Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tribal invasion, sovereignty of Kashmir and problems of South Asia, Dr Shabir Choudhry

Tribal invasion, sovereignty of Kashmir and problems of South Asia

Tribal Invasion is among the biggest event in the contemporary history of Jammu and Kashmir. Other events also had positive or negative impact on people of Jammu and Kashmir; but this event alone has seriously affected lives of millions of people of Jammu and Kashmir since it happened. Furthermore, this event resulted in the forced division of our territory and separation of tens of thousands of families since 1947.

Apart from what happened to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as a direct result of this tragic event, or more appropriately by unprovoked aggression against the people of this unfortunate State and its sovereignty; it also seriously affected lives of millions of people of India and Pakistan, as both countries wanted to make Jammu and Kashmir part of their country and have had more than one wars and spent billions of pounds on this.

The government of Pakistan expected the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir to accede to Pakistan; and that is why Mohammed Ali Jinnah was complacent to him and supported the Maharajah government when Sheikh Abdullah started the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’. Apart from the pressure from Pakistan to accede to Pakistan; the Maharajah of Kashmir also had a lot of pressure from the Indian leaders to join India. He resisted all kinds of pressures as he wanted to maintain his independence. Also he withstood pressure of Mountbatten when he visited Kashmir as a Governor General of undivided India to seek accession of Kashmir either to India or Pakistan.

After failure of Mountbatten’s mission, other senior Congress leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi visited Kashmir to pressurise the Maharaja to accede to India. The Maharajah stood his ground and refused to accede to India; and the British Raj in India ended, and with that he became a sovereign Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Maharajah of Kashmir concluded a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan that Pakistani government would continue to provide all services to the State of Jammu and Kashmir which the Indian government of the British Raj provided. He also offered a Standstill Agreement to India. The government of India did not refuse the offer of Standstill Agreement, but expressed its desire to discuss this matter further.

Pakistani attempts to get Kashmir

When the Government of Pakistan realised that the Maharaja of Kashmir was not interested in accession to Pakistan they resorted to other methods to get Kashmir. Not only they encouraged and actively supported a military rebellion in some parts of the State, especially in Poonch where there was a strong resentment against the government; they violated the Standstill Agreement and stopped the supply of the vital items, including food to Jammu and Kashmir.

Apart from that, the Government of Pakistan sent a junior army officer ASB Shah to seek accession of the State to Pakistan. Justice Muhammad Yusuf Saraf in his book, ‘Kashmiris Fight For Freedom’ commented:

‘A junior officer who may have successfully served in the tribal area where gold and guns were the modus operandi in those days, he was definitely too unequal to the job. He was as ignorant of Kashmir’s political scene and its intricacies as anyone could be. To have expected of him to deliver the goods in a situation which was being handled on the Indian side by intellectual giants like Mehr Chand Mahajan, VP Menon and Gopal Swami Ayyanger, was to have well asked for the moon.’  1

Major Shah was a son – in - law of one of the important Secretaries of the Pakistan Government. He reached Srinagar and started negotiations in a typical military style. Mehr Chand Mahjan in his book, ‘Looking Back’ noted that, Major Shah:

‘Was in Srinagar with a whip in one hand and a letter of accession in the other. He had been trying to persuade General Janak Singh and Mr Batra to advise the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan’

Major Shah wanted an assurance that the Maharajah will accede to Pakistan; or this negative assurance that he would advise the Maharajah not to accede to India. Mehr Chand Mahjan told him that he was not in a position to give any such assurance without discussing the matter with the Cabinet, other leading men of the State and with His Highness and that it would take some time. However, Major Shah was not prepared to wait. When Mehr Chand Mahjan realised that Major Shah ‘had come there almost with an ultimatum, I said, “If you raise the blockade and allow food, clothes and petrol to enter the State I will discuss the matter in detail with you”. He agreed to persuade Mr Jinnah to remove the blockade and sent a telegram to him at Lahore, but got no favourable reply. He then saw me again and said, “Mr Jinnah invites you to Lahore. Go there and have a talk with him”. 2

Mahjan was an experienced Statesman and fully understood why he was invited to Lahore. In any case, he had no desire to accede to Pakistan; he further wrote:
I was in no mood to present myself at Mr Jinnah’s Darbar, fall in Pakistani hands and meet my doom. I declined the invitation, as the object was to coerce me in to securing the State’s accession to Pakistan.
When Major Shah failed to coerce Mehr Chand Mahjan, he departed with the warning, ‘that His Highness would soon come to grief and realise his folly. I retorted bluntly that the result of such action on the part of Pakistan would be to throw the State in the lap of India, no matter what the result. I assured him that we could not be coerced by such tactics to sign an agreement of accession of the State to Pakistan.’ 3

Major Shah was correct. The Maharajah didn’t have to wait long for Major Shah’s prophesy to come true. Already there was some resistance going on against his government in some areas of the State. Also there were communal riots in Jammu, which further complicated the matters and destroyed peace and harmony in some areas of the State.

