A Surya Prakash
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response to the recent pre-dawn assault by heavily armed Pakistani terrorists on the army camp in Uri – “Those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished” – was reflective of the seething anger across the nation over Pakistan’s persistent attempts to push terrorists across the border and India’s seemingly timid response to these brazen acts of terrorism.
Although the Indian Army has given its Pakistani counterpart a bloody nose in past conflicts and often inflicts heavy damage on Pakistan in border skirmishes, the people of India carry the impression that the Indian state lacks the gumption to call Pakistan’s bluff. This feeling, which runs deep across the length and breadth of the country, makes even balanced, mature citizens to scream revenge and to bay for Pakistani blood. In the 24/7 news television era, such breast-beating and fist-thumping on dozens of TV channels has a snowballing effect and culminates in a national mood which no leader or political party can ignore. Also, Uri appears to be the tipping point, in the sense that it has drained out whatever patience Indians had in this regard. Hence, the high decibel demand for retribution.
There is yet another reason for this loss of patience – the history of Pakistani duplicity – and even if every Indian is not aware of the nitty-gritty, he has a sense of Pakistan’s double-dealing, beginning from October 1947, when 5,000 armed Pakistani tribesmen led by Pakistan Army regulars intruded into Jammu & Kashmir in a bid to capture that State by force. Despite clinching evidence of its involvement, Pakistan claimed it knew nothing about the intrusion.
The 1965 war also began when the Pakistan Army sent hundreds of infiltrators into Jammu and Kashmir in August that year. When India raised a hue and cry over the infiltration, Pakistan came up with a vehement denial, but the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan
nailed Pakistan’s lie.
On September 20, 1965, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire. India agreed to the ceasefire on certain conditions. Then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri told Parliament that India “shall never allow any arrangement for the future in which there may be possibilities of further infiltrations”. Shastri was confident that with the capture of Haji Pir and Tithwal passes, India would put an end to cross-border terror, but the Soviets, who were brokering peace, forced him to barter away these key acquisitions at the negotiating table at Tashkent. Hoping that this would bring in lasting peace, Shastri gave in. He died of a heart attack, hours after he signed this agreement.
The agreement said both countries would “abjure force” while seeking settlement of disputes. It also committed the two countries to non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In Jammu & Kashmir, it said, the terms of the ceasefire agreement would be observed by both countries. The Congress Government of the day had a hard time, trying to ‘sell’ this agreement to Parliament. MPs heard in disbelief as Minister for External Affairs Swaran Singh spoke eloquently about the Tashkent Agreement and claimed that it would “stabilise” peace in the region. Parliamentarians like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Nath Pai, Surendranath Dwivedi and LM Singhvi were sceptical about the efficacy of this agreement. Vajpayee even moved an amendment to the House resolution which directed the Government not to withdraw troops from the areas that were liberated in PoK. His amendment denounced the Tashkent agreement and said it was creating a dangerous sense of complacency and wishful thinking in the country. The Congress majority in the House rejected the amendment, but Vajpayee was speaking for much of India when he said this.
The next conflict was in 1971, when 10 million refugees crossed over from erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to escape the tyranny of Pakistan President Yahya Khan. Pakistan suffered a humiliating defeat yet again. Apart from losing its eastern wing, it lost 5,000 square miles of territory in the West. But, its most shameful moment came when 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to India in the eastern sector. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who replaced Yayha Khan, again sought concessions from India, so that “democracy could be bolstered” in Pakistan. He begged for an accord that would be face-saving for him, and so, the Simla Agreement was signed by the two countries. Here again, India let go the opportunity to settle the Kashmir issue once and for all. The agreement said that in Jammu & Kashmir, the Line of Control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides and that both the countries would “refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line”.
In the debate on the Tashkent Agreement, Nath Pai told the Lok Sabha on February 16, 1966, that the country was utterly disappointed with the deal. He then turned to Swaran Singh and said, “I ask you very simply; it has been annoying every Indian. Ultimately, again, they (Pakistan) will send them (infiltrators) and when the time has come to disown, they will say, ‘we have not sent them’. What is your protection against this kind of perfidy?”
Swaran Singh: “What is the ultimate guarantee in these cases? For that the reply is, we have to depend on our strength and we have to tell the world… if the infiltrators come, notwithstanding this agreement, the answer is shoot them, hang them in the passes. That will be the biggest deterrent.”
The story of cross-border terrorism has repeated itself ad nauseam and India is still groping for answers to the question Nath Pai raised 50 years ago. Meanwhile, it must be said that irrespective of the political colour, The Government of India is duty-bound to fulfill the solemn pledge that Sardar Swaran Singh gave Parliament over half a century ago on how to deal with infiltrators and terrorists backed
Prime Minister Narendra Modi now has the opportunity to redeem that pledge – namely, to “shoot them” and “hang them in the passes” and also to take such other “deterrent” measures as may be necessary to end this menace. India’s patience is running out.
(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati. Views expressed here
A Surya Prakash