Matters came to a head in August 1948 after the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) proposed the withdrawal of Pakistani troops that had entered Kashmir (which would include Pakistani withdrawal from Gilgit also). This proposal was against British policy. However the Americans continued to support a Pakistani withdrawal on the ground that the State’s accession to India could not be questioned until India lost the proposed plebiscite.
It was at that stage that Ernst Bevin the British foreign secretary, decided to talk frankly to George Marshall, the American secretary of state. Bevin spoke to Marshall on 27 October 1948 when the two were present in Pais for the UN General Assembly meeting. After observing “that Nehru since he was a Kashmiri Hindu was very emotional and intransigent on the subject,” Bevin added:
The main issue was who would control the main artery leading into Central Asia. The Indian proposal would leave that in their hands . . .
Bevin had let the cat out of the bag: that the issue concerning Gilgit was strategic and not one of the legality or the presence or otherwise of the Pakistani forces there. The ‘main artery’ into Central Asia that Bevin had referred to was the British-built track from Gilgit to Kashgar in Sinkiang, via the 4709-meter high Mintaka Pass, across the mighty Karakoram Range. (This artery had been an important link for them with their consulate general in Kashgar which maintained a British presence north of the Karakoram).
From the internal telegrams exchanged between the State Department in Washington and the US delegation to the UN in Paris it is evident that Bevin failed to carry the Americans along. Simple cease-fire order (as the Briish were insisting on) without provisions for truce and plebiscite would imply sanctioning of Pakistani troops (italics added) and would not only be inconsistent with the provision of the SC (Security Council) and UNCIP approach but would (also) be highly unacceptable to GOI (Government of India)– From Washington to its delegation in Paris on 11 November 1948:
Accordingly the US delegate to the UN, John Foster Dulles, on 10 November 1948, told Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British delegate to the UN: ‘Difficulties involved in immediate cease-fire remain substantial without overall political settlement and in the light of India’s claim to the area (Gilgit).’
Let us now for a moment look at India’s policy towards Gilgit. Nehru first briefed Mountbatten on J&K through a note on 17 June 1947: the state consists of roughly three parts: Kashmir Proper, Jammu and Ladakh (Baltistan, Skardu, Kargil). The note omitted to describe Gilgit as part of the state. Such a document coming from the future prime minister could have created the impression in London that the Indian leaders had ceased to consider Gilgit as part of J&K (possibly because of the lease). It could have emboldened those planning Brown’s coup.
However on 25 October 1947, after Pakistan attempted to seize J&K through the tribal invasion, Nehru wrote to Attlee as follows: Kashmir’s northern frontiers, as you aware, run in common with those of three countries, Afghanistan, the USSR and China. Security of Kashmir . . . is vital to the security of India especially that part of the northern boundary of Kashmir and India is crucial. Helping Kashmir, therefore, is an obligation of national interest of India.
Yet, some four months later, i.e., on 20 February 1948 the prime minister wrote to Krishna Menon, the Indian high commissioner in the UK, as follows: Even Mountbatten ‘has hinted a partition of Kashmir’, Jammu for India, and the rest including lovely Vale of Kashmir to Pakistan. This is totally unacceptable to us . . . Although if the worst comes to the worst I am prepared to accept Poonch and Gilgit being partitioned off (italics added).
Lord Mountbatten was anxious to settle the Kashmir dispute before he relinquished the governor-generalship in June 1948. At his behest, V.P. Menon and Sir Gopalswami Iyengar, the minister without portfolio, drew up a plan for the partition of the state, complete with maps (which left Gilgit to Pakistan). It is difficult to believe that the Indian ministers remained ignorant of this exercise. Nothing came out of it but the proposal was not kept confidential. V.P. Menon on 31 July 1948, told the charge d’ affairs of the US Embassy in Delhi that the ‘Government of India will accept a settlement based on accession of Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit to Pakistan’. Such a statement cut the ground from under the US’s stand that to leave the occupied areas in Pakistan’s control ‘would be highly unacceptable to GOI.’
Joseph Korbel was a member of the UNCIP which visited Delhi in July 1948. He has written that Sir Girja Shanker Bajpai, secretary general of he Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while talking to UNCIP members on 13 July 1948, sought the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from J&K (which would include Gilgit) before all else and said, ‘ . .the sands of time are running out. If the problem is not resolved by reason, the sword will find the solution’. This was in line with India’s complaint to the Security Council.
However, Korbel goes on to say that, a few days later, the Indian prime minister told him: ‘He would not be opposed to the idea of dividing the country between India and Pakistan.’ this meant leaving Gilgit to Pakistan.
Lars Blinkenberg, a Danish diplomat, has recorded that: On 20 August 1948, Nehru in a separate letter to the UNCIP Chairman stated ‘that the authority over the region (the Northern Areas) as a whole has not been challenged or disturbed, except by roving bands of hostile or, in some places, by irregulars or by Pakistani troops . . .we desire that after Pakistani troops and irregulars have withdrawn from the territory, the responsibility for the administration of the evacuated areas should revert to the Government of Kashmir and that for defense to us . . . We must be free to maintain garrisons at selected points in this area.’
The chairman in his reply, fudged the issue. ‘the question raised in your letter could be considered in the implementation of the resolution.’
However, the question was never pressed diligently afterwards. On 4 November 1948, a Pakistan Air Force Dakota on a supply-dropping flight to Gilgit was attacked by Indian planes. As a result the Pakistan Cabinet decided that fighter escorts would be provided for supply-dropping missions to Gilgit that was cut off in winter from Pakistan. Whitehall was worried that if this was done, India may then try to take on the Pakistan Air Force and attack airfields in Pakistan. After consulting the UK high commissioner in Delhi, Air Marshall Thomas Elmherst, the chief of the Indian Air Force, then called on the prime minister and held an hour-long discussion on the subject with him. During this discussion he succeeded in persuading Nehru to ignore the Pakistani aircraft supply-dropping missions to Gilgit. Besides abandoning the simplest way to cut off Gilgit from Pakistan in the coming winter months, the decision amounted to recognizing Pakistan’s presence in the Northern Areas.
