The Shimla Agreement of 1972


  • The Shimla Agreement of 1972 was expected to be a milestone in India-Pakistan relations, for not only did it rend Pakistan asunder, but India also held 93,000 prisoners of war (POWs) who could constitute a major bargaining chip with Pakistan.

Objectives of the Agreement:

India had three primary objectives at Shimla.

  • First, a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue or, failing that, an agreement that would constrain Pakistan from involving third parties in discussions about the future of Kashmir. 
  • Second, it was hoped that the Agreement would allow for a new beginning in relations with Pakistan based upon Pakistan’s acceptance of the new balance of power.
  • Third, it left open the possibility of achieving both these objectives without pushing Pakistan to the wall and creating a revanchist anti-India regime.

Near Consensus:

  • There was a near-consensus among Indian policymakers that India must not pull a “Versailles” on Pakistan. A humiliated Pakistan, it was argued, would inevitably turn revanchist.
  • This was the reason India did not force Pakistan to convert the ceasefire line in Kashmir into the international boundary when Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ruled out this option.
  • It accepted the term Line of Control (LoC) instead, thus delinking it from UN resolutions and highlighting that Kashmir was a purely bilateral affair.

India and Bangladesh:

  • India was inclined to return the POWs but was constrained from doing so because they had surrendered to the joint India-Bangladesh command and could not be returned without the latter’s concurrence.
  • Dhaka made it clear that it would not return the POWs until Islamabad recognised Bangladesh, thus delaying the POWs’ return until 1974.


  • However, despite its soft line on Kashmir and the POWs, India was unable to prevent the military from taking power in Islamabad in 1977 and executing Bhutto. General Zia-ul-Haq’s coup had a major bearing on India’s other objectives.
  • Zia’s strategy was to use the Afghan insurgency in the 1980s to acquire sophisticated arms from the U.S. and induce Washington to ignore Pakistan’s clandestine quest for nuclear weapons.
  • Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear capability created a situation of deterrence negating India’s superiority in conventional power and instated de facto military parity between the two countries.
  • The 1999 Kargil War validated the success of deterrence when India desisted from taking the war into Pakistani territory.
  • Deterrence also provided the shield for the Pakistani military to take the “war” into Indian Kashmir through its proxies, the terrorist groups created and supported by the ISI.
  • Nuclear weapons prevented India from retaliating on Pakistani territory.


  • The Shimla Agreement did not fully achieve any of India’s objectives. If anything, it may have whetted the Pakistani military’s appetite to try to turn Kashmir into India’s Bangladesh.

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