A history of Pakistan’s Jihad for Kashmir

M.J. Akbar
For history buffs, Gibraltar is the last outpost of a British Empire that once stretched from the West Indies to Hong Kong.
For Indians, Gibraltar should be an indelible part of national memory. It was twice used as a signature codename in Pakistan’s 72-year Jihad against India.
There is a misconception in some quarters that Pakistan turned to “war by other means” or a “hybrid war” only after its decisive defeat in the 1971 war. Pakistan has been using terrorists, both in militia formation and in small cells, since October 1947. Pakistan described that first offensive a “Jihad” and used the term as inspirational fodder for recruits. For over seven decades, Pakistan has tried to seize Kashmir through a combination of covert terrorism dressed up in theocratic idiom, duplicity, denial, false narrative, formal war and the constant drumbeat of deceptive diplomacy.
Patterns established in 1947 echo down to 2019. The political leadership maintains hypocritical ignorance in its public stance, and gives the nod in secret. The Pak Army always claims that the violence is part of a “popular uprising,” while its officers and men arm and train terrorists in clandestine camps.
The use of Gibraltar as a codename was neither whimsical nor accidental.
Gibraltar is a corruption of Jebel al Tariq, the Arabic for Mount of Tariq. In 711, a small army of Berber Muslims led by Tariq bin Zaid landed on this tiny Spanish island dominated by a famous 1398-foot-high rock, and located on the northern mouth of the Mediterranean. The first thing that Zaid did was burn the ships that had brought his force. The message was clear: victory or death. Tariq’s famous victory over the Visigoths created the launching pad for Arab rule over the Iberian peninsula, which lasted till the last sigh of the Moor at Alhambra in 1462, or seven and half centuries later.
In 1947, the Pakistani army officer who led the planning and operations in the first invasion of Jammu and Kashmir, Colonel Akbar Khan, director of weapons and equipment at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. But since deceit was at the heart of this operation, he was given an alias: ‘General Tariq’. The government and army wanted in 1947 what they continue to want in 2019: deniability.
Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s first strategic decision was to seize the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir through war. The second decision was that this would be a war of terror. There would be no formal declaration of war. ‘General Tariq’ was put in charge. When hostilities began, Colonel Khan was posted as military adviser to Liaquat Ali Khan, to smoothen the line of command between the Prime Minister and the invaders.
Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan presided over the long meeting where a plan called ‘Armed Revolt inside Kashmir’ was finalised. Finance Minister Ghulam Mohammad joined this meeting for a while. A Military Intelligence assessment by Colonel M. Sher Khan factored in the possibility of an Indian Army intervention but concluded that it would not be able to respond until the spring of 1948, because of the Kashmir winter.
The plan was to arm, train some 5,000 tribals, mobilised from the Frontier region, and unleash them across the Kashmir border in a campaign of terror and territory. They would pretend to be Kashmiris seeking “liberation” from the “Hindu rule” of Maharaja Hari Singh.
Confirmation of this deception comes from a British source as well. Sir George Cunningham, then governor of the North West Frontier Province, wrote in his diary on 17 October 1947 that he had been informed by a member of his staff that “there is a real movement in Hazara for a jehad [sic] against Kashmir”. There were more details in the entry, including the fact that rifles had been collected for the operation.
The manner in which these rifles were obtained provides a clue to the Pakistani mindset in 1947. The invaders had asked for 500 rifles, but Colonel Khan knew that this would be inadequate. He commandeered, with the help of the local administration, 4,000 rifles sanctioned for the Punjab police. These rifles would have helped the police to curb communal riots still raging across the land. But riots were not a priority for Pakistan. A war over Kashmir was.
On 20 October 1947, Pakistan announced an economic blockade against Jammu and Kashmir, further confirming the Government’s role as sponsor and strategist. At first light on 23 October, just a little more than nine weeks after freedom, Pakistan launched what would be the first Jihad after the Second World War. Pakistan was already responding to its theocratic genes.
Liaquat Ali Khan’s role is not disputed. But some apologists for Jinnah try and slice him out of the framework of responsibility. Shuja Nawaz, whose brother Asif Nawaz rose to become Pak Army in August 1991, writes in his book, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army and the Wars Within: “Given the nature of the Prime Minister’s relationship with Mr Jinnah, it seems unlikely that all this planning was being done without Mr Jinnah’s tacit approval…” Doubtless, if the raiders had captured Srinagar Jinnah would have been given a starring role in every Pakistani school-text as a military genius.
As Lord Mountbatten told Ian Stephens, then editor of the Statesman, on 28 October 1947, “Jinnah at Abbotabad…had been expecting to ride in triumph into Kashmir…He had been frustrated…” [quoted in Mission With Mountbatten by Alan Campbell-Johnson, the Viceroy’s head of personal staff and press attache].
Why did Jinnah opt for a Jihad in October 1947 when he could have waited for talks to resolve the problem? Going to war was an astonishing decision by any standards of logic, international behaviour or even common sense.
