active in the politics of Indo-China. Ambassador Kaiser was not sure about the nature of Chinese help in case of a war between India and Pakistan….”
Shortly thereafter Pakistani Foreign Secretary S.M. Khan went to Moscow where, he claimed, on September 10, his hosts showed “deep interest in the unity and integrity of Pakistan”.
Marker rightly laments that a Foreign Office that once had such a galaxy of talent was undermined by Bhutto’s “lateral” entrants, his political appointees. The minutes were published in full in a Calcutta weekly edited by Samar Sen, Frontier, of October 30, 1971. Even after the treaty was signed, Pravda and Izvestia continued to publish together reports from India and Pakistan. The Russian stand at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference on September 10, which Dileep Padgaonkar reported, was that they “would have nothing to do with a text that alluded even remotely to a reprimand of the Yahya Khan regime” (The Times of India, September 23, 1971).
Indira Gandhi decided to bring matters to a head. She went to Moscow (September 27-29) and ensured a change. It was the subject of a brilliant article by Alain Jacob in Le Monde entitled “A puzzling policy switch”. However, what Kosygin said to Indian correspondents surprised many of them. “This basic problem must be solved by peaceful political means and not by military conflict.”
The events were taking place in Pakistani territory, he said, and remarked, “What pretext can Pakistan use for a military conflict with India?” India’s sole concern was the return of refugees. The rest was an “internal matter of Pakistan”. Later, he sought to allay Indian disquiet by criticising the atrocities committed by Pakistan.
The Russians did not look too kindly on Indira Gandhi’s visit to the Western countries but she stuck to her plans. A mere 36 hours before her departure, Nicolai Firyubin, the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, descended on New Delhi to the embarrassment of his hosts.
He was in New Delhi from October 22 to 25. The joint statement that was issued on October 27 contained these significant words: “The consultations took place in keeping with the existing procedure of annual bilateral consultations and also under the provisions of Article IX of the Soviet-Indian Treaty of Peace. The consultations were held in connection with the tense situation in the Indian subcontinent, a situation which endangers the cause of peace in the area. The two sides reached full accord in the assessment of the existing situation.” Three days later, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Air Force, Air Marshall P.S. Kontakhov, arrived in New Delhi.
At the Cochin Congress of the Communist Party of India in October, the delegates of the French and the Indian Communist parties characterised Bangladesh’s struggle as a national liberation movement. In communist parlance, this meant a lot.
Marker was sceptical. “In my discussions with Firyubin and Fomin I was given the official party line that the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty was not directed against any third country and was a device to ensure peace in the subcontinent. Firyubin added that Soviet objectives in the treaty ‘were not to encourage India but to restrain her’. Firyubin did not respond when I said that even he would find it hard to really believe that.”
Sultan Khan was sharply told by Gromyko, “Please do not take any action that would oblige us to fulfil our obligations to a country with whom we have a Treaty of Friendship. At this point Gromyko stopped the interpreter, and looking long, hard and directly at Sultan Khan, he said in English: ‘The interpreter did not interpret me correctly. I did not use the word ‘please’. I think you understand my meaning.’”
Marker’s remarks on the Soviet Union’s pursuit of its “hegemonic interests entirely at the expense of my own country” are as wide of the mark as his disparagement of “the Polish resolution” which Sultan Khan also shares (pages 382-385 of his memoirs), and less excusably Hasan Zaheer in his able work The Separation of East Pakistan (Oxford University Press, Karachi; pages 413-416).
It must be read in the context. In a letter to Nixon on December 3, Kosygin proposed release of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman from prison and negotiations with him “to begin at that stage where they were interrupted in March…. We are addressing ourselves” to both sides.
The Soviet resolution of December 7 in the General Assembly urged “a political settlement giving immediate expression to the will of the East Pakistan population as expressed in the elections of December 1970” and a ceasefire once Pakistan took “effective action” to that end.
