Tashkent syndrome

Unable to apply transformative pressures, subjected to strong external pressures ourselves, we reverted to the status quo ante.

Written by K. SHANKAR BAJPAI | Published:January 9, 2016 12:00 am
We were surprised into war, ignoring a contingency obvious in the most rudimentary planning; we planned for Tashkent, but concluded without achievement. We were surprised into war, ignoring a contingency obvious in the most rudimentary planning; we planned for Tashkent, but concluded without achievement.

On January 10, 1966, the Tashkent Declaration brought an inconclusive war to an inconclusive end. Pakistan failed in its objective without confronting any need to change it. We foiled Pakistan without any lasting effect. We were surprised into war, ignoring a contingency obvious in the most rudimentary planning; we planned for Tashkent, but concluded without achievement.

Arguably, we made the best of a poor job: Stalemate on the ground means stalemate at conference tables. Unable to apply transformative pressures, subjected to strong external pressures ourselves, we reverted to the status quo ante. The opposite case, that we muffed things from start to finish, is equally sustainable. That presumes options, which can only be conjectural but, clearly, we showed deficiency in anticipation and deficiency in handling – two equal weaknesses in statecraft.

Initially rejecting Moscow’s proposed summit, we soon realised it was better than facing the Security Council. Delegations need a dogsbody; returning from three years in Pakistan, I was chosen presumably for that intense experience. Dutifully preparing ordered briefs on all outstanding India-Pakistan issues, I couldn’t imagine discussion of refugee properties, abducted women or even Farakka. What were we really expecting?

Such decision-making was, of course, at more stratospheric levels but the privilege of access to them elicited the answer. We aimed at revising the ceasefire line to retain our gains beyond the old one, and get it accepted as the equivalent of an international frontier — precision of objective, at least. But Pakistan had suffered no setback that could extract such surrender of determined ambition. How to gain our aims, and what if we couldn’t?

The intention was to stick it out, but we ran into a difficulty. Moscow’s initial plea that Tashkent would only be a start, we could keep talking at more Tashkents, proved a ruse. Once there, we found the Russians determined on success. Worse, any fond hopes that our old “friendship” would help us yielded to their deft evenhandedness. Moscow’s illusions of weaning Pakistan away from its then pet hate, China, actually made it rather softer on Ayub Khan, but such are the ways of the world.

They are not our ways. Signals that if no agreement emerged, Moscow could not give us its usual veto in the Security Council, proved too much for us. Umpteen countries have defied umpteen UN resolutions, including India, but at Tashkent, perhaps it was considered too much hard work. How we persuaded ourselves that that peculiar phrase, “both sides shall observe the ceasefire terms on the ceasefire line”, amounted to recognising it as the international frontier remains baffling. Lal Bahadur Shastriji had misgivings, but he had the core government of India there — his foreign and defence ministers, both political heavyweights, three seniormost secretaries and the incoming army chief, most decisively our hyperactive ambassador to the USSR. None said nay, the die was cast.

What if we had not signed? We had an asset of invaluable, if unpredictable, potential. Pakistan had grabbed, after the ceasefire, swathes of Rajasthan desert, to claim winning more area than us, but virtually unpopulated; we could have endured nominal loss, albeit with our usual political clamour. Pakistan, however, had almost half a million refugees from the small but heavily populated Pakistani Punjab angrily refuting Islamabad’s claims of victory. The political consequences of letting them agitate for months is inevitably speculative but it was an alternative.

Retaining our gains across the ceasefire line would have been internationally condemned, perhaps leading to sanctions, admittedly hard on the eve of ship-to-mouth dependence on wheat aid. But Pakistan was in no better position, and those internal consequences of not regaining its Punjab pockets would have made it weaker. The option was not looked at. We gave up our two planned objectives because we could not think what else to do.

This is not to find fault, only to illustrate how we function. We were inexperienced then: No Indian had had to decide on defending the nation for nearly two centuries. The advantage of relative freedom from distractions and constraints, with decision-making limited to a small, supposedly better-equipped circle, was dissipated by amateurishness. Fifty years later, the use of state power for state purposes, the contents and role of power itself, keeps eluding us. Inexperience then, immaturity now. The way both successive governments and oppositions, and our fourth estate, behave is just plain childish.

Our previous PM had a very clear understanding of India’s strategic needs; his transformative intentions were frustrated by his own party adding to opposition obstructiveness. The present PM has shown extraordinary imagination and finesse in fresh transformative initiatives, only to face worse obstruction. “You paralysed us, so we must paralyse you!” Serious, adult people do not damage national interest like this.

