The mirage of mediation

When meddlesome US and British delegations wanted India and Pakistan to discuss Kashmir under their aegis

Written by Inder Malhotra | Published: January 23, 2012 3:33:59 am

After John F. Kennedy revived the mediation idea (‘Unwelcome interventions’,IE,January 9) both the United States and Britain pursued it with astonishing vigour. They were in panic because by then,it was crystal-clear that the sixth round of talks between Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,scheduled to begin in Delhi on May 15,1963 was going to be the last. So both Washington and London mobilised their big guns and sent them to the Indian capital on May 2. It seemed a repeat of November 1962.

This time around the US secretary of state,Dean Rusk,came personally,accompanied by three senior advisers,a day ahead of the British delegation consisting of the Old Hands,the ineluctable Duncan Sandys and the suave Lord Mountbatten. Jawaharlal Nehru heard the “monologues of Rusk and Sandys” with patience,but he was evidently furious. For he later told Foreign Secretary M. J. Desai and Commonwealth Secretary Y.D. Gundevia: “One more word on ‘mediation’,and I will throw the lot out of the room.” Apparently,the message got through to the visiting interlocutors too.

Consequently,Rusk decided to return early on the morning of May 4,after attending the dinner Nehru had scheduled in his honour on the night of May 3. There was no alcohol at the prime minister’s dinner and it ended early. The distinguished guests decided to repair to the residence of the British high commissioner for a powwow and a “nightcap”,obviously to supplant the taste of fruit juices served at Teen Murti House. There,Sandys announced that he wasn’t going home in a hurry. Instead,he would fly to Rawalpindi the next day to explore whether he could sell the mediation proposal to Ayub and then come back to Delhi. US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith told him that this was not a good idea,and therefore,he would have “nothing to do with it”. But Sandys was adamant.

The next morning he arrived at South Block soon after Desai and Gundevia had returned from Palam after seeing off Rusk. Once again,he produced a piece of paper. Nehru and his advisers again dismissed his draft,asking him to remove all references to “Kashmir and related matters”. The anodyne substitute they suggested merely stated that India and Pakistan should seek the good offices of a “mutually acceptable personality” to “help resolve their differences and generally to assist in bringing about friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries.” Nehru was confident that Ayub Khan would reject this formulation out of hand. When Galbraith learnt of Sandys’s exploits,his reaction was much stronger than that of the Indian hosts.

He decided to have a “showdown” with Sandys and the British high commission. As he wrote later,“Not for years have I had such a bruising clash and I enjoyed it.” He toned down some of his earlier remarks about the British secretary of state for Commonwealth relations but prevailed upon Sandys to abandon his misguided mission to Rawalpindi. The British high commissioner,Sir Paul Gore-Booth,also heaved a sigh of relief. Years later,he admitted that he was “apprehensive” about Sandys’ venture because Rusk had left Delhi and without consulting him no initiative could be taken.

However,such discretion did not last long. Two days before Bhutto’s arrival in Delhi,Sir Paul was again at the Foreign Office. Galbraith,he said,was not in town,and therefore he was speaking for both the US and Britain. Shouldn’t India itself broach the subject of mediation during the impending ministerial talks between India and Pakistan? Indian officials bluntly told him that they would do nothing of the sort and asked him instead what had happened to the Anglo-American efforts to promote the mediation proposal in Pakistan. The envoy replied that there were difficulties but he could not go into details.

Soon thereafter,Britain and the US put their verbal suggestion into writing,and went on mounting pressure as May turned into June. Meanwhile,Bhutto had declared on returning home after the collapse of the talks that all “peaceful methods of resolving India-Pakistan disputes had ended”. A “Hate India” campaign had begun in Pakistan almost immediately. It was so virulent that the Canadian high commissioner and West German ambassador in Delhi asked the external affairs ministry whether India was expecting trouble on the Kashmir border. They were told: “We are prepared for it”.

The irony of it all is that in the end,it was Ayub who put paid to the mediation idea. As Galbraith recorded in his Journal,Pakistan accepted the mediation proposal subject to conditions,“which can never be mediated”. The field-marshal was insistent on a “complete freeze” on all long-term military aid to India for the duration of mediation that he wanted not to exceed three months. He also demanded that the mediator must “assume” the validity of the UN resolution on a plebiscite in Kashmir,and he firmly demanded that mediation should be confined to Kashmir and Kashmir alone. He did not press his next point but his preference was for a “panel” rather than a single mediator.

Through most of June,Nehru was travelling within the country. So India’s final and clinching rejection of mediation was formally conveyed to the US embassy and the British high commission on June 25.

It was at this stage that Kennedy finally grasped the futility of pursuing the mirage of mediation over Kashmir. This happened only a few months before those terrible shots in Dallas,Texas.

In his Journal,Galbraith has claimed some credit for persuading JFK to change his Kashmir policy,and justifiably so. Denis Kux,a professional diplomat who was at one time in charge of the India desk at the state department,has written a comprehensive account of India-America relations over the years,eloquently titled Estranged Democracies. The heading of his chapter on the Kennedy years is: “Neither Kashmir,nor India”.

At his house in Boston in October 1988,in the course of an interview on the subject,Galbraith asked me: “Do you know what the president was doing during our discussion on Kashmir and mediation?” I certainly didn’t. “Well”,continued JKG,“he was in the bathtub,twirling the faucets with his toes”.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

More From Inder Malhotra