Book Review | Kashmir’s Untold Story Declassified

August 19, 2020 9:35 AM

‘Kashmir Untold Story Declassified ‘gives an insight into the strategic relevance of this area, duplicity of the British and also a detailed view of the major issues facing the state in a systematic manner.

Kashmir's Untold Story Declassified book review, books on kashmir, LAC, International Border, Kashmiri Pandits, Ladakh,galwan valley, india pakistan tension, chinaThe designs of the British are another aspect the book focuses on very well.

By Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh (Retd)

When you look at a map of India, Kashmir lies perched on the top, like its head giving it a dominating position and a breathtaking view. Pre partition it looked into Afghanistan, Russia, Tibet and China and Post Partition it looks into Pakistan and China. Incidentally, it also shared a boundary with Russia, till the Wakhan Corridor which joined Gilgit to Russia was given to Afghanistan in 1893. Its geostrategic significance is therefore closely linked to the interest taken in it by our neighbours. It is the only state which shares a boundary with both Pakistan and China and that too in the form of an International Border (IB), Line of Control ( LoC ), Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) and the Line of Actual Control ( LAC ). Each of these has its own dynamics as is being seen in the recent standoff with China, due to the ambiguity which surrounds unresolved borders.

‘Kashmir Untold Story Declassified ‘gives an insight into the strategic relevance of this area, duplicity of the British and also a detailed view of the major issues facing the state in a systematic manner.

The challenge is writing about a place that has been the centre of gravity as far both our domestic and external policies are concerned. Jammu & Kashmir, was the only Muslim majority state in India, and had been in the focus in our four wars with Pakistan in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 and also in the Chinese conflict in 1962. Apart from this, it has also been involved in an ongoing insurgency and proxy war. There are a large number of books including those written by people who have served there and the media has also covered it extensively.

Hence the authors have done a marvellous job by focusing our attention to, certain contentious issues that are not openly written about but have an important bearing in this conflict-ridden region. The credentials of both Maroof Raza and Iqbal Chand Malhotra are excellent and with their depth of knowledge and an eye for detail, they have produced a very readable book which provides us with a deep insight and they have dwelt on the complex issues that surround Kashmir in a very lucid manner.

The historical canvas the book covers is vast, from 535 BC to the present day. In 1339, Islam overpowered Hinduism and Buddhism in the region and thereafter Nund Rishi, preached and practised a faith of tolerance and inclusivity called ‘Kashmiriyat’. However, as brought out in the book slowly this gave way to Wahabism and in 1990 the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits started from the Valley reducing them to 650 families in 2014. The philosophy of Kashmiriyat has suffered a blow which will take many years to recover.

The Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh had conquered the region and installed Gulab Singh as the Raja of Jammu. His legendry General Zorawar Singh had invaded Tibet and extended its boundaries till Mansarover. If logistics had not failed the entire area around Mount Kailash would have been part of the Empire and the British would have been encircled from the North and West and they could have linked up with Nepal and recaptured the areas of Kumaon and Garhwal.

The British feared the Great Game, and intervention of Russia from this direction; today it is the threat of China. The treaty of Chushul in 1842 restored the boundaries till Aksai Chin. This is a treaty that was viewed by Mao as unequal and lead to the Chinese conflict and invasion in this area.

The designs of the British are another aspect the book focuses on very well. The weakening of the Sikh Empire, deaths of the successors of Maharaja Ranjit Singh exile and conversion of Duleep Singh, installation of Gulab Singh as ruler of Jammu and Kashmir and imposing of Central rule in 1889 are all part of this. In fact, Kashmir became the area for imperial domination in view of the perceived Russian threat.

The five regions namely, Jammu, Punch, the Valley, Gilgit and Ladakh, each being ethnically, religiously and linguistically different from each other, had their own dynamics and the British were instrumental in fermenting the rebellion in Gilgit and the Northern Areas. The 1948 war was also orchestrated by them and the Indian Army fought with its hands tied as Gen Rob Lockhart and Gen Roy Bucher the Indian commanders –in – Chief were both pro-Pakistani in their outlook and in touch with their counterparts Gen Doug Gracey and Gen Frank Messervey. This deep intrigue has been clearly brought out including describing the role played in exposing this by Maj Onkar Singh Kalkat of the Bannu Brigade when he came across details of the plan for the invasion and capture of Kashmir. After he escaped and reported the matter up the chain and even met the Defence Minister with Gen Kulwant Singh and PN Thapar, the British staffed Intelligence Directorate paid no heed to his account. The ISI also owes its existence to Maj Gen WJ Cawthome and his strategic fears regarding the spread of communism.

Kashmir’s geostrategic importance and fear that India could have a border with Afghanistan and ferment trouble in NWFP lead the British to believe that it would be in their best interests if Kashmir was with Pakistan. This lead to the intervention of Pakistani troops the architect of which was Brig Akbar Khan who later on also headed the ISI. A British officer Maj Sloan lost his life in Tithwal which Whitehall tried to hush up.

When the dream of a complete takeover lay in tatters, a ceasefire was brokered. The role of Sheik Abdullah and his quest for a greater say and independence is also very well covered. The support to the Master Cell established by Ghulam Rasool Zaghar by the NC in the 60’s lead the way for the insurgency and subsequent incidents of violence that increased dramatically in the late ’80s when Gen Zia put Op Topac into place.

The significance of water is another dominant theme and it is no coincidence that each Chapter is named relating to it. The authors clearly bring out that the quest for water is one of the driving forces for Chinese in the region and for its road initiatives. Pakistan has also ceded the heavily glaciated Shaksgam region to them. Chinese far-sighted strategic vision; their close ties with Pakistan and Pakistan’s ability to do a balancing act between being a member of SEATO, CENTO and friendship with Communist China have all been examined. The authors bring out the fact that we turned down the offer from Oman for Gwadar in the late ’50s and thereafter Pakistan purchased it in 1958 and China started the construction of the Karakoram highway in 1959. Today of course with the CPEC and BRI things seem to be falling in place. In fact, the book helps understand the deeper designs of China in Ladakh.

The Indus Water Treaty also gave away the waters of the rivers of Kashmir to Pakistan and we have not even been able to tap our share of 19.48 %. Even though the Kishenganga project came up, Pakistan has now repeated it the other side. Siachen is also significant in terms of control of water. The requirement of vast quantities of water for manufacturing of silicon chips is a major driver now.

This is a book aimed at a reader well versed with the narrative of this area, is extensively researched and gives an insight into the major issues facing the state. It helps in joining the dots even though some of the evidence presented is circumstantial. The maps, however, could be better. Under no circumstances can India allow a separatist movement to continue and the removal of Article 370 was long overdue as it gave the anti-Indian elements a feeling that the accession was not final. This is a book which needs to be read by professionals serving in the Valley and should be part of the reading list on Kashmir amongst those who have an interest in the region.

(The author is Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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