It may be noted that no offensive was ever planned to regain Gilgit. Admittedly, the Army had constraints in reaching the Northern Areas during 1948 but the matter was never raised at any relevant or Joint Defence Committee meeting.
In view of the erratic positions adopted by India on Gilgit it is not surprising that he UNCIP proposals of August 1948 and amended by interests parties in Pakistan’s favour, so that the Pakistan vacation of Gilgit (and other occupied areas) did not remain unconditional. India failed to exploit the US support for its juridical position; indeed, it made statements that undermined the favorable stand taken by the Americans. After India accepted, in December 1948, a ceasefire on UNCIP terms that left Gilgit in Pakistani control, the US dropped its insistence on a Pakistani withdrawal from Gilgit. The US State Department had sought the opinion of John Hall Paxton, it’s counsel in Tihwa in Sinkiang on the feelings of the Muslims there on the issue. The consul replied that the Sinkiang Muslims felt closer affinities with the Muslims than the Hindus of the subcontinent. He also reported that most of the trade between India and Sinkiang was in the hands of Muslims. This information also possibly persuaded the US to accept the status quo.
The other area of J&K that Britain definitely wanted to go to Pakistan was the western strip of territory from Naushera to Muzaffarabad lying along Pakistan Punjab. The reason why Britain felt that his area had to go to Pakistan is best told in the words of General Douglas Gracey, the Briish commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army: Its (this area) going to India would (mean facing) ‘the Indian Army on the long Pakistan border within 30 miles of the strategic railway leading from Peshawar through West Punjab to Lahore’. . . Occupation of Bhimber and Mirpur (two important places in that area) will give India the strategic advantage of . . . sitting on our doorsteps, threatening the Jhelum bridge which is so vital to us. It will also give them control of the Mangla Headworks, placing the irrigation in Jhelum and other districts at their mercy. . . Furthermore, loss of Muzaffarabad- Kohala (a strategically located place) would have the most far reaching effect on the security of Pakistan. It would enable the Indian Army to secure the rear gateway to Pakistan through which it can march at any time it wishes. . . it will encourage subversive elements such as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his party, (the Fakir of ) Ipi and (those in) Afghanistan. If Pakistan is not to face another serious refugee problem . . . If civilian and military morale is not be affected to a dangerous extent; and if subversive political forces are not to be encouraged and let loose in Pakistan itself, it is imperative that the Indian Army is not allowed to advance beyond the general line, Uri-Poonch-Naoshera. To make Pakistan a confident and willing member of the Briish team, it had to be made to feel secure.
Unlike Gilgit, India and Pakistan fought for over a year to take control of this belt along the Pakistan part of the Punjab. This matter presented a very complicated diplomatic tangle. Before we proceed to deal with this story, let us take a quick look at J&K’s topography, its relevant past and the events leading to the crisis and subsequent war. Nearly the size of France (J&K), the state extended from the subcontinental plains to the Pamirs. Three great mountain ranges ran across it, east to west, and their spurs, north to south, cut up the vast area into different segments, so that people of different racial stocks and different cultures, who spoke different languages and professed different faiths, were found in this patchwork.
The Karakoram range separated the state from Central Asia. This range contained glaciers larger than any seen beyond the Poles and massive mountains-K2 (8610 meters), the second tallest peak in the world, and a host of other giants over 7600 meters. The Himalayan range ran through its middle, with the massif of the Nanga Parbat (8126meters) at its western extremity. The Pir Panjal range separated these highlands from the southern foothills, akin the Dogra stronghold of Jammu was situated. The Kashmir Valley, or Kashmir Proper, was situated in the western reaches of the mountains with the ancient city of Srinagar on the Dal Lake. The valley occupied less than ten percent of the total area of the state though it contained well over half the state’s population of about four million. The only all-weather road from this isolated but beautiful valley ran along the Jhelum River to the west towards Pakistan. From Srinagar to Jammu there existed a fair-weather road through the Banihal Pass (2700 meters), closed during winter.
The Northern Areas were inhabited by Shia Muslims including Ismailis; eastern Ladakh along Tibet with Leh as its capital by Lamaistic Buddhists, Jammu Province by Dogras and other stock as the Punjabi Muslims across the border. The Kashmir Valley had 80% Sunni Muslims, the rest being Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits (the last, because of their talents having spread to occupy important posts throughout India). The valley enjoyed a distinct cultural identity (Kashmiriyat), the main characteristics of which was a tolerant form of Islam–thanks to the Sufis who had proselytized there in the Middle Ages and to its relative isolation. Or was it because rare is the union of beauty and purity?
Till the fourteenth.century, the Kashmir Valley and some of the areas of the present state were ruled by a series of Buddhists and Hindu dynasties, which later were supplanted by Muslim rulers. In the sixteenth century, Akbar the Great started to spend the summer months in Srinagar. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the area passed into the grasp of the Afghans, from whom the Sikh King, Ranjit Singh wrested in 1819. The origin of the state dated from 1846. After the British defeated the Sikhs decisively and annexed the Punjab that year, they handed the mountainous territory to the north of the Punjab to Gulab Singh, the Dogra chieftain of Jammu- for a monetary consideration.