Fifty years also confirm specifically the intractability of India-Pakistan relations. No Indian government ever explains itself, perhaps because Hinduism does not believe in conversion, winning over opinion. The arts of persuasion have never been our forte. We prefer ex-cathedra pronouncement, leaving everyone to decipher rationales. But sneers of volte-faces — “what has changed to make policy change?” — is just more puerility.
Precisely because things do not change it is sometimes worth trying something different. Stubborn persistence is necessary when it achieves something — as we have shown by holding to our J&K position despite huge pressures (what we have done there is another matter). But adamant insistence on terms never possible can only matter if you use time to develop transformative pressures, which our politico-administrative situation prevents.

Lahore was a brilliant idea, Pathankot notwithstanding. Indeed, the lesson is that there will always be Pathankots. Whether Pakistan can ever get a government able and truly willing to override its diehards is debatable — doubtless the equivalent question can be asked about us. Our only effective course is to make ourselves so strong — above all, so efficient — that we can contain, or at least withstand, Pakistani mischief. That requires a national consensus on just a handful of national security issues; which we do our worst to deny ourselves. Governments need to carry conviction, persuasiveness. Others must also serve national interest, subordinating, if not abandoning, foolish behaviour. Our politicians need to grow up — and our administrative machinery to deliver. Or else, we can keep on muffing things.

The writer, a former ambassador to Pakistan, China and the US, and secretary, ministry of external affairs, was secretary to the Indian delegation to the Tashkent Conference

