Adorning the head of the Indian sub-continent, the borders of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) jutted northwards, connecting with the gnarled heights of the Pamirs in the north-west and its frigid deserts blending with the wilderness of Tibet in the north-east and east; her magnificence cocooned by majestic mountain ranges on all flanks. The state’s pivotal location at the cross-roads of ancient civilisations ‘was’ and ‘remains’ her bane, and it is this legacy that has bequeathed strife for her people. Despite the rhetoric, the conflict ‘for’ Kashmir is essentially ‘territorial’ by nature, as her territory acts both as a buffer and provides an avenue.
…the conflict ‘for’ Kashmir is essentially ‘territorial’ by nature, as her territory acts both as a buffer and provides an avenue.
The contending actors for strategic space may have changed to India, China and Pakistan, but ‘location’ that lay at the core for the Anglo-Russian Game in the centuries gone by, endures. General Afsir Karim has pointed out that “Pakistan’s relentless quest for Kashmir is not related to its demographic composition but to its strategic location;” by analogy, it can be extrapolated that China’s growing activism in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of occupied North Kashmir is related to strengthening her strategic collusion with Pakistan and at the same time, creating a multipurpose highway for gaining access to the region.
Historically speaking, it was because of Kashmir’s pivotal geo-strategic location that the masters of the British Indian Empire wanted the state to be part of the new nation of Pakistan if it was to fulfil its perceived role as a bulwark against socialist expansionism. At the same time, India as the heir apparent had her own strategic interests and Pundit Nehru made this clear: “India without Kashmir would cease to occupy a pivotal position on the political map of Central Asia…strategically, Kashmir is vital to the security of India; it has been so since the dawn of history.”
When English machination for J&K to secede to Pakistan proved abortive, this was to be the harbinger of conflict. Despite Pakistan’s inability to severe the state through a clash of arms in 1947-48, she was able to gain control of Gilgit-Baltistan and carve out a wide swath of territory in western Kashmir, adding depth and defensibility to her heartland. China, who emerged as the third actor on the Kashmir landscape also sliced North East Kashmir by occupying the ‘all weather’ Aksai Chin route that ran from Kashgar to Lhasa resulting in yet another strategic loss for independent India. Since India has already lost control over the strategic ears that abutted Afghanistan, Chinese Xinjiang and Tibet, can it be denied that the strategic advantage(s) Pundit Nehru sought have been lost? The map would seems to suggest so.
The three and a half wars fought with Pakistan and the undeclared war since then, compounded by the Chinese intervention and her constant nibbling in Ladakh has retarded India’s strategic options. At the same time, for the Kashmiris and the people of the sub-continent, it is this unending conflict that not only keeps the leaves of the Chinar perennially crimson, but the venom the dispute generates, vitiates the atmosphere and it is this animus that mars the potential of the sub-continent. Though history is invariably painful to revisit, especially the raking up events of the recent past, it is important to do so since there is a need to learn from the omissions and commissions in India’s strategic decision making.
…it was prudent to partition the sub-continent as this would serve the twin objectives of creating a ‘weak’ India on one side and a ‘pliable’ but strategically located Pakistan on the other.
Before recounting the conflict from the military perspective, it is important to briefly dilate on the factors that have a bearing on the conflict, since the Kashmir issue is a creation and a sub-sect of the larger geo-strategic environment and a result of the fusion and inter play of inter-related factors. Over time, the conflict has become complex and myriad compulsions and multiple dimensions have changed its shape and tenor and need to be highlighted at the outset itself for understanding the many ‘whys’ and the reasons for the complexity of this six decades long conflict which refuses to die down.
The Cold War and its Re-incarnation: Implications for Modern India
When the Cold War erupted immediately after the Second World War, monolithic Soviet Union appeared as the new and ‘larger than life’ adversary of the Allies. “USSR’s powerful victory over Germany in 1945 had increased Joseph Stalin’s ambition to extend his country’s influence into territories on its periphery….To the Soviet Union’s southern border lay the region of the Persian Gulf with its oil fields – the wells of power which were of vital interest to the west. Under the circumstances, Britain could ill afford to lose control over the Indian sub-continent that had served as its military base for dominating the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and the countries around the Persian Gulf for more than half a century and which was also the main source of manpower for the Imperial Army.”
