Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future
A MAGAZINE ON ASIAN CHANGE . JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Why the Kashmir
story needs fresh retelling

Jammu & Kashmir appears a whodunit packed with military machinations, radical rhetoric, and jingoist jihad. The simple facts are eloquent and say much about Pakistan's fragile, and damaged, psyche. How might India and Pakistan reconcile?

By B G VERGHESE
New Delhi, June 2011

Kashmir flashpoint - Indian policeman stands guard at a PDP rally in Srinagar

Indian policeman stands guard in Srinagar as supporters of Kashmir's People's Democratic Party (PDP), listen to speeches during a February 2011 rally. - Photo: Getty Images

THE Kashmir Question is often seen as a dangerous nuclear flash point aggravated by the Afghanistan-Pakistan imbroglio. It has got so tangled in myth, malice and partisanship that many perceptions can scarce be reconciled with ground realities. Uniquely, the aggressor has been placed on the same pedestal as the victim and even portrayed as the injured party. Kashmir has metastasised as a cancer eating the vitals of Pakistan.

Post-Independence Pakistan tragically cast its identity in a resolutely negative mould as India’s “other”, with an unfolding narrative that found territorial expression in Kashmir. The “ideology of Pakistan” posited it in opposition to a permanent “enemy”, Hindu India, that official schoolbooks teach Pakistani children to hate.

Professedly an Islamic State, Pakistan has been unable to successfully define Islam. The Munir Commission inquiring into the 1953 anti-Ahmediya riots lamented that “the ulema [of Pakistan]… were hopelessly disagreed among themselves… The net result of all of this is that neither Shias nor Sunnis nor Deobandis nor Ahl-i-Hadith nor Barelvis are Muslims.”

Today, a radicalised lslamist Pakistan, with Saudi money, stands opposed to the Shias, Aga Khanis, sufis and other moderate schools of Islam. The soft, humanistic Islam of South Asia, the largest and most advanced Muslim community in the world, is being exhorted to “save” Islam from Christian, Jewish and Hindu hegemony. In the process, Pakistan has mortgaged its soul to defend Islam and reclaim Kashmir and has instead fallen prey to the military-mullah-feudal combine that rules the roost.

BG Verghese

BG Verghese


"You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State" - Jinnah, 11 Aug, 1947

How and why did this come about? In India, the 1857 uprising or Great Revolt was a turning point, marking the end of 800 years of Muslim supremacy. The ensuing era of modernisation and graduated democratic reform under the British Raj saw Muslims retreat into a shell. An increasingly non-competitive Muslim minority feared eclipse. Hence the sense of victimhood and the demand for separate electorates and parity between the Muslim and Hindu "nations" despite the vast disparity in relative numbers. A secular Jinnah adopted the pernicious two-nation theory to leverage Pakistan and the British pandered to this sentiment through a policy of divide and rule.

Jinnah was quick to realise the inherent contradictions in Pakistan’s founding ideology as it remained a plural state. With Pakistan won, addressing the inaugural session of the nation’s constituent assembly in Karachi on 11 August, 1947, Jinnah denounced the two-nation theory.

Said Jinnah, “If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make...

“You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

It was too late. The dragon seed of mistrust and hate had led to a harvest of communal horror, killing hundreds of thousands and, at final count, displacing some 20 million people both ways. The homily was repudiated by the new ruling elite of Pakistan. Jinnah later reversed gear and on 24 January, 1948, told the Karachi Bar Association that the constitution would be based on the Sharia “to make Pakistan a truly great Islamic state.”

Planning had commenced to annex Jammu and Kashmir. With official backing from the very top, tribal invaders officered, armed and logistically supported by the Pakistan Army, entered the state on 20 October, 1947. Apart from irrefutable contemporary evidence, the full story was revealed by Akbar Khan, then Director, Weapons and Equipment, GHQ Pakistan, later promoted Chief of Staff in the rank of Major General, in his book Raiders in Kashmir (first published in Pakistan and subsequently republished by the Army Press, Delhi, in 1990). The Kashmir jihad had commenced.

Britain had long back vested the Muslim League with veto powers. A series of post-war strategic studies undertaken in London favoured retaining influence over eastern and northwestern India in order to contain communism and leverage control over the Gulf’s oil resources. This is elaborated in Narendra Singh Sarila’s The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of Partition (Harper Collins, Delhi, 2005) which details Britain’s conceptualisation of Pakistan as a Western frontline state.

