Kashmir dispute appeared to be the focal point of the open hostility towards Pakistan displayed by the Red Shirts, the tribal Pathans, as well as Afghanistan and India. Pakistan was the primary objective of all big and minor actors for individual and collective reasons.
Each side believed that Pakistan had deprived them of the chance to profit from the British retreat from the subcontinent. And they were all united in opposing Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir.
Nonetheless, the British influence in this situation was not unimportant. In fact, one could argue that the British laid the stage for what would become one of the most intractable, long-term crises in contemporary diplomacy.
When the British finally left India, they did so in such a rush that they did not have time to properly deal with any of the many thorny problems that had arisen. After the independence of India and Pakistan, the Viceroy’s chaotic disintegration of the empire did not address the subject of whether the princes would join the Indian Federation, which they had previously refused.
The question of whether or not the method used by the colonial authorities to control and relate to the almost 600 purportedly independent princes of the subcontinent after partition and the formal transfer (known as “paramountey”) remained largely unanswered.
Considering the nature of the partition, were the princes obligated to give in to the wishes of their former subjects, or were they allowed to make decisions about their futures in accordance with established royal prerogatives? A challenging situation was only made worse by Britain’s silence on these issues and its more or less official stance that the princes would decide for themselves. Such uncertainty has a direct impact on the Kashmir issue.
The multiple actors complicated the Kashmir dispute
Various Muslim players, in their pursuit of power, have made a mockery of appeals to Muslim unity, thus complicating the situation that has arisen in Kashmir. There were a number of groups, including the tribal separatists, Khudai Khidmatgar, and the Afghans, all of which were capable of, and motivated by, interfering in Kashmir.
Conflict in Kashmir has always involved more than just different faiths at odds with one another. Through its secular claims, the Congress won over supporters in traditionally Muslim areas, most notably in the northwestern borderlands. The Muslim League asserted that it spoke for all Muslims in the subcontinent, but in fact it only spoke for a minority.
India’s claim to Kashmir is predicated on the Hindu Maharaja formally acceding to the Indian Union, which has been claimed to be a valid option. Pakistan’s rebuttal raises doubts about the legitimacy of the formal accession, but it places greater emphasis on the end of paramountcy and the autonomy of Kashmir and Jammu.
The arrival of Indian troops in Kashmir
The primarily Muslim populace of Jammu and Kashmir was denied the right to self-determination when Indian troops landed in Srinigar on October 27th, 1947. Seventy-five percent of the state’s four million residents were Muslims, and in the Valley of Kashmir—where Srinagar is located—the percentage jumped to 90 percent. Also, these Muslims did not occupy a small, secluded region of the subcontinent.
The Muslims of the North-West Frontier Province and the portion of Punjab that is now part of Pakistan have long had close ties with the people of Kashmir. The Hindu Maharaja’s right to rule his subjects’ fates was only recognised by the allusion to paramountcy.
By 15 August 1947, all of the princely states had joined India except for Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Kashmir. Consolidating the Union, determining the nature of the dispensation, and determining the duration of privy purses were all that remained.
British desire to leave behind a powerful Indian union
Based on ‘abrupt termination,’ the British did nothing, and in fact urged New Delhi to hasten the completion of the inclusion process. Mountbatten, as India’s Governor-General, should only be noted because he oversaw the first step toward creating a more perfect Indian fedration.
The Viceroy and the Congress officials foresaw that the princes would be enraged by their actions because they had not been informed of the impending British departure. However, not a single high-ranking Congress member opposed the procedure, as their efforts had been concentrated on making India the most powerful state in the region.
With the beginning of the Cold War, the British were focused on leaving behind a powerful Indian state. To New Delhi, however, the Indian princes belonged to the past and were nothing more than a nuisance from the past. There are still three holdouts. Despite protestations from Pakistan, India easily conquered Junagadh and admitted the city into the federation. When Jinnah was laid to rest in September 1948, the same thing happened to Hyderabad, a vast Deccan polity with a Hindu majority and a rather progressive Muslim ruler.