In its nascent phase, Pakistan had a dysfunctional administration, negligible resources and a massive humanitarian refugee crisis. And yet Jinnah and his acolytes, particularly in the military, could only think of war.
The status of Jammu and Kashmir was still undetermined. Maharaja Hari Singh had signed a stand-still agreement with both India and Pakistan that preserved the status quo until a final decision. Further, India and Pakistan were both Dominions in 1947, which is why a British citizen, Lord Mountbatten, could be appointed India’s first Governor General [equivalent to the President]. It also means that Britain had a place at the table, at least as long as Mountbatten was in Delhi. Discussions over Jammu and Kashmir were expected to begin in the spring of 1948. And yet Jinnah preferred to pursue by war what could have been, and would have been, settled in peace.
The answer lies in fabrication and distorted ideology.
One of the foundational myths created by its leadership after 1947 was that Pakistan was born out of some long struggle. Perhaps this untruth was necessary as some kind of antidote for lingering embarrassment over the charge that the British had handed over Pakistan to Jinnah as part of a secret deal.
But facts remain what they are. Jinnah and the Muslim League never once initiated any kind of people’s movement, let alone a Jihad, against British rule. No Muslim League leader ever went to a British jail. This is indisputable. Conversely, there is no eminent Gandhian leader during India’s freedom struggle who did not go to jail.
Pakistan was the end-product of cooperation between Jinnah and the British during the six-year Second World War. For understandable reasons, the manpower-starved British were deeply grateful to Jinnah for support in mobilization, particularly from Punjab and the Frontier, during their darkest hour, in 1940 and 1941. By the end of the war, about 2.5 million Indians were serving in the British war effort, a substantial proportion of whom were Muslims. The British rewarded Jinnah by giving him a veto on minority rights; and he converted that veto into Pakistan. The British Raj was Jinnah’s ally, not his foe.
The only Jihad that Jinnah launched before 1947 was against Hindus. In 1946, after the failure of the Cabinet Mission, Jinnah gave a call for “Direct Action” on 16 August 1946, and the Muslim League cadre and its National Guard did indeed swing into action. The epicentre was Calcutta, which witnessed the “Great Calcutta Killings”. The cruelty and bloodshed of that day spawned further massacres on both sides, and all hopes of united India died with the corpses.
After partition a slogan encapsulated the League reinvention of history: ‘Ladh ke liya Pakistan, ladh ke lenge Kashmir [We have fought to take Pakistan, we shall fight to take Kashmir]’. It was heady vainglory, also nurtured by racist myths including the absurd notion that Hindus could not fight. In 1965, as we shall see, Ayub Khan made this absurd assumption part of his military doctrine. The most grievous kind of deception is surely self-deception. Those who started this fight are still in the grip of delusion, even as the anguish and havoc they cause is all too real. Innocent blood flows in the rivulets of a continuing tragedy.
In 1965, Pakistan repeated 1947, but with greater care. Once again the conflict began with a web of deceit. The deception stage was officially codenamed Operation Gibraltar.
All aggression begins in the mind. Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, dictator of Pakistan, and his obstreperous foreign minister, the young Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, gloated over India’s traumatic defeat in the 1962 conflict with China. They saw an opportunity for Pakistan as India’s physical and psychological wounds took time to heal. India had begun to rearm after the disastrous depletion of its indigenous arms production during the tenure of defence minister Krishna Menon, but it would take time to reach full strength. In contrast, Pakistan’s army had doubled in size since 1947, with most recruits coming from within a radius of 100 miles from Rawalpindi. This was continuation of British policy in recruitment from what were called “martial races”.
Egged on by a belligerent Bhutto, Ayub Khan ordered top secret planning to begin in 1964. Among the very few in this loop were Aziz Khan of the Foreign Office, Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, GOC 12 Division, which was responsible for large sections of the Kashmir sector, and two brigadiers, Irshad Ahmad Khan, Director of Military Intelligence, and Gul Hassan Khan, Director of Military Operations.
Operation Gibraltar began on 24 July 1965. The numbers involved have been estimated at 3000 on the low side and 30,000 on high. Their mission, as in 1947, was to replicate Tariq bin Zaid’s bold dash, not to Spain but to Srinagar.
I quote Shuja Nawaz again, to indicate that this is not an Indian version of events: “Gibraltar was based on the infiltration of trained guerrillas under Pakistan Army officers into Indian-held Kashmir to help foment local dissent and an uprising. The total force was subdivided into subsidiary units named mainly after Muslim military heroes: Tariq [bin Zaid], [Mahmud] Ghaznavi, Salahuddin, [Mohammed bin] Qasim, and Khalid [bin Waleed]. One force named Nusrat [meaning victory]…was designated to conduct sabotage behind Indian forces at the cease-fire line”.
Infiltration, sabotage, attacks on Indian military and paramilitary forces: it is all too familiar.
