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Opinion: The Shimla Agreement Was A Strategic Blunder

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The conflict resulted from the Bangladesh Liberation War when Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was fighting to seek freedom from (West) Pakistan. In 1971, the Pakistani Army began to commit the brutal genocide of the innocent Bengali population, particularly the minority Hindu population in East Pakistan.

As Pakistan’s atrocities increased, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to take action against Pakistan and give refuge to civilians from the other side of the border. She ordered Army Chief General Sam Manekshaw to launch an offensive against Pakistan, following which India launched a full-scale war against its neighbour.

It is estimated that between 3,00,000 and 30,00,000 civilians were killed in Bangladesh. Rape, torture, killings and conflicts followed, due to which 8 to 10 million people fled the country to seek refuge in India. She also appealed to world leaders to intervene and pressurise Pakistan to stop its brutalities but India did not have much time and a quick response became necessary. On 6 December, she announced in Parliament that India had accorded recognition to the Bangladesh Government.

Indira Gandi and Zulfikar Bhutto
The Shimla Agreement was signed on 3 July, 1972, in Shimla, the capital of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, between India and Pakistan.

When the war ended, it was necessary to build peace and provide relief to the affected people and areas. Therefore, it was decided to sign an agreement between the two states and officially put the war to an end. It was signed 8 months after the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 that led to Pakistan splitting and the consequent creation of Bangladesh.

The accord contained the steps to be taken to ensure the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. The agreement was signed in Barnes Court (Raj Bhavan) at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. The terms of the treaty were as follows:

  • The Charter of the UN shall govern relations between India and Pakistan.
  • Any differences shall be settled by peaceful means and through bilateral negotiations.
  • Both countries shall respect the territorial integrity of each other and not interfere in the internal matters of each other.
  • Forces shall be withdrawn to each other’s side of the international border.
  • The ceasefire line of 17 December, 1971 (after the Bangladesh War) shall be respected (and reiterated as the Line of Control).
  • The treaty also had some other terms like renewing communications, telegraph, postal, airline relations, etc. It also talked about having exchanges in the field of culture and science.

India released 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war (POWs) who were captured after the Bangladesh war.

Major actors involved and conflict Resolution

The 13-day military conflict of 1971 is one of the shortest wars in history. 2020 was the 50th anniversary of the war. India went all out against Pakistan on 3 December, 1971, after our airbases were attacked by them. Our armed forces launched coordinated strikes on the western and eastern borders simultaneously.

China and Arab states sided with Pakistan. U.S. intervention of sending the Seventh Fleet against India was foiled by the U.S.S.R. with whom Mrs Gandhi had signed a friendship pact. Throughout the conflict, the Indian forces were assisted by the Mukti Bahini, a Bengali guerrilla force trained by R&AW, to fight against the Pakistan Army.

International pressure and fall of Dhaka combined with the Indian Naval raid of Karachi harbour finally forced Pakistan to surrender and lose half of its territory. General AAK Niazi signed the Instrument of Surrender on 16 December, 1971, in Dhaka, marking East Pakistan’s formation as the new nation of Bangladesh.

The Shimla Agreement was signed between both countries in 1972, and the conflict was officially over. UNSC Resolution 303, adopted on 6 December, 1971, referred the question to the UNGA. Additionally, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan reported violations on both sides of the Karachi Agreement of 1949. The resolution was adopted by 11 votes with none against it. France, Poland, U.S.S.R. and U.K. abstained.

But after 1972, Pakistan embarked on its secret nuclear program and started using terror groups against India for proxy wars as it realised India could not be defeated in conventional warfare. An important geopolitical consequence of this war was: the U.S.A. accepted the new balance of power and recognised India as a dominant player in South Asia and immediately engaged in strengthening bilateral ties. The 1971 victory was, thus, significant on many counts.

A strategic Mistake

Bangladesh liberation war
The Bangladesh Liberation War started when Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was fighting to seek freedom from (West) Pakistan.

The Indo-Pak War ended on 16 December, 1971, post which the Shimla Agreement was signed by our PM Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 2 July, 1972. It was a peace treaty seeking to reverse the war’s effects, withdraw troops and exchange POWs and had a set of mutually agreed-upon principles to manage bilateral relations.

Regarding J&K, the two sides had agreed that the LoC “resulting from the ceasefire of 17 December, 1971, shall be respected by both. No unilateral changes would be done and both sides would refrain from the threat or use of force”. The LoC was marked up to Point NJ 9842, which lies south of the Siachen Glacier, seized by India in Op Meghdoot in 1984 as the frontier had not been defined clearly in the agreement (possibly as the area was thought to be too barren to be controversial).

The Shimla Agreement also laid down the process to return Pakistan 13,000 sq km of captured territory in the western theatre. It becomes quite clear that Bhutto used Sheik Mujibur Rehman and the nearly 2 lakh Bengalis stuck in Pakistan as a tool to get back the POWs and also the territory lost on the western front; supported by the U.S.A. and China.

The Shimla Agreement and the subsequent Delhi Agreement gave Pakistan all it wanted: lost territories, soldiers and no trials for war crimes during and before the war. Sadly, India could not even negotiate the release of her own 54 POWs in Pakistani custody whose families continue to remain in despair.

There is an overwhelming perception that agreeing to the terms set by Pakistan was a huge strategic blunder. Also, the Indian Army was nowhere in the negotiation process. Both the agreements have not prevented the relationship between the two countries from deteriorating and has become a roller coaster ride with huge scope for a potential conflict under the nuclear umbrella.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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