Jammu and Kashmir, Britain and Pakistan
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Jammu and Kashmir - Historical

“Study history, study history, in history lies all the secrets of the statecraft.”        — Sir James Wolfe

Geography of Kashmir

At the time of partition of India in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was one of the largest states of India. It is in the north and north-western part of India and is bordering with China and Tibet. It acceded to the Union of India in 1947 and became its integral part. Pakistan thinks that it should have gone to her as it was mainly a Muslim dominated area and primarily the Kashmir Valley and Punch area which is with valley connected by Haji Pir Pass and Mughal Road over the Pir Panjal Range. However, no one else than Jinnah himself had suggested in his own statement on 30 July 1947 that “the legal position is that with the lapse of paramountcy on the transfer of power by the British, all Indian States should automatically regain their full sovereign and independent status. They are therefore free to join either of the two dominions or remain independent. The Muslim League (Jinnah’s party) recognises the right of each state to choose its destiny” (Dawn 31 July 1947).

The geographical location of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is such that besides that of England, it gains added importance and counts in the geo-political assertions and interests of Russia and China too. For Pakistan, it is a main source of water as all the three important rivers i.e Chenab, Jhelum and Indus meant exclusively for Pakistan as per the provision of Indus Water Treaty 1960, are fed by the tributaries originating from State of Jammu and Kashmir and pass through Kashmir and that is the reason, which has been worrying them most. Besides this, the Kashmir Valley has got its own assets, in its forests, waterfalls, rivers, gardens, hill tops, mountains, rocks and glaciers, with scenic beauty. For centuries, it has been a sacred place for adherents of various faiths, which are firmly rooted here. Its undeniable beauty and climatic conditions have been inviting people, from all over the world and for long. It had its own strategic importance for the world powers as well as for India and Pakistan, in 1947-48 and no less now.

State of Jammu and Kashmir as a whole, is mountainous area with glaciers on top reaches. There are tracts of plain areas also. Kashmir Valley is somewhat more flat and quite developed since long, in comparison to other areas . The state has got three distinct areas, which are culturally, linguistically and racially quite different from each other. Approach to Kashmir Valley, from Indian side is mainly through Jammu and the same way, approach to Ladakh is through Kashmir Valley. However before partition in 1947, Kashmir Valley was, maintained primarily from that part of Punjab which is now in Pakistan. Land in the valley is fertile and the main occupation of people is agriculture including, apple growing, animal husbandry, woolen hosiery, papier-mache handicraft and establishing and maintaining the tourists spots, hotels and allied occupations. In other words, Kashmir Valley is almost self-sustaining area. Gilgit and Baltistan during British days were under their direct control but through Maharaja, due to the reason of these being strategically important for safeguarding from the Tsarist Russia. It was manned by Gurkha and Dogra soldiers of Maharaja’s army. However, the British had the final say in control over these areas and Maharaja was sort of their protege only.

British Interests in Kashmir

Based on the strategic and geo-political factors Jammu and Kashmir was never out of minds of the British and they kept on playing their game against India till the last day. Even today, as far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned; they are not out of it. They have deep-rooted ambitions, the reason for such views and mindset on their part are given in the succeeding paras.

Checking of Expansion of Communism

The position of State of Jammu and Kashmir then and even now in the Central Asian context is unique. It was always uppermost in the minds of British that this plateau was the key-stone for catering of their interests in the region. Hunza, Nagar and Gilgit, besides the valley of Kashmir can serve as the launching pad for carrying out any campaign against Russia and China, both then being the strongholds of communism. They were really worried about the expansion of communism. From the very beginning and more acutely with their half-hearted plans of leaving India, they had never taken their eyes off the area and thumbs off its nerves. None of the three, India, Pakistan and Maharaja were allowed to have free and frank discussions with each other. Maharaja had been under the obligations and supremacy of the British for long and he had accepted their writ in toto.

In the whole game, the British were prominently seen playing against India. They suspected that based on the history of struggle for independence, Indian National Congress will never play their tune and be a pawn in their hands. They even suspected Nehru to have had leanings towards the communists. They thought that their interest of blocking the communists’ expansion could not be served by aligning towards India. These could be best served by being with Pakistan, where Muslim League which was enjoying majority and which had played no part in the struggle for independence, had no problem with British and was always closer to them in comparison to Congress and was thus best suited to deal with.

Middle East Defence Organisation

Another important issue which coloured the views of British and all western powers was that Pakistan being a Muslim country could play an important part for their having control as well as good relations with various countries of the Gulf region and the Middle East Defence Organisation, which they themselves contemplated to organise. They were therefore always pro-Pakistan. India certainly in those circumstances could not have served their cause. All this gave birth to the problem of Kashmir, which was created solely by British. They never wanted that the area of Middle East should go under the influence of Russians or Chinese or both. In view of their natural interests so deeply harboured, they helped Pakistan and propped it up against India particularly over Kashmir. They even saw the free India also being on the same page, with Russia and China. In the game of domination the areas or countries around, the importance of Kashmir Valley, Gilgit, Skardu and Nagar therefore could not be over-emphasised. Even Karakoram Pass and Aksai Chin plateau were never out of the western radar. Any country which had the sway over these areas, could easily influence the Middle East oil rich region, which was so important in the modern age for power, energy and influence in the emerging world. This thinking is still prevalent and almost all the western countries who are under the influence of UK and USA would go with Pakistan. Enormity of this influence has been noticed in the past. It can be said without any prejudice that biased policies of USA, particularly at that time were responsible for making “bluster and bravado” of Pakistan. They could do anything for their ‘religion’ of self interest.