Gulab Singh and his generals extended Dogra sovereignty up to the Pamirs and Tibet. They united and held together this fragmentary land, the maharaja providing the focal point and a certain razzmatazz. The Briish were content to let the Dogras enlarge the territories of the Empire up to Central Asia, cost free. As the Russians started moving southwards in the 1860s and the Great Game began, the viceroy assumed greater control over the territory by stationing political agents in it. In the 1880s the British built the track from Gilgit to Kashgar in Sinkiang via the Mintaka Pass in the Karakoram. Kashmir became even more important for Britain after the Bolsheviks took hold of Russia in the 1929s and started to penetrate the frontiers ‘with the invisible force of ideology,’ sending communist agents and literature into India. They used the unfrequented Kashmir passes, including the 5575-meter high Karakoram Pass on the track from Leh to Yarkand*. Agents of both sides used Kashmir rather than the more exposed routes via Afghanistan. Colonel F.M. Bailey, on his famous mission to Tashkent in 1918, left via Kashmir.
* both the towns, Kashgar and Yarkand in Sinkiang lay on the old silk route between Europe and China.
Till March 1947, it was expected that the rulers of some of the bigger princely states, such as J&K, might choose independence and remain associated with Britain, particularly in the vital sphere of defence. However, British policy in April 1947 suddenly changed, and the princely states were advised to accede to one or the other dominion. As soon as the agreement on partition was reached, Lord Mountbatten himself, on 17 June 1947, travelled to Srinagar to discuss the future of this strategically placed area with the ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. They were old acquaintances, having served together as aides-de-camp to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) during his fairly lengthy tour of India in 1921. Mountbatten broached the subject with the maharaja, during a car drive, with Hari Singh at the wheel of his Bentley. Mountbatten told me many years later:
I explained to HH (His Highness) that his choice was between acceding to India or Pakistan and made it clear that I had assurances from the Indian leaders that if he acceded to Pakistan they would not take it amiss. According to V.P. Menon, ‘these assurances had been given by Sardar Patel, the Home Minister himself* * before the ‘basket of princes’ promised by Mountbatten had been delivered to him, which happened around 15 August 1947.
**Patel was more flexible on Kashmir. The viceroy was helping to place in the Indian dominion an area spread over 500,000 square miles with a population of 86.5 million, comprising the princely states. Patel was more concerned with them and also in obtaining Mountbatten’s help to discourage the Nizam of Hyderabad from seeking independence for his state. It was after Pakistan tried to seize J&K by force through a barbaric attack that Patel became the most indefatigable crusader against Pakistan on Kashmir.
H.V. Hodson who was given permission to see the Mountbatten papers that are not available to others, has written that that the viceroy also told Hari Singh not to take a decision till the Pakistan Constituent Assembly had been convened. While briefing Jinnah on 1 November 1947 at Lahore, Mountbatten maintained that he had advised the maharaja ‘to ascertain the will of the people and then accede to the Dominion of the people’s choice.’
The loss of the option of independence came as a shock to Hari Singh. He shut himself up like an oyster, avoiding thereby further discussions with the viceroy. He probably felt that his friend wanted him to join Pakistan. This he was absolutely unwilling to do. It would enrage his entire Dogra base and could lead to his elimination by the Muslim fanatics gathering in Pakistan. If he acceded to India, he risked alienating a large section of his Muslim subjects. Besides there was no safety for him in India either. Sheikh Abdullah the leader of the National Conference-then the strongest party in the Kashmir Valley-posed a major threat to his throne and Dogra rule, against which Abdullah and his followers had been agitating since 1938. The fact that Abdullah’s party was allied to the Indian National Congress and that he himself was admired by Nehru presented a double danger. Hari Singh had been compelled to take the future prime minister into custody in 1946 when he had tried to enter Kashmir to agitate for Abdullah’s release from prison. The fact that a majority of the 80% of the Muslims of he Kashmir Valley acknowledged Abdullah as their leader excited Nehru greatly. Here was a Muslim leader who rejected Jinnah’s two nation theory; who could serve as a bridge between Kashmir and India, who would help to make his ancestral home a symbol of Indian secularism.
Karan Singh, Hari Singh’s heir apparent, has observed: I suspect that in his heart of hearts my father still did not believe that the British would actually leave . . . Independence could perhaps have been an attractive proposition but to carry that off would have required careful preparations and prolonged negotiations and diplomatic ability. . . Instead of taking advantage of Mountbatten’s visit to discuss the whole situation meaningfully and trying to arrive at a rational decision, he first sent the viceroy out on a prolonged fishing trip to Thricker (where Mountbatten shocked our staff by sun-bathing in the nude) and then-and having fixed a meeting just before his departure-got out of it on the plea that he had suddenly developed a severe attack of colic. . . thus the last real chance of working out a viable political settlement was lost.
Mountbatten reached out to the maharaja again at the time of India’s independence. Lord Ismay visited Srinagar on a ‘holiday’ during the Independence Day celebrations in India and met him there. According to Phillip Zeigler, he applied pressure on the maharaja. When Ismay referred to the Muslim population of Kashmir, the maharaja replied that the Kashmir Valley’s Muslims (where two-third of the Muslims of Kashmir lived) were very different from Punjabi Muslims. ‘All he would talk was about polo in Cheltenham in 1935 (Ismay was then military secretary to the viceroy, Lord Willingdon), and the prospect of his colt in the Indian Derby.’
The Maharaja of Kashmir had not been invited to the last meeting of the Chamber of Princes on 25 July 1947, in which Mountbatten launched his operation to rope in the princes.V.P. Menon, who was then the secretary dealing with the princely states, has written: ‘If truth must be told, I for one had simply no time to think of Kashmir,’ an amazing statement from a live wire like him, unless Mountbatten, whose closest advisor he was, had infected him with apathy for building up a Kashmir connection.
