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Friday, November 6, 2015

1971 War: How Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Outsmarted Indira Gandhi


Fruits of Victory turn sour

I have given an account of the Kargil war, where timidity of the Vajpayee government allowed the war to become a stalemate. Obviously India achieved nothing after the Kargil war. But there is one war in 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh and was a decisive victory for India and yet India allowed the advantage of victory to slip away despite the fact that we held 93000 Pakistan army POWs . How did this happen that a victorious India allowed the fruits of victory to slip away from its fingers?  The answer lies in the gullibility of Indira Gandhi and the astute skill of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani leader.

Advantage India
After the creation of Bangladesh, Indian army held 93000 Pakistani soldiers as POW. This was the time to strike a hard bargain on Kashmir and ask that the present Line of Control be converted to an international border. I am told this was agreed to by Bhutto in a secret talk with Indira Gandhi, but later Pakistan denied it. In fact in the Simla accord, India agreed to discuss the Kashmir problem with Pakistan. Bhutto had assured Indira Gandhi that this was just a ploy to please hardliners in Pakistan and he would soon move forward on Kashmir. Bhutto was working to a plan and during this meeting he gave away nothing and in turn was able to get his POWs back. This was a great achievement. Indira Gandhi was outsmarted by Bhutto, who not only got his POWs back, but also made India accept that a problem in Kashmir existed. Rarely has a victor at a conference been so misled as Indira Gandhi was during the Simla meeting.

Last Word
In hindsight, India frittered away a great opportunity to settle the Kashmir issue. India should have insisted on a Kashmir solution and agreed for a return  of the POWs only after that. By handing over the POWs, India lost all leverage on Kashmir. in effect the Simla accord was a blunder. Whatever Bhutto agreed privately is not recorded and now we can say that Bhutto played his cards in an adroit manner.
In fact after the victory in Bengal, the war should have been continued. Additional troops from Bengal would have been available and an attack on Kashmir was a necessity.. Pakistan was in the throes of a crisis and Yahya Khan had resigned, it was an opportune moment to try and solve the Kashmir issue.  History records that India failed and today the Kashmir issue is alive as ever.