Rajiv more open-minded than his mother, Zia-ul-Haq told Thatcher

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, None, London
  • Updated: Jun 23, 2015 00:56 IST

As president of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq told British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that he believed Rajiv Gandhi was “more open- minded” on India-Pakistan relations than his mother, Indira Gandhi.

A confidential note of a meeting between Thatcher and Zia-ul-Haq in Moscow on March 13, 1985, now declassified, also reveals that according to Thatcher, “India remained heavily dependent upon the Soviet Union for arms”.

CD Powell, private secretary in 10 Downing Street, recorded the meeting, “He (Zia) had pinned considerable hopes for a reasonable Indian attitude on Mr Gandhi but had been disappointed by some of his recent remarks about the military equipment which Pakistan was procuring from the United States”.

“It seemed that he did not want Pakistan to be armed at all. The trial of the Sikh hijackers was in progress and its conclusion should remove an irritant in Pakistan/India relations. He believed that Mr Gandhi was basically more open-minded than his mother had been,” he said.

On Thatcher’s view that India was “heavily dependent” on the Soviet Union for arms, the record of the meeting states: “President Zia said that he very much hoped that Britain would sell more arms to India to reduce this dependence”.

“The Prime Minister referred to Britain’s problems with India stemming from the activities of Sikh extremists in the United Kingdom”, the record states.

The meeting also discussed Pakistan’s re-entry into the Commonwealth (it had withdrawn from the Commonwealth after Britain recognised Bangladesh after the 1971 India-Pakistan war, and President Zia was lobbying actively for its re-entry at the time).

Thatcher encouraged him to lobby Commonwealth members such as New Zealand and Canada. “The Prime Minister said that Pakistan would have to do some lobbying and would have to start now”.

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