In his personal report to the secretary of state (of July 1947) while enumerating the states that might join Pakistan, Mountbatten mentioned ‘the possibility of Kashmir joining Pakistan’. His report was sent after he had seen Hari Singh. On 10 October 1947, Mountbatten saw the Diwan of Kashmir and told him that there was no legal objection to Kashmir acceding to India, if it did so against the wishes of the majority of the population, such a step would not only mean immense trouble for Kashmir but might also lead to trouble for the dominion of India. Whatever the future of Kashmir, a plebiscite must be the first step. Mountbatten while reporting the above to London, said that he had informed Nehru and Patel of the discussions ‘and they both accepted what I said.’
Jinnah and the Muslim League from the very start believed that J&K should come to them and that Britain would assist them in the acquisition if for no other reason, then for strategic considerations. The acquisition of Kashmir was the least that the Muslim League could expect after having being handed out a ‘moth-eaten’ and truncated Pakistan, one-fifth the size of India. The Kashmiris of the western belt of the state were of the same stock and faith as the Punjabi Muslims. Admittedly, those of the valley were different, less communal and under a political spell of Abdullah. But in the end, they were likely to harken to the call of Islam. There was a security angle as well as explained in General Gracey’s words. It is a matter of speculation whether it ever occurred to Jinnah that the acquisition of the Northern Areas might one day help Pakistan develop ties with China.
Jinnah had commissioned an architect to design a house for himself in the Kashmir Valley. The matter seemed straightforward. Srinagar was just 135 miles from the Pakistan border. The only proper all-weather road into it was from Pakistan. If Pakistan could take Srinagar in a lightning strike, no help could possibly reach the maharaja from anywhere. But there were constraints. The first was the British attitude. Although London favoured Kashmir’s attachment to Pakistan, it wished this ‘on agreed terms’ with India. Therefore, if the Pakistanis wished to jump the gun, they evidently could not take HMG into confidence. There is, however, some circumstantial evidence that certain people in the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) were aware of Pakistan’s designs, the principal staff officer to the secretary of state, General Geoffrey Scoones (an ardent supporter of Pakistan) as we shall see, amongst them. The matter had to be kept hush-hush, especially from Mountbatten in Delhi, whom Jinnah did not trust.
Secondly the situation in the valley-Kashmir ‘Proper’ was not promising for Pakistan. There, the National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah had the upper hand over the Muslim conference allied to the Muslim League. According to a report of the British resident, W.O. Webb, Agha Shaukat Ali of the Muslim conference had threatened ‘direct action’ in Kashmir in 1946 but failed to unite the warring factions of the Muslim Conference proving there was no communal feeling. This was the main reason why Jinnah had hummed and hawed over a plebiscite when one under UN auspices was suggested to him by Mountbatten on 1 November 1947 in Lahore. O the other hand, a forcible seizure- a daring display of dash- might break Abdullah’s spell on the valley’s Muslims. Even in the west, along the Punjab border, there was no massive spontaneous revolt against the maharaja to justify an incursion by Pakistan to save the Muslims. According to H.V. Hodson, the trouble that broke out in Poonch was ‘sporadic for most part’ and there was some evidence of Pakistan taking part.’ he says: ‘the above was nothing surprising or pretentious view of Punjab happenings . . . To justify action (by Pakistan) in Kashmir on the above basis would be incorrect.’ The reports of Webb, the British resident in J&K and of the British, commander-in -chief of the Kashmir State Forces, General Victor Scott, confirm Hodson’s assessment. According to Webb, ‘relations between Hindus and Muslims began to grow uneasy and in some areas strained as communal violence flared up in the plains around the State’. Kashmir remained free from communal disturbances. The unease was more confined to Jammu and along the frontier areas adjoining Pathan Tribal Agencies. General Scott reported in September 1947 that : ‘the State troops had escorted one lakh Muslims through Jammu territory on their way to Pakistan and an equal number of Sikhs and Hindus going the other way’, signifying that the communal situation in J&K was totally different from that in Punjab. Lars Blinkenberg, the Danish diplomat has pointed out: ‘The Maharaja with Mehr Chand Mahajan (his prime minister) toured the western part of Jammu from 18 to 23 October 1947. The local revolt in the areas of Poonch and Jammu made most by Pakistan was therefore not sufficiently powerful to obstruct the Maharaja’s circulation.’
The most formidable obstacle in Pakistan’s path was Maharaja Hari Singh. He had absolutely no desire to accede to Pakistan. It was no secret to Jinnah that the replacement of Pandit Ram Chandra Kak as the prime minister of J&K by Mahajan in the middle of September 1947 signified that Hari Singh had decided to accede to India. The Pandit detested Sheikh Abdullah like his master and had kept playing a diplomatic game with Pakistan to counterbalance the Abdullah-Nehru pressure. For his part, Kak hoped to work for J&K’s independence with guarantees from both India and Pakistan to uphold the same.* *
**The British resident in J&K had reported from Srinagar on 1 November 1946: ‘I am inclined to think that the Maharaja and Kak (prime minister of J&K from 1945 onwards) are seriously considering the possibility of Kashmir not joining the . . .(Indian) Union if it is formed . . .The Maharaja’s attitude is, I suspect, that once Paramountcy disappears, Kashmir will have to stand off its own feet, and that the question of loyalty to the British Government will not arise and that Kashmir will be free to ally herself with any power – not excluding Russia – if she chooses.’