India for Destroying Pakistan

Western powers were of the opinion that India is against the establishment of Pakistan and she will destroy it, if she had her ways in the region, though Nehru at numerous occasions had made it clear that stable Pakistan was in India’s interests. Surprisingly even Field Marshal Sir Auchinlek himself was of the same view and strongly felt that India may invade Pakistan. Most of the Westerners aired their opinion openly about India gobbling up Pakistan, at the first favourable opportunity. Astonishingly the same thinking still prevails with most of the western countries led by USA and UK. They were thus keen that Kashmir should either be with Pakistan or independent but not with India. But Nehru played his game with very cool courage, intellect and active tolerance. He knew their game well and his only aim was that British should be out of India and off the scene, quickly, peacefully and coolly. The Conservatives in England, even wanted that in case India does not behave, Kashmir may be regained again. In view of the above, Pakistan was given all possible help.

Keeping Roots in India

British would have never wanted to vacate this land, had there been no world wars. They had hedged their promises of Second World War but they were forced by the circumstances and shrinking British economy. They were deadly against Indian people and could put hurdles, in the transfer of power. It is a fact that had British not got involved in the affairs of Kashmir, this problem between India and Pakistan, over Kashmir would not have happened. Both countries could have sorted out their problems by now and settled in the new world order. But for serving their own cause, Pakistan was armed by western powers, particularly USA in 1954 and onwards against India. Even now there is no change in their policy. The words of Maj Gen Sir John Malcolm spoken in Parliament Select Committee of England reveal their psychology of staying permanently and of ruling with the sword.

“The (Indian) Empire had been acquired with the sword and must be maintained by sword. The military plans for the Govt of our Eastern Empire (India) must even be entitled to primary considerations. The local army of India, but above all, the native branch should always be preserved in condition of efficiency and attachment. Our means of preserving and improving our possessions, through operations of our civil institutions depend on our wise and politic exercise of that military power on which the whole fabric rests”

The policies which were made by British were never for the welfare of Indian people but these were made to rule and loot the country and that sums up their long desire of keeping roots in India. Of course, J&K being strategically important area for domination of world geo-politically, was equally worth committing and uppermost in their minds.

Paying the Debt

Since the days immediately after the Mutiny of 1857 or First War of Independence as we call it, British had realised and made up their mind that somehow the Hindus and Muslims should be kept divided. They were very clear that if these two communities stay together it will not be possible to pursue the policy of suppression and exploitation. The division of Bengal in 1907 on communal lines was the result of this policy. Muslims had been made to send maximum number of recruits in the Second World War and British had felt obliged to their willing participation. They also wanted to pay back their debt to Muslims for not seriously involving themselves in the struggle for Independence. Apropos to that, the British always wanted to favour Pakistan in those formative years and they did, wherever and whenever they could get a chance. Mr HV Hodson, Reforms Commissioner of Viceroy Lord Linlithgow in his eloquent best, had declared, that “carving out of Pakistan was inevitable, since Hindus and Muslims are two different people and their division is as old as the Arab invasions.” He very conveniently ignored that their culture was indigenous and home-grown in India and there was no difference at all. Indian Muslims were almost all converted from Hindus over the years, and were maintaining their cultural traditions and ethos with Hindus. During their later years in India, British had endeared Muslims much more than Hindus and Muslims thus served the former better. Most Indians wanted the British to go without any delay but it was not so with all Muslims. Many senior Muslim army officers had served with British and had fine memories of good life spent in association with them. Muslims were never harassed or beaten by the British officered police. They did not have any ill will towards British, rather they had respect and affection for them. Naturally British, never missed such a chance and gave full cooperation to exploit the situation obtaining at that time, in the Indian sub-continent.

Congress and Hindus

Congress wanted a united India and having understood the ground realties had developed strong secular ethos based on the philosophy of Akbar the Great who had said, “the sovereign of Hindustan is duty bound to become a bridge between Muslims and Hindus of the land. Both are equally our subjects and our responsibility. Mullah, the Them and Us, have no place in our world.” Congress and mainly Hindus, who may be belonging to any political party or organisation were all keen for throwing the British out as early as they could. Congress leaders were very clear in their minds that British will not leave India that easily. Even after Second World War when India had provided recruits on their promise of freeing the country, they started giving confusing signals and the people got very restive.