Pakistan’s adventure in J&K (Jammu & Kashmir) is documented from declassified British archival papers in Chandrashekhar Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, (Sage, Delhi, 2001). By 1949-50, America had written off India as a Soviet ally under cover of non-alignment and by 1953 Pakistan had formally become a formal frontline military and strategic ally in the Cold War, granting USA an air base in Peshawar and subsequently joining the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO).

The Security Council’s consideration of the Kashmir Question was vitiated by cold war predilections. Indian appeals to principles and Pakistan’s aggression went unheeded. What mattered was whose side you were on.

Sir Owen Dixon, the UN Representative for India and Pakistan, formally reported in 1950 that, "When the frontier of the State of J&K was crossed on, I believe, October 20, 1947, by hostile elements, it was contrary to international law and when, as I believe, units of the regular Pakistan forces moved into the territory of the State, that too was inconsistent to international law.”

Howsoever politely stated, the finding was one of aggression against what was from 15 August, 1947 an independent state of J&K. The Maharaja appealed to India for military assistance. This was refused until the State acceded to India on 26 October with the backing of Sheikh Abdullah. Indian military forces were flown into Srinagar the following morning and arrived just in time to repel the invaders.

The UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNICIP) constituted in January 1948 called on both sides to report “any material change”. The UNCIP arrived in Karachi on 7 July, 1948 to be greeted with a “bombshell”. Three Pakistani brigades had entered J&K in May allegedly to prevent the Indian spring offensive spilling into Pakistan proper. However, the Pakistan army was soon knocking at the doors of Leh hundreds of miles to the east, taking over a huge swathe of Baltistan in Ladakh.

A Security Council Resolution on 13 August, 1948, proposed a ceasefire (Part I) that would bar any augmentation of armed forces regular or irregular; followed by a truce (Part II), calling for a wholesale withdrawal of all Pakistani forces and tribal invaders from J&K. The territory so evacuated was to be administered by the local authorities of the State under the surveillance of UNCIP with such Indian military assistance as might be considered necessary by the commission. After this phase was satisfactorily completed, the bulk of the Indian forces would be withdrawn from the State subject to such numbers as would be required to safeguard peace, law and order. Thus India’s legal right to be in J&K (and its de facto sovereignty) was not questioned. Nevertheless, after implementation of Parts I and II of the resolution, steps would be taken under Part III to ascertain the will of the people, as subsequently elaborated in a further UN Resolution dated 5 January, 1949.

Two days after J&K’s accession to India, the Gilgit Scouts, under Major Brown, a serving British officer seconded to J&K, staged a coup, imprisoned the J&K governor of Gilgit, and acceded to Pakistan. Nagar, Hunza and other feudatories followed suit. “Azad Kashmir”, itself dominated by the federal government through a Kashmir Affairs Council headed by the prime minister of Pakistan, ceded “temporary” control over the strategic Northern Areas to the Pakistan Government which has since engineered demographic changes (to bolster a Sunni presence) and virtually ruled it with few rights or representation.

Sir Owen Dixon, the UN Representative for India and Pakistan, formally reported in 1950 that, "When the frontier of the State of J&K was crossed on, I believe, October 20, 1947, by hostile elements, it was contrary to international law..."

Far from implementing Parts I and II of the 13 August, 1948, UN Resolution, Pakistan brazenly consolidated its administrative and military position in J&K and entered into a military alliance with the United States. The conditions for a plebiscite were never fulfilled and Part III of the 1948 Resolution remained a dead letter. It was in course of time rendered effete by political and demographic changes and Pakistan’s unilateral and illegal cession of Shaksgam in northern J&K to China in 1963.

At every stage, Pakistan’s stance was one of denial and defiance with Britain and the US looking the other way. India’s discomfiture in the border conflict with China in 1962 followed by the death of Nehru in 1964, encouraged General Ayub Khan and his ambitious lieutenant, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to mount Operation Gibraltar in August 1965. Five columns of Pakistani military and irregulars under General Akhtar Hussain Malik were detailed to cut India’s lines of communication and trigger a mass uprising as a prelude to a major military offensive, Operation Grand Slam.

Not a man rose against India. The infiltrators were decimated and Operation Grand Slam neutralised by an Indian offensive against Lahore. The UN Military Observer Group detailed Pakistan’s violations, but to no avail. Its findings were scarcely debated in the UN, which turned to peace making, once again putting the aggressor and its victim on the same footing. Soviet intervention brought about an uneasy truce at Tashkent.