His hopes were dashed as a result of the change in British policy in April 1947 that the princely states should accede to one or the other dominion. In July 1947, Mountbatten had introduced Kak to Jinnah in Delhi to discuss the possibility of J&K’s accession to Pakistan and Jinnah had sent his private secretary to Srinagar on a long sojourn to keep in touch with the situation there. After Kak’s fall, despite the existence of a Standstill Agreement between Pakistan and J&K, Pakistan started to pressurize the state, starting with an economic blockade. Meanwhile, the matter of the state’ accession to India was being delayed only because of Prime Minister Nehru’s insistence that the maharaja hand over power to Sheikh Abdullah and install a fully representative government before any further steps could be contemplated. Hari Singh was unwilling to do so.
On 27 September 1947, Nehru wrote to Sardar Patel, who was keeping in touch with the maharaja, as follows: I understand that the Pakistan strategy is to infiltrate into Kashmir now and to take some big action as soon as Kashmir is more or less isolated because of the coming winter. . .it becomes important therefore that the Maharaja should make friends with the National Conference so that there may be this popular support against Pakistan. . .Once the State accedes to India, it will become very difficult for Pakistan to invade it officially or unofficially without coming into conflict with the Indian Union . . .It seems to me urgently necessary therefore that the accession to the Indian Union should take place early.
Patel Singh wrote to Hari Singh on 2 October: I need hardly say how pleased we all are at the general amnesty which your Highness has proclaimed (meaning the release of Sheikh Abdullah). I have no doubt that this would rally round you the men who might otherwise have been a thorn in your side. I can assure your Highness of abiding sympathy with you in your difficulties nor need I hide the instinctive response I feel for ensuring the safety and integrity of your State . . .In the meantime I am expediting as much as possible the link-up of the State with the Indian Dominion by means of telegraph, telephone, wireless and radio.
Time was obviously running out for Jinnah. To avoid an open conflict with India, pro-Muslim League tribesmen from the frontier areas (Masoods, Afridis and Hazarras) would be used as privates enticed with the promise of loot and more. They would be recruited by Pakistani officers of the old Indian Political Service who had vast knowledge of the tribes and armed and transported by Pakistan and led by Pakistani officers. (We have seen, the confidence Jinnah And Liaquat Ali reposed in some senior Muslim members of the Political Service in the episode related by Humayun Mirza, the son of Iskander Mirza; the father was at this time the defence secretary in the Pakistan Government.
Mohammed Yunus, the nephew of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, has narrated an interesting anecdote in his memoirs. Yunus recounts that one day his unclereceived a message from George Cunningham, governor of the NWFP, that one way to rehabilitate himself with Jinnah would be for Ghaffar Khan to lead a tribal lashkar (militia) into Kashmir. Yunus says that he passed on this information to Pandit Brij Kishen Mohan, the teacher of Yurav Karan Singh, who conveyed it to his mother, the maharani. According to Yunus, the maharaja sent for him to get more details but Prime Minister Kak convinced Hari Singh that Yunus was acting for the Congress Party and was trying to frighten him into acceding to India apart from releasing and making up with Sheikh Abdullah.
Much later, when I enquired from Dr Karan Singh about the veracity of this episode, he replied (on 13 December 2002) as follows: I do recollect that such a message was in fact pased on to Pt. Brij Kishen Mohan and then to my mother who mentioned it to my father. If I remember correctly Yunus and one of his cousins did call upon my father at the Gulab Bhawan although I am not sure what transpired at the meeting.
Colonel (later major general) Akbar Khan of the Pakistan Army has described in his book how the ‘tribal operation’ was planned under the direct supervision of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Akbar Khan was the military member of the Liberation Committee. He has written in his book:
Upon my seeking a clarification of our military objective, the Prime Minister said that all he wanted was to keep the fight going for three months which would be enough time to achieve our political objective by negotiations and other means.
Did Liaqat Ali Khan expect that Pakistan’s occupation of the Kashmir Valley would force India to accept a settlement in J&K, satisfactory to Pakistan, under British aegis?
It is not my purpose to follow the course of the war in any detail. The Pakistani attempt to seize Srinagar failed. The Dogra commander of the J&K Forces, Rajinder Singh* held back the tribal hordes (the first attack was by about 5000 tribesmen) for three days at the entrance of the valley, till he was killed.
* Rajinder Singh was the first Indian to be awarded the Mahavir Chakra (posthumously) after India’s independence.
Then two days were lost by the invaders in pillage and rapine in Baramullah, at the entrance of the valley. Moreover, according to one source, ‘the rapidity with which Indians flew into Kashmir was outside Jinnah’s calculations.’ for carrying out this operation, almost all the commercial planes flying in India were commandeered.
On 14 November 1947 Akbar Khan found himself in Uri, 100 kilometers on the road to Srinagar with the tribesmen retreating from the valley after their clash with the Indian forces at the gates of Srinagar at Shelatang. They had suffered 600 casualties. He was attempting to reason with them not to abandon the battle:
‘Some had held out, hope of cooperating. Some had even got into their lorries and started towards the enemy, but then changed their minds and turned back . . . at 9 pm the taillights of the last departing vehicle disappeared in the distance. Taking stock of what was left, I discovered that in the rush my Staff Officer, Captain Taskin-ud-din and the wireless set had also gone. Barring about a dozen people, nothing remained. The volunteers, the tribesmen, and other Pathans, had all gone . . . My mission had ended in complete failure . . . But I did not think that I could go back yet. I had already, as it were, burnt my boats behind me by adopting the name of General Tariq. I had no pretensions to that great name but I felt it would provide an inspiration, as well as conceal my identity. Tariq, twelve centuries earlier, upon landing on the coast of Spain, had burnt his boats, and when told that it unwise to have abandoned their only means of going back to their own country had replied, in the words of (Mohammad) Iqbal: ‘Every country is our country because it is our God’s country.’