On December 14, Poland tabled Resolution S/10453 in the Security Council calling for the immediate release of Mujib, a ceasefire after the process of transfer of power had begun, withdrawal of Pakistani troops and civilian personnel, withdrawal of Indian troops and return of both sides to their pre-war positions in the west. The next day it revised the draft in two respects, both in Pakistan’s favour. The reference to Mujib’s release was dropped and there was a tighter provision for withdrawal of India’s forces. “The Indian armed forces will be withdrawn from East Pakistan.” It spelt an orderly transfer of power, withdrawal of India’s troops in both sectors to pre-war positions. Not a single Pakistani prisoner of war would have been left and there would have been no Shimla Pact.
Richard Sisson and Leo Rose write, on the basis of interviews in India, that it “was the most controversial and potentially embarrassing of the resolutions … since it was the only resolution that had a high probability of adoption … [and] aroused considerable distress in New Delhi” (Pakistan, India, and the creation of Bangladesh; page 219).
They add, “Indeed, several key figures in India could not understand why Pakistan did not readily agree to the proposal, since it would have left India in a most difficult and compromising position (interviews, India, 1978). In our interviews with him in 1979, Yahya Khan related a rather curious account of his experience with Bhutto on the Polish resolution. Yahya had been talking to Bhutto – who was at the U.N. meetings in New York – by telephone about several matters. At one point Yahya said that he was far away, of course, but that the Polish resolution looked good, and ‘we should accept it’. Bhutto replied, ‘I can’t hear you.’ Yahya repeated himself several times, and Bhutto kept saying ‘What? What?’ The operator in New York finally intervened and said, ‘I can hear him fine,’ to which Bhutto replied ‘Shut up’. Yahya seemed still bemused and bewildered by all this in 1979” (page 306).
But the resolution would have left Yahya in power. Bhutto was all set on his ouster. It matters not whether he tore up the draft or some other paper. At a breakfast at the Waldorf Towers earlier, on December 11, Kissinger scolded him like a schoolboy for his “mock-tough rhetoric … we should not waste them [the next 48 hours] in posturing for history books”. (Nixon, Indira and India by Kalyani Shankar; Macmillan, 2010; pages 234, 278-279.)
I.H. Burney’s intrepid weekly Outlook (of May 25, 1974), in a detailed report on “The War Commission and the Surrender”, sharply criticised Bhutto for rejecting the Polish initiative (page 10). Marker’s point about the timing is well taken, but even at the late hour it would have recorded a compact with Soviet endorsement. That terms would have gone into effect despite the surrender in Dhaka. Was that surrender preferable to “the formal abdication of national sovereignty” in the Polish draft as Marker puts it? There is another aspect. The terms were not new. Active diplomacy could have ensured their acceptance earlier.
Yahya was well aware of what was in store. Iman Ullah revealed in The Nation of August 23, 1990, that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had “placed a copy of the Operational Instructions (of the Indian Army) on the table of the President of Pakistan General Mohammed Yahya Khan on 16 September”. It had been signed on August 19, 1971, and fixed November 21 as D-day. The war began that day when Indian armour entered East Pakistan, not on December 3 as India has falsely claimed. Sydney Schanberg of The New York Times reported it but was scolded by officials. The Prime Minister was angry at “the leak”, the papers reveal.
Bhutto wisely repaired to Moscow on March 16, 1972, to mend fences. It was on the next day that Bhutto suggested the phrase “Line of Control” to replace the “ceasefire line”. Marker is all too right when he avers that the origins of the Shimla Conference “can clearly be traced to the Bhutto-Brezhnev meeting in Moscow in March 1972”. Kosygin kept Indira Gandhi well informed of Bhutto’s overtures preceding the meeting – so that he could pursue his interests thereafter. His was an invisible presence at Shimla, a factor few care to notice. Indira Gandhi snubbed P.N. Dhar, who suggested stalling on the Indian troop withdrawal. He rightly sensed that Soviet pressure accounted for the wrath she visited on him (page 209).
Marker’s lament at the misfortune that befell Pakistan would have been more poignant had he been more critical of Yahya. The quote from Ghalib is misplaced. The poet lamented the misfortune that befell an innocent soul. But was Pakistan so innocent of the parleys between the USSR and India? Did its ally, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which had a mole in the Indian Cabinet then, not keep it in the know?