Pakistan was now simmering with East Pakistan chafing at its colonial status. All the provinces in West Pakistan had been unnaturally amalgamated into “One Unit” to balance East Pakistan whose majority was sought to be denied at any cost even after its clear electoral victory at the 1971 polls. The Awami League’s Mujeeb-ur-Rahman demanded his democratic right to form the national government, The military responded with a pogrom. Bengali refugees streamed into India, which helped arm and train the Shanti Bahini. The West backed Pakistan, unmindful of the genocide. The infamous Nixon-Kissinger “tilt” went to the length of Washington seeking to instigate China to attack India to create a diversion and save East Pakistan with an American promise to intervene to fend off any Soviet riposte.

The war enveloped the western theatre. Pakistan was comprehensively defeated and General Niazi, the East Pakistan Commander, surrendered unconditionally to Lt Gen J S Aurora, the Indian Eastern Army Commander on 16 December, 1971. Bangladesh, which had proclaimed its independence on 26 March that year, was now truly independent. Bangla (cultural) nationalism had triumphed over Islamic nationalism, leaving the two-nation theory in tatters.

The Simla Agreement of 1972 converted the J&K Cease Fire Line into a Line of Control (implicitly reaffirming the 1949 CFF delineation of its northern extremity from the last grid reference NJ 9842 “thence north to the glaciers” that clearly placed 90 percent of the Siachen glacier on the Indian side of the LOC). Bhutto promised to settle the Kashmir question bilaterally and end anti-Indian propaganda to open a new chapter of friendly cooperation.

However, Bhutto had only to return home, to renege on his assurances and launch a secret programme to build a nuclear arsenal. Enter the notorious Dr A Q Khan. This Pakistani nuclear metallurgist had pilfered critical nuclear designs from the multinational URENCO consortium facility in the Netherlands where he had worked, and now returned home to place his services at the disposal of Bhutto to help Pakistan build what was later touted as an “Islamic” bomb. A Q Khan’s cunning and deceit in accomplishing this and his reckless nuclear proliferation has been well documented. The programme was overseen and facilitated by the Pakistan military with the connivance of the USA. The Americans got Khan off the hook in 1983 when the Dutch caught him red-handed, as later publicly disclosed by the Netherlands Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers and, like the British, came down heavily on officials who dared probe Pakistan’s Faustian bargain too diligently. Pakistan’s denials reached new heights.

By the 1980s Pakistan was more advanced in nuclear weaponry than India and more than once used nuclear blackmail to launch its new strategy of cross-border terror in Kashmir and wider afield. This was climaxed by Musharraf’s brazen Kargil operation, after the Indian Premier Vajpayee had taken a peace bus to Lahore to meet Nawaz Sharif and initiate a new peace process. The gambit failed. Pakistan was roundly defeated along the Kargil heights and its mala fides and dangerous adventurism exposed. Naked but unashamed, Musharraf staged a coup.

This time the US put pressure on Pakistan and post-9/11 got Musharraf to promise not to allow Pakistani soil to be used for cross-border terror against India (or Afghanistan). The promise never held – the sorry plea being that by now Pakistan itself was a victim of terror and that non-state actors, long treated as “strategic assets”, were involved.

Group Captain Kaiser Tufail, then director of operations, Pakistan Air Force, later recounted that the Pakistan Army planned to sever India’s crucial lifeline to the Siachen-Leh sector. “Come October, we shall walk into Siachen – to mop up the dead bodies of hundreds of Indians left hungry and out in the cold,” remarked the 10th Corps Commander, Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmad, after the operation had commenced in mid-May. He had casually sought PAF air support, if necessary, from an astonished air command that had like others been kept out of the loop. (Defence Watch, Dehra Dun, March 2009).

And how and when did Siachen become a bone of contention? The delineation of the CFL/LOC has already been explained. Even as Pakistan kept extending its communications eastwards after its boundary agreement with China, the US Defence Mapping Agency started redrawing the CFL in this sector from around 1967, hardening an older Air Defence Information Zone line, separating air control jurisdictions, from NJ 9842 northeast to a point just short of the Karakoram Pass. This gratuitously incorporated 250sq km of Indian territory, including all of Siachen, within Pakistan-held J&K. The infraction went unnoticed until Pakistan started following suit. In 1984, India got wind of Pakistan plans to occupy Siachen and present it with a fait accompli. It acted to preempt such an eventuality by taking control of the glacier to establish the current Actual Ground Position Line.