Akbar Khan continues: ‘In India, in the absence of homogeneity, a penetration in any direction can result in separation of different units geographically as well as morally because there is no basic unity among the Shudras (low castes), Brahmins, Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims who will follow their own different interests. At present, and for a long time to come, India is in the same position as she was centuries ago, exposed to disintegration in emergencies.’
This analysis has to be juxtaposed with what V.P. Menon has written:
Personally when I recommended to the Government of India the acceptance of accession of the Maharaja of Kashmir, I had in mind one consideration and one consideration alone, viz., that the invasion of Kashmir by the raiders was a great threat to the integrity of india. Ever since the times of Mahmud Ghazni, that is to say, for nearly eight centuries . . . India has been subjected to periodical invasions from the north-west . . . And within less than ten weeks of the establishment of the new State of Pakistan, its very first act was to let loose a tribal invasion through the north-west. Srinagar today, Delhi tomorrow. * *
**The Kashmir dispute started life as a contest over rights to a territory, not to establish the wishes of people’, remarks historian Alistair Lamb in his work, Incomplete Partition: The Genesis of the Kashmir Dispute 1947-1948 (Roxford Books, Hertingfordbury, 1997).
Uri (where we found Akbar Khan stranded), Naoshera to Uri’s south on the southern side of the Pir Panjal range and Tithwal to Uri’s north were approximately at the eastern extremities of the belt of territory which General Douglas Gracey had argued was necessary for Pakistan’s security. Pakistani raiders advancing in early November 1947 had occupied a large portion of this area. After the tribal lashkar had fled from the Kashmir Valley and Uri had been recaptured on 14 November 1947, India considered the question of recovering all of this territory, including the Jhelum Valley road from Uri to Domel, situated on the Pakistan border.
Before we proceed further, let us focus on two factors that played a significant role in the struggle for the above territory. The first was Mountbatten’s metamorphosis. From being ‘almost neutral’ with even a slight pro-Indian edge, by the end of October, following the directions received from London, he began to tilt towards Pakistan. On learning of the tribal invasion of J&K, his first thought was to somehow avoid an inter dominion war, which would undo all the good work he had done for Britain in the subcontinent in the past six months.
He explained the dilemma to the King as follows: It would still be legally correct to send troops at (its) request to a friendly neighboring country even if it did not accede but the risk of Pakistan also sending troops would be considerable. The accession would fully regularized the position, and reduce the risk of an armed clash with Pakistan forces to a minimum because then they will be entering a foreign country.
India was committed to holding plebiscites in the princely state which became disputed. Mountbatten was confident that he could subsequently arrange matters, with Indian agreement, to Pakistan’s satisfaction, through either a plebiscite or a partition of the state of J&K. In his report to the King, he continued that ‘forming an Interim Government under Sheikh Abdullah had . . .increased India’s chances of retaining Kashmir in the ultimate plebiscite . . . though I still think that a country with so large a Muslim population will finally vote for Pakistan’.
Mountbatten had accepted the maharaja’s accession in his capacity as governor-general. With the cabinet’s approval, he simultaneously wrote a personal letter to the maharaja in which he declared: As soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invaders, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by reference to the people. This letter was not the legal acceptance of the Instrument of Accession. Such an acceptance had been given on the instrument itself in accordance with the Government of India Act, 1935, as amended and in force on 15 August 1947; the letter was a supplementary written due to the extraordinary situation in which the accession was sought. Its contents would later form the background of the basic conflict between India and Pakistan.* *
**Almost all non-Pakistani writers have come to the conclusion that the accession of J&K was legally complete when the governor-general had signed the Instrument of Accession on 27 October 1947.
The US Government recognized the accession.
For a discussion on this issue see Lars Blikenberg, India and Pakistan: the History of Unsolved Conflicts, Vol I (Odense University Press, Odense, Denmark, 1998, pp.79-82).
A few writers believe the accession did not come in force because of the letter written by Mountbatten; its coming into force is conditional on an approval by the population of Kashmir. In this controversy, the intention of the man who accepted the Instrument of Accession is important. Mountbatten in an aide memoirs, to Lord Ismay after he had left India explained: ‘ this discussion to hold a plebiscite in no way invalidated the legality of the accession of Kashmir to India. The position then was that Kashmir was legally part of the Dominion of India and the voluntary, unilateral, decision to hold (a) plebiscite to confirm this was only intended to be held after the tribesmen had been withdrawn and peaceful conditions had been restored throughout Kashmir.’
A factor that had weighed with Mountbatten was the necessity to save British residents living in and around Srinagar from the fate that had befallen the nuns from the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Baramullah at the Pathans’ hands. General Claude Auchinleck, the supreme commander, wanted to send British troops to escort the residents out of J&K. Mountbatten, however, prohibited this. ‘Blood will be on your hands’, Auchinleck had protested.
Mountbatten’s metamorphosis started on 31 October 1947. On that day a policy directive on J&K issued by the Commonwealth Relations Office was brought to Mountbatten’s notice by the British high commissioner. Besides stating that Kashmir had to go to Pakistan, though ‘on agreed teems’, this directive went on: On the one hand Pakistan has connived at the tribal invasion into Kashmir, ‘supplied artillery and transport’ for the same and on the other India has made ‘provocative mistakes’ in accepting Kashmir’s accession since that was not really required for sending military help (to prevent tribal depredations) . . . ‘had not consulted Pakistan and (had) used Sikh troops’.
