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Book Review - Perfidious Albion and the first Kashmir war

Book Review - Perfidious Albion and the first Kashmir war

Author: Sreeram Chaulia
Publication: Asia Times Online
Date: May 21, 2002
URL: http://www.atimes.com/ind-pak/DE22Df01.html

(A Review of Chandrashekhar Dasgupta's War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48 Sage Publications, New Delhi. 2002. ISBN: 0-7619- 9588-9. Price: US$17.75. 239 pages)

Peace will come only if we have the strength to resist invasion and make it clear that it will not pay.
- Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Governor General Louis Mountbatten, December 26, 1947

Having won accolades for more than 30 years as one of the brightest and best Indian Foreign Service officers, the legendary Chandrashekhar Dasgupta has once again proved his mettle by writing a highly original, revelatory and myth-shattering book on the genesis of the Kashmir imbroglio. No competent historian until now has been able to portray the undeclared 1947-8 India-Pakistan war over Kashmir from the standpoint of British strategic and diplomatic calculations.

It comes as no surprise that the Promethean "CD" (as Dasgupta is admiringly called by the "old boys" of his St Stephen's College, Delhi, and in the diplomatic corps) decided to fill the gap with a lucid and well- referenced treatise on the perfidies of Whitehall and its representatives who remained in authoritative positions on the subcontinent even after formal transfer of power to the domains of India and Pakistan.

While the origins of the Kashmir conflict are highly contested by both the claimant parties and this debated history has produced several partisan as well as impartial accounts, Dasgupta's work is the first to unearth the complex military and diplomatic decision-making in the crowded 15- month war that was influenced and distorted by Britain.

British aces on the eve of the Kashmir crisis
Immediately after Indian and Pakistani independence, by a peculiar quirk of circumstances, Britain had a number of "men on the spot" at its disposal to protect and buttress its interests. First, the governor-general and head of state in India was Lord Louis Mountbatten of the British Royal Navy. True to his blue-blooded lineage and decorated career rendering yeoman service to "His Majesty, the King of England", Mountbatten took regular "appreciations" and advice on his role in India from Clement Attlee, Defense Minister Alexander Albert, the UK chiefs of staff, British high commissioners in Delhi and Karachi, and the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Noel Baker. In the words of Mountbatten's aide, Ismay, anything that brought the two dominions, India and Pakistan, into a crisis "was a matter in which the instructions of His Majesty the King should be sought [by the Governor- General]" (p 21).

Second, Field Marshall Auchinleck remained supreme commander of the British Indian army even after August 15 1947, and closely conferred with Commanders-in-Chief Rob Lockhart and Roy Bucher, Air Chief Marshall Thomas Elmherst and a host of other generals in both India and Pakistan. Their importance as trump cards for guaranteeing British strategic objectives was underlined by the Commonwealth Affairs Committee in London, which proclaimed that in an emergency involving India and Pakistan, "the Minister of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, should send instructions to the Supreme Commander" (p 33). Throughout the Kashmir war, Nehru and Patel had occasions to be furious with the solicitation of external instructions by British commanders who owed primary loyalties to London.

With nationals of a third country leading the opposing armies and top executive structures of India and Pakistan, the Kashmir war of 1947-8 was unique in the annals of modern warfare, yet fell into the predictable pattern of third world conflicts that were "moderated" or "finessed" by great power pressures. Without full national control over respective armies, India and (to a lesser extent) Pakistan were unable to determine the course and outcome of the war as their political elites wished.

Twin British 'instructions' and the fatal tilt
Two broad British interests, conveyed and acted out through Mountbatten and other operatives, were at stake in an India-Pakistan war. One was integrity of the commonwealth and avoidance of inter- dominion warfare. Reduced to a "half great power" by 1945, London foresaw immense prestige and economic and political merit in retaining both India and Pakistan in its sphere of influence and knew the dangers inherent in taking sides, irrespective of the legality or morality of the Indian or Pakistani case. In July 1947, Whitehall issued a "Stand Down" instruction to British authorities if hostilities broke out between the two dominions "since under no circumstances could British officers be ranged on opposite sides" (p 19). Averting open war thus became a sine qua non of British purpose, regardless of the relative rectitude of the two sides.

