Col J P Singh
Unraveling tortuous history of J&K is not an easy task for any historian, least a layman like me. The burden of it is more heavy post 3 years of abrogation of Article 370 when the J&K game has taken a sharp turn, from winning to losing spree. It made many proponents of Kashmir goal scorers to a ratty blind loser. For those who thought that most of the history of J&K revolves around 15 August 1947 ie the period of partition and Kashmir’s momentous decision of accession with India with guarantees of special status as eternal, the abrogation of Article 370 came as rude shock. Thereafter much of what is passed of today as Jammu and Kashmir history is a propaganda. Hence there is need to try at a quick sweep of history of J&K to challenge the propaganda propounded by politicians that Jammu & Kashmir is their creation and hence their Sultanate.
If someone asks why clearing the propaganda now when most of history after abrogation of Article 370 has itself washed off its sins. Yet the fact has to be unequivocally understood. The fact is that creation of Jammu and Kashmir as a single political entity began not after partition but during the turbulent times of the history when the Great Game had begun in Central Asia.
For the ease of understanding Kashmir dispute, better is to know what the Great Game was. Simply put it was a ‘political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most part of the 19th century and early 20th century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and adjoining territories in Central and South Asia. Creation of J&K also began precisely then. Hence Great Game had direct effect on the creation of Jammu and Kashmir and for its extension towards Central Asia, which should now be the subject matter for the scholars of history post abrogation of Article 370.
There was a period when Russia was moving Westwards and entering into alliances with Central Asian Republics. At the same time Marathas of Marathwada, Rajputs of Rajputana and Sikhs of Punjab were fighting against tyrannical Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb which caused the decline of Mughals. Downfall of Mughal empire led to a period of great turbulences and instability in India. Afghans, Persians, Sikhs and later the British took advantage of this empirical disarray. The Sikh military power under Maharaja Ranjit Singh reached its zenith at about this time. Rise of Maharaja Gulab Singh and formation of Jammu and Kashmir Princely State also happened in this turbulent period. Partition of India and creation of Pakistan happened much later though during the same march of great game consequently the main sufferer was Jammu and Kashmir.
During 19th century, the India was ruled in part as Princely States and in part by the British East India Company. During this period a political and diplomatic confrontation developed between Britain and Russia over Afghanistan which later came to be known as Great Game. Russia was fearful of British commercial and military inroads into Central Asia whereas Britain was fearful of Russia adding the “Jewel in the Crown” ie India, to the vast empire that Russia was building in Asia. At the same time Dogra rulers were moving forward to take control of Silk Route. This resulted in an atmosphere of distrust over the game plans of Jammu and Kashmir rulers creating constant worry amongst British. Apprehension also arose that if Russia were to gain control of Afghanistan, it might then be used as a staging post for a Russian invasion of India. And if Dogras were to join Russians, British India would be at the risk of Russian take over. Sooner or later Russia will invade India and Dogras may support Russia scared the British. This apprehension made J&K their political envision and playfield.
Certain interesting pieces of the bigger jigsaw of the Great Game so far as J&K is concerned were. British shadow boxing with most imaginary enemy Soviet Russia changed their outlook for J&K. Trans-Himalayan conquest of Dogras of J&K became a constant irritants for them. Their biggest apprehension was a possibility of Dogras hobnobbing with Russia and Nepal against the British. Hence the very first Anglo-Saxon plan was to frustrate Dogras conquests and finally to frustrate J&K’s smooth accession to India to further the future interests of Anglo-Saxon world against Russia. The result was invasion of J&K. The main players of great game in J&K were Maj Gen Henry Lawrence Scott, the Chief of State Forces, George Cunningham, Governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Maj William Brown and Capt Methisson, both officers of Gilgit Scouts.
To understand why Kashmir is disputed till today, reference to ‘Untold Story of Partition’, by Narendra Singh Sarila, a diplomat, is necessary. He has deftly used the British Records, official correspondence and US & European sources to describe how British cast their fortune with Pakistan after Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s assurances that the newly formed Pakistan will ally with British to dispossess India of strategic princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. The so called Pak raiders ingress into J&K soon after creation of Pakistan was fulfilling that promise. State Forces stood like a rock to frustrate their evil designs and the Kashmiri civilians came forward boldly to defeat Pak invasion and to frustrate British great game in J&K. Later Indian Army pushed the raiders further back to an extent but the untimely ceasefire enforced on the advancing Indian Army partially worked in favour of British design resulting into nearly half J&K under illegal Pak occupation. Why was the ceasefire enforced when Indian Army was on the winning spree is a mystery. This should also be the subject matter of scholars agenda.
Presence of Pak invaders on J&K soil was not acceptable to India. Unlike the British, the US supported the Indian stand on complete withdrawal of invaders from J&K. With aggressive pushing by Lord Mountbatten, the matter was taken to UN. The matter came to a head at the UN in October 1948 when British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin spilled the beans in a conversation with his US counterpart Mr. George Marshal, “the main issue was who would control the main artery leading into Central Asia. Indian proposal will leave that in their hands”. This has been written by Narendra Singh Sarila in his book. At the hindsight it is clear that British return of Gilgit Agency to Maharaja Hari Singh before accession was to skip the stigma of orchestrating occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan by Pakistan.
It is said that had India signed ‘the Stand Still Agreement’ with govt of J&K, a military intervention could have been possible well before the signing of Instrument of Accession and entire J&K would have been saved for accession thus defeating the British in this game. But Indian leaders correspondence with the Maharaja and his Prime Minister Justice Mehar Chand Mahajan shows that Pt Nehru & Sardar Patel were of the firm opinion that Maharaja Hari Singh hands over power to Sheikh Abdullah before acceding to India whereas Maharaja was dithering and allegedly harbouring the idea of staying independent if not accommodated in the political power structure of J&K. Sheikh Abdullah a left leaning politician and his followers cast their lot with India and hence Delhi leaders insisted on handing over power to him before accession. This was another plan to beat the British in their game but they couldn’t score the winning goal. But Pakistan was in a hurry to annex J&K to please its creator. Since road connectivity to J&K was through Pakistan, despite having signed Stand Still Agreement, Pakistan firstly imposed an economic blockade and then attacked Kashmir in October 1947 and the rest is a history.
Later in 1965, Pakistan made another attempt to annex J&K. It sent infiltrators hoping that Kashmiris will welcome them but proved wrong. Kashmiris defeated them yet again. In 1971 Bangladeshi defeated Pakistan. But their desperate attempt in 1989 didn’t fail. This time Kashmiris supported Pak ‘Op Topac’ which saw a dramatic rise in insurgency. But after the abrogation of Article 370, realization has once again come that their future lies with India. The way forward is to march ahead of the nation in development, peace and progress is being demonstrated. The great game of separating J&K from India seems to be a history as of now. The ray of hope is clearer now than before. The issue now is vacation of illegal occupation.
Status of Jammu & Kashmir
Col J P Singh