To formalise the transfer of power from Her Majesty’s Government to the newly created dominions of India and Pakistan, the British parliament passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947. As the British decided that the princely states in undivided India should be given a choice to decide on joining either of the two dominions, a standstill agreement was incorporated.
This agreement was meant to ensure that “all the administrative arrangements that existed between the British crown and the princely state would continue unaltered between the signatory dominions [India and Pakistan] and the state, until new arrangements were made.”
The Maharaja of J&K expressed his willingness to enter into standstill agreement with both India and Pakistan. While Pakistan immediately accepted his request, it was conveyed by New Delhi to the Maharaja that he or an authorised minister should be sent to discuss this issue, which did not happen. So, the princely state of J&K had a standstill arrangement with only Pakistan.
While India made no overtures to influence the Maharaja of J&K to accede to India, Pakistan tried everything in the book to do so. Starting with the prompt acceptance of the standstill agreement to show bonhomie with the princely J&K state, Pakistani President Muhammad Ali Jinnah even sent his private secretary Khurshid Hasan Khurshid to persuade the Maharaja of J&K to accede to Pakistan. Having reportedly boasted that “Kashmir is a blank cheque in my pocket,” accession of J&K with Pakistan must have become an obsession for Jinnah.
According to Mehr Chand Mahajan who became the prime minister of J&K in mid October 1947, Khurshid conveyed Jinnah’s message to the Maharaja of J&K that the latter “… was an independent sovereign, that he alone had the power to give accession; that he need consult nobody, that he should not care for the National Conference or Sheikh Abdullah … that he need not delegate any of his powers to the people of the State and that Pakistan would not touch a hair of his head or take away an iota of his power if he acceded to Pakistan.”
But the Maharaja wasn’t convinced. Jinnah however didn’t give up hope and in beginning October 1947, he once again sent Khurshid to try and persuade the Maharaja of J&K to accede to Pakistan, who refused to yield. In order to exert pressure on the Maharaja, Pakistan started impeding movement of essential supplies and fuel guaranteed by the standstill agreement as well as fomented communal violence, but the Maharaja didn’t relent.
So when it became apparent to Jinnah that J&K’s accession to Pakistan was out of question, a decision was taken to invade and annex this princely state, standstill agreement notwithstanding!
The Pakistan army plan to seize J&K was codenamed ‘Operation Gulmarg’ and envisaged the use of an orchestrated ‘tribal invasion’ to avoid international censure for waging unprovoked aggression. Accordingly, tribals armed and administered by the Pakistan army, were led by army regulars who also disguised themselves as tribals. The invasion commenced on October 22 [and the J&K state forces were unable to match this better led and numerically superior force. By October 26, the ‘tribals’ had reached Baramulla which is just about 50 km short of J&K’s capital city Srinagar.
Liberation or Pillage?
Just like Pakistan’s military operation was disguised as a tribal invasion, its stated objective touted as ‘liberation’ too was an equally shameful farce. Had this really been the aim, then Brigadier [later Maj Gen] Mohammad Akbar Khan who was the overall commander of the invading force would have definitely told his officers and men commanding groups of tribal fighters not to physically harm Kashmiris or loot their property. Moreover, he would have pressed his forces to reach Srinagar earliest and accomplish the task of ‘liberating’ J&K rather than wasting time in pillaging – but he did neither!
What actually happened proved beyond doubt that Pakistan was only interested in J&K territory and not its people. Speaking at the UN on February 5, 1948, J&K leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah highlighted Pakistani atrocities and revealed that “…the raiders came to our land, massacred thousands of people — mostly Hindus and Sikhs, but Muslims, too — abducted thousands of girls, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike, looted our property and almost reached the gates of our summer capital, Srinagar…” [Emphasis added].
The carnage committed by Pakistan army led tribals has also been documented in great detail by several authors and writers with impeccable credentials, and Rawalpindi can’t absolve itself of the unsoldierly conduct exhibited by its rank and file. While Brig Khan has heaped praises on the tribals in his book on this war, he conveniently feigned ignorance about the two day long rampage of Baramulla by mentioning “The uncouth raiders delayed [themselves] in Baramulla for two [whole] days.” However, by describing them as “uncouth,” he has said it all!
It was on October 26, 1947, that the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir [J&K] signed the instrument of accession in favour of India, and the very next day Indian army troops landed in Srinagar. Without wasting any time got down to the task of pushing back the invaders and fierce battles ensued. Though outnumbered and unfamiliar with the terrain, Indian army through its exemplary grit and unparalleled valour succeeded in not only stem the advance of intrudes but also forced them to retreat.
The areas of operations were hazardous and diverse- from the dizzy and barren heights of Zojila Pass, to the rugged mountainous areas of Kashmir Valley and the thick forested Poonch-Rajouri belt to the South of the Pir Panjal mountain range. The intruders were routed and it is estimated that Pakistani intruders suffered 6,000 fatalities and 14,000 non-fatal casualties. But success came at a heavy cost- while 1,104 members of the Indian army gave the supreme sacrifice, 3,154 were wounded in action.
Operations of the Indian army to drive out the Pakistan army and tribals from the entire J&K were progressing well when the UN sponsored ceasefire came into force. Resultantly, despite being in a militarily advantageous position, the Indian army had to cease operations. This is how Pakistan managed to retain some territory of Jammu and Kashmir that is today referred to as Pakistan occupied J&K [PoJK].
Karma Strikes Back
While barbarity was expected from tribals, complicity of Pakistan army’s rank and file in savagery directed against unarmed and innocent minority communities [whether by omission or commission] is unpardonable. The most disconcerting part is the fact that this rabidly communal mindset gained such widespread acceptance within the Pakistan in a matter of just over nine weeks of its creation.
But Karma came to haunt the Pakistan army under whose charge innocent Kashmiris were subjected to unspeakable atrocities and became victims of a horrific bloodbath. Its brazen attempt to annex J&K failed and became a source of enduring embarrassment for Rawalpindi. Due to Pakistan army’s despicable actions and the adverse sentiments it created, Pakistan feared that a plebiscite in J&K would go against it and as such never pursued this issue vigorously.
Pakistan has continued to reap the grim harvest of its communal mindset and barbarity of 1947-48. 24 years later, this very perverse trait prompted the Pakistan army’s ‘Operation Searchlight’ to undertake ethnic cleansing of Bengalis in what was then East Pakistan, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. Even today, while some residents of PoJK are today protesting against its illegal occupation by Pakistan, there are others who are openly demanding its merger with India.
It seems that finally the wheel has come full circle.