The untold story is the advance planning to enable Pakistan to seize of Jammu and Kashmir by force by the India Office in London, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, in conjunction with British officers who continued to lead the armies of India and Pakistan after Independence.
Mahatma Gandhi’s unqualified propensity for unilateral concessions has apparently triumphed in post-Independence India over Lord Krishna’s unyielding terse realism in the Bhagavad Gita. Not only that India has zealously sacrificed the narrative of its own bloody travails, in which its courageous men and women laid down their lives. The awesome exploits of the bravest of the brave, the Kumaonis, is barely accorded dignified recall and the women who gave up their lives guarding the Indian Parliament in 2001 dismayingly forgotten. In any other self-respecting country, the statues of such heroes would have dominated the skyline of their capital city. India’s faithfulness to eccentric Gandhian edicts, dismissed by even China’s lobbyist, Nehru acolyte ambassador, K.M. Panikkar, as a perverse misreading of the Bhagavad Gita, repudiates even courage and the universal legitimacy of self-defence. It was in Jammu and Kashmir that India fought its first war after Independence in 1947, to which in fact Gandhi did not object and suffered its first historic geopolitical setback, losing the peace despite being on the verge of military victory.
Britain’s India Office, its irate civil servants chafing at what even Winston Churchill repeatedly denounced as the Hindu Congress for stealing the “Jewel in its Crown”, plotted how to best carve up India. Punjab in its entirety was to be a part of Pakistan, as the senior civil servant of the province, Penderel Moon, highlighted (in Divide and Quit). The story was spoilt by truculent Islamic zealots taking to violence and provoking Sikhs, who were previously considered potentially ambiguous about their choice of country, into retaliation. But the British did not give up altogether, “fixing” the three Christian votes in the region’s assembly and ensuring it voted in favour of Pakistan by two votes overall and Punjab’s partition ensued. In addition, all India’s Christian organisations had evidently followed London’s advice and rebuffed overtures from Jawaharlal Nehru during the negotiations for Indian Independence and supported the Muslim League instead. Incidentally, Bengal was not as important strategically as the northern provinces, and Gilgit Baltistan was to be forcibly seized from Maharajah Hari Singh’s legitimate representatives and handed over to Jinnah by British officers, led by Major Brown. Most of this story is ably recounted by Indian diplomat C. Dasgupta (War and Diplomacy in Kashmir 1947-1948) and Narinder Singh Sarila’s unusually well-researched and evocative popular history (The Shadow of the Great Game).
The untold story is the advance planning to enable Pakistan to seize of Jammu and Kashmir by force by the India Office in London, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, in conjunction with British officers who continued to lead the armies of India and Pakistan after Independence. The diabolical conspiracy, which India’s amateurish Congress leadership failed to anticipate, began well before Indian Independence on 15 August 1947. The legal and political groundwork had been laid by the Viceroy’s proclamation, with Jinnah also insisting that rulers of the princely states would be free to choose which country, India or Pakistan, they wished to join. And the choice would not be subject to a popular vote, as elsewhere. It was clear that a popular vote in Jammu Kashmir was unlikely to favour Pakistan because the overwhelmingly influential leader of Muslims in the state, Sheikh Abdullah, had correctly inferred that his head would be the first on the chopping block if the state joined Pakistan. He had also undoubtedly sealed his own fate by rebuffing Jinnah’s blandishments to accede to Pakistan.
The fate of Huseyn Suhrawardy, who delivered Bengal to Jinnah, once Pakistan had been created, is a salutary reminder of what would have been in prospect for Sheikh Abdullah. Thus, the rationale for the Viceroy’s injunction of avoiding a popular vote in the princely states was crystal clear, though not even in retrospect to India’s secular historiography, too busy composing paeans to India’s Islamic heritage and penning horror stories of the impending disaster of India’s descent into Hindu feudal rule. As an aside, it might be noted that Jinnah also, presumably, had kept open the prospect of the wealthy princely state of Hyderabad in southern India choosing Pakistan, in accordance with the principles of accession for princely rulers established by Lord Mountbatten, at his urging.
As a result of foreknowledge of his fate, Sheikh Abdullah had shrewdly decided to join India though on his own terms and Jawaharlal Nehru acceded, with alacrity, to pretty much all his demands for constitutional and legal guarantees. Jawaharlal Nehru had made the ruler, Maharajah Hari Singh irrelevant and allowed his prime minister to be treated with shocking indignity, arrested and dragged through the streets by the Sheikh. The ambitious Sheikh had evidently hoped to inaugurate his own dynasty and apparently an independent Jammu and Kashmir nation too. It was the latter aspiration, on which he parlayed indiscreetly with the Americans about creating an independent Switzerland in the east that prompted Nehru to arrest his friend, Sheikh Abdullah, to whom he had given almost everything that had been sought. In the event, it was due to Sheikh Abdullah’s truculence that an invasion of Jammu and Kashmir was planned by Jinnah with cynical British collusion. The infinitely calculating Jinnah evidently thought that the recalcitrant Sheikh would be swept aside by an upsurge in local Islamic sentiment once a violent conflict had been precipitated by the Pakistani invasion between Jammu and Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims. Jinnah expected the situation to parallel the breakdown in relationships between the two communities elsewhere in India during its bloody partition and ensure Jammu and Kashmir’s Anschluss with Pakistan.
