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Sunday, October 28, 2001
Time Off

Unravelling the Kashmir story
Manohar Malgonkar

IN the spring of 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had been told that he had only a few more months of life left. Would he, in those months, be able to realise his life’s dream: Pakistan.

Lord Mountbatten, for his part, had no idea that Jinnah was a dying man. He is on record as saying that if he had known what doctors had told Jinnah, then he might not have given in so easily to Jinnah’s Partition plan. In the event, Mountbatten tried his best to get Jinnah to agree to an alternative solution which would keep the subcontinent undivided. But Jinnah kept saying ‘no’. "He was quite impervious to... any logical argument," Mountbatten told an interviewer.

Finally ‘no’ won; it was Mountbatten who caved in. On June 3, 1947, one of the hottest days of an unbearable summer, Mountbatten told Jinnah that he could have his Pakistan. So accustomed was Jinnah to saying ‘no’ that his first impulsive response was ‘no’.

To bring himself to say ‘yes’ just did not come easy to him. Almost as a way out of an impasse, Mountbatten suggested to Jinnah: "All right, I will pose the question to you; you only shake your head if you really mean ‘no’ but give a nod if you mean ‘yes’. To think that I had to say yes or no for that clot to get his own plan through," Mountbatten had mused. Anyhow, Jinnah gave ‘a barely perceptible nod’. Let there be a Pakistan!

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Even after that reluctant nod from Jinnah, ‘The Mountbatten Plan’’ stood in danger of coming unstuck if all of India’s major ruling princes could not be made to merge into either India or Pakistan. After all, as much as 40 per cent of India was ruled by princes. The treaties between those states and Britain would stand annulled the day the empire ceased to exist. After that each of those 600 odd states was, in theory, both sovereign and independent, and it was entirely up to the rulers of those states whether to merge with India or Pakistan or to remain independent.

Such, at any rate, was the ‘legal’’ position — a bizarre anomaly; for neither India nor Pakistan was going to permit a state falling within its territory to remain independent. They would just have to merge into either India or Pakistan, depending upon their locations. And to facilitate the process of their merging into either India or Pakistan, Mountbatten had devised what he called The Instrument of Accession.

Most of the Princes readily signed the ‘instrument’. But Kashmir dithered. For a time, Maharaja Hari Singh toyed with the idea of declaring Kashmir an independent country — a sort of Asian Switzerland. But he was sternly warned by India that independence was no option. He would just have to merge, either with India or with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Jinnah and his strategy caucus were busy making their own plans for Kashmir. As soon as the partition plan was announced, the more far-seeing and ambitious career officers in the Raj’s civil and military services had begun to ingratiate themselves with the emerging political leaders of both countries — India as well as Pakistan. One of them, Akbar Khan, who had just been promoted to the rank of a colonel in the army, had been singled out by Jinnah as his advisor on military strategy. Within days of the announcement of the Mountbatten Plan, Akbar Khan who was in the right position to do so, managed to acquire from the army’s store of maps, several sets of large scale maps of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir had become a priority concern for Jinnah even before Pakistan came into existence. It was India’s largest princely state, with an area of 84,000 square miles spread over mostly uninhabitable and indeed inaccessible reaches of the Himalayan range. As a princely domain, it constituted a single political unit, but its geography compartmentalised it into three separate regions. Ladakh in the north-east was an icy, wind-swept wasteland. Jammu in the south was only an extension of the Punjab plains, and the Srinagar valley, the heartland of Kashmir — the Kashmir of legend and romance, the playground of Mughal emperors and the Raj’s Sahibs. While Ladakh was wholly Buddhist, Jammu was roughly half-Hindu, half-Muslim and the valley, predominantly Muslim.

The Srinagar valley is virtually cut off from three sides, north, east and south, by high mountain ranges, but open only towards the west, or Pakistani Punjab. There were only two roads leading to the Srinagar valley and both were in Pakistani territory. This meant that just by blocking off the two roads, Pakistan could stop all essential supplies such as foodgrains and stocks of petrol from reaching the valley.

And this Pakistan proceeded to do within days of its creation. Hari Singh’s increasingly more urgent appeal even for a few lorryloads of petrol remained unanswered. "You announce your accession to Pakistan first," he was told. "We will look after you well". In fact Jinnah is said to have given Hari Singh a ‘Blank cheque’, as the price of accession. Apparently Hari Singh did not trust the promise. He had good reason for his scepticism.

Hari Singh, since he was feudal to the bone, had no wish to surrender his inherited domain to either India or Pakistan. Now he just had to make up his mind. The walls all around were collapsing. On October 24, Srinagar’s electricity supply had been cut off. Raiding troops had seized the power station.

Akbar Khan, now a Major-General, had been busy with his plan for conquering Kashmir. Officers and men from Pakistan’s army had been sent on ‘leave’ so that they could recruit 5,000 tribal pathans from the Frontier Province. They had been cantoned in convenient bases where they were equipped with rifles and machine guns, and put under the command of Pakistani officers dressed up as tribesmen. On October 22, they were ferried to Kashmir’s border in 300 commandeered trucks. Here they were debussed, on the main road to Srinagar which was virtually undefended. Operation Gulmarg began to roll.

True, as with most Indian states, Kashmir, too, had its army; maybe ragged and armed with antiquated weapons, but still, adequate for guarding the mountain frontiers against a raiding force. But almost as though acting in concert, all the Muslim personnel in this force had deserted en masse and taken away their weapons. Now they, too, became a part of the invading force.

What this force did to the people of the wayside villages and towns was a foretaste of what lay in store for the people of the Kashmir valley. It was kill, burn, loot, rape, all the way, and it was these excesses that delayed ‘Operation Gulmarg’, which was planned for Jinnah’s triumphal entry into Srinagar on October 26, which was Id day. A day earlier, Jinnah’s secretary, Khurshed Ahmad, had been sent to Srinagar, and Jinnah himself had arrived in Lahore from Karachi to be on hand.

One wonders why, this subterfuge? Why call in tribals to do a job which Pakistan’s own army could have accomplished with ease? The obvious reason is that, at this time, both the Indian and Pakistani armies had British officers as their chiefs, and both were subordinate to an overall commander, Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck. They would not have condoned a clandestine operation.

In the event, on October 26, the tribals were still on the rampage in Baramula, killing, burning, looting. Of Baramula’s 14000 inhabitants, only 3,000 were alive the next day. That was also the day when Hari Singh decided to merge Kashmir with India and two days later Sikh troops were already in action on the Baramula road. The process of hurling back the invaders had begun.

The rest is history, but a footnote seems appropriate. It is that in 1949, Akbar Khan, now made the Chief of the General Staff of Pakistan’s army, attempted to do what first Ayub Khan, and then Zia ul-Haque, and then Pervez Musharraf, were later to pull off, a military coup. Akbar’s bid failed. He was arrested, dismissed, and sent to jail.

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This feature was published on October 14, 2001
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