"Stand Down" was not, however, meant to be neutrality, leave alone benevolent neutrality, for the larger geopolitical reassessment conducted by British planners in 1946-7 was clear that "our strategic interests in the subcontinent lay primarily in Pakistan" (p 17). Hopes of a defense treaty with India were present but not deemed as vital as the retention of Pakistan, "particularly the North West", within the commonwealth. The bases, airfield and ports of the North West were invaluable for commonwealth defense. Besides, the UK chiefs of staff reasoned that Pakistan had to be kept on board to preserve British "strategic positions in the Middle East and North Africa". Employing typical communal logic, the former colonial masters also felt that estranging Pakistan would harm Britain's relations with the "whole Mussulman bloc", a premise that would be fatal when the Kashmir war came up before the UN Security Council. Briefed that the "area of Pakistan is strategically the most important in the continent of India and the majority of our strategic requirements could be met . by an agreement with Pakistan alone" (p 17), Mountbatten and the British personnel on the ground knew whom not to displease if it really came to a choice between India and Pakistan.

Prelude in Junagadh
A curtain-raiser to this tilt came over the disputed accession of Junagadh in September 1947, when British service chiefs tried to falsely convince Nehru and Patel that the Indian army was "in no position to conduct large-scale operations" to flush out the Nawab's private army from neighboring Mangrol. Patel rebutted bitterly to Mountbatten, "senior British officers owed loyalty to and took orders from Auchinleck rather than the Indian government" (p 26). The governor-general, who constituted a defense committee of the cabinet during the stand-off appointing himself, not Nehru, as the chairman, backed off and allowed Junagadh's incorporation into the Indian union, not before cheekily suggesting "lodging a complaint to the United Nations against Junagadh's act of aggression". Kashmir would be a different kettle of tea because Pakistan had a much greater interest in it and the British were wary of the dangers of "losing" Pakistan from their grand strategic chessboard.

Constraining India at war
Before the Pakistani "tribal" invasion of Kashmir in October 1947, General Lockhart was secretly informed by his British counterpart in Rawalpindi of the preparations underway for the raids. The commander- in-chief shared the crucial information with his two other British service chiefs but not with the Indian government (Nehru discovered this delinquency only in December, leading to Lockhart's dismissal). After the invasion and the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, Lockhart and Mountbatten worked feverishly behind the scenes to prevent inter- dominion war, which in fact meant restraining Indian armed retaliation against the invading Pakistani irregulars.
Patel's directive that arms be supplied urgently to reinforce the Maharaja's defences "was simply derailed by the commander-in-chief acting in collusion with Field Marshal Auchinleck". (p 42). Mountbatten, privately chastising Jinnah for actively abetting the tribal invasion, publicly advised the Indian government that it would be a folly to send munitions to a "neutral" state since Pakistan could do the same and it would end up a full-scale war. Nehru and Patel were certain than an informal state of war already existed and urged an airlift of Indian armed forces to relieve Srinagar from the rampaging Pathans. The service chiefs warned that an airlift involved "great risks and dangers", but Nehru refused to be deterred. In November, as the situation worsened in the Jammu-Poonch- Mirpur sector and Nehru asked for immediate military relief, Mountbatten and Lockhart painted somber pictures of the incapacity of the Indian armed forces. When Nehru still insisted on action to "rid Jammu of raiders", the British slyly changed the order to mean merely "evacuating garrisons".