The writer is most appreciative of and indebted to the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in New Delhi for access to the papers on which this account is based. After the Grechko visit in March 1969, D.P. Dhar called on External Affairs Minister Dinesh Singh on April 2, 1969. Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul was also present. Dhar “recounted his recent talks with Grechko and Ambassador Pegov and mentioned, in particular, that Grechko had assured him that the Soviet Union would come to India’s assistance in case of aggression from China or Pakistan. Both Grechko and Pegov had suggested some kind of a Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation between India and USSR which would be in consonance with India’s policy of non-alignment.
India had signed such treaties with other non-aligned countries like Iran. Dhar felt if we agreed to consider this, the Soviet Union would perhaps be inclined to supply us the more sophisticated weapons, bombers, etc. which we badly needed. We could also project our needs for accelerating the processes of self-sufficiency in the field of defence production. It might also be possible for us, once this was done, to reduce our foreign exchange expenditure and our total expenditure on defence. He expected that the Soviet Union would, perhaps, in the altered circumstances, be willing to give us defence equipment and know-how on long term credits. He, therefore suggested that we should explore the possibility of cashing in on this offer and if the Soviet Union was forthcoming and made certain commitments, then we might agree to enter into a Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation with them.” Dinesh Singh suggested a study of the implications of signing the treaty.
Romesh Bhandari, then charge d’Affaires ad interim, had reported to Dhar on March 27, 1969, his talks with Pegov at a lunch. “One of the major objectives” of Kosygin was to bring about an India-Pakistan rapprochement, Pegov said. He brought up the treaty on which Moscow was extremely keen. It would “be a very good insurance against any possible aggression by China or Pakistan. Confidentially he mentioned that Pakistan had been asking the Soviet Union to enter into a treaty of friendship.
The Soviet Union had so far not responded as it was their desire to enter into such an agreement with India first…. My impression is that Ambassador Pegov was referring to this treaty of friendship after clearance of Chairman Kosygin. He kept referring to this treaty several times and whenever I talked about possibilities of increased co-operation in different fields he kept suggesting that all these could be facilitated once the treaty was signed. He further said that the treaty should not affect our policy of non-alignment. In fact the USSR had treaties of friendship with countries like Finland, U.K. etc. We should, therefore, have no hesitation in entering into a treaty with them. If we were able to achieve this then it would indeed be a most significant step forward in Indo-Soviet relations. If not, our relations would of course continue in the way they had been in the past.”
D.P. Dhar and Dinesh Singh were the treaty enthusiasts, but Kaul did not lag behind. P.N. Haksar, to be sure, approved of it as did G. Parthasarathi. The Congress split threw a spanner in the works. Dhar wrote to Kaul on October 9, 1969: “The document seems to have been put into cold-storage for the time being. Contrary to what you had told me and you repeated the instructions on the telephone. FM handed over the final draft to Gromyko in a formal manner.
Though earlier it had been agreed that for some time more we would continue to handle this draft informally at my level. If we had wished to play for time, we could have done that without raising a suspicion of dilatoriness on our part or again, if we wished to finalise it we could have achieved that purpose also within a week or so. This is what we had decided to do. But then suddenly he emerged from his separate talks with Gromkyo and asked for the draft.
He handed it over to him, and in my opinion set the seal of approval of the Government of India to its contents. How long can he delay its finalisation without risking to create suspicion in the Soviet mind? I would suggest, as I had advised earlier, the finalisation of draft, once again at my level. Then we can buy time by invoking the assurance of Kosygin to PM about determining the wisdom of the occasion for concluding the ‘document’ formally in accordance with her assessment of the objective situation. Fast changes are taking place in Sino-Soviet relations, Pakistani-Soviet relations, and if we are wide awake, we can convert the course of these changes to our advantage.”
Dhar was impatient. He, as well as the other three, were contemptuous of Dinesh Singh and rightly so. Haksar, to be sure, had his reservation about the volatile Kaul and the none too able and overly cautious courtier, Parthasarathi. Dhar was not happy with “the long list of amendments” that Dinesh Singh had handed over to the Soviets. Fomin assured Dhar that they would be able to dispose of them to mutual satisfaction. Fomin had mentioned the treaty even before the polls. It was always “the Document” to Dhar.