In order to punish the Maharaja for not yielding to whims of the Pakistani government, they further violated the Standstill Agreement and managed the Tribal Attack and trampled the sovereignty of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. It must be reiterated that at the time of this unprovoked aggression the State of Jammu and Kashmir was a sovereign country. They sent hordes of tribesmen to Kashmir in name of Jihad, who had special skills in brutally killing and frightening their opponents.

This event – the tribal invasion was designed to get Jammu and Kashmir or, at least, the Kashmir Valley. The problem with wars is that they don’t always proceed according to plans and achieve the desired results. Same was the case with the Tribal Invasion because it did not go according to the plan. The plan was to enter the State territory with the lightening speed and capture Srinagar - the biggest city of the State and the Summer Capital.

Why the Tribesmen did not proceed to Srinagar

The majority of the attackers were Tribesmen, who had little appreciation for the strategic importance or military priorities of the Pakistani government which arranged this attack; and they spent more time in looting raping and kidnapping women. In Muzaffarabad and on way to Baramullah, the tribesmen did not hesitate to loot, set on fire shops, rape women and kidnap them. It is reported that hundreds of Kashmiri women were taken back to the Frontier Province and sold to brothels or forced to convert them to Islam and married.

It must be pointed out that not all those who joined Tribal Attack went there for the purpose of looting; there would be some who genuinely believed that they were performing obligations of ‘Jihad’. Anyhow, when these reports got back to Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan and the damage it was causing to their mission, he sent Pir of Manki Sharif to Baramullah to tell his followers that:

‘Plunder was not the primary purpose for which they entered Kashmir’. He further ‘told them what were the commands of God and our Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) about the rules of conduct in a war and how essential it was to protect every body’s honour, life and property, regardless of religious beliefs.’ 4

Baramullah was the second biggest town in the Valley of Kashmir; and was only one hour bus drive from Srinagar as road even at that time was among the best roads of the region. It was fast developing as a tourist resort; and centre of fruit and timber industry. Major General Akbar Khan who reached Baramullah on 29th October 1947, while explaining the town wrote: ‘This used to be a town of orchards, schools, roads, river transport stations, shops and restaurants- in short a bright and cheerful looking place. But now it looked as if an earthquake had shaken it.’  5   

After the fall of Baramullah, conquering Srinagar, Summer Capital and economic hub of Jammu and Kashmir was not difficult, as the town was only 35 miles away and was left defenceless after the Maharajah fled for safety to Jammu. Major General Akbar Khan puts it like this: ‘Only 35 more miles remained of level road and virtually no resistance. The tribesmen had a barely two hours journey left –and before them lay Srinagar, seemingly trembling at their mercy.’   6

Justice Yusuf Saraf comments on the situation: ‘The road to Srinagar lay open but while the city of seven bridges kept hourly waiting; the tribesmen did not resume their advance. They wasted three most precious days which was not only to cost us our freedom, for how long, God only knows, but that was also to damage the reputation of tribesmen so much that it was never to be the same again. 7

The Tribesmen did not move towards Srinagar, as they had other priorities – looting, raping and kidnapping and celebrating their victory. Once they realised that there was nothing else left to plunder and they have made arrangements to send back what they looted and girls they kidnapped, they started moving towards Srinagar.

It would be pertinent to point out that some tribesmen in form of small groups did proceed to Srinagar, but this was uncoordinated movement and resulted in many problems and deaths because of some resistance by citizens of Srinagar. Also it is believed that the tribesmen were not fully aware of the problems or natural defence of the city in the form of water rain, marshland, small lakes, river and paddy fields.

