Blinkered history of Kashmir dispute
Reviewed by B. G. Verghese

Kashmir: The Unwritten History
by Christopher Snedden
HarperCollins. Pages 466. Rs 599

Scholars are still looking at the origins, course and nature of the J&K "dispute". The latest perhaps is the just-published Kashmir: The Unwritten History by Christopher Snedden, an Australian scholar, who writes essentially of "Azad" J&K and the Northern Areas, now designated Gilgit-Baltistan, and the view from there. This is a rare look at Pakistan-administered J&K which has seldom received any attention as Islamabad and the world have focussed on "Kashmir," while India has strangely never turned the spotlight on the other side of the hill.

This is a useful book and balanced in its own way in that it is not uncritical of Pakistan. Yet it is sourced and seen entirely from Pakistan and Islamabad and the elaborate references, list of interviews, and bibliography have virtually no Indian or international citations or analysis that questions or controverts this one-sided version.

The Introduction sums up the thesis. The book offers "a new perspective about who started the dispute over the international status of J&K". The unambiguous conclusion is that it was "Jammuites" who engaged in three significant actions. There was a Muslim uprising in Poonch in western Jammu against the unpopular Hindu ruler. Serious inter-religious violence throughout Jammu province killed and displaced large numbers from all communities. Thirdly, the areas of western Jammu were "liberated" by the "rebels" or Azad Kashmir Forces and the territory proclaimed Azad Jammu and Kashmir on October 22 or thereabouts. All three events took place before the Maharaja acceded to India on October 26, 1947. The conclusion is that "Jammuites" declared for Pakistan, as did the Northern Area Gilgitis and Baltis later, thus precluding "delivery" by the Maharaja of all of J&K to India as claimed.

An anti-India demonstration in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, in protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru.
An anti-India demonstration in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, in protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru. Reuters

Sneddenís thesis ignores the political legitimacy of the Maharajaís accession of his entire domain to India, that the UN endorses, and justifies Pakistanís land-grab of AJK and NA by force, which the governing UN Resolution of August 13, 1948 found to be "contrary to international law", a euphemism for aggression.

The Partition riots and communal frenzy that swept across and beyond the two Punjabs expectedly spread to Jammu. They were by no means one-sided. Pakistan, as Snedden acknowledges, had tried to strangle J&K at birth through an economic blockade in violation of its commitments under the Standstill Agreement to keep essential supplies and services going. Meanwhile, the new Pakistan Government officially prepared a military takeover. Brigadier (later Maj-Gen) Akbar Khan, Director Weapons and Equipment, Pakistan Army, was tasked to lead. The consultations and operations were later described by him in his book Raiders in Kashmir that has not been controverted to this day. In the beginning of September 1947, he writes, "Mian Iftikharuddin (Muslim League) arrived in Murree and asked me to prepare a plan `85. to get Kashmirís accession to Pakistan". He did so and was called to Lahore "for a conference with the PM, Liaquat Ali Khan" and other senior leaders at which "two sets of plans to attack J&K were considered". Thereafter, he returned to Pindi by when "the first shots had been fired and the movement soon began to gather weight`85. I cannot say exactly when it was decided that an attack by tribesmen should be carried out in the manner it was"`85, C-in-C India was informed by GHQ, Pakistan on October 20 that some 5,000 tribesmen had attacked and captured Muzaffarabad and Domel.

There was further independent evidence of Pakistanís active role in the invasion of J&K by Sir George Cunningham, then Governor of the NWFP, and his Chief Secretary; by the chief minister of NWFP, Quaiyum Khan, speaking in the Assembly; the former Punjab chief minister, the Nawab of Mamdot; and others. Snedden ignores all this while focussing entirely on the "Poonch revolt" against Dogra tyranny. There certainly was some trouble in Poonch, but this was localised and could and did have no bearing on accession. This is borne out by Sneddenís research into the (latest) 1998 census of Azad Kashmir (published in July 2001). Its historical coverage of the events of 1947, he notes with surprise, makes no mention of the Poonch uprising. Rather, it states that it was the Maharajaís accession to India that "sparked the liberation movement of the Muslim population of the state against the Dogra and Indian forces in Kashmir". Significantly, the 1998 census document was "restricted, for official use only".

A good part of the volume dwells interestingly on the politics, economy and governance of Azad Kashmir and the NA. This confirms that the "autonomy" of AJK and the NA was a sham despite various constitutional reforms. The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs ruled the roost from Rawalpindi and appointed all key officials. Moreover, the Upper House or Kashmir Council, over which the PM of Pakistan presided, sat in Islamabad and was the dominant chamber vested with budgetary control. The Assembly was rigged with " and "overseas" representation from the rest of Pakistan and the foreign diaspora. The oath demanded swearing allegiance to the ideology of Pakistan and the ideology of accession to Pakistan.

The constitutional position of the Northern Areas, now Gilgit-Baltistan, is even less autonomous because of its strategic importance, Chinese presence and non-political Islamist religious demography. Snedden also certifies Pakistanís jihadi endeavours and cross-border infiltration into J&K.

Snedden finds the only viable solution today to the tangled Kashmir conundrum is to "let the people decide" through something akin to the proposed Manmohan-Musharraf formula for an evolving confederation, first mooted by Nehru-Abdullah in 1964 and, indeed, earlier. This is a relevant and timely affirmation of a secular-democratic solution to an artificial dispute cranked up by irresponsible Islamic chauvinists prepared to seek even nuclear martyrdom. More so, coming at a time when the proposed US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2014, laced with enhanced US military aid to Pakistan to smoothen its departure, threatens a diversion of Taliban-Pakistan attention from there to intensified jihad in (Indian) Kashmir.

Having helped invent the Kashmir "dispute" in early cold war support to Pakistan, the US suggestion now is India must give Pakistan something to settle the matter. This is pernicious reasoning and all the more reason why Sneddenís type of thesis placing India in the wrong needs to be promptly and categorically shown as one-sided and misleading.