Time for honest introspection

India’s diplomatic culture does not recognise any interest but its own, which is why the country is still saddled with the Kashmir dispute and the boundary issue with China

September 23, 2013 12:53 am | Updated June 02, 2016 02:31 pm IST

130923 -Lead- India Diplomatic culture

130923 -Lead- India Diplomatic culture

If you want a lasting peace, you have to negotiate with those who are firing on your soldiers; you don’t negotiate with those with no blood on their hands, because they are irrelevant. With these words, Charles de Gaulle dismissed suggestions that he talk to France’s “yes men” in Algeria (Beni Oui, Ouis). He negotiated a settlement with the FLN and got rid of an albatross round his country’s neck.

But, the culture of India’s diplomacy disdains negotiations. They spell a compromise and India does not recognise any interest but its own. Talks are not rejected; only meaningful summits are. The leaders meet, to use the hideous word, on “the sidelines” of an international conference.

Honest introspection on some constants in our diplomacy since independence will help to explain why we are still saddled with the 66-year-old Kashmir dispute and the 54-year-old boundary dispute with China. Both obstruct India’s rise to its full stature. Chief among the constants is the flawed doctrine on negotiations enunciated by Jawaharlal Nehru on August 14, 1962. “There is a world of difference between negotiations and talks … Talking must be encouraged whenever possible.” This was said in the context of the dispute with China, on which he had ruled out negotiations.

Flawed doctrine

Applied to Pakistan since 1948, the doctrine was followed by Indira Gandhi, Inder Gujral, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Manmohan Singh sought an escape but got stuck. When Nehru met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in London in October 1948 at the first Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, it was to secure acceptance of the status quo in Kashmir. Plebiscite was for public consumption. The pattern of meeting at “the sidelines” was firmly set.

In the wake of the war with China, in October 1962, Anglo-American pressure compelled Nehru on November 29, 1962, to agree to a summit with President Ayub Khan. The very next day he rejected “anything that involved upsetting the present arrangements” — the status quo .

On May 6, 1967, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said she was “ready to discuss all questions including the Kashmir question.” Four days later, she declared: “There is nothing to negotiate on Kashmir.” The Simla Agreement (July 2, 1972,) which bound the parties to discuss “a final settlement of Jammu & Kashmir,” remained a dead letter. P.V. Narasimha Rao would go no further than to agree to discuss “issues related” to J&K (October 19, 1993).

In the Joint Statement issued on June 23, 1997, India and Pakistan agreed “to address” eight issues, including “Jammu and Kashmir” and “to set up a mechanism, including working groups.” But Prime Minister Gujral resiled from a tacit understanding on a separate group on J&K. At the SAARC summit at Dhaka in 1998, he offered to Nawaz Sharif, incredibly, a simultaneous discussion of all the eight issues at the same place and on the same day in one go. All this, to avoid the slightest emphasis on Kashmir. Prime Minister Vajpayee revealed on May 24, 1998 that the Dhaka offer had been worked out by Gujral in consultation with him.

The ruinous consequences of the Nehru Doctrine were felt most acutely in the boundary dispute with China. A militarily weaker Pakistan can be dictated to. It was foolish to extend that treatment to China. Every edition of Aitchison’s authoritative compilation of India’s Treaties said that its “northern as well as the eastern boundary of the Kashmir State is still undefined.” Maps attached to two White Papers on Indian States (1948 and 1950) showed the entire boundary from the Sino-India-Afghan trijunction in the west right up to the Sino-Indian-Nepali trijunction as “undefined.” On July 1, 1954 Nehru ordered that “new maps” be published showing “a firm and definite” frontier “which is not open to discussion with anybody.” It is significant that it was Chou, not Nehru, who sought a summit on November 7, 1959. Nehru replied on November 16. He was “always ready to meet” but demanded prior Chinese withdrawal in Ladakh to the east of the boundary depicted in his own maps of 1954; the Aksai Chin road and all India would withdraw to the west of the Chinese line of 1956 — yielding positions it had never occupied. Even then he would not negotiate on the territorial dispute.

