February 2002 News

Albion's Kashmir Perfidy

12 February 2002
Rashme Sehgal
Times of India

New Delhi: British officers commanding Indian troops subverted India's efforts to free the entire territory of Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistani raiders, contends C Dasgupta, career diplomat and author of 'War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48'. In an interview with Rashme Sehgal, Dasgupta discusses the dramatic events, whose repercussions are being felt to this day: What made you want to focus on just one year (1947-48) in the whole history of Indo-Pak relations? The Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 was unique in modem military history because it is the only war fought by two modem armies, which were both commanded by British generals. Did this have any discernible effect on the outcome? The commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of the Indian army was the British general, Sir Roy Bucher, and his Pakistani counterpart was General Douglas Gracey. All three services in India and Pakistan were commanded by British officers. With the army not under its control, the Indian government did not possess an element of sovereignty that is essential to governance. India's first C- in-C in January 1949 was General Cariappa. One of the things that greatly concerned the British at the closing stage of this war was that General Cariappa was taking initiatives that his C-in-C could not control. Are you implying that the British army did not obey the Indian government? The British did not want an Indo-Pak war. They had appre- hended that hostilities would break out and had issued secret orders to all British officers 'to stand down' in the event of a war. These officers were told they could resign their commission or function in an advisory capacity. These orders were first tried out in Junagarh in September when the three joint chiefs of staff together threat- ened to resign if India took any measures that might lead to hostility in this state. Why were the British prejudiced against India? The British clearly did not want the whole of J&K to go to India. There was a widespread feeling in London that if India was in control of areas contiguous to Pakistan, the latter would not survive. If the Indian army was within close striking distance of Pakistan's military centre, Rawalpindi, then Pakistan would face a major security problem. India's objective was to free the entire state of J&K from raiders. But by 1948, Nehru had come around to the conclusion that this was not an immediately feasible proposition. The C-in-C, General Bucher, advised him that militarily it was not possible to establish control over the entire territory of J&K. With the British supporting Pakistan, why did they send raiders to J&K in the first place? Raiders were sent on October 22 to the valley because Pakistan would not accept the Maharaja's decision. Pakistan suspected the Maharaja wanted to accede to India and tried to pre-empt his decision by forcibly seizing the state. Didn't Nehru make any efforts to pre-empt the Pakistani decision? Both Nehru and Sardar Patel ex- pected that Pakistan would make such an attempt. In December 1947, Nehru had decided to send the army to strike at the bases of the raiders, located in Punjab. In fact, Nehru wanted to chase them out of Muzaffarabad but the British did not support the move. At a defence committee meeting of the cabinet on December 20, 1947, Nehru proposed that the army should be prepared to strike at these bases but governor-general Mountbatten opposed this. He proposed that India should seek a peaceful resolution by going to the United Nations. Nehru made it clear that nothing would come out of going to the UN. As a compromise, it was decided that action would be taken simultaneously, with the army preparing attack plans and a reference being made to the UN. Nothing was done by the army on this score. Why did the Indian officers go along with this plan? Except for a few officers, the rest of the army had no idea of what was going on at the highest level. They did not know of the role being played by the C-in-C in subverting the Indian government's efforts to play a decisive role in 1947-48. The top-secret cables exchanged between the British missions in India and Pakistan, and Whitehall, tell the true story. The C-in-C was receiving instructions from the British High Commission in New Delhi on what advice he (tin December 1947, Nehru had decided to strike at the bases of the raiders in Pakistan but Mountbatten opposed this. Nehru made it clear that nothing would come out of going to the UN should give to Nehru, For example, Lockhart (the new Indian C-in-C) was alerted before hand that tribal raiders were on their way to Kashmir. Lockhart did not inform the Indian government of this. This was discovered in December 1947 and Lockhart had to hand in his resignation. Why did Lockhart not deem it fit to inform Nehru? Lockhart's reasoning was that since J&K had not acceded to India at that time, it was not part of Indian territory. Still, Lockhart knew India had a vital interest in J&K. He had been instructed to provide military equipment to the Maharaja's forces to enable them to withstand the raiders but he chose not to carry out these instructions. Was he following a 'great' British gameplan? The British did not have a gameplan. They Were playing it by ear. In fact, Noel Baker, minister for the commonwealth, was reprimanded by prime minister Attlee for following a totally pro-Pakistan policy. Attlee had asked Baker to lean in favour of Pakistan but Baker went overboard in the most grotesque manner in his unqualified support for Pakistan. So much so that the Americans felt his position was unjustifiably pro-Pakistan. Even John Foster Dulles took objection to his stance. What was the basis for this pro-Pakistani tilt? It had its basis in Britain's west Asian policy. The struggle between the Jews and the Arabs had reached violent proportions. The Arabs were strongly critical of the British and the latter were scared of alienating the whole of the Muslim world. This was a fallacious conclusion because the Arab movement was not part of the Muslim movement. What role did the Soviets play in this dispute? They kept a low profile. India, at that stage, was too dependent on the Britain/western world. The agitation for Telengana had started in 1948 and Moscow was suspected of having a hand in promoting it. What were some of the conclusions that you arrived at as you researched this book? I have written about history as it unfolded. In wars between third world countries, the international environment and diplomatic factors are of crucial importance. This is because third world countries are susceptible to economic, political and military pressures from the major powers. Their diplomatic stance can affect the conflict's duration, its level of intensity and its outcome.

 

Return to the Archives 2002 Index Page

Return to Home Page