In the absence of Pakistani "appeals" to the raiders to withdraw and with more evidence of invader brutalities in Kashmir, the Indian cabinet exhorted more and more forceful policies - air interdiction of Afridi invasion routes and even a counter-attack into West Pakistan to "strike at bases and nerve centres of the raiders". A desperate Moutbatten then mooted complaint against the tribal invasion to the United Nations as the proper course of action and simultaneously promised full military preparations for a counter-attack. Nehru accepted this in good faith, hoping the British service chiefs would keep their part of the agreement. "This proved to be a fatal error. The Governor-General was determined to thwart the cabinet" (p 101). General Bucher saw to it that no measures were made for a lightning strike across the border and Britain also imposed a sudden cut in oil supplies in early 1948, with serious implications for India's capacity to carry out military operations in Kashmir.

Ismay, Mountbatten's chief of staff and British high commissioner to India, Shone, reported to London that Pakistan was "the guilty state conniving in actual use of force in Kashmir" (p 58). Attlee was, of course, unprepared to alienate Pakistan and "the whole of Islam" and accepted the latter's contention that Karachi could appeal to the tribal invaders only after a "fair" solution was reached in Kashmir. Noel Baker marshalled this thinly veiled pro-Pakistan approach at the Commonwealth Relations Office and then transferred his communal bias to the UN Security Council (UNSC) in the early months of 1948.

British skullduggery at the UN
Around the same time, the partition of Palestine earned bitter Arab recriminations against Britain and America, and the Foreign Office in London decided, "Arab opinion might be further aggravated if British policy on Kashmir were seen as being unfriendly to a Muslim state" (p 111). Aneurin Bevin's pro-Pakistan line, shared by Noel Baker, meant that British proposals in the Security Council were supportive of Pakistan on every major point. Kashmir's accession to India was ignored and the problem of irregular invasion pushed under the carpet. "The only yardstick used by Bevin and Noel-Baker was acceptability to Pakistan. Indian reactions, not to mention legal or constitutional factors, were hardly taken into account" (p 114).

Close British allies America, Canada, and France were brought around to supporting the Pakistani stand, but not before US Secretary of State George Marshall plainly stated that his government "found it difficult to deny the legal validity of Kashmir's accession to India" (p 121). But in the desire not to present a rival proposal and thus convey to the USSR divisions in the "Anglo-Saxon camp", Washington reluctantly followed the British agenda. American ambassador to India, Grady, went on record saying the US "would have adopted a more sympathetic attitude to India, had it not been for the pressure exerted by the British delegates". Even as loyal a Briton as Mountbatten had to record, "power politics and not impartiality are governing the attitude of the Security Council" (p 123). Attlee himself was disturbed at the undue discretion Noel Baker was exercising in New York and wrote: "all the concessions are being asked from India, while Pakistan concedes little or nothing. The attitude still seems to be that it is India which is at fault whereas the complaint was rightly lodged against Pakistan" (p 129). Following a rethink by the major players, the April resolutions of the UNSC, despite Noel Baker's best efforts, called for withdrawal of the invaders from "Azad Kashmir" for which "Pakistan should use its best endeavours", to be followed by a plebiscite as Nehru had agreed. The August 1948 UNCIP (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan) resolution restated the sequential de-escalation with greater clarity.

The Bucher-Gracey deal
Baker's pitch that "stabilization" of the situation required the induction of regular Pakistani army soldiers into Jammu and Kashmir, though not succeeding in the UNSC, found another votary in General Roy Bucher, Lockhart's replacement as commander-in-chief of the Indian army. Behind the back of his government, Bucher had top-secret confabulations with his British counterpart in Pakistan, Douglas Gracey, in March 1948. An informal truce was agreed upon (with the assent of Pakistan premier Liaqat Ali Khan) where Bucher promised not to launch any offensive into territory controlled by the "Azad Kashmir" forces and to withdraw Indian troops from Poonch town and the environs of Rajouri. "Each side would remain in undisputed military occupation of what are roughly their present positions . and it will be essential for some Pakistan Army troops to be employed in the Uri sector" (p 139). Upon learning of this scheme, Nehru and Patel flatly rejected it as unauthorized contradiction of their aim of expelling occupants from the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Bucher-Gracey deal never materialized, but it presaged Pakistan's unilateral push of its regular battalions into raider-held areas in May, a crucial movement known to Bucher in advance but conveniently hidden from Nehru until it was too late. Noel Baker hush-hushed the violation of "Stand Down" when Gracey personally ordered the influx of the Pakistani army with British officers into Kashmir, citing threats to British interests: "Pakistan might leave the Commonwealth; the hostility of the Muslim population of the world to the UK might be increased" (p 160).