It is debatable if these tribesmen advanced before the others to conquer Srinagar or they saw Srinagar as a ‘bigger prize’ than Baramullah; and wanted to make most of it by looting and kidnapping beautiful Kashmiri women. If the intention was to conquer Kashmir before the arrival of the Indian army then even a person with ordinary sense would have gone to take control of the airport to stop Indian aid reaching there by air; rather than attacking the city defences. Evidence suggests that individual groups tried to enter the main city; and did not proceed towards the airport.

One view is that they were held in Baramullah by their Commander, Major Khurshid Anwar, who sent a message to Azad Kashmiri leaders that if he conquered Srinagar what position he would get in the Kashmir government. The Road to Srinagar was plain, but the road back to Rawalpindi where the Azad Kashmiri leaders were staying was mountainous and difficult to travel; and convoys of tribesmen and other transport carrying these Jihadi groups and arms and supplies slowed down the journey back. So by the time the Major Khurshid Anwar’s messenger could reach back to Baramullah after meeting the Azad Kashmiri leaders, the Indian army had landed in Srinagar, and the game was over. 8

While explaining India’s position on Kashmir, Mr Gopal Swami Ayyanger said:

‘India without Kashmir would cease to occupy a pivotal position on the political map of Central Asia. Strategically Kashmir is vital to the security of India; it has been so ever since dawn of history. Its northern provinces give us direct gate –ways to the North West Provinces of Pakistan and Northern Punjab. It is India’s only window to Central Asian Republics of USSR in the north, China on the East and Afghanistan on the West.’  9

Pakistan had its own reasons for capturing Kashmir. Not only that Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim majority State, it was important to Pakistan because of its great strategic location, natural resources and security it provided to Pakistan. If the entire Jammu and Kashmir had gone to India, and the Indian forces were deployed on Kashmir’s border with Pakistan, then that would have seriously endangered Pakistan’s main civil and military lines of communication between Rawalpindi and Lahore. If Pakistan was to safeguard this route properly then that would make cities of Lahore, Sialkot and Gujrat vulnerable to the Indian invasion. Apart from that Jammu and Kashmir was important to Pakistan’s economy, especially agriculture. So, as far as Pakistani ruling elite were concerned they felt it was absolutely necessary to get Kashmir at all costs.

Jammu Riots and the Tribal Attack

It is unfortunate to note that majority of Pakistanis and many Kashmiri people, including some writers and academics still believe that the Tribal Attack was essential because Muslims were being killed in Jammu in communal riots; and some non Muslims from neighbouring States entered the region for the purpose of killing Muslims.

No one can deny about the communal riots in Jammu where the Muslims were victims; but if the aim of those who planned the Tribal Attack was to help the Muslims of Jammu then why they did not arrange attacks from Sialkot which is about 28 miles from Jammu or from Gujrat side which provides easy access to the various towns of Jammu Province. Why they had to send tribesmen towards Muzaffarabad, Uri, Baramullah and Srinagar where Muslims were in great majority and there were no communal disturbance? Answer is very simple, the Maharajah was in Srinagar, Summer Capital of the State; and more importantly they wanted to capture the Valley of Kashmir because of its resources and great strategic importance.

Furthermore, the communal disturbances started in Jammu in the third week of August 1947. Why the government of Pakistan remained quiet over this issue till mid October? Why they did not send any military help to Jammu where the Muslims were victims? Again reason is very simple; the Pakistani government, at that time, expected the Maharajah to accede to Pakistan, and they did not want to do anything to annoy him. However, when they realised that the Maharaja had no interest in joining Pakistan, they decided to punish him and take over his State by force, hence the attack on Muzaffarabad and Baramullah to capture Srinagar.

Major Khurshid Anwar was a retired officer of the Indian Army, and belonged to Jhullandur (now part of Indian Punjab). His wife was a Kashmiri Pathan. He played a leading role in Punjab Disobedience Movement on behalf of the Muslim League. He was later sent to North West Frontier Province to organise a similar movement; and because of his skills and experience he was appointed a Commander of the Muslim League National Guards.
He was a brave man with good contacts with different Tribal Chief and the Muslim League leaders, including Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, a key Muslim League leader in that region. According to him, initial planning was to attack Muzaffarabad on 15th October 1947. He came to Rawalpindi on 12 October and requested Syed Nazir Hussain Shah to provide him with four – five guides that he could secretly proceed with 500 hundred armed men and capture Srinagar airport. 10

Tribal Attack and ‘Jihad’

However, there were some wise men who wanted to give a last chance to the Maharajah before taking the military option. As explained above, Major Shah was sent to Srinagar for ‘negotiations’; and few days after his failed mission, the Tribal Invasion was launched in name of ‘Jihad’ with disastrous consequences for people of Jammu and Kashmir and for the rest of South Asia, as genie of ‘jihad’ used for the first time to advance political agenda in October 1947 is still haunting us all.