Prime Minister Attlee was obviously not sure that the accession could be so easily made to ‘vanish’ by the Mountbatten magic in Delhi, as the governor-general believed. Other means would, therefore, have to employed to offset the advantage gained by India through this legal process. The first of these would be to establish Pakistan’s locus standi in J&K, using the presence of the Pakistani tribals and volunteers inside Kashmir for the purpose. The second would be to bring in the weight of international, particularly US, opinion, to pressurize India to make concessions.
This explains Attlee’s icy blast directed at Nehru when the latter explained to him the reasons for his government accepting Kashmir’s accession to India: I do not think it would be helpful if I were to comment on the action your government has taken. Side by side Noel-Baker wired to Lord Ismay: ‘Prime Minister is . . . unwilling to send a message to Jinnah (drawing his attention to the help the tribals had obtained from Pakistan) which, in fact, charges him (Jinnah) with responsibility.’
On the same day, Attlee wired Liaquat Ali Khan: ‘if in the talks with the Indians (scheduled for the next day) there was agreement that accession ‘is not to prejudice in any way the ultimate decision of the future of Kashmir’ (Attlee trusted) he (Liaquat) and Jinnah would make such an appeal in the way you will know best to ensure those not immediately under your control may fully weigh your counsel to them.’ this was an extraordinarily convoluted way of referring to the tribesmen in order to absolve Pakistan of blame for the invasion. But the message was clear: if there was no agreement and if India used the Instrument of Accession to justify its position in Kashmir, you will stay put (do not pull back the tribals).
Attlee had disapproved Mountbatten’s action on accession. Like the good soldier he was, Mountbatten immediately fell in step with HMG. On the very next day (1 November) on meeting Jinnah at Lahore (for nearly four hours), he launched, together with Ismay, a far-reaching initiative taking into account Attlee’s objectives: It is the sincere desire of the Government of India that a plebiscite should be held in Kashmir at the earliest date and in the fairest possible way. . . They suggest that UN might be asked to provide supervisors for this plebiscite, and they are prepared to agree that a joint India-Pakistan force should hold the ring while the plebiscite is being held. Mountbatten had no authority from the Government of India to suggest a reference to the UN or for the induction of Pakistan’s forces into J&K. His hope was that if Jinnah gave a nod to the proposal, he would try and get India to agree to it. Jinnah refused for reasons mentioned earlier; he was not confident of winning the plebiscite. It was during this conversation that Jinnah suggested ‘both sides should withdraw simultaneously’. When Mountbatten asked him: ‘How the tribesmen (who, Pakistan maintained, were acting independently) were to be called off? Jinnah replied (in the oft-quoted remark):’All he had to do was to give them an order to come out.’
At the meeting Mountbatten upbraided Jinnah for making out that the accession ‘rested on fraud and violence’. He said that the accession was perfectly legal and that the tribesmen for whom Pakistan was responsible, had indulged in violence. On 28 October 1947 General Auchinleck, the supreme commander, had threatened to pull out all British troops from the Pakistan Army, which Pakistan could ill afford to allow to happen. This threat resulted in Jinnah canceling his order to General Douglas Gracey, the acting commander-in-chief, to send in regular troops into the Kashmir Valley to clear the Indian troops arriving there by air and to secure the Banihal Pass. London had welcomed Auchinleck’s intervention, which probably averted an inter dominion war. Mountbatten’s warning was part of the same British effort to restrain Pakistan from further adventures.
The British, throughout the crisis, supported Pakistan but restrained it from taking actions that might result in an Indian invasion of West Punjab and a full scale war. Another factor that significantly influenced the situation was Nehru’s offer to Mountbatten to chair the Defence Committee of the Indian Cabinet as a whole that made the decisions on Kashmir war policy. This position gave the governor-general enormous power to influence the course of fighting. After Mountbatten had lived up to to his bargain to place the princely states in the Indian Union in July and August 1947, Nehru (as well as Patel and Gandhiji) had come to trust his word. The Indian leaders were also moved by Lady Mountbatten’s indefatigable efforts to provide solace to the suffering by touring refugee camps and hospitals day in and day out. Nehru and the Mountbattens had come close to each other. The Indian was less able to separate affairs of state from personal feelings than the Englishman.
General Kulwant Singh, GOC, Kashmir Operations, had prepared a plan in November1947 to clear the invaders from the entire belt along the Pakistan border. General Roy Bucher, the acting British commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, with support from Mountbatten (chairing the Defence Committee), opposed Kulwant Singh’s plan as being too risky. And though Nehru and other ministers pressed for an attack, Kulwant Singh was instructed ‘not to take unnecessary risks’.
On 9 November Mountbatten left for London to attend the wedding of Princess Elizabeth with Prince Phillip.* Mountbatten’s absence gave Kulwant Singh an opportunity to interpret his chief Bucher’s order in his own way and, within fifteen days, his troops had relieved the towns of Kotli, Jhangar and Naoshera from tribal occupation and were able reinforce the besieged town of Poonch. He could not, however, take back Mirpur, Domel and Muzaffarabad, situated near the Pakistan border.
*Patel encouraged Mountbatten to go to England: ‘At the present juncture such a visit would be both tactically and politically wise.’
On returning from London on 14 November, Mountbatten wrote to Nehru as follows: ‘I have on several occasions repeated my views on the question of sending Indian troops into western areas . . . During my absence in London this object changed. It thus evidently became the purpose of the Government of India to impose their military will on the Poonch and Mirpur areas.’ Admittedly, some portions of the uncharacteristically stiff letter to Nehru were meant for Attlee’s eyes.
In London, he had been made wise to the alarming allegations being made against him for siding with India against Pakistan. The cheerleader of this campaign was none other than his former godfather, Winston Churchill: ‘Muslims were Britain’s friends and that it was terrible that an Englishman and a cousin should now support Britain’s enemies against them.’ Mountbatten later said: ‘he accused me of having planned and organized the first victory of Hindustan against Pakistan by sending British-trained soldiers and British equipment to crush and suppress the Muslims in Kashmir.’
