By Vikas Datta
New Delhi–India and Pakistan had agreed on a peace and no-war treaty and were on the verge of signing it in July 1984 before Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq, who had even dismissed any need to discuss Kashmir, backtracked on advice of American lawmakers, reveals former Indian foreign secretary M. K. Rasgotra.
In his autobiography “A Life in Diplomacy” (Penguin India, Rs.699), Rasgotra, who was foreign secretary 1982-85 and is now in his nineties, recalls ahead of his visit to Islamabad, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was leaving on a visit to the US, gave him a free hand, telling him “..you know it all and you can talk to them about any subject they want to talk about, including Kashmir and the No War Pact they are so keen about”. She only wanted to know if “there is a grain of sincerity” in Gen. Zia.
As Rasgotra called on him at the President’s House in Islamabad, President Zia, with the humility and charm he was known for, was standing in the verandah close to to where he would get out of the car and welcomed him with a big hug. During the talks, to India’s willingness to talk about Kashmir, Zia’s response was “noteworthy”. “Rasgotra Sahib, what is there to talk about Kashmir? You have Kashmir and we cannot take it. I want you and (Pakistani foreign secretary) Niaz Naik to work on a Treaty of Peace and Good Neighbourliness including a No War Pact,” he quoted the Pakistani leader as saying.
He said progress was made in discussions on the agreement, to the extent that in March 1984, Niaz Naik himself proposed that the Indian draft of a Treaty of Peace and Friendship and Pakistan’s draft of a ‘No War Pact’ should be “merged”. By May 1984, there was “full agreement on all the six or seven clauses in the draft treaty’s preamble and also on nine out of the eleven articles of the treaty’s operative part”, and both sides reached agreement on these two too.
“Accordingly Naik announced in the final plenary meeting of the two delegations that on clauses IV and V, he and I had reached an understanding to which he would obtain the president’s approval on his return from the UAE and we would all meet in Delhi in July to initial or sign the treaty.
“But the July meeting never took place.”
According to Rasgotra, there were two reasons why Zia changed his mind – and the primary one was the advice of his American “well-wishers”.
“While awaiting the President’s return from the UAE, Naik had telegraphed the text to Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan who was on a visit in Washington DC. Khan took the text around to his friends in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, who strongly advised him against signing a treaty of that kind with India”.
Rasgotra says he learnt of this from a Congressman friend of his, from his earlier stints in the US, and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee “asking me why we were coercing Pakistan into signing an anti-American treaty!”
The other reason was India’s current troubles in Punjab “in which Zia-ul Haq saw an opportunity to weaken India by supporting a violent secessionist campaign by Sikh extremist groups lead by Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale..”, says Rasgotra.
On Zia himself, Rasgotra said that he reported to Mrs Gandhi after his first visit and meeting that he had “seemed anxious to win India’s goodwill, I had my doubts about his sincerity”.
Rasgotra, in a report of his meeting with then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2000 (attached as an appendix to this book) , said this Pakistani ruler was “shrewd, and perhaps also not without cunning but he is not wily like Gen. Zia ul Haq. Nor does he possess the bluff exuberance of Gen. Mod. Ayub Khan”.
On his recommendations, he said his “gut impression” was that Pakistan will give up sponsorship of violence only when we (India) can demonstrate, in actual deeds, that we can hurt them in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) the same way they are hurting us in the Valley”.