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  1. K
    K SHESHU
    Jan 9, 2016 at 7:35 am
    The past has been 'tumultous' with victories and defeats of Indian diplomacy with its neighbours. The mistakes have been many and some had serious repercussions too. Now, it is time to put back all of them behind and move forward.
    Reply
    1. A
      Anil Maheshwari
      Jan 9, 2016 at 5:24 am
      An honest admission of the sorry state of affairs, in particular the foreign affairs since independence. We have goofed up gly and gravely in our relations with China, stan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to name a few neighbours. It is the high time we have retrospection and frame a practical foreign policy and shun the arrogance, which has become a trademark of Indians.
      Reply
      1. D
        Dipti
        Jan 9, 2016 at 6:24 am
        At long last something for thinking animals in old Indian Express. Tashkent had a legacy which Ambador Bajpai should think of sharing with serious (but non-officious) readers. Being a student of the birth process of Bangladesh I am keen to improve my knowledge with whatever light this skilled narrator could shed on the advantages that are apparent --in hindsight of course -- culminating in the surrender ceremony in Dacca 71 months later.
        Reply
        1. N
          Narinder Dogra
          Jan 9, 2016 at 4:01 am
          Dear Ambador Why did Russia give such a g tumultuous Welcome to Nehru when he visited Russia in early fifties? Your arguments don’t jibe with the facts. What Russia tried to avoid then is a fact now.
          Reply
          1. I
            Ingeborg Malik
            Jan 9, 2016 at 4:45 am
            An astute explanation of the State of affairs in India.Political Parties come only to obstruct each other and thereby harm the Country.When will we learn?Since 2000 Years we have been conniving in one way or the other to let the enemy in.Maybe the answer lies in our Religion?Who knows?Our Seniors be it be our Mother or Father behave in strange and inexplicable ways of Feudal Times.We ALL need an introspection and raise our future Generations to the stark Realties of the Modern World.If we start today maybe in 50 Years we have become what we should be,"A Country not to be ignored and a Force to Reckon with"
            Reply
            1. T
              Tellitasitis
              Jan 9, 2016 at 2:23 pm
              Brilliant! Mr Bajpai has struck the nail on the head. His pinpointing our weaknesses is the real takeaway for our netas, babus and the aam aadmi.
              Reply
              1. K
                Kautilya
                Jan 9, 2016 at 7:49 pm
                "Our politicians need to grow up — and our administrative machinery to deliver. Or else, we can keep on muffing things." The conclusion is more downbeat than it needs to be. Given our experience with Russia, I believe Indira hi learnt the right lessons and pla the game very well during the Bangladesh war. Unfortunately, for a political leader as astute as Indira; her fatal flaw was a belief in dynasty, which cost this nation more than what was won in that war. Finally, in a democracy, people need to grow up, elect the right politicians and demand that the administrative machinery deliver. Else, we're ourselves to blame for muffing things!
                Reply
                1. R
                  Ramesh Nittoor
                  Jan 9, 2016 at 3:31 pm
                  This incisive first hand account of Tashkent conference is a writing of historical import. The sad story of two big nations being subjected to super power equations because they are unable to settle the matter bilaterally is evident. Times have changed now, and both nations have matured, continuation of business like talks between the two nations, irrespective of terror attacks, in search for deeper mutual trust, shorn of atmospherics, is now for feasible. Think Indian government, unlike the pessimism expressed in this column, will demonstrate the steely resolve to carry on with bilateral negotiations towards meaningful resolutions. The political center in India, and probably in stan as well will prove strong enough to shield the talks from pressures of political and media opinions.
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    R K
                    Jan 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm
                    Reading about what happened in Amritsar and Pathankot leads one to the conclusion, that battles and wars should be left to professionals. Amateurs like NSA, Babus, Netas can only bumble. India needs a joint command. We need a joint command headquartered at Nagpur to be away from meddling by Netas and Babus. Country needs Northern command to tackle Occupied Tibet and beyond, Maynmar and Bangladesh, Western command to cover Afghanistan, POK, stan Iran Tjakistan etc Southern Command to cover Indian Ocean states, Srilankan, Maldives, Seychles, states in the vicinity of Andamans and Nicobars and Down under. These commands should have their own units of army, Air Force, BSF, Coast Guard And navy. and Air Force. Hijackings, terror attacks and warfare should be handled by a commander-in-chief. He should give orders directly to the commands concerned. Time and again, the armed forces have proved that only they can handle events in real time. Only their actions are not co-ordinated efforts. Netas and Babus should lay down the ground rules of operation only. The earlier such a proposal is implemented, the more prepared, we will be to tackle our enemies. No dearth of personnel exists to implement such a scheme. It exists in countries like USA and in business empires. We seem to rely too much on NSG. They have become flabby by ociation wth Netas and Babus. Lost touch with reality after induction in NSG.
                    Reply
                    1. R
                      rohitchandavarker
                      Jan 9, 2016 at 6:49 pm
                      Excellent article. The immaturity bordering on naivete of our political cl is our undoing. There is constant pressure, often misplaced from the entrenched thinking of the opposition be it political, administrative or media, or all together. There is no effort made to think things through and offer constructive solutions. To put it plainly, our powers that be, do not justify the confidence reposed in them. The bureaucracy has degenerated into ordinariness and often provide straitjacketed options. The opposition indulges in a tu tu main main to the point of absurdity. Does India possess the wisdom to enunciate its strategic vision that is based on sound and dispionate long term goals? The ad hocism coupled with band aid type solutions reigns supreme. Manmohan Singh had displa long term wisdom and could potentially transform India's vision and aspirations. But, alas, his party undermined his thinking and its implementation to the extent that he was not even allowed to embark on a state visit to stan during his entire decade long tenure. Modi may seem to instill a breath of fresh air into the staid foreign policy establishment. But the knives are already out though he does not suffer from the infirmity that afflicted Manmohan Singh of running a coalition. An absolute majority ensures some level of ertive confidence.
                      Reply
                      1. S
                        Sandhir
                        Jan 9, 2016 at 12:10 pm
                        Reading about what happened in Amritsar and Pathankot leads one to the conclusion, that battles and wars should be left to professionals. Amateurs like NSA, Babus, Netas can only bumble. India needs a joint command. We need a joint command headquartered at Nagpur to be away from meddling by Netas and Babus. Country needs Northern command to tackle Occupied Tibet and beyond, Maynmar and Bangladesh, Western command to cover Afghanistan, POK, stan Iran Tjakistan etc Southern Command to cover Indian Ocean states, Srilankan, Maldives, Seychles, states in the vicinity of Andamans and Nicobars and Down under. These commands should have their own units of army, Air Force, BSF, Coast Guard And navy. and Air Force. Hijackings, terror attacks and warfare should be handled by a commander-in-chief. He should give orders directly to the commands concerned. Time and again, the armed forces have proved that only they can handle events in real time. Only their actions are not co-ordinated efforts. Netas and Babus should lay down the ground rules of operation only. The earlier such a proposal is implemented, the more prepared, we will be to tackle our enemies. No dearth of personnel exists to implement such a scheme. It exists in countries like USA and in business empires. We seem to rely too much on NSG. They have become flabby by ociation wth Netas and Babus. Lost touch with reality after induction in NSG.
                        Reply
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