The Inferno of Heaven on Earth

by vpundir | May 5th, 2005

Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto1 (If there is a heaven on earth, this is it, this is it, this is it)
– Jehangir [1569-1627], 5th Mogul2 emperor of India (1605-1627)

“(Kashmir is) the most dangerous place in the world today.”3 (March 2000)
– William Jefferson Clinton [1946-], 42nd President of United States of America (1993-2001)

Something, somewhere, obviously went terribly wrong. So wrong, in fact, that in 2002 the world came dangerously close – the closest since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 – to a nuclear war.

So, what happened? What is Kashmir all about? Why can’t these two nations that are literally joined at the hip, live together in peace? If you’ve ever wondered about those questions, you are in luck. This article attempts to uncover the background that few know, and fewer care to explain. Even if you are an Indian or a Pakistani, you have to keep reading, for we are seldom, if ever, shown the complete picture by our politicians.

While the ultimate genesis of the Kashmir issue can be traced back to the division on Bengal on religious lines, what is of utmost importance is to understand is how the territorial dispute begun.

After 1858, when India was formally declared Britain’s “Crown Colony”, colonial authority was exercised in dual fashion. About 60% of the territory was administered directly, while some “princely states” continued to be governed by local rulers – Maharaja, Raja, Nawab, or Nizam – who acknowledged the “paramountcy” of Britain. Under the doctrine of paramouncy, the monarchs could do pretty much what they wanted as long as they deferred to the crown on defense, foreign affairs, and communications. The status of these princely states was ambiguous and resembled the ‘protectorate’ system. This played out at the time on independence in 1947.

At the time of independence and partition, there were 562 princely states that varied in size from tiny fiefdoms to giant states like Mysore, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Kashmir. Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy, decreed that the states were free to join either India or Pakistan, but three principles would have to be taken into consideration. One was geographic contiguity, so if you were deep in the heart of India or what was going to become India, you couldn’t reasonably expect to join Pakistan. (Or for that matter, as the Nawab of Pakistan’s Khairpur and Sindh found out when he wanted to join India, and Nehru4 declined, saying “You’re in the heart of Sindh, we’re not going to have a Berlin corridor linking you with India.”) The second principle was demography. Pakistan would be the predominantly Muslim areas. Hence you get this peculiar geographic anomaly of countries separated by about 1500 miles of hostile territory; and third, which was somewhat contradictory, the final decision was that of the monarch. So the principles were not all exactly congruent.

Within weeks of independence, most princely states acceded either to India or to Pakistan, with a few notable exceptions.

One small state – Junagadh (now in Gujarat) – which was geographically far from Pakistan and contiguous with India, had a Muslim ruler, and a Hindu-majority populace. The ruler chose to join Pakistan. Revolt against him occurred. Using the revolt as pretext, India invaded the town. The Nawab fled and Junagadh was absorbed into the Indian Federation after a plebiscite in which the population voted overwhelmingly in India’s favor.

Roughly the size of Egypt, Hyderabad was the largest of the princely states. The Nizam (Muslim ruler) – reputed at the time to be richest man in the world – decided that he wanted to remain independent. The overwhelmingly Hindu population of this state in south central India, without access to the sea, revolted. In September 1948, a mechanized division of the Indian Army moved into Hyderabad and integrated it into India.

Bear these two accessions in mind as they are critical to Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir. But for the moment, let’s hold that thought and move on to the third principality.

Kashmir, in size larger than Syria, posed a peculiar problem. It was contiguous to both India and Pakistan. It had a Hindu monarch and a predominantly Muslim population. So where do you go? Both Indians and Pakistanis made representations to Maharaja Hari Singh, who entertained visions of independence. Both India and Pakistan signed a “Stand Still Agreement” with him allowing him time to decide.

Ultimately, as the maharaja refused to accede to either India or Pakistan and vacillated on the question of accession, a rebellion broke out in the Kashmiri district of Poonchh in late October 1947. The rebels quickly started to march on Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital city. Faced with this rebel onslaught, the maharaja panicked and appealed to India for assistance. India promptly sent in troops, but not before one-third of the state had been occupied by the rebels, who were now assisted by Pakistani regular troops dressed as local tribesmen.5 India had also put a price on this help: Kashmir’s accession to India.

After the Indian Army stopped the Pakistani and rebel advance, the maharaja acceded to India on October 25, 1947, but with an important proviso: that at some point a plebiscite would be held to determine the wishes of the Kashmiris.

The government of Pakistan refused to recognize the accession and denounced it as a fraud even though the Indian government announced that it would require an expression of the people’s will through a plebiscite after the invaders were driven back. Pakistan launched an active military and diplomatic campaign to undo the accession.

Pakistan has two major objections to the accession. Firstly, it questions the maharaja’s authority to accede, as ruler of Kashmir. It argues that since there was a rebellion, and the fact that he asked India for military aid, Hari Singh did not have control of the territory and was therefore not a competent authority to sign the Instrument of Accession.

Then, it questions whether the Instrument was ever actually signed. While Lord Mountbatten, Prime Minister Nehru and Maharaja Hari Singh are the declared signatories, the Instrument of Accession was neither presented to the United Nations nor to Pakistan. UN directives state that every treaty entered into by a member of the United Nations must be registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations. While non-presentation does not void the treaty, it does mean that India cannot invoke the treaty before any organ of the United Nations. Moreover, further shedding doubt on the treaty’s validity, in 1995 Indian authorities claimed that the original copy of the treaty was either stolen or lost.

Well, actually, Pakistan has a third argument as well: it points to the precedents of Junagarh and Hyderabad and demands plebiscite. India counters by saying that Junagarh and Hyderabad were not contiguous to Pakistan while Kashmir is to India, and therefore the analogy does not apply.

Indian Prime Minister Nehru, on the advice of Lord Mountbatten, sent the Kashmir case to the UN Security Council for adjudication, thinking that it would be a neutral ground where things could be decided along the canons of international law. That’s the last time India’s referred anything to the Security Council or believed in the neutrality of international law.

Very quickly the Kashmir dispute became entrapped in the warp and woof of the Cold War. Since the region had significant Soviet presence (Afghanistan etc.), the US was interested in maintaining a substantial Anglo-American presence in Pakistan and thus translated its profound anticommunist impulse into a strong pro-Pakistan sentiment.

The UN decided in a series of resolutions, especially two important ones in 1948-49, that three things have to happen in Kashmir. Pakistan had to vacate its aggression, India then had to reduce troops commensurate to the maintenance of law and order, and third, a plebiscite would be held to determine the wishes of the Kashmiris. None of these three things have happened.

After about 1960, the UN basically withdrew from this conflict for all practical purposes. Since then, Pakistan has ritualistically raised the issue in the UN every fall when the UN opens, and similarly the Indian representative has exercised his or her right of reply.

1 From “Jahangirnama” (memoirs/ biography of Jehangir)
2 Mogul is the Persian name for Mongol. The Mogul dynasty, established by Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babar who invaded India in 1526, was ruling a large part of India at the time imperial English entered the country as traders. The term has since entered English vocabulary to mean a rich and powerful person
3 From “President Clinton arrives in Bangladesh for historic visit”, March20, 2000,
4 Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India
5 Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan in “Raiders in Kashmir”, where he proudly talks about how he gave leave to his men and organized them, trained them, provided them weaponry, trucks and the like, to aid the rebels.

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