The China Factor
Indira Gandhi’s massive victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 1971 and Pakistan’s crackdown in Dhaka in March that year predictably revived interest in the treaty. The Soviets had used their good offices to allay Mujib’s suspicions of Yahya and felt let down. Dhar, now on transfer to Delhi, wrote to Kaul on June 5 in terms which reflect an enthusiasm by no means caused only by localities. He enclosed a memorandum of his conversation with Grechko that day. Dhar’s memcons were notoriously long, not seldom exaggerating his own contribution, as the Prime Minister once remarked. Grechko said, “If I were you I would not be worried by Pakistan. You should take into account the unpredictable enemy from the North” – China.
It knew that India was militarily weak. “We must be ready to fight the Chinese aggression very seriously.” He further stated that it would be of vital importance both to India and the USSR if our friendship was “fixed” in a treaty of mutual help “of the kind recently concluded by the USSR with the UAR. He added that such a treaty would demonstrate to China, Pakistan and any other potential aggressor the solidarity between the peoples of the two countries. Such a document would deter anyone from embarking on an adventure against India. He further stated that he had spoken to Sardar Swaran Singh about three years ago to have such a treaty and had also shown him the draft of a possible document. He as Defence Minister had shown that treaty to Sardar Swaran Singh, who also at that time was the Defence Minister of India, only because of his friendship for him as he knew that these matters did not fall within the purview of Defence Ministers….
“The Ambassador stated that he had been fully associated with this matter. He was working at it for six months and he had been authorised by his government to discuss the draft of such a Treaty with the Soviet Foreign Office. As a result of these discussions, an agreement had been reached in principle at their level on the text and contents of the proposal document. The job had thus been done at the diplomatic level and ‘Abede’ (meal) was ready on the place…. The Marshal reiterated that what he had said was his personal view and he felt that a treaty between the two countries at this time would be opportune and appropriate and he would suggest that it should contain some reference to military cooperation also. The Ambassador said that in principle we had never been opposed to the suggestion for having such a treaty. The only question that had to be determined was the appropriateness of the occasion and also that of the time so that such a treaty should not cause any harm to the interests of the two countries … that any mention of military cooperation would have to be done in a very lukewarm manner in the document itself.
“Perhaps, the same purpose could be achieved by an exchange of letters or record of the exchange of views on mutual assistance. In any case, like the Marshal, these were, the Ambassador said, his personal views …. The Ambassador, however, wanted to ask a question from the Marshal as to whether in view of the present tensions which existed between Pakistan and India as a result of the direct action of Pakistan in East Bengal and on our borders abetted and aided by China, it would be appropriate at the present moment to conclude such a treaty. The Marshal was of the categorical view that such a treaty would perhaps act as a strong deterrent to force Pakistan and China to abandon any idea of military adventure.”
To Kaul, D.P. reported: “The mention of this document in various forms from Pegov to Grechko, from our Central Committee contact to a junior dignitary as Labochev in Foreign Office makes it clear that in spite of the developing crisis in our relations with Pakistan with the Chinese intervention as a distinct possibility the Soviet would be prepared to accept the responsibilities and obligations which would devolve on them as a result of such a commitment.” He wondered “whether we are being wise in reacting in a lukewarm manner to the Soviet offer of unequivocal help to us. The pros and cons of this proposal and its present and ultimate utility can best be judged in New Delhi in consultation with the Foreign Minister and other concerned authorities. It is, however, important that we do have some sort of an understanding of what we expect the Soviet Union to do for us in the event of our country being involved in a conflict with Pakistan singly or alone with her allies. I am not talking merely in terms of the political requirements of the situation as it will develop as a consequence of a conflict of this type. I am more interested in the military aspects of the aid and assistance which we will need and which we are bound to seek….
“I am not sure whether the conclusion of a treaty in the form in which it was discussed in the year 1969 would satisfy the needs of the present situation. Perhaps, an exchange of letters which would set out the same objectives as were contained in the treaty would be an equally good substitute for the treaty at the present juncture. Or, again, we could think in terms of a secret document which could emerge as a result of the joint consultations between the General Staffs of the two countries or as a result of consultations which could be held on purely political level….”
