Monday, September 12, 2011

SOUTH ASIA: Victory For Sanity

In the Himalayan hill station of Simla, where the plans were laid for the new nation of Pakistan to be carved out of British India 25 years ago, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto pledged last week to "put an end to the conflict and confrontation" that have embroiled the two nations in four wars.*In a document worked out by aides during five days of negotiations, the two leaders agreed to consider the restoration of diplomatic relations and communications, suspended since last December's 13-day war, and to resume air links and overflights of each other's territory. Though in the divided state officially known as Jammu and Kashmir, both countries will continue to observe the cease-fire line declared Dec. 17, elsewhere they will withdraw their forces to their prewar common border.

Prior to the Simla summit, Bhutto had described Mrs. Gandhi (in an interview with Italian Journalist Oriana Fallaci) as "a mediocre woman of mediocre intelligence." Returning home from the meeting to Islamabad, he praised Mrs. Gandhi as "an extremely reasonable leader who looks to the future" and described the agreement as "not my victory and not a victory for India. [It is a] victory for sanity, principles and justice. Nobody has won and none has lost," he added.

Good-Will. Bhutto called the National Assembly into special session this week to ratify the agreement, and the Indian Parliament is expected to do the same. The accord, which Mrs. Gandhi called "just the beginning" of a better relationship, also won warm praise in India, despite charges by the right-wing Jana Sangh Party that it was a "sellout."

Even though Mrs. Gandhi held most of the bargaining cards and Bhutto had engaged in some pre-summit bluster at home, both leaders arrived at Simla in a conciliatory mood, apparently anxious to take steps that would avoid more bloodshed on the subcontinent. They agreed that the ongoing negotiations (Mrs. Gandhi has been invited to Pakistan in September) would be bilateral. Neither side has been entirely happy in the past when one or the other of the big powers mediated their disputes. Moreover, the December war, which resulted in the birth of an independent Bangladesh, unalterably changed the balance of power on the subcontinent.

India, which captured the most territory in December, made a major concession in agreeing to return some 5,100 sq. mi. of Pakistani territory—all except a few strategic salients in Kashmir. Despite this good-will offering, India failed to win any firm concessions from Bhutto on the Kashmir question, which has so long poisoned relations between the countries. Pakistan maintains that the future of the predominantly Moslem state (pop. 4,600,000) should be determined in a plebiscite. India, which holds that Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India in 1947 is legal and final, wants to have the cease-fire line recognized as the international boundary.

Also left unresolved was the issue of the 91,634 Pakistani military and civilian prisoners of war still in Indian hands. Most of the prisoners surrendered to a joint India-Bangladesh command and cannot be returned without negotiations involving Bangladesh. So far, Bhutto has refused to recognize the new Bengali state (until its secession, the province of East Pakistan), although he has announced plans to meet with Prime Minister Sheik Mujibur Rahman later this month.

The P.O.W. issue is potentially explosive. Mujib has said that some prisoners, including the former East Pakistan commander, General Amir Abdullah Niazi, will be tried on war-crimes charges. The trials are adamantly opposed by Pakistan "and would take us to the point of no return," said Bhutto last week. Pakistanis warn that such trials could set off reprisals against the 400,000 Bengalis who are still living and working in Pakistan.

One solution to the problem would be for Pakistan itself to try the men, and Bhutto has suggested that he might be willing to do so. Another would be for Bangladesh to dispense with the trials in exchange for repatriation of the Bengalis who live in Pakistan, many of them civil servants who are sorely needed to run governmental and industrial machinery at home.

"Kashmir, 1947-49; the Rann of Kutch, spring 1965; Kashmir, fall 1965; East Pakistan, December 1971, a war that also spread to Kashmir and India's western border.