As it happened, such a breakdown in relationships did not occur nor did a popular uprising by Muslims greet the invaders from Pakistan. In fact, Jammu and Kashmiri Muslims showed no inclination to choose Pakistan even later, according to the British historian, Alistair Lamb, championing its case, when Nehru offered a plebiscite to the Pakistani prime minister, Muhammad Ali in 1954. Memories of the depredations of 1947 and 1948 by Pakistani invaders, looting, raping and abducting women (who filled the brothels of Rawalpindi and elsewhere) were still too fresh. Knowing it was unlikely to win a plebiscite, the Indian offer was rejected on a flimsy pretext, with Pakistan insisting the plebiscite administrator had to be US Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Pakistan hoped an US admiral would by sympathetic to its claims since Pakistan was a collaborator of the US in the Cold War and also enjoyed British support and rejected Nehru’s proposal for a neutral Scandinavian.
When India mobilised hastily to expel the invading tribesmen and Pakistani regulars from Jammu and Kashmir, its commanders on the ground in the state, led by then Brigadier L.P. Sen (Slender was the Thread), did not know they were going to face perfidy and betrayal by their own senior commanders at headquarters in Delhi. Bewilderingly, the exact circumstances have not been fully appreciated even today by most Indians. The Indian Army not only faced the killing, pillaging and raping invaders but also interference coordinated by Britain through British officers who headed both the Pakistani and Indian Armies. Quite clearly, the two chiefs, who headed the Indian Army until December 1948, Sir Robert Lockhart and Sir Roy Bucher, were almost certainly in touch with their British counterparts heading the Pakistani forces. The latter had obviously known of the impending invasion of Jammu and Kashmir, planned in the very building from which they themselves operated. Sir Robert, the Indian chief of staff, was summarily dismissed after six months into a four-year contract, but puzzlingly, another British general, Sir Roy Bucher was appointed chief of staff to succeed Sir Robert despite disquiet with the British predecessor’s suspect conduct. The British leaders of the Indian Army then proceeded to thwart their own forces on the ground in Kashmir by refusing reinforcements when the Indian Army was making rapid progress and advancing, denying repeated requests. They also instigated the redeployment of experienced units that had been victorious from critical strategic locations, effectively enabling Pakistani forces to retake them, including the Haji Pir pass, from which they had been expelled earlier. Sadly, Major General Thimayya, later chief of staff in 1957, did not play a glorious role in this tragic situation, often siding with headquarters.
Quite clearly, the British officers at headquarters, directing the Indian Army, did not wish it to liberate the region and possibly make the admittedly difficult attempt to restore Gilgit-Baltistan to the legitimate sovereign rule of the state of Jammu and Kashmir as well. What the British officers sought instead was a stalemate on the ground, while Lady Edwina Mountbatten set about persuading a lovelorn “Jawaharlal” to bring the matter before the UNSC to legitimate the deadlock sought. Indeed, this is exactly what happened, with the UNSC-sponsored ceasefire freezing a disastrous status quo for India, with the loss of historic land access to Afghanistan and beyond. Astonishingly, the plea to the UNSC was drafted under Chapter 6, characterising the situation as a” dispute” instead of “an act of aggression” under Chapter 7 since Jammu and Kashmir had acceded to the Indian Union legally. Seeking to nullify India’s sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir was no inadvertent “technical error”, as some describe it, but an historic conspiracy that reeks of British duplicity, consistent with the Viceroy’s aim of legitimating the stalemate on the ground, and Indian complicity at the highest level. The catastrophe of losing critical areas of J&K territory continues to haunt India to this day, robbed of a land and air corridor towards the northwest, with Pakistan regularly denying overflight rights. Western allies in Afghanistan have also discovered in recent years that this situation was mightily inconvenient for them too for the supply of their mission in Afghanistan, for which they had to frequently serenade a grudgingly acquiescent Pakistan.
Interestingly, the British Cabinet Office has recently ordered the Mountbatten diaries and letters between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, for the period 1947-1948, withheld by Southampton University which had bought them. This is now the subject of High Court action to compel their release to the public. Also note, once Indian diplomat, C. Dasgupta had accessed material on Jammu and Kashmir in London, which he quotes, they were quickly removed from public view. The long historical British campaign to secure Jammu and Kashmir for Pakistan, though the strategic rationale of an east of Suez policy ended in 1956, continues unabated, with scores of British MPs pouring incessant bile to incite support for its occupation by fundamentalist Wahhabis.
Part II on the wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971 to follow.
Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for more than two decades.