Indians fought for independence, with determination. British forces used their might to control and suppress the movements launched by the Indian people headed by Indian National Congress. Their leaders suffered long terms in jails and were treated very harshly. British took Hindus as their opponent. Nehru who was himself a product of British education, culture and upbringing and a foremost nationalist leader of the India fighting for independence of his motherland wanted the British to feel that “we also need a place under the sun.” He resented their methods but was cool and wise in his disposition towards them. Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru with their methods of persuasion and conducting various affairs with maturity, coupled with respect, could make a place for themselves in hierarchy of British. The British in general and Conservatives in particular were very upset and were never in favour of granting freedom to India. Congress was blamed by them for getting them uprooted in a systematic campaign. They were all against India. But this band of leaders under Mahatma Gandhi could not be cowed down and never left the line of gentlemanliness required in an adventure involving life and death of the country. British could make certain unpalatable remarks but could not rebut the force of reasonableness which these leaders presented to them. “Trusting our own intuitions that peace will prevail often saves us in different situations” and that was the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi for his actions towards them.

Jammu and Kashmir – Importance of Pakistan

Pakistan considers the conquering and occupation of Jammu and Kashmir as a key to its survival. Once it is in her hands, it can be a source of permanent trouble for India by being an important launching pad for both guerrilla and conventional warfare against it. Strategically, enhances the depth to its northern part and serves as a great factor for its policies and plans and playing its role in the comity of nations thereby placating the big powers. It feels that particularly, Kashmir part of Jammu and Kashmir is more crucial for its security. Liaquat Ali Khan had once said, “that Kashmir for India is luxury but for Pakistan it is vital for its survival. If it is in India’s hand, Pakistan will be at the mercy of India. Having a very long common border, the State of Jammu and Kashmir dominates Pakistan from north and east. It is clear that if it is in India’s hands militarily, Pakistan rails, roads and military bases can be threatened and Pakistan can be strategically cajoled effectively for any issue.” Jammu and Kashmir has got control over the upper reaches of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, which are the life lines for the agricultural economy of the Pakistan. The flow of these rivers can be effectively controlled to bring Pakistan to its knees, if needed. In December 1959 President Ayub Khan had said that Kashmir was vital for Pakistan not only politically but militarily also, besides its physical and economic security. Kashmir for them is the head of body of Pakistan for all practical purposes. Pakistan considers Kashmir, as a matter of life and death. Pakistan tries to take the advantage of religion, which plays as an important part for Pakistan’s undying wish to annex Kashmir, where the majority is of Muslims though culturally and racially totally different from them all.

Jammu and Kashmir – Importance to India

Kashmir is of utmost importance to India too. The defence of the country will be straightaway jeopardised, if it is in the hands of Pakistan. It can be a source of permanent nuisance and danger to India from defence point of view. The population of Jammu and Ladakh region will face hardship of survival as they belong to different stocks and have different traditions and religions and can be isolated and attacked by any power from any side. For dealing with Pakistan, the occupancy of this area, which is now in India’s hands cannot be over-emphasised. Pakistan is a belligerent country and its policy will always be anti-India and it has become part of its character. For keeping the hand and control on the pulse of Pakistan, Kashmir is very important. Any military buildup, by Pakistan can even be “controlled” through the waters of the three rivers and their tributaries. For launching an offensive in Pakistan, the occupation of valley as a base is very- very significant. The security of India can be considerably affected since part of southern boundary of Jammu and Kashmir touching Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are common.

Valley and Convergence of Expeditionary Routes

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The state of Jammu and Kashmir lies in the central area of South Asia and is very crucial for the domination of the areas around. Western Countries at the time of partition of India had the fear of the communism and wanted to involve Pakistan in their game plan. Pakistan had joined the western block through various alliances and Kashmir being a problem, created by them earlier, was automatically drawn into this relationship and thus brought into conflict. It was Anglo-American conspiracy, which always put spoils in India’s ways to consolidate its position in this most strategic Asian region. British will never miss a chance. They played their dirty trick in the Kutchh arbitration, where we learned the hard way that we in future will never accept third party mediation in our conflicts. (discussed in a separate chapter)

Kashmir is at a convergence of various expeditionary routes and thus gains vital importance. On all its sides, the different types of people with diverse culture are settled, who could be divided and exploited by the powers on various pretexts. Zojila, Nashta Chun, Banihal and Pir Panjal passes alongwith Baramulla gorge are very important landmarks which can dictate number of courses for military adventures for ingress in or from the valley.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat

Lt Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat, author of the book An Infantry Battalion in Combat.

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One thought on “Jammu and Kashmir, Britain and Pakistan

  1. Dear sir,
    I hope you are doing well. I am a student of history and international relations. I am born and raised in Gilgit-Baltistan. It was good piece of writing and I really enjoyed reading it. I have read a lot about the history and Geo strategic significance of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir region. But this article added added some new information and security dynamic of this region and the role and lagacy of Britishers which is still haunting this beautiful region.
    This is a must read book for students and researchers interested in South Asian political history.
    Thank you.

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