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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Historical Turning Points in Kashmir

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Kashmir remains at the core of the issues between India and Pakistan and it has once again come to focus with the recent Mumbai Blasts. It has remained an issue for the last 60 years. However, there have been three important events that took place in History; each of them could have changed the History of Kashmir. I am sure most of the Indians or Pakistanis would be unaware of any of them.

The First of them took place a few months before independence of the two countries. This was when the actual border was being drawn. The fundamental basis that was followed for this was the population of the region. So, Muslim dominated areas were given to Pakistan while India retained the Hindu and Sikh dominated areas. One interesting deviation from this rule was the case of Gurdaspur, a border district, now a part of Punjab (India) and is represented by Vinod Khanna. This district had a Muslim population of 50.5%. It was initially given to Pakistan. However, later on it was given to India to please the Sikhs. The Sikh had lost significant portion of their land to Pakistan. Amritsar was the holy city of the Sikhs. Gurdaspur would provide a buffer to Amritsar, which otherwise would be surrounded by Muslim-dominated areas. Moreover, by giving Gurdaspur to Pakistan would have also meant that Pakistanis could stop the river water supply to the Holy City. A lot of prominent Sikh religious places were already lost to Pakistan. Therefore, this was an important concession to be made.

Gurdaspur is an extremely strategic location. Of the three routes to Kashmir by land, two of them are in Pakistan while the third was through the district of Gurdaspur. The route from the Kangra side not that good. So if Gurdaspur had not been given, most probably Kashmir today would have been a part of Pakkistan. Indian troops in 1947-48 used the Gurdaspur route(via Pathankot) to enter the state.

Quite expectedly, there has been a lot of criticism of British for giving Gurdaspur to India. Allegations of bias have been made. However, almost of these allegations fail to mention the case of Chittagong Hill Tracts, which were given to Pakistan despite 97% non-Muslim population. The rationale of giving Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan was to provide some buffer area to Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) a major city and port and also it was argued that its only approach was through Chittagong. Gurdaspur District had a slight Muslim majority, because Ahmadiyya community were counted as Muslims even though they had been declared non-Muslims by Muslim clergy (there was large concentration of Ahmediyas in that area because their spiritual centre Qadian is located in Gurdaspur district). (Source: Gurdaspur & Kashmir accession)

The Second incident occurred soon after independence. All princely states were given the option that could join either India or Pakistan, or become independent. However, becoming independent was not feasible for most as they were to small to survive. British Govt, India and Pakistan all agreed. By August 1947, three states Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir were yet to sign the accession agreement. Junagarh and Hyderabad were Hindu majority states with a Muslim ruler which in case of Kashmir it was the reverse.

The ruler of Junagarh dis-regarding the viewpoint of his subjects decided to accede to Pakistan. The Indian government did not accept the decision. Junagarh was surrounded by India on three sides with Arabian Sea on the fourth. It was 300 miles away from the Pakistan mainland. Govt. of India blockaded Junagadh and then invaded it. Delhi then imposed a plebiscite and secured the result it desired: Junagadh became part of India.

In Hyderabad’s case, it was surrounded by India on all sides. The ruler wanted to accede to Pakistan. Having hostile country right in the heart of India was not acceptable. For Kashmir , it was possible for it accede to either India or Pakistan. When Liaquat Ali Khan met Nehru at the end of November (while the Junagarh was being invaded) he exposed the illogicality of India's position. If Junagadh, despite its Muslim rulers' accession to Pakistan, belonged to India because of its Hindu majority, then Kashmir surely belonged to Pakistan. When Liaquat Ali Kahn made this incontrovertible point his Indian interlocutor, Sardar Patel, could not contain himself and burst out: 'Why do you compare Junagadh with Kashmir? Talk of Hyderabad and Kashmir and we could reach agreement.' However, Jinnah was thinking in terms of legally possible options rather than political realities. In the long term the independence of Hyderabad, while constitutionally proper, was never going to happen. The new Indian leadership saw the issue clearly enough and when the Nizam tried to strike a deal which would allow him to hang on to some degree of autonomy, Delhi flatly refused to consider the idea. (Source: Hyderabad and Junagadh at Partition)

Had Jinnah accepted the deal, it would have meant, Kashmir would have been a part of Pakistan.

The Third incident occurred after Kashmir was invaded by Pakistan. Kashmir’s Maharaj had not joined either with India or with Pakistan. After the partition most of the armed forces went to India. As a result Pakistan sent irregular tribal militia to invade Kashmir. After a substantial portion was captured by the Pakistanis, the Maharaja signed the accession document. After this, the Indian Govt. sent its troops to capture back Kashmir. Indian forces were easily defeating the militia. However, Nehru withdrew the operation and announced on radio that he would hold a plebiscite under UN supervision. This left Sardar Patel fuming. But, Nehru was someone who rather than being a pragmatic wanted to establish himself as a statesmen in the international community. He later went on to form NAM. One of his other major blunders was to mishandling of the Chinese that led to a humiliating defeat for the country.

In short both Jinnah and Nehru had the opportunity to avoid the situation that we are presently in. What is interesting to note that both of them are still widely respected in their respective countries. The Nehru-Gandhi family is perhaps even bigger brand than Mahatma Gandhi(Father of the Nation) as more number of Public schemes, buildings, airports and Hospitals in their name than of Mahatma Gandhi.


1. Jinnah and Kashmir