China’s reply of December 17 proposed accord by the PMs on “principles as a guidance to concrete discussions and settlement of the boundary question.” But Nehru asked on December 21 “how can we reach an agreement on principles when there is such complete disagreement about the facts?” He relented on February 5, 1960 though their stands “were so wide apart and opposed to each other that there was little ground left for useful talks”. There could be “no negotiations” on the basis that the boundary was undefined. Nehru had missed the point. Chou wanted a political settlement. The PMs would settle the framework (“the principles”) for the officials to follow up — the McMahon Line in the east and acceptance of the status quo in Ladakh. Nehru rejected this offer at their summit in April 1960. That divide on the basic approach has spelt stagnation for over half a century. China wants a political accord.

On Kashmir, Nehru’s stand and the war of 1965 rendered a plebiscite impossible until Pervez Musharraf came out with his four-point formula. Fortunately he had a sincere partner in Dr. Singh. By 2007, the accord was nearly a signature away when Gen. Musharraf shot himself in the foot.

On March 14, 2004, L.K. Advani said, “The BJP alone can find a solution to our problems with Pakistan because Hindus will never think whatever we have done is a sell out.” Defeated in the polls, the BJP warned visitors from Pakistan against “any haste” with hints of better terms; the PM was attacked for yielding too much. But we do not live apart from the wide world.

Mr. Vajpayee’s remark at Srinagar, on April 18, 2003, that Kashmir should be solved within the framework of humanity ( insaniyat ke daire mein ) drove some in the media to ecstatic praise. The orator was reading from a script written in the U.S. The Joint Statement issued by the U.S. Secretary, Colin Powell, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on March 27, 2003, on “the sidelines” of a Bush-Blair summit prescribed a detailed procedure which India and Pakistan quietly followed — end to terrorism and respect for the LoC. “Both sides should consider immediately implementing a ceasefire and taking other active steps to reduce tensions including moves within the SAARC context.” They knew its next summit was due in Pakistan. Sure enough, on November 25, 2003, a ceasefire was declared in J&K and Mr. Vajpayee attended the SAARC summit in Islamabad in January 2004. He pledged, in his Kumarakom Musings of 2001, to pursue “a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem … both in its external and internal dimensions. We shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past”.

Destructive addition

This is precisely the course which his successor followed with sincerity and quiet grit, despite the Mumbai blasts of 2008 and his party’s despicable betrayal after the Sharm-El-Sheikh Joint Statement on July 16, 2009. Nor had he a partner in Asif Ali Zardari. He has one now in Nawaz Sharif. But, checkmated, Dr. Singh added a destructive Doctrine of his own to the Nehru Doctrine: summits can be held only if results are guaranteed in advance; they are a reward for good conduct.

He might learn from the U.S.-U.K. rift after 1945. Churchill wanted to meet Stalin to explore the avenues. The U.S. foiled him. As Kissinger writes “had he not lost the 1945 election, he might well have given the emerging Cold War a different direction.” The PM can yet do that to India-Pakistan relations. He cannot settle anything when he meets Mr. Sharif. But he can seek a revival of the four-point formula which spells no surrender by any side and will radically change the entire atmosphere in South Asia. As Abba Eban wrote: “It is unrealistic to expect political leaders to ignore public opinion. But a statesman who keeps his ear permanently glued to the ground will have neither elegance of posture nor flexibility of movement.”

(A.G. Noorani is an advocate, Supreme Court of India, and a leading constitutional expert. His latest book, Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir , was published by Oxford University Press in 2011)

This article has been edited to incorporate the following correction:

“Time for honest introspection” (Editorial page, Sept. 23, 2013) wrongly referred to the former Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, attending the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2014. It should have been the SAARC summit of 2004 .

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.