On June 7 and 8, a much abler External Affairs Minister, Swaran Singh, was in Moscow. By 1971 the situation had changed. Swaran Singh met Gromyko on both days. Gromyko seized on his hint of “appropriate steps” by which China’s support to Pakistan can be “counter balanced” to remind him of earlier talks on “some sort of a Document, some sort of a Treaty”, adding, “You will kindly recall that sometime ago we held an exchange of view regarding the desirability of signing some sort of a Treaty. These discussions had reached a fairly advanced stage. But then, if I remember correctly, because of the pre-election events, because of the development of a certain type of political situation in your country, this exchange of views was discontinued. What do you think about the feasibility or otherwise of resuming this exchange of views and ideas regarding the Draft Document?”
Swaran Singh replied, “We can work on this Document and discuss it and arrive at a suitable agreement. You will recall that this Document was a subject matter of discussion during the course of several meetings with our Ambassador and H.E. Mr. Firyubin, and if I remember rightly, they had produced some sort of a draft…. As far as I can remember, the main crux of the Treaty was implied in the clause which provided for immediate consultations in the event of a certain situation materialising suddenly. That is good as far as it goes. But what do we do now if a situation develops, an unfortunate situation which will be neither of our nor of your choosing. What do we do? What would your country do to the preservation of peace in this region and it may constitute one great single factor for averting the present threat to peace.”
Gromyko asked, “In what way do you want us to make this statement? In what way should we formulate our attitude? You have to be more concrete.” Swaran Singh remained vague, “There can be various ways.” Gromyko then said: “As far as the contents of the Treaty are concerned, it is possible that it may need further exchange of views in order to amend or alter the contents of the draft …. I wish to say that perhaps it may need some changes or modifications.”
On June 8, Swaran Singh recalled the text Grechko had brought “some sort of a text of the Treaty. We accepted the suggestion of the Treaty in principle and it was on that basis that subsequent talks took place between our Ambassador and your Foreign Office. During the course of these discussions a good deal of agreement was arrived at on the structure and the main contents of the Document…. We should also pick up the threads as suggested by you or, to be more exact, as mentioned by you and resume discussions on the text. We feel that such an agreement will act as a great lever for peace and also as a deterrent to China and Pakistan against embarking on any military adventure.”
Swaran Singh met Kosygin on June 8 and returned to the theme of a statement by Moscow to warn off China. Gromyko intervened to say that they were discussing a treaty. The talks progressed sufficiently for Kaul to draw up a comprehensive memo on June 15 comparing India’s draft with the UAR Treaty. He rejected suggestions of a secret exchange of letters. Two paragraphs bear quotation.
Swaran Singh had told Kaul that “Marshal Grechko had mentioned to him during his last visit that a Treaty would help in further cooperation between the two countries in the field of defence, and the Soviet hesitation in supplying certain items to us was due to the absence of a Treaty.
Marshal Grechko had also indicated this to our Ambassador. Since the possibility of a war with Pakistan cannot be ruled out, and since China is giving Pakistan all out military help and assistance, and Chinese intervention in the event of such a conflict cannot be ruled out, it is submitted that the conclusion of a Treaty with the Soviet Union would deter China from embarking on a military intervention in the event of a conflict between India and Pakistan, and thus safeguard our national interests. If it is considered desirable we could offer a similar Treaty to USA and some of our neighbouring countries like Afghanistan.” He doubted if the U.S. would agree.
The Soviet Union had done all the running, using its arms to Pakistan and India as tools. Marker is still perplexed why the supplies ended despite promise of renewal. Obviously, Moscow did not risk its major project with India.
Years later the treaty met the same fate as did the U.S.’ pact with Pakistan assuring help against aggression from any country. As de Gaulle shrewdly remarked, “Treaties, like roses and pretty girls, last only so long as they last.”
Volume 27 – Issue 05 :: Feb. 27-Mar. 12, 2010
INDIA’S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
from the publishers of THE HINDU