LAHORE: On the 55th anniversary of the landmark Tashkent Declaration, which formally ended the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, political and security experts reckon the agreement that saved the two longtime rivals from further deaths and economic destruction.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Munawar Hussain Panhwar, an assistant professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said that objectively, the declaration saved the two nations from further destruction in addition to protecting their economic structures.
But, he added, the widespread opinion is usually not based on objectivity, which subsequently resulted in political costs.
The 17-day war that began September 6, 1965, was an escalation of irregular fighting that started on Kashmir, a sore point since Partition in 1947.
The war eventually ended with a draw, following a peace agreement brokered by the then-prime minister of the now-defunct Soviet Union in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
Nonetheless, both countries declared victory.
Panhwar said although the two sides agreed to a cease-fire on September 23 on the intervention of the world powers, there were fair chances of further escalation.
“It was the Tashkent treaty that contained the possible escalations, and maintained peace between the two neighbours, at least for a time being,” he said, referring to another full-fledged war in 1971 that ended in the creation of Bangladesh.
The treaty announced January 10, 1966, after week-long deliberations, bound the two sides to pull back their forces to the pre-conflict positions in an attempt to avert escalations.
UNEXPECTEDLY LONG WAR
Miscalculations about the length of the war and economic constraints forced the two neighbours, mainly India, to accept the cease-fire and subsequently sign the treaty, according to Panhwar.
“India, which had a four-time bigger army and economy than Pakistan, did not expect that the war would go that long. According to the Indian army’s calculations, one week was enough to force Pakistani forces to surrender but it did not happen,” he said.
Citing the 1962 India-China war to support his argument, Panhwar underlined, “Sino-India war had weakened the Indian economy that could prompt societal cohesiveness. This developed apprehension among political elites of India that their political career and image could be jeopardized if war continues with Pakistan.”
A long war with Pakistan was neither economically sustainable nor politically affordable for India, he added.
For Pakistan, it was that the “definition of the situation” that was not objective and in accordance with the practical steps that Islamabad had taken in terms of war preparedness and its repercussions.
Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in the US, opined that the 1965 war was reaching a stalemate and the Indians were not averse to seeing it stop.
“China was not a neutral player as it was supporting Pakistan. In the West, only the US had sufficient influence and the (President Lyndon B.) Johnson’s administration was tired of both India and Pakistan.
This gave the Soviets an opportunity to step into the breach,” Ganguly told Anadolu Agency, explaining why the Soviet Union, and not US and China had to broker the treaty.
Supporting Ganguly’s opinion, Panhwar said: “China and the United States could not come forward and broker the cease-fire as during the Cold War in the 1960s there was specific cooperation between the former Soviet Union and the US because of the detent policy.”
Moreover, he added, the Sino-US rapprochement was also materialized with the help of Pakistan in the early 1970s. “Therefore, the US and China let the Soviets broker the deal. Secondly, at that time, Russia had good relations with both the countries.”
PEACE PROSPECTS STILL LOW
Frank O’Donnell, an expert in South Asian foreign policy and fellow with Washington-based Stimson Center think tank, sees the prospects for settling a string of lingering disputes between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, mainly Jammu and Kashmir a distant dream.
“As we approach the anniversary of the Tashkent Declaration formally ending the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the prospects for settling the underlying India-Pakistan disputes — or even starting a good-faith negotiation process toward this end — appear as remote as ever,” O’ Donnell told Anadolu Agency.
Both states, he argued, still focus upon military-centric thinking in conceptualizing their relationships and devote energies to seeking new sub-conventional, conventional and nuclear comparative advantages.
“As military-centric approaches continue to yield poor results for both states, new peace negotiations should be prioritized in the years to come,” he said.
Tashkent not only gave South Asia the Mughal dynasty but two political families — Bhutto and Gandhi.
Hours after signing the agreement in 1966, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri mysteriously died in Tashkent, leading to persistent conspiracy theories. The city hosts his bust and a road named after him.
The difference also arose between then-Pakistani President Ayub Khan and his Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Tashkent, soon after signing the agreement. Bhutto parted ways and launched his party — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — and rose to become prime minister.
In India, Shastri’s death paved the way for 48-year old Indira Gandhi to become the first female prime minister in India. With a brief interlude of two years, she ruled until October 1984 when she was assassinated by her bodyguards.
“The cease-fire contributed to the end of the Ayub Khan military dictatorship in Pakistan as his very ambitious Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, sought to capitalise on the cease-fire,” said Ganguly.
Nonetheless, he contended, Shastri in India, who had displayed “much verve and leadership” during the war, was hailed as a hero at home.