Under the circumstances that prevailed, Sir Winston Churchill even propagated a war against Socialist Russia. Under these circumstances when World War Three was expected to be around the corner, instability and uncertainty prevailed. While it was desirable for Britain that India who for two centuries had been her strategic keystone should continue playing her role, Britain’s fiscal woes made her imperial pretentions unsustainable, as having been bled white, India no longer was in a position to underwrite Britain’s imperialistic designs. Great Britain’s mighty Indian Empire had become an economic drain that war ravaged England was constrained to ‘scuttle,’ and at the same time, a practical alternative had to be devised to keep English global pretensions alive.
It was in this grim politico-economic environment that Field Marshal Lord Archibald Wavell, the penultimate Viceroy was sent to India and Peter Clarke who has documented the last days of the British Empire commented on his task: “Wavell was put in by Churchill as a Military Viceroy to clamp down on India for the duration of the hostilities…Had only one eye, but he kept it on the ball to exploit fleeting opportunities in a bad situation.” After ensuring the first by locking up the restless Indian political leadership, he lived up to his reputation by creating the adversity into an opportunity. In order to overcome Britain’s looming insolvency, he master-minded conditions to ‘secure’ the oil producing regions of the Middle East and the Gulf. Oil, the liquid gold, was considered essential, as not only did it fuel war machines to dominate the world, its trade controlled the world’s economy. Britain therefore facilitated America’s strategic entry in Asia to dominate these ‘wells of power,’ and in the bargain, also secured her own long term interests.
Though India remained important strategically and for her unlimited manpower; Pakistan, if created abutting Afghanistan and Iran would serve the requirement(s) better.
USA’s involvement in the sub-continent was shaped by the Cold War and she spelt out her goal unambiguously: “to keep the sources of oil in the Middle East in American hands.” Western India with her bases at Karachi and Peshawar provided a ready answer, as these could prove invaluable to contain the Soviets who also eyed the same oil fields. In the ultimate analysis, it all boiled down to oil and control over its lucrative trade and it was in pursuance of this post war Anglo-American global vision that the fate of India was eventually decided. Independent India with her ‘socialist’ minded Congress party, size and potential may have become difficult to ‘manage’ and therefore it was prudent to partition the sub-continent as this would serve the twin objectives of creating a ‘weak’ India on one side and a ‘pliable’ but strategically located Pakistan on the other. Lord Wavell’s appreciation on which the future of the sub-continent was eventually decided was both candid and explicit as can be inferred from the deductions made therein:
- A strong and stable Pakistan would be invaluable as a sheet anchor for dominating the geographic arc stretching from Turkey to Sinkiang.
- The ports of Karachi and Chittagong and Air Bases, particularly Peshawar, were vital for building a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the Soviet Union.
- Though India remained important strategically and for her unlimited manpower; Pakistan, if created abutting Afghanistan and Iran would serve the requirement(s) better.
In February, 1946, Wavell crystallised Churchill’s vision and formally recommended the creation of Pakistan–a Pakistan that was ‘capable of standing up to India.’ Though there were still some Indophiles who felt that undivided India under the British Commonwealth would meet the Cold War requirements, the English could not dispel their bitter experiences of the Indian leadership during the war and adding to their sense of distrust was the ‘betrayal’ of the ‘Indian National Army’ who had fought ‘against’ the British under the mercurial Subhash Chander Bose. Sir Winston Churchill, who considered Hindu-Muslim antagonism as the bulwark of British rule’ had felt personally betrayed, and it was his domineering persona that eventually prevailed.
Since, he (Jinnah) was the only power centre who could have ensured the creation of Pakistan, the English did not want to take a chance with his successors who lacked Jinnah’s stature.
