The Simla Agreement was a success, but the way it was agreed upon and signed at the last hour was a continuous source of speculation. After the signing ceremony, politicians, intelligentsia and think tanks began reacting in both ways. It was praised but also criticised. The core issue being discussed was the fact that while a long spell of talks between officials and both leaders yielded no results, the issue was miraculously resolved after the two leaders went for an after-dinner stroll on the Simla Governor House lawns. What was the mystery that led them to reach the crucial agreement?
The main clause that created suspicion was paragraph six of the agreement regarding the final solution of the Kashmir issue. It said: “In Jammu and Kashmir, the Line of Control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line.”
The Pakistani spokesman at Simla appeared satisfied with the outcome and said: “We remain where we are until a final settlement is reached,” affirming that Pakistan’s stand had been upheld and that the territory remained a disputed region. However, some Pakistanis suspected a ‘secret agreement’ when Indira Gandhi changed her stand immediately before signing the agreement, as they claimed that Bhutto made a ‘sellout deal’ to end Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir. They also claimed that Bhutto had reached a ‘no-war-pact’.
Bhutto responded to this allegation when he received party leaders and spoke to the press on his return to Lahore on July 3, 1972. “I had promised you that there would be no secret agreement. Now you can see no secret agreement. I tell you as a Muslim and I swear on oath… there has been no secret agreement on the vital issue of Kashmir…They were negotiating from a position of strength because they had so many cards in their hands. But what did we have... Finally, they agreed and said that on the question of Kashmir you may stick to your principles and we shall hold further discussions. Now, as for the question of ‘no-war-pact’, you have seen that there is no such thing. However, we shall continue our maximum efforts to avoid war.”
Similar accusations were also hurled at the Indian leadership. Bharatya Jana Sangh leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee termed it a black agreement and a “sellout”. He also claimed that there had been “some sort of secret understanding” between Gandhi and Bhutto. He said: “Pakistan’s agreement to renounce the use of force was totally meaningless since renunciation had been agreed upon by Pakistan several times earlier only to be thrown to the winds shortly thereafter.”
An Indian diplomat and an officer close to the talks, Triloki Nath Kaul, criticised Gandhi “for not getting a final settlement on the Kashmir question at Simla.” He is reported to have said: “She tried hard but Bhutto said if he agreed to a final settlement at Simla he would be overthrown and the military would take over power and increase tension with India. When I suggested it at the conference table, Bhutto, addressing Gandhi, said: ‘Madam, I assure you that within two weeks of my return to Pakistan I shall prepare the ground for it (a final settlement of the Kashmir question).’”
What may have happened is not very categorical but Indian sources and the officials close to talks said that Indira wanted a composite solution aimed at solving the POWs and territory issues but she was more anxious to have the Kashmir dispute resolved at the table. Her argument was that Pakistan should accept the Ceasefire Line which was the result of 1971 war, as the international border. Bhutto knew the hardliners back home would lynch him if he accepted that proposal. He manoeuvred to duck the proposal and backed another idea which was to turn the Ceasefire Line into Line of Control. However, he told the Indian Iron Lady that this too would be difficult for the Pakistani parliamentarians to accept.
Prithvi Nath Dhar, Gandhi’s principal secretary writes: “The tacit understanding, no doubt was that gradually the Line of Control would emerge as an international border, and by this the Kashmir question would be settled. But this remained only a tacit understanding.”
Forty years later, in 2012, Indian journalist and political pundit Kuldip Nayar came out with his autobiography Beyond the Lines in which he reveals that Bhutto had verbally accepted the Ceasefire Line as an international border, meaning thereby that Pakistan would retain the territory it held in Kashmir called Azad Kashmir and India the rest of the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh. Kuldip said: “It is possible that Bhutto did agree in Indira Gandhi’s presence but dropped the idea when close associates of his vehemently opposed it.
Whether the Simla Agreement was a boon for Bhutto or bane for Indira, Indian analysts wrote that India had in fact three trumps to force Bhutto to agree to end the Kashmir dispute forever by permanent partition of Kashmir. The American archival documents also show that the USA too favoured such a settlement.