These trained soldiers and officers, once again claiming to be “Kashmiri” civilians, were to mingle with pilgrims to the shrine of Pir Dastgir Sahib by 8 August, enter Srinagar the next day, take over the airfield and radio station, set up a “Revolutionary Council” and formally ask Pakistan for help. Pakistan would then initiate the second stage, Operation Grand Slam, which constituted a regular attack across the Cease Fire Line. On paper it looked good. But in retrospect, Gibraltar seems more a child of cartoon history, and Grand Slam a sign that the Pakistan High Command had become inordinately fond of bridge.
The Jihadis of ‘Gibraltar 1965’ lost the plot, literally. Most of them did not speak Kashmiri; nor had they been given simple information, like the change in Indian weights and measures from seers and maunds to a modern system. They were exposed as Pakistanis when they went to shops. Inevitably, many were arrested; under interrogation, some of their officers sang like birds on holiday. The Gibraltar fiasco, however, did not deter the Field Marshal.
On 29 August, Ayub Khan ordered his armed forces to proceed, claiming, stupidly, that “as a general rule, the Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place”. He learnt about India’s morale the hard way.
The Pak objective was to head south towards Akhnoor, and cut off Indian troops in Kashmir from the rest of the country, before applying the squeeze. Details of how the war unfolded are well known; they need not detain us. Instead of conquest, Pakistan ended up losing key passes, including the strategically crucial Haji Pir, and decisive battles like Asal Uttar. The war ended with the Tashkent Pact in January 1966, where the much-loved Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died of a heart attack.
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Tashkent destroyed Ayub Khan’s credibility, and he was forced to leave office.
If India had held on to Haji Pir, the third Pak effort to enter the Kashmir valley, through Kargil in 1999, might have been far more difficult. However, a similar game-plan was repeated in Kargil. Pakistan denied that its soldiers were involved, and kept saying so till it was forced to retreat. Our handsome victory under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is still fresh in public memory. Having won the war Vajpayee did his utmost for peace; going to Lahore and offering Pakistan a solemn commitment that included a desire for resolution of all disputes. What India got in return was the attack on Parliament, repeated terrorist violence, the horrific murder of innocents in Mumbai, and now Pulwama.
In 2019, as so often before, the people of India have a question: What do we do about this persistent, insistent, searing terrorism?
So far the answer has been, after the sobbing died down, nothing that persuaded Pakistan to change its behaviour. We asked Pakistan to take action against self-confessed terrorist groups like Jaish e Muhammad, which flourish in the safety of Pak soil. All we got in return was prevarication. We did not even withdraw the Most Favoured Nation status granted unilaterally to Pakistan, until it was cancelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We honoured our commitment to Indus waters.
And we heard the same denials. Jinnah and the Pakistan establishment did not “know anything” about the raiders of 1947; Ayub Khan pretended ignorance of Operation Gibraltar; General Zia ul Haq insisted that he had nothing to do with Khalistan secessionists although they got sanctuary, funds and arms in Lahore; Nawaz Sharif claimed he was hoodwinked by his own generals during Kargil; and Pervez Musharraf of course was the ultimate “innocent” as masterminds ran the barbaric terrorist assault on Mumbai in 2008. Today, Imran Khan sings the same tune, and then demands “actionable evidence”. How can the wilfully blind and the consciously deaf see or hear evidence? To go down that route of trust is to participate in fraud.
There is a military response to Pulwama and a political one. We can leave the first to the military; as the Prime Minister said, they know what to do and when. But one aspect of the political response has not been given the attention it deserves, because of a certain dichotomy in our stance that began when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. It is time to end this dichotomy.
Pakistan disputes the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India. We may not be able to alter Pakistan’s attitude, but we can change ours. The time has come to aver that the integration of Kashmir into India is a closed chapter. We must take it off the agenda of talks. There is nothing to discuss with Islamabad, except the withdrawal of its troops from “Occupied Kashmir”. This position also reflects a formal resolution passed by our Parliament. We have not taken that resolution to its logical conclusion.
That conclusion requires a final step, the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Union of India. There is a basic flaw in our understanding of Article 370, which gives the province a special status. Article 370 was the beginning of the process, not an immutable end-game. It may have been essential in 1947, and relevant till much later. But today it is an anachronism that impinges on the unity of our nation.
Every Kashmiri is an Indian citizen. There is no such thing as a “special” Indian or a “conditional” citizen. Then why should such a qualified status be given to a province which is an equal member of the Union of India?
The process for Article 370 began on 17 October 1949 when Gopalaswami Aiyangar moved Article 306A in the Constituent Assembly; this became Article 370. One member of the Assembly, Hasrat Mohani, asked, “Why this discrimination, please?” There were cheers when he hoped that in due course Jammu and Kashmir would become as integrated into the Union of India as other princely states.
Revenge is not a word that should exist in the dictionary of a civilized and sensible government; but justice is. The two have one thing in common; both are best served cold.