It was to “correct” this “anomaly” that General Musharraf contrived his Kargil caper. The US was decades later to admit informally through its Ambassador in Delhi that it had erred. But there was no public retraction and international atlases continue to uphold the US Defence Mapping Agency’s cartographic aggression in J&K.

Despite Kargil, India resumed the peace process. However, the Red Fort in Delhi, the J&K Assembly in Srinagar, the Indian Parliament, the Bombay stock exchange, and carefully selected economic, scientific and communally sensitive targets elsewhere were the subject of continuing jihadi terror strikes from Pakistan, combined with unabated cross-LOC (line of control) infiltration into J&K. Earlier, Indian Airlines flight IC814 was hijacked en route from Kathmandu to Delhi and diverted to Kandahar where, after the killing of one passenger, the rest were traded for three top jihadis incarcerated in India. The hijack was believed to have been overseen by Mullah Omar, head of the Pakistan Taliban. Latter depredations were masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) led by Hafiz Saeed. The Indian Embassy in Kabul was also twice bombed by Taliban elements close to Pakistan.

A regional settlement in Afghanistan through a policy of reconciliation and development as a stable and neutral member of SAARC could get America off the hook. Once Pakistan begins to shed its permanent enmity to India it will discover its own inherently rich personality and regain its soul

No sooner was the LeT listed as a terror organisation by the UN, than it changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and declared itself a charitable body. Hafiz Saeed was arrested, nominally tried and discharged only to continue plotting against India, culminating in the horrendous 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. Pakistan has dragged its feet in investigating this dastardly crime, starting with denials and then pleading lack of hard evidence and mere “literature” from India. Hafiz Saeed is at large and periodically leads marches in major cities spitting venom and threatening nuclear war against India for “stealing” its Indus waters and preventing “self-determination” in Kashmir.

For a time it seemed Musharraf, his options closing after 9/11, might be willing to talk peace. After initially grandstanding at Agra, he moved forward on a peace plan in concert with Dr Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister. The emerging deal envisaged the LOC as an international boundary. But the boundary was to be rendered “irrelevant” by conversion into a soft or open border to facilitate people to people and cultural exchange, trade and commerce, regular trans-LOC bus services, phased demilitarisation and so forth concurrently with a settlement of other outstanding Indo-Pakistan issues.

Mutual management of these cross-border issues could spawn joint councils and consultative bodies at various levels which could be institutionalised over a period of time. Thus, some kind of confederation of two sets of autonomous J&K might duly emerge binding the two sides of the current LOC within twin sovereignties. Internal autonomy for its jurisdiction within Jammu and Kashmir would be left to each side to determine. Dr Manmohan Singh hoped the two armies would face outwards and J&K restored its historic cultural and commercial relationship with Central Asia. He even hinted at joint management of further Indus water development so as to ensure optimality in terms of “future cooperation” under the Indus Treaty.

Such a confederal proposal was mooted by Nehru and Abdullah in 1964. It was carried by the Sheikh to Islamabad and Muzaffarabad but was aborted with Nehru’s passing. Such a solution would give both sides more than what they have, reunite all of J&K and open a new chapter of good neighbourly and fraternal relations between India and Pakistan that could bring SAARC to life.

SAARC-2020, envisioned by expert groups and endorsed by the Heads of State, also envisage this body moving towards a South Asian Economic Union with a common currency, including Afghanistan, and even Iran and Myanmar. It is principally the Indo-Pakistan imbroglio that impedes progress.

Musharraf sought a pause in the fast moving back channel discussions between India and Pakistan in 2007 on account of his growing political difficulties at home. The Pakistan Taliban and other radical elements accused him of selling out to India. The talks stalled and froze after 26/11 with the PPP in office but power back in the hands of the Army Chief, General Kayani, and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency).

The new US AfPak policy and war in Afghanistan had by now spilled over into Pakistan. The US and NATO increasingly found themselves militarily and politically at loggerheads with Islamabad, which was found playing both sides, securing vast amounts of US military and civil aid but using much of this to frustrate the war on terror, while assisting it at other times, making plain that its military-strategic posture was India-centric. The busting of the Osama bin Laden hideout on 2 May, 2011 finally brought out the ugly truth of Pakistan’s complicity with terror, its incredible and contradictory denials notwithstanding. The terror attack on the Mehran naval-air base near Karachi later that same month gives cause for concern regarding the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Where do we go from here? The US claims to be part of the solution in Afghanistan and Pakistan but is in fact part of the problem. Over the years it has propped up Pakistan’s unreasoning malice towards India – a sentiment not shared by its hapless people who have become the victims of savage jihadi killings, the medieval barbarism of jihadi Islamism, and military-mullah-feudal overlordship. Democracy has not been given a chance and civil society remains fragmented, with even the judiciary lauding the appalling public murders of the Punjab governor and, later, the minister for minorities for speaking against the brutal tyranny of blasphemy laws.

