May 28, 2002


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Claude Arpi

Mr Straw, do you know who created the Kashmir mess?

Are we to allow Pakistan to continue to train new armies for invasion and to allow its territory to be used as a base for these attacks? The obvious course of action is to strike at these concentrations and lines of communications in Pakistan territory. From a military point of view this would be the most effective step. We have refrained from taking it because of political considerations. We shall have to reconsider this position because a continuation of the present situation is intolerable. If Pakistan is not prepared to help in putting an end to this war or even to try to withdraw these invaders then we should help ourselves, even by crossing some part of Pakistan territory and hitting at their concentrations. This involves a risk of war with Pakistan. We wish to avoid war, but it is merely deluding ourselves to imagine that we are avoiding war so long as the present operations are continuing on either side.

Thus spoke Nehru, India's first prime minister!

When? On December 20, 1947, eleven days before the Kashmir issue was referred to the United Nations. Eleven days which turned out to be momentous for India's future. Is it not strange that today, 55 years later, similar circumstances have come to haunt the present prime minister?

At this point in time, it is useful to remember the role of Great Britain, particularly of Lord Mountbatten, to understand how Albion has been single-handedly responsible for the Kashmir imbroglio. For this, it is necessary to go back to a year before the British left the jewel of their empire.

In 1946-47 they were perhaps ready to depart, but not to lose their influence in Asia and the world. For the past two centuries, the defence of their empire had been centred on the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean [known as the British lake]. The British Empire, born from a trading company, was basically a sea-empire. This was brilliantly demonstrated by K M Panikkar, the historian [unfortunately turned diplomat] in his famous book, Asia and the Western Dominance. But at the beginning of the 20th century, two new factors appeared on the strategic scene: one was aviation [whose role was masterfully demonstrated by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour in 1941] and petrol [and therefore the importance of Middle East.

When the British chiefs of staff were ordered to submit a report on the strategic consequences of their departure from the subcontinent, all the generals agreed that Pakistan was the more important of the two future dominions, because of the possibility of installing air bases in the north of the country [to control Russia] and naval bases opening to the Arabian Sea in the south. A brotherly contact with the Muslim states in the Middle East was an added bonus.

Another argument, which made Pakistan more reliable, was that Mohammed Ali Jinnah was extremely keen to remain in the Commonwealth while the Indian National Congress could not make up its mind. Jinnah once forcefully told Mountbatten: "You can't kick us out.'

The dies were cast in May 1947 when the chiefs of staff reported: "From the strategic point of view there were overwhelming arguments in favour of West Pakistan remaining within the Commonwealth, namely that we should obtain important strategic facilities..."

Subsequently this policy was implemented, partly with the unknowing [not to say foolish] collaboration of the Congress. When the time of independence came and Jinnah insisted on becoming the first governor general of Pakistan [London had thought Mountbatten could be the governor general of both dominions], the Congress offered the job in India to the viscount.

This was the first of a long series of blunders. Then, when the issue of Junagadh and Hyderabad came up soon after Independence, a defence committee of the Cabinet was created. And who was its chairman? A Britisher.

This was a surrealistic situation: two dominions, one with a Pakistani governor general, the other with a British; two armies, both with British generals [though India tried from the first months to indigenise her cadre]. The 'Indian' British generals took orders from the British governor general and not from the Indian government; the defence committee was chaired by a Briton, which most of the time was overriding the Cabinet's decisions and a 'stand-down' order stated that British officers would not fight one another.

Such was the situation when the raiders trained, equipped and directed by Colonel Akbar Khan, military adviser of the Pakistani prime minister, entered Kashmir at the end of October 1947. The story is too well known to be recounted here, but the interesting point is that the British constantly played a double game. General Douglas Gracey, the Pakistani army commander, knew of the raiders' attack beforehand, but did not 'inform' his Indian counterpart. Later on, information kept circulating, but in one direction only. This shows that London, with the help of Mountbatten, was determined to implement the strategic plans of HMG.

Another strange situation: Mountbatten, formal head of the Indian State, took upon himself to be the mediator also. Can we imagine the captain of a World Cup soccer team being the referee at the same time, while also acting to make a third country win?

Once a friend of mine visiting Israel was asked by his hosts: "What do you see as a difference between India and Israel?" My friend answered: "In Israel, you use your guts, in India we wait for the Grace." The Grace struck when Mountbatten's cousin [Elizabeth II] got married in London, forcing him to leave India for two weeks in November. During this time, the Indian commanders did so well that they secured Srinagar and stabilised the Uri sector. They could have advanced and taken back Muzaffarabad if they had not received orders from Delhi to stop their advance.

The last two months of 1947 is a long tale of the British authorities trying to 'restrain' India from chasing out the raiders. This explains why Nehru, though a great admirer of the governor general, was really fed up at the end of 1947 and why he wrote the note quoted earlier.

