The Shimla Accord |The Handover of War Prisoners (India v. Pakistan)

Handover can be termed as the act or process of transferring authority, management, or responsibility from one organisation or individual to another; the time frame in which this process occurs.

The Shimla Accord, which the two nations signed on August 2, 1972, eight months after the 13-day Indo-Pakistan war concluded on December 16, 1971, called for India to release all 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war (POW) that its army had captured during the conflict.

This choice turned out to be contentious, with many Indians wondering why Prime Minister Indira Gandhi blew a great chance to negotiate with Pakistan and resolve the Kashmir issue on India’s terms.

Why did Mrs. Gandhi decide to release the POWs? What occurred off-camera? Were there any noteworthy events occurring that went unreported? If there were any, it would be great to make them available to the public so that future generations might learn from the mistakes of the past.

Even though it has been more than 40 years since these events took place, as a retired diplomat who was personally informed of them, I can now recount the narrative.

The day of December 16, 1971, when Pakistan’s armed forces surrendered in Dhaka in front of the joint command of the Indian military and Bangladesh’s Mukti Bahini, was the pinnacle of both their respective militaries’ long and short histories.

But as the two armed forces were rejoicing over their military triumph over a relentless oppressor, Mrs. Gandhi was thinking about the other pressing problems that India was currently experiencing.

India had to pay for the care of the 10 million refugees who flooded into India from East Pakistan to escape the Pakistani army’s horrific atrocities, popularly known as the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971, in addition to the massive expense of the war.

The obligation of caring for the 93,000 Pakistani soldiers seized as POWs arose unexpectedly and was not budgeted for, which was another significant task that was highly complex politically because it touched concerns of national security and foreign policy. India sought to maintain the Pakistani soldiers in more comfortable circumstances than those allowed by the Geneva Convention.

At that time, Indira Gandhi’s top priority was figuring out a way to return Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to his nation safely.

If it meant saving his life, she was willing to pay anything. The prime minister confided in at least one member of her ‘kitchen cabinet’ about this. The leader of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Ram Nath Kao, was that person.

She was well aware that Mujib had been found guilty of treason by a Pakistani military court, and that the Bangladeshi leader had been sentenced to death by hanging. Also, as is customary for the Pakistani military, the security services did not shirk from using the crudest language possible to show their morbidity. A 6.5-foot trench was excavated in his cell, and there was a rope with a loop at the end hanging over it as a sign that he might soon meet a horrific end.

Gandhi would have a nightmare if the Pakistani military executed the defendant and abandoned Bangladesh. His execution would be a complete tragedy for India, which gave the Bangladesh freedom war its all and would be the realisation of a dream. For Mujib’s sake, the sake of his family, the sake of Bangladesh, and the sake of India itself, it was in India’s best interests to do everything in its power to save Mujib’s life.

At the same time, Pakistan’s humiliation at the hands of India, its alleged arch-enemy, was viewed as an unforgivable insult to its national identity. Even worse, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory—the philosophical basis for Pakistan’s existence—was destroyed when Pakistan lost half of its territory to Bangladesh.

General Yahya Khan, the military dictator, was so shocked by this disaster that he abruptly decided to accept full responsibility for the country’s demise and resigned. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was still in New York attending UN Security Council sessions when he requested him to leave.

General Yahya Khan also informed Bhutto that he had resigned from his position and that he (Bhutto) had been named the principal martial law administrator of Pakistan.

Bhutto was told to see Pakistan’s mentor at the time, US President Richard Nixon, in Washington DC before boarding his flight for Rawalpindi.


According to the interpretation of the situation, this case was brought about by India’s involvement in the continuing disputes between Bangladesh and Pakistan. The case itself is not very significant, but the events that occurred before and after the case are still quite significant. When viewed chronologically, the Genocide in Bangladesh poisoned all of the humanistic lessons we had ever learned.

While reading the estimations, I learned that 2 lakh women were raped and that 3-4 lakh individuals had been brutally murdered. When it came to dealing with these atrocities, Bangladesh was exceedingly tolerant. It ought to have asked for a global tribunal akin to the Nuremberg trials, in my opinion, in the international court of justice. Bangladesh has been unable to punish the Operation Searchlight war criminals to this point.

Actions against the 195 war criminals ought to have been considerably more severe. In the battle they won at the time, India, in my opinion, also missed a lot of possibilities. India held the upper hand in 1971 after Pakistani forces surrendered, and it has often been said that India would have received far more than what it requested in the Shimla Agreement.

The fact that there aren’t any stronger laws pertaining to crimes against humanity and war crimes exposes a very significant flaw in our international judicial system. Principles and previous tribunal rulings are the only things we have in this regard.

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