Few know that the Pakistan military controls about 20-40 percent of the Pakistan economy and large chunks of the best agricultural land through various foundations manned by serving and retired military personnel and land grants to them. This constitutes a huge vested interest, which would be jeopardised if the military lost its raison d’etre without a make-believe Kashmir “dispute” and an ever-present enemy – India. The military-mullah nexus is also mutually self-serving. Most Pakistanis are secular liberals who wonder what the “ideology of Pakistan” is about and for whose benefit, when all they want is to get on with their lives rather than flounder in a failing state. They want an out.

Pakistan’s democratic roots have, hopefully, not altogether withered. But despite its knowledge of Islamabad’s perfidy the US believes that any loosening of ties could destabilise Pakistan and jeopardise the safety of its nuclear facilities. Hence the continuing alliance and aid and cultivation of the military to keep the war on terror in Afghanistan going. The real answer would be to curtail both civil and military aid to compel Pakistan to abandon terror as an instrument of state policy. The fear that China will immediately fill the breach is exaggerated. The Pakistan economy is on drip and Western/UN pressure could encourage a transfer of power from the military to the people.

A regional settlement in Afghanistan through a policy of reconciliation and development as a stable and neutral member of SAARC could get America off the hook and bring reassurance all around. Once Pakistan begins to shed its permanent enmity to India it will discover its own inherently rich personality and place in the sun and regain its soul.

The fugitive hope surrounding Partition was that India and Pakistan would separate to come together in time as fraternal friends and partners in a larger South Asian Union. That time has come. Kashmir is not the “core problem”. It can be shared. This will not undo Pakistan. Reconciliation could make it whole.


Column reprinted with minor edits from www.BGVerghese.com / Veteran columnist, developmental journalist, author, and Magsaysay Award winner, BG Verghese started his career with the Times of India and was later Editor of the Hindustan Times (1969-75) and the Indian Express (1982-86). He was Information Adviser to the Prime Minister (1966-69), a Gandhi Peace Foundation Fellow for some years after the Emergency and Information Consultant to the Defence Minister for a short period during 2001. He is currently with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

Post a comment

You have 800 characters left for this comment.
The Editors welcome thought-provoking comments, but racist, abusive, intolerant, hate language will not be carried on our pages. All feedback that adds to lively, constructive dialogue will be posted after vetting.
CAPTCHA Image Click to refresh this random text
daya sagr (25 October, 2012) – India
Even if Accession was done by Hari Singh after 14/ 15th August 1947 it was fair and legal. The British were to retreat from the Indian lands in terms of Indian independence Act 1947. Indians had to yet decide for the model (say Constitution) for managing the affairs on their own. So, for speeding up the process a common text of Instrument of Accession was designed by Lord Mountbatten for Princely States that were (550) likely to accede to India Dominion. No such instrument was drafted by Mountbatten for States that could accede to Pakistan since the number of such states (as was then anticipated) would have been just around 15. Maharaja Hari Singh of J&K did not sign the Instrument of Accession before 15th August 1947 . – This comment has been edited
T. Rasheed (21 June, 2011) – Bangladesh
As the bigger country with a bigger army and greater resources India needs to show more patience and statesmanship. War of any sort for any reason is not something Pakistanis or Indians will like to contemplate.
Jason McAllister (21 June, 2011) – UK
This is part of the shameful departing detritus and legacy of the British Empire. Things were not thought through then and even today politicians of all hues seem to be missing the point. India has never really been a threat to Pakistan. It is a larger entity but cannot be faulted for that. It is time for the two countries to seek some sort of lasting peace. US aid dollars for Pakistan that flood into arms purchases are part of that difficult equation.
R. Parmeshwar (19 June, 2011) – INDIA
Kudos to veteran journalist BG Verghese for bringing out the truth. India has tried many times to extend olive branch but Pakistan has every time rejected. The world must wake up and see what is happening. India cannot be patient forever.

Tackling Malnutrition

Estimated figures for child malnutrition in Asia point to alarming levels of stunting and wasting. See world opinion

You too can go glamping

Daft travel buzzwords are killing the romance of travel and mangling the English language. When did you last go brokepacking or on a spafari? more…