When he got to know the content, the cunning Mountbatten decided to act fast. From the start, he had been of the opinion that the best way to derail an Indian offensive, which would have finished off Pakistan, was to refer the case to the United Nations where it would be quickly buried. We should not forget that not only was Mountbatten a fine soldier and an over-charming man, he was also a clever politician who knew perfectly well that, even within Clement Attlee's Cabinet, there were enough people like Noel Baker, the Commonwealth secretary, who would immediately take Pakistan's side against India.

He [Mountbatten] used all his influence on Nehru (and he had a lot) to convince him that it was 'The Solution' and the world would immediately condemn Pakistan for supporting and assisting the raiders. During the following defence council meeting on December 20, he forced Nehru and his colleagues to accept the idea to make a reference to the UN. Reluctantly the Indian prime minister agreed: India would appeal, but would at the same time prepare a contingency plan for attacking the raiders' sanctuaries in eastern Pakistan.

On December 22, Nehru sent an ultimatum to Pakistan prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan that the raids should be stopped immediately failing which India would consider a counter attack. It is to be noted that at that time the Indian leadership was a deeply divided lot and the next day Sardar Patel sent a resignation letter to Nehru for being sidetracked on the Kashmir issue. This was not to help India's case!

However, the man who had commanded the Allied forces in Asia had scored a first point: the principle of a reference to the UN was accepted. The next step for the governor general was to kill the Indian military plans. He did not hesitate to spend Christmas day writing a very long missive to Nehru highlighting the advantage of the UN solution and the danger of a military escalation.

We should not forget that if a war had broken out between the two dominions, the British officers posted in both dominions as well as the governor general would have lost their jobs and would have had to pack their bags for the native island.

Mountbatten told Nehru clearly that "his considerations were not inspired by military considerations, but by the fact that it would mean war between India and Pakistan". In other words, he was not really interested by the merits of the case or whether Pakistan was on the wrong side of the fence; he wanted to avoid a war and its consequences for the United Kingdom.

Nehru soon discovered that Mountbatten's interests in the reference to the UN were only "to get a team nominated to come out and deal with the business and help to stop the fighting". The next day, Nehru answered with another very long letter and made it clear that he agreed about stopping the fighting: "Yes, certainly, but how? We neither started it, nor can we stop it. Of course, we can, in a sense, surrender. That I am sure you would not advise us to do.... The very idea is hateful." But it was indeed what the governor general wanted India to do... and this in the interests of the Crown and Mountbatten's own career and reputation.

Seeing that his plans were not fully working, Mountbatten launched another attack, he secretly passed all the correspondence (and even the minutes of the defence council) to Attlee asking him to intervene and put pressure on Nehru. At the same time, he advised Nehru to inform the British prime minister of the 'latest developments' making him believe that it would help India's cause in the UN. It would have been strange if Attlee had written on his own about what he was not supposed to know! Not knowing that Attlee had already been fed with all the details of meetings and correspondence, Nehru naively tried again to explain India's position.

He was to receive a lecture the next day that attacks on the 'nervous centres' of the raiders in Pakistan were not 'justified in international law as India was not entitled to take this action in self-defence'. Attlee told him that not only was he totally wrong legally, but any actions along this line would tarnish Nehru's international reputation and stature.

At the same time, London passed all the correspondence and other documents to the US and France, asking them to put pressure on India to avoid destroying the raiders 'sanctuaries'; the US complied immediately. It was enough for the Indian prime minister to 'try' the UN solution.

The events that followed are too well known. India's case was buried in the bureaucratic corridors of the UN, thanks to Noel Baker and his American colleagues; the raiders were allowed to remain on Indian soil.

Fifty-five years later, these territories are still in the possession of Pakistan and the same type of attacks are allowed from across the border, as a result of which tens of thousands have been killed in Kashmir and the Kashmiri Pandits, Nehru's own race, have been cleansed in the world's indifference.

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, is coming to India on Wednesday on a 'peace mission'. He has announced his arrival with fanfare: he declared that the question as to "who should run Kashmir was never fully resolved" and has called Kashmir an "unfinished business". In view of this, on his arrival in Delhi, he should immediately be asked by his Indian counterpart: "Sir, do you know who created the Kashmir mess?" If he says "No", he should politely be told to go back to London and visit the India Office Library and records and spend a weekend in the Broadlands Archives Trust in Romsey, Hampshire, to consult the Mountbatten Papers. He will get the answer.

If he says "yes", he should be told that India has its own interests and follows its own policy and if the UK wants to restrain somebody, it should restrain those who created the mess. India is now an independent nation, no more a colony under a British governor general. But India definitively agrees with him that Jammu & Kashmir is an 'unfinished business'.

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