A 'very secret' alliance
In September 1948, as an Indian advance into Mirpur looked imminent, Pakistan sent its deputy army chief to London on a "very secret mission" to negotiate a defense treaty with Britain. Attlee welcomed Liaqat's demarche and the preliminary discussions "served to enhance the pro- Pakistan tilt in British policy" (p 170). As a reward for Pakistan's eagerness to join the West, London offered the Pakistan army "hints", "tips" and "assurances" about Indian army plans in the last three months of the Kashmir war. Most appallingly, while maintaining the fa?ade of neutrality, the UK High Commission in Karachi noted, "from London, assurance had now been given by H M G that an attack by India on west Punjab would not be tolerated" (p 171, emphasis original). Bucher restricted Indian offensive action to the utmost and relayed all vital intelligence to his opposing number in Pakistan, allowing the latter to relocate forces in most vulnerable sectors. Attlee also bent the rules of "Stand Down" in favor of Pakistan, what with British officers planning and executing "Operation Venus" in Naoshera.

Besides military aid, Pakistan's offer of a defense pact elicited Noel Baker's promise to return the Kashmir question to the UNSC before India evacuated invaders from the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. In November, Britain tried mobilizing support in the UNSC for an "unconditional ceasefire", freezing the trench lines but permitting Pakistan to retain troops in Jammu and Kashmir. America turned it down as "inappropriate" and inconsistent with UNCIP and UNSC resolutions. John Foster Dulles complained, "the present UK approach to Kashmir appears extremely pro-Pakistan as against the middle ground" (p 195). The final UNCIP proposals, reaffirming the earlier resolutions, fell short of Indian expectations, but Nehru had no other option than accepting them since Bucher and his cohorts had convinced the cabinet with their "superior expertise" that India was "militarily impotent".

Drawing upon recently declassified British Foreign Office archives, "CD" has dug out some of the most telltale and hermetically sealed secrets of Whitehall malfeasance during the first Kashmir war. The much-trumpeted British "sense of fairness" comes unstuck in this damning book, inducing the reader to wonder what kind of neutrality it was that caused General Cariappa to remark he was "fighting two enemies - army headquarters headed by Roy Bucher and the Pakistani army headed by Messervy" (p 137). What kind of impartiality was it that the British high commissioner in India could upbraid the British chief of the Indian Air Force for "foolish, unnecessary and provocative action" (p 209)? The counter-factual conclusion one gleans from War and Diplomacy in Kashmir is that the history of Kashmir and of the subcontinent would have been a lot different had Britain not toyed with facts and legality to serve its ulterior ends through eminences grises in India and Pakistan or had America taken a keener interest in the region and not left the nitty-gritty in the hands of its "Anglo-Saxon ally".

Incidentally, "CD"'s research has also demythified Nehru's alleged pacifism, feebleness and "softness" towards Pakistan. The Indian prime minister emerges from the narrative as, to use a term he disapproved, a courageous "realist" who thoroughly understood the geopolitical and military context of Kashmir. It has, of late, become fashionable in Indian politics to demean Nehru as a dreamy utopian who practiced appeasement and squandered Indian advantages in foreign policy. "CD" has shown that whatever mistakes India made in 1947-8 had to do with the sabotage of external agents who kept Nehru in the dark on several outstanding counts.

In terms of policy relevance, this book should be read by those who currently advocate "third party arbitration" to solve South Asian disharmony. It is useful to know from history that facilitators and mediators had and have their own gooses to cook in Kashmir.

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