Roadblocks at Tashkent

On the bright and sunny, if also cold, afternoon of January 3, 1966, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan's president, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, arrived in Tashkent within an hour of each other. Led by their prime minister, Alexei Kosygin, the Soviet hosts welcomed both with scrupulously equal warmth and courtesy. For instance, the two delegations were taken to where they were to stay by different routes, each of which was bedecked with an equal number of flags of the two guest countries and those of the Soviet Union.

Similarly, at the inauguration of the Tashkent conference the next day, in his speech welcoming Shastri and Ayub, Kosygin spoke of "India and Pakistan" and "Pakistan and India" exactly the same number of times. By previous agreement, however, he invited Shastri to speak first. Residential arrangements for the two delegations were also fastidiously equal. Shastri and Ayub had a villa each. There was a nice, compact hotel, within walking distance of the prime minister's villa, where the Indian delegation was put up. The Pakistani delegation was accommodated in an equally comfortable guesthouse in the vicinity of Ayub's villa. A third, "neutral" villa was used for Kosygin's meetings with Shastri and Ayub jointly, and for the meetings of two delegations, headed by the two foreign ministers, Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, respectively.

More significantly, this was the first and so far only time the leaders of India and Pakistan went outside the subcontinent to meet under the auspices of a third country for "peace talks". In an interesting twist to history and the Cold War, the United States, Britain and other NATO countries were fully supportive of Kosygin's role as the intermediary between India and Pakistan, a region from which they had vowed to keep the Soviet Union out.

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