It is claimed that these people went to Kashmir to perform religious duty of ‘jihad’. One may ask why sentiments of ‘jihad’ did not influence them when their Muslims brothers were killed in Jammu in August; and why they had to wait nearly two months before they decided to perform this religious duty? Moreover why they did not proceed to the spot – Jammu Province where the Muslims were in minority and were under attack?

Because of hyped religious sentiments and division of the British India on communal lines, it created hatred and set one community against the other; and to make things worse they launched the tribal attack in name of jihad to advance political agenda of the government. It was not the last time the name of ‘jihad’ was used to sponsor violence, promote extremism and advance a political agenda.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, ‘jihad’ for some became a thriving industry, which attracted recruits from many parts of the world. Those who sponsored this kind of ‘jihad’ not only became extremely rich, but they wielded unimagined power and influence; and in some cases dictated foreign policies of many countries. Sad thing was that no one could even speak against the actions committed in holy name of ‘jihad’; even now people are reluctant to speak against actions taken in name of ‘jihad’ because of threat of serious repercussions.

Many of the problems we face in South Asia today; and India Pakistan rivalry that we have witnessed over many decades have its roots in that unfortunate and ill advised military action to conquer Kashmir in October 1947. I know we cannot turn back the clock of history; but just for a moment if we assume that there was no Tribal Attack, then State of Jammu and Kashmir could have remained independent.

An independent Jammu and Kashmir could have had friendly and cordial relations with all its neighbours; and could have been a bridge of friendship between India and Pakistan. Both countries wanted Jammu and Kashmir and had their own arguments to justify their claims; but it was possible that they could have accepted an independent buffer state which could have helped them to boost their trade and have joint projects to improve quality of life in the region, instead of competition in military warfare.

The partition of India on communal lines promoted sentiments of hatred and resentment against each other that created a gulf between the two countries, but that could have healed with time; however the competition over ‘ownership’ of the State of Jammu and Kashmir ensured that this ‘wound’ keeps on bleeding and generate hatred and extremism. This resulted in wars and arms race between the both countries and the resources that should have been spent to provide better quality of life to people were diverted to build large armies and military hardware. Millions of people are below the poverty line in both countries; yet the ruling elite in both countries spend billions on military preparedness.

Many Pakistanis hold us – people of Jammu and Kashmir responsible for their problems, lack of democracy and fundamental human rights. Their contention is that if there was no Kashmir dispute perhaps the ruling elite might not have spent so much on defence and deprived them of democratic rights. This is to blame the victims. We are suffering because of the policies of both India and Pakistan. We don’t want to be occupied, forcibly divided and denied of our basic rights. The Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir did not ask rulers of Pakistan to violate the Standstill Agreement and attack his country.
Yes, I agree that many problems of Pakistan and that of South Asia are directly related to the Kashmir dispute; but it must be understood that we did not create this dispute. It was the Tribal Attack that landed us in this quandary and deprived us of our independence, right of movement and many other rights. Furthermore, it divided the State of Jammu and Kashmir between the two countries and started a new era of competition, confrontation, violence and hatred in South Asia.

I also agree that the Kashmir dispute has to be resolved in order to have peace and harmony in the region; and if the ruling elites of both countries have realised that the Kashmir dispute is holding back their progress then they must make serious and sincere efforts to put right mistakes of the past, and allow people of the divided State to determine their own future.


1.    ‘Kashmiris Fight For Freedom’, Justice Muhammad Yusuf Saraf, Feroz Sons Limited, Lahore, volume 2, page 803
2.   ‘Looking Back’, Mehr Chand Mahjan, page 269
3.   Ibid, page 269
4.   Justice Yusuf Saraf, page 908
5.   Major General Akbar Khan, ‘Raiders in Kashmir’, Pak Publishers Limited, Karachi, Pakistan, pages, 36-37
6.   Ibid, Page 37
7.   Justice Yusuf Saraf, page 904
8.   Major General Akbar Khan, Page 38
9.   Ibid, page 100

10.                 Justice Yusuf Saraf, page 886

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