But Kashmir was a different story, and despite India’s best efforts, the state’s proximity to Pakistan and the egregious nature of the situation kept it alive for years after the state’s Hindu monarch reportedly chose to join the Indian union. In addition, Pakistan’s line of reasoning has been consistent: the fate of the state should have been decided by the people themselves. India, however, continued to ignore such reasoning.
The Radcliff award
Gurdaspur, a Muslim area in Punjab, was granted to India as part of the Radcliffe Award, and the Indian government knew that this would provide a road from New Delhi to the mountainous state of Kashmir. As a result, Indian troops conquered Jammu and Kashmir shortly after the transfer of power, first via air and later via land, despite the fact that the Maharaja’s accession to India exposed severe legal problems that New Delhi refused to elucidate.
India’s explanation for its incursion into Kashmir—that it responded to a Maharaja’s call for help in repelling an attack by tribal Pathans from Pakistan’s northwestern region—raises more questions than it answers.
Who are the tribal Pathans blamed for starting the war in Kashmir? Even if there is no way to know for sure, it is nevertheless significant to note the ongoing competition and turmoil in the area.
The poonch uprising: Sowing the seed of Kashmir dispute
By the turn of the nineteenth century, the area had become home to a plethora of jagirs, or grants of territory to persons acknowledging the preeminence of more distant rulers, which functioned as independent but interconnected mixed kingdoms. The several principalities were constantly at odds with one another as a result of the complex web of alliances and treaties that linked them, and the subordination of one to another was a frequent and bloody source of strife.
The ancient hill state of Poonch, which borders and is primarily subject to the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, existed in this same position. This clash coincided with and complicated the circumstances surrounding the British handover of authority. Although Kashmir is sometimes cited as the inspiration for the “K” in Pakistan, Jinnah made no direct claim to the territory when he founded Pakistan. Similarly, Muslims’ safety and the inability to choose Pakistan were not motivating factors for the Poonch rebels who attacked the Dogra monarch.
It is becoming clearer that Muslim Poonchies, in response to the burden put on them by the levy of a variety of onerous taxes, carried out a series of largely episodic attacks on Kashmiri authorities. Many of the Poonchie marauders were also returned war veterans who were proficient with weaponry and quick to assert themselves when threatened. Poonch had provided the British with the largest percentage of Kashmiri forces in both the World Wars.
All the signs pointed to the Poonch revolt being a Pakistani putsch with the goal of taking Kashmir, given the context of the power transfer and the open displays of support for Pakistan in Srinagar. In reality, Pakistan’s military was just then taking shape, with many of its units spread out over the subcontinent and still led by outsiders. Pakistan was not in a position to invade Kashmir, but the province of Poonch shared a border with the newly established Pakistani state, and its people had always interacted with those of the surrounding area.
There was going to be fallout from drawing new legal frontiers that separated the Pathans of Poonch, who were related to tribal groups from Afghanistan.
There is no denying that the Poonch rebels communicated with Pakistan or that some members of the various factions sought to create a new nation. One such liberator, Sardar Ibrahim Khan, was able to get in touch with Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who, unbeknownst to Jinnah, voiced support for the rebels.
Col. Akbar Khan, a Pakistani Army officer, inspired the Poonch rebels to continue their fight, and eventually they became the Azad Kashmiri force. Though Akbar Khan was acting independently, some of his plans were captured by the Indians and used to prove Pakistan’s official involvement in the uprising.
The beginning of Kashmir dispute
However, Jinnah had no intention of starting a conflict over Kashmir. He was too enmeshed in other issues to involve the country in a fight it might not be able to win. He knew it would hinder his state-building efforts and delay the distribution of Pakistan’s part of the British Raj’s assets.