The expeditious answer to meet the English Imperialistic requirements was to create Pakistan in two wings; the Western Wing to control the oil of the Persian Gulf and the Eastern half, to include the important base of Chittagong, to dominate the trade routes to South East Asia. The British Foreign Secretary, Mr Ernest Bevin candidly stated that the division of India ‘would help to consolidate Britain in the Middle East.’ Clearly, the division of India had little to do with disparate nationalism; partitioning of the sub-continent was the practical means for the British to secure her post war future in a rapidly changing post war world.
This was the master plot awaiting Lord Mountbatten, entrusted with the task of concretising British strategic interests, in the shortest possible time and he was to prove equal to the task. He actually went on to advance the independence/partitioning of the sub-continent from the planned June 1948, but in the bargain set in motion the largest and bloodiest exodus in the recent history of mankind. Lord Mountbatten tried to soften the effect of partitioning by hastening the independence of the two nations from the planned schedule of June 1948.
In fact, pre-poning the partition was necessary as Jinnah’s illness could no longer be concealed. Since, he was the only power centre who could have ensured the creation of Pakistan, the English did not want to take a chance with his successors who lacked Jinnah’s stature. This magnanimity on the part of the Viceroy was to prove catastrophic, as the seventy-three days left to independence, provided neither the time nor permitted the resources to be stage-managed for the gargantuan amputation of the sub-continent. This eventually led to horrific bloodletting which traumatised the sub-continent and directly resulted in what was to become the first Kashmir War.
Campbell-Johnson, who was the Press Attaché of Lord Mountbatten during his viceroyalty has pinned the blame squarely on his principal and he writes: “records do not show anyone else pressing Mountbatten to hurry up: not the British government, nor his advisors, not the Sikhs, not the Muslim League, not Gandhi and not even the majority of Congress. Nehru and Patel may have hinted that they were keen to get on with governing, but neither expressed any demand that Mountbatten set the date in August the same year. The rush was Mountbatten’s and his alone.”
The call for a separate Muslim Nation had never come from the Muslim majority states of (then) Punjab, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Sind, Baluchistan, East Bengal, Assam or for that matter J&K…
At the same time, this cataclysmic event set in the bitterness which continues to fuel the conflict and as articulated by Mr. Alistair Lamb: “the Kashmir dispute was a direct consequence of the inefficiency with which the process of partition in the Indian sub-continent was prepared and executed.”
Despite the decision of dividing the sub-continent on religious lines, two provinces still did not fall in place. The first was the Congress led NWFP, which under the Frontier Gandhi; Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan wanted no truck with the Muslim League (ML) as he was fundamentally opposed to the ‘two nation’ theory. The second was the Hindu ruled but Muslim majority princely state of J&K, who was not averse to the idea of partition, but being a large state, aspired for her own independence but within the frame-work of a ‘federal’ India. These challenges defied even the politically shrewd English.
The irony of partitioning needs to be highlighted. Divisive politics which had been the bedrock with which the English had ruled India for nearly two centuries were whipped up to a new high to divide the two communities including the soldiers who had fought shoulder to shoulder for the greater ‘British’ cause. But when it came to independence, it was made out that these communities could never cohabit.
The irony of the drawing of the Radcliffe Line also needs mentioned since the frontiers of the new state of Pakistan had to be done in congruence with the strategic requirements of the English and the issue of a Muslim Homeland and how this came about exemplifies their intent. The call for a separate Muslim Nation had never come from the Muslim majority states of (then) Punjab, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Sind, Baluchistan, East Bengal, Assam or for that matter J&K, where the Muslims were already comfortable with their majority status. Pakistan as a separate ‘homeland’ had been a demand of the Muslims of Central Provinces (present day Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar, where being the minority, they feared the majority.
However, the British coveted the military bases located in the west and in the east of the sub-continent and hence, Pakistan had to be created to be ‘inclusive’ of these parts and not in the heart of India. In order to accommodate the west’s strategic requirements, Pakistan was eventually carved with one half bordering Afghanistan and Iran, in the west and the other with Burma (Myanmar). Once this happened, the Muslims who had demanded a separate homeland were actually rendered homeless, as for the Muslims populating the heart of India, migration to either of the wings of Pakistan was never a viable option.
As a result, they continued as nationals in the country of their roots, defeating the purpose of partition which had been done at such a phenomenal human cost.