The Indian success in stemming the Pakistani advance by flying in troops into the state had resulted in the welling up of frustration in all those Englishmen who saw India and the Hindus as their enemy. Most of the British officers who had decided, at the time of withdrawal, to serve on in the subcontinent had opted for service in Pakistan. Over 500 British personnel held positions in the Pakistan Army, and many in the civil service and Political Department. The governors of Pakistan provinces such as Sir Francis Mudie in West Punjab and Sir George Cunningham in the NWFP were Britishers. Only some of them would fight for Pakistan in Kashmir, but most supported Pakistan’s efforts there. When the indians complained to London about British officers taking part in the Kashmir war, some of whom were killed, A.V. Alexander , the minister of Defence, agreed with Noel-Baker that: ‘it would be wise not to probe too deeply into the matter
C. Dasgupta: ‘The course and outcome of the first India-Pakistan war cannot be understood if we overlook the fact that the two contestants had yet to establish full national control over their respective armed forces . . . The international factor is particularly important in wars in the third world . . . Decisive results must be speedily achieved before major powers can intervene.’
The role of Mountbatten and British Service Chiefs made it virtually impossible for India to meet this requirement in 1947-48 . . . The British Government was kept informed at every stage and was thus enabled to take diplomatic steps to close India’s military options. The truth of these observations was proved time and again during the struggle for the possession of the western belt of Kashmir’ territory during 1947-48. In November 1947 Nehru proposed a ‘cordon sanitaire’, or a demilitarized zone, to be established along the frontier with West Punjab with orders that any observed movement within it should be attacked from the air after due notice.
According to H.V. Hodson: They Indians were so insistent that Lord Mountbatten had to temporized by getting the proposal referred to Joint Planning Staff. He made sure meanwhile that the report would be adverse and so it was. The ministers then gave up the idea without argument.
On 3 December 1947 Bucher made an effort to get the Defence Committee to accept the evacuation of Poonch, which, according to British thinking, had to be left with Pakistan. However, Nehru was able to shoot down this proposal despite the support Bucher received from Mountbatten. On the other hand, the commander-in-chief succeeded in getting shelved the push from Uri to Domel to clear the Jhelum Valley till the next spring. He also succeeded in getting dropped the plan to destroy the bridges across the Kishen Ganga river, which would have cut Muzaffarabad from Pakistan.
The struggle for control of the territory continued throughout 1948. During March that year, General K.M. Cariappa, the new GOC-in-C in the area, was able to reoccupy Jhangar and beat back a powerful attack on Naoshera. In April the Indian troops entered Rajouri town and thus the Jammu-Naoshera lines of communication were restored. Cariappa had taken care not to inform the Army Headquarters about his operational plans. According to his biographer, Cariappa had to fight ‘two enemies’, Army Headquarters headed by Roy Bucher, and the Pakistan Army headed by (Frank ) Messervy.
Bucher admitted to Gracey, the Pakistan C-in-C, that he had no control over Caiappa but hit upon an intriguing scheme to now stop the advance of his own army. Graffety Smith, British high commissioner in Karachi, reported to London the arrangements reached privately between the commander-in-chiefs of the two dominions. General Bucher indicated to General Gracey that ‘he had no wish to pursue an offensive into what is effectively Azad Kashmir-controlled territory, i.e., to Mirpur and Poonch sector . . .the object of these arrangements is to reach a situation in which each side will remain in undisputed military occupation of what are roughly their present positions . . . An essential part of the process. . . is that three battalions of the Pakistan army should be employed in Kashmir opposite the Indian forces at Jhangar in and around Poonch and at Uri (italics added). . . The Pakistan Prime Minister is aware of these exchanges I have reported above, but I understand he feels unable at present to endorse officially.’ Further, Bucher told that he would try to get Indian troops withdrawn from Poonch.
Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim Khan, the leader of the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ Government, spilled the beans on this secret pact. He was so delighted that the Indian side had referred to, and thus recognized, ‘Azad Kashmir’ that he issued a press statement on 31 March 1948 to proclaim the same. It said: ‘His Government had been approached by India for a ceasefire.’ the Indian repudiated Bucher’s initiative, but there is no record of his being pulled up. Mountbatten too wanted to neutralize Indian military initiatives. He told General Gracey, the Pakistan Army’s commander-in-chief, who visited Delhi on 2 May 1948: I pointed out (to Gracey) that, if we could get the two Governments to . . . feel themselves thoroughly militarily impotent, then this appeared to be the best chance of reducing the risk of war after my departure. Nehru and the Indian Cabinet had no such intention.
Terence Shone, the UK high commissioner in India, warned London on 14 May 1948 that the Indians intended to press ahead from Uri to Domel. The regular Pakistan Army had by now entered Kashmir. On 8 May 1948, the US military attaché in Delhi had cabled Washington: Pakistan has three regular . . . Army battalions in Kashmir now one vicinity Uri, one vicinity Poonch and one vicinity Mirpur . . . Pakistan on practical war footing along entire India-Pakistan border Bahawalpur State to Domel . . .Lack of supplies and reserves would mean short bloody aggression, with India certain and quick victor . . .
As a result of the Pakistani reinforcements, the indian two pronged attack to capture Domel and Muzaffarabad fizzled out. Tithwal, north of Uri was captured but the advance on the Jhelum Road did not proceed beyond 10 kilometers west of Uri. Soon thereafter, the members of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) arrived and India suspended operations for the duration of their stay in the subcontinent.
Excerpts “Shadow of the Great Game” by Narindra Singh Sarila