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Kashmir’s forgotten chapter

It is not true that Pakistan lent support to the tribal infiltration because it had been precipitated by an internal revolt of the Muslim population of the region. The argument that peasant unrest in Poonch (June to October 1947) triggered a large-scale revolt of the Muslims against the Hindu ruler is untenable.

Nandalal Chakrabarti | New Delhi |

On the evening of 24 October 1947, at a dinner party in Delhi, Nehru informed Mountbatten that an invasion of Kashmir by tribesmen from the North West Frontier had taken place. Apprehending imminent danger, the Viceroy called a meeting of the Defence Committee next morning. General Lockhart, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, reported on the basis of a communication from the Pakistan Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi, that 5000 tribesmen from the North West had entered Kashmir and burnt down the town of Mizaffarabad on their way towards Srinagar. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, made a desperate appeal for help to India. He wrote to Mountbatten on 26 October that tribesmen could not have come in motor trucks using the Mansehra-Muzaffarabad Road fully armed with up-to-date weapons without the knowledge of the Provisional Government of the North West Frontier Province and the Government of Pakistan. Retired officers of the Pakistan Army confirmed that Pakistan had provided logistic support to the tribesmen.

Following the division of the British Indian Army, the bulk of the military assets remained within the Dominion of India in 1947. Those within the Dominion of Pakistan were largely obsolete. How did Pakistan supply modern arms and ammunition to the tribesmen? It is not true that Pakistan lent support to the tribal infiltration because it had been precipitated by an internal revolt of the Muslim population of the region. The argument that peasant unrest in Poonch (June to October 1947) triggered a large-scale revolt of the Muslims against the Hindu ruler is untenable. General Victor Scott, the British Commander- in-Chief of the Kashmir state forces, informed that “in September 1947, the State troops had escorted one lakh Muslims through Jammu territory on their way to Pakistan and an equal number of Sikhs and Hindus going the other way” (General Victor Scott’s Report; British Library). Thus, the raiders’ objective had hardly anything to do with the bogey of Muslims in danger in Kashmir, a convenient ruse that is proffered by Pakistan to cover up its own agenda of territorial expansion.

What happened in Kashmir in 1947? In the wake of Partition, when communal tension flared up around the state, Hindu-Muslim relations became strained in certain areas. There was unease in Jammu and the frontier adjoining the Pathan tribal areas. And yet, “Kashmir”, as stated by the British Resident W P Webb, “remained free from communal disturbances”. The region had never allowed the rot to set in despite the instigation of communal outfits from within and outside. As early as 1943, the Muslim League envoy to Kashmir informed Jinnah, “No important religious leader has ever made Kashmir his home or even an ordinary centre of Islamic activities. It will require considerable effort, spread over a long period of time, to reform them and convert them into true Muslims”.

Three years later, Agha Saukat Ali, a Muslim Conference leader in Kashmir, threatened “direct action” to enforce the two-nation agenda but, failed to unite the warring factions of the Muslim Conference. This proves that there was no communal sentiment. Pakistan and its cohorts propagated the view that the tribesmen, driven by their primordial greed and cruel instinct for destruction, looted the state. Sharbaz Khan Mazari, a tribal leader from Baluchistan, in his book A journey to disillusionment, says that he was stopped by Pakistani officials while trying to persuade some men to join the fighting in Kashmir.

As Mazari points out, they thought that “he and his men were intent on partaking in the plunder that was taking place”. The reference to the people unleashing the plunder has been made vague and if we go by his own statement, the intention of Mazari and his people was different. Did the Pakistani officials want to hide from the Baluch tribal leader what the military contingent of Pakistan was doing inside Kashmir, to capture the entire region? If it is taken for granted that the tribesman was the saviour of the distressed Muslim brethren, the question remains unresolved as to how the saviour became the looter. Attempts to explain it by citing the greedy and cruel nature of the tribes of the North West have never been convincing. Obviously, they were driven by a motive unrelated to Pakistan’s plan of action.

Satya Bakshi, a renowned journalist and a freedom-fighter wrote in an editorial in “Socialist Republican” on 8 November 1947 that INA men like Major General MZ Kiani and Col Habibur Rehman had led the tribesmen into the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani sources also recorded ex-INA officers’ involvement in the raid. V P Menon, the constitutional advisor to Mountbatten, in the magnum opus, Integration of the Indian States”, referred to the presence of INA veterans like Md Zaman Kiani and Burhanuddin in the tribal raid. The presence of Burhanuddin makes the entire episode more intriguing. Burhanuddin was the Prince of Chitral who became a Commander of INA in Burma. Chitral, the largest district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa previously known as North West Frontier Province, is separated from Tajikistan by a narrow strip of the Wakhan Corridor, which extends from north-eastern Afghanistan to China. According to a British intelligence report of 1946, Nehru received a letter from Bose stating he was in Russia and that he wanted to come to India via Chitral (File No. 223 INA).

Did Burhanuddin have any inkling of the plan? It has often been pointed out that Burhanuddin joined the raid because he endorsed Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan and supported a Muslim uprising against the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari singh, who was inclined towards accession to India. There was speculation too that since he had a strong Islamic orientation, he must have organised the raid with Kiani to free his Muslim brethren from Hindu rule. Nothing can be farther from the truth. On the other hand, if it is argued that Kiani organised the raid because after migrating to Pakistan he was put in charge of the southern wing to overthrow the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, it would only be a half truth. Kiani did not willingly leave India. He left India because he felt the worst possible disgrace. This will be evident from the Congress leaders’ attitude towards the INA.

In an interview with a returned POW, Captain Hari Badhwar on 18 October 1945, Asaf Ali, a member of the Congress Working Committee, said that if the Congress was in power “it would have no hesitation in removing all INA from services” and “if Government now postponed trials, the Congress would put INA leaders on trial when in power”. Everybody knows who came to power in India in 1947 and how INA soldiers/ officers were prevented from joining the Indian Army despite cosmetic changes of policy from time to time. They were welcomed by Pakistan and offered opportunities to join the forces. But it would be a gross over-simplification to infer that they opted for the other Dominion. One should not ignore their constraints in India. They would not have been allowed to organise forces to move towards Kashmir for receiving their leader. Neither the British nor the Indian authorities accorded them any locus standi. So, it could have been very much on the cards that these people had an underlying motive different from occupation of Kashmir by Pakistan.

It is preposterous to assume that Major General Kiani, who was instructed by Subhas Chandra Bose himself to represent the Provisional Government of Azad Hind in his absence, would organise the raid to assist Pakistan’s annexation of Kashmir. Whatever have been the front, in all likelihood these men masterminded the raid, receiving the information of Bose’s possible return to India through that region. An intelligence report of the Home Department reveals that in 1946 meetings were held in the North West Frontier Province demanding release of all INA men from custody.

INA’s connect with the North West Frontier is not, therefore, a figment of imagination. Bose himself planned attacks on British forces from the tribal areas of the North West. He stated in his memorandum of 9 April 1941 presented in Germany, that “our agents are already working in the independent Tribal territory lying between Afghanistan and India. Their efforts will have to be coordinated and an attack on British ilitary centres will have to be planned on a large scale”. (File No L/P and J/12/217: Public Record Office, London). Bhagatram Talwar, one of Bose’s aides, brought Sodhi Harminder Singh and Santimoy Ganguly from India in the same year for training in underground combat in Afghanistan. Such circumstantial evidence suggest that the ex-INA men tried to facilitate their leader’s safe passage to Kashmir by leading the tribesmen to the Valley to establish a completely free zone there.

(The writer is former Head of the Department of Political Science, Presidency College, Kolkata)