Henry Hopwood-Phillips

From 1947 to AK47

June 19, 2019

In August 1947, the argument that the Hindus and Muslims were separate nations led to the birth of Pakistan. M. A. Jinnah articulated the logic behind the partition in 1940, when he noted that:

“[Hinduism and Islam] are different and distinct social orders. It is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality.”

Yet Muslim-majority Kashmir rebuffed its coreligionists or, at least, their Hindu leader (Hari Singh) did. [1] A slighted Pakistan sanctioned invasion by several Pathan tribal forces. Facing the prospect of military overthrow, the Maharaja of Kashmir signed a treaty of accession with India on 26 October, which cleared the way for Indian troops to be airlifted to Srinagar to halt the advance.

Shortly after the  operation’s success, Jawaharlal Nehru pledged that a plebiscite would be held as part of the 1948 ceasefire deal with the UN. [2] The offer was well-received, prompting Sheikh Abdullah—the Muslim head of Kashmir’s National Conference and a popular figurehead known as Sheikh Sahib or the “Lion of Kashmir”—to announce that:

“The PM of India had not the slightest need for making it, for Kashmir was in distress… There was no necessity to add the proviso”.

Today and the picture is less clear-cut. The plebiscite never took place, the ceasefire-line of 1949 remains and Kashmir reels under the zealotry of Islamic fundamentalists and the cosh of the Indian security state. [3] It’s time, therefore, to look at why there is a stalemate and what, if anything, might lead to a solution.

The initial basis for Pakistan’s refusal to honour a plebiscite stemmed from Jinnah’s belief that the rulers of states i.e. not their inhabitants, should dictate their loyalties. The rejection of Pakistan’s overtures by the Maharaja meant an officially-sanctioned invasion would only endanger Muslim rights in India.

The confessional numbers game—known as the “hostage theory” because it pins group rights to reciprocity—sheds considerable light on the issue; not least the fact that, while Kashmir is majority-Muslim, only four million Muslims lived there at the onset of conflict. Pakistan playing politics in Kashmir would therefore prove extremely risky for Muslims on the subcontinent, which had no less than least 40 million inhabitants in 1951 (and over 200 million in 2019). The question of how many times the homeland could stand to be partitioned to appease the Muslim Question lingered on many a Hindu mind.

Still, Pakistan’s claims lingered. Among the keystones in the talks prefacing India’s carve-up had been that contiguous Muslim-majority areas automatically pertained to Pakistan. Without the ‘k’ in the acronym that it stood for, its name would be a mockery and the ‘two-nation’ theory behind the partition discredited. [4]

This position had a scent of legitimacy. An irredentist India, with jingoistic slogans like “Akhand Bharata” (Unite India!), had accepted the decisions of Hyderabad’s and Junagarh’s leaders. So why should it deny the Maharaja’s? Its assertion that popular acclaim was symbolised by the Sheikh’s participation in the treaty of accession also rang hollow since, for the next quarter-century, the Lion spent more of his life in detention as a separatist than in government, as a unionist.

A different set of questions arose for India, which had historically framed itself as the home of secular nationalism, vis-à-vis Pakistan’s religious nationalism. For secularists, Indian possession of Kashmir boosted the argument that India consisted of several composite identities. Losing it would look not only as if Mother India had been dismembered, violated or disfigured, but—more impolitically—embolden Hindu nationalism; an act that would make India’s Islamic components feel more and more like a fifth column best expunged from the national story. This, in turn, brought back memories of the partition—with its half a million deaths and over 15 million migrants—as well as the spectre of other separatisms, such as the Khalistan Sikh movement and the Naxalite insurgency.

It was nonetheless possible to pick holes in the Pakistani position. If the two-nation theory was rigorously applied, then both the Punjab and Bengal—}both of which had nearly as many non-Muslims as Muslims—would have required destroying the integrity of the two most productive parts of the country.

Adding an extra layer of complexity were the Kashmiris themselves, many of whom had designs on independence, viewing accession to