Who Queered The Pitch For Kashmir

Updated: Jun 9 2002, 05:30am hrs
Here, fresh from the printing press is a book that lifts the curtain on the events that overtook us in Kashmir immediately on winning Independence, when we were still guided by our erstwhile rulers, especially in military and defence matters, and depended a great deal on Britain for military equipment, stores and supplies.

This was so in Pakistan, too. The difference was that we had Lord Mountbatten at the helm and he made sure that he chaired the Defence Committee of Cabinet and not Pandit Nehru. It was at the Defence Committee that all decisions relating to pushing back the raiders in Kashmir were being taken. The overriding consideration at his level was to pre-empt any direct confrontation between India and Pakistan.

Jawaharlal Nehru kept pressing for rapid nationalisation of the Armed Forces, but this was not allowed to happen. The reasoning put forward was that since Britishers headed the Army in both the countries, they could not fight against each other. In case of conflict, British officers were required to Stand Down and not take part.

So much importance was given to the Stand Down order that it was made the main point for inaction by the British commanders at every stage when action was sought of the Indian Army to push back the interlopers when they raided Kashmir.

This book must be read if only to remove the cobwebs about why we could not establish, on the ground, the legal position of the accession of Kashmir to India. (One wishes that the Instrument of Accession had been signed earlier without any parrying.) Many thank Pandit Nehru for this legacy of uncertainty and dithering in Kashmir and the resulting Kashmir Problem, a solution for which remains elusive. They have repeatedly laid blame at his door for aking the issue to the United Nations.

This book goes intensively and extensively into archival material and shows that Pandit Nehru had been badly cornered. It shows where the onus might rightly be placed. It gives an idea of the policy followed by Britain, involving duplicity and partiality and guided by a pro-Pakistan tilt. The tilt stemmed from Britains perceived need to improve its position in the Moslem world. Her strategic interests were related to West Asian oil and the growing role of air power, and the use of airfields, primarily in Pakistan. Suddenly, India did not seem to matter any moreshe had ceased to be the jewel in the crown.

The book details the background of the National Conference and the emergence of Sheikh Abdulla and the misgivings of the maharaja about him and his secular ideal.

He was arrested at a most inappropriate time and the National Conference was put down firmly by the maharaja, much to the chagrin of the Congress, with which the National Conference had ties. Pandit Nehru tried to intervene personally, but was not allowed to get into Kashmir. The fear of having to hand over power to Sheikh Abdulla made the maharaja apprehensive about acceding to India.

Patel, says the author, wrote to the maharaja on July 3, urging him to accede to India without any delay and reassuring him about the Congress intentions. By the time the maharaja was at last prepared to shed his earlier reluctance to appointing Sheikh Abdulla to office (he signed the Instrument of Accession in October,) Pakistan had taken advantage of the delay and decided to wrest Jammu and Kashmir by force. It launched a clandestine invasion by Pakistan tribesmen, ex-servicemen and soldiers on leave. Its govern- ment, then as now, disclaimed all responsibility.

The genesis of the trouble was an agrarian uprising in Poonch. Pakistan followed this up by sending armed infiltrators against the maharajas forces. Soon, they were poised to attack Srinagar. The Indian government had anticipated that Pakistan would try to seize Kashmir by force of arms, and so, Sardar Patel asked the defence minister to dispatch arms and ammunition to Kashmir, if need be, by air. It was the Defence Committee, headed by Lord Mountbatten, and not the Cabinet, headed by Pandit Nehru, which was taking the decisions, unfortunately. On one excuse or another, the sending of arms to Kashmir was effectively stalled by Lord Mountbatten and the British commanders, leading to loss of precious time.

Then, as now, the world was counselling India to have a dialogue with Pakistan, as if India was the one at fault, when it was so clear who the aggressor really was. Then too, restraint and bilateral relations were being dinned into Indian ears. A proposal came from Auchinleck in October that there should be a round-table conference with Jinnah, Liaqat, Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru, the maharaja and the Kashmir premier. Sardar Patel opposed the proposal vehemently, but Pandit Nehru was willing to go with Lord Mountbatten.

Just then, the Pakistan government issued a statement rejecting Kashmirs accession to India, saying it was based on fraud and violence. Pandit Nehru dropped out and Lord Mountbatten went alone. At this point, he made Pandit Nehru promise that the will of the people would be ascertained through a plebiscite that would be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. All Jinnah had to do was to give the violators of the territorial boundary an order to come out and to warn them that if they did not comply, he would cut off their lines of communication. But Lord Mountbatten refrained from pressing for the withdrawal of the raiders as a first step to the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Instead, there were wily proposals wanting Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten to be in joint control of Kashmir.

On November 27, when the two prime ministers met, Lord Ismay prepared a note, which sought to reconcile the legal implications of Kashmirs accession to India with the requirements of Pakistans expressed concern for a fair and impartial plebiscite. But again there was an impasse, because the raiders came to the Jammu side and created havoc. Despite the urgency, the Service chiefs again successfully thwarted all efforts to destroy the bridges there to stall the incoming raiders. In addition to the problems of winter and Pakistan sending in its regular army into the state, India had to contend with Noel Baker and his anti-Indian, pro-Pakistan stand. The latter half of the book clearly explains the role Baker played in the United Nations to promote his stand.

In Chapter XVII, the author sums up the developments: Mountbatten made sure that India did not extend operations upto the Pakistan border in the Poonch and Mirpur districts ... he foiled contingency plans for a counter strike across the Pakistani border while prevailing upon Nehru to take the Kashmir issue to the UN. By securing the position of chairman of the Defence Committee, he could directly influence government policy where possible and undermine it where necessary. Together with his army officers, he insisted on the Stand Down instructions and obstructed all moves for military action. The British side always asserted that Kashmir was a territory in dispute, and the Americans, who were not involved, disagreed, stating that they found it difficult to deny the legal validity of Kashmirs accession to India. Such was the British bias.

(Ms Ramachandran is a former vice-chancellor of MS University in Vadodara and a former chief secretary to the government of Kerala.)