By September–October 1947, Jinnah had consented to a Standstill Agreement, which called for the continuation of the status quo while talks on the long-term future of Kashmir were ongoing. However, unauthorised forces that had severed Pakistan’s supply routes to the mountain state damaged this understanding.
When Liaquat dispatched Colonel A.S.B. Shah to Srinagar to investigate the situation, the Maharaja’s Prime Minister accused Shah of trying to force the ruler to accede to Pakistan by obstructing roads, as seen from the perspective of the Hindu Dogra government.
In late October, the government of Kashmir announced that it would ask India for assistance, and Jinnah, viewing this as an ultimatum, conceded that negotiations had failed. When unrest in the region reached a peak, the Rawalpindi-Srinagar road was cut off by local tribesmen, and Jinnah had no way of stopping them.
In retaliation, the Maharaja’s administration seized firearms and started attacking his Muslim subjects. Armed Sikhs and R.S.S.-affiliated Hindu fanatics also entered the conflict and heavily injured the Muslim population. Around 200.000 Muslims are thought to have been killed during these events, and thousands more are thought to have fled the area in search of safety in Pakistan or Azad Kashmir.
Although Jinnah dragged his feet on the Kashmir front, allowing the tribesmen to set the stage and inadvertently make the fight more complicated. Nehru was fervently dedicated to intervention, but Vallabhbhai Patel and Baldev Singh deserve special mention.
India had extensive plans, including blocking off Pakistan’s access to Kashmir by road, and deployed large units of the military to the state in the hopes of solidifying their control over the region before Pakistan could mount a coordinated response. There was political activity in New Delhi as well, with Nehru hoping to receive help from Sheikh Abdullah, an enemy of the Maharaja but a friend of the Indian Prime Minister. Abdullah was the leader of the National Conferance, a powerful political movement in Kashmir that he hoped would serve as the germ of an eventual “Switzerland of Asia.”
With Maharaja out of the picture, Nehru had to convince Abdullah to become the next leader of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union. If New Delhi had its way, the accession of the Maharaja would have been all that was necessary to carry out the plan, minimise losses, and defeat the Pakistani threat.
The irregulars and tribals remained beyond Pakistan’s control, and Indian strategists may have been able to plan their actions, but they could not stop the Azad Kashmiri fighters from taking the Vale of Kashmir. Pathans of the Mahsud, Afridi, and Mohmand tribes had joined the fighting by the end of 1947.
Killings occurred all the way from the northern border of Pakistan into the villages of Kashmir. Tribal warriors attacked army units that were preparing to separate, killing British officials and their families along with rank-and-file men that were slated for transfer to India. The fighting in Kashmir was not a straightforward military confrontation between two sides over a predetermined battlefield. The conflict in Kashmir was, on the contrary, a bloody demonstration of anarchy.
Indian troops invaded Kashmir before they received the Instrument of Accession, if there even was one. Still, the Indians defended their actions by saying they were necessary to protect the lives of the people of Kashmir from wanton destruction. The validity of this second theory must be judged by the passage of time.
The aftermath of the conflict
Despite the chaotic nature of the conflict, the record shows that the opposing forces, i.e. India and Pakistan, eventually delineated the front lines between them. Still, neither has been able to completely eliminate the other.
Both India and Pakistan have claimed that the 1947–1948 war was fought for their countries’ survival or honour. Even if the claims were true, it is unlikely that either side of the conflict cared about or was influenced by them. It is undeniable, however, that the Kashmir conflict served to further entrench the animosity, suspicion, and competition between the two leading powers on the subcontinent.
In the short term, the war completely dismantled the once-proud Imperial Army. The British were justifiably proud of their Indian Army, and they had used it to great effect in two major conflicts of the twentieth century. However, the army perished during the partition of the subcontinent. This is possibly the greatest tragedy in subcontinental history, as the army’s demise was brought on by its own mistakes and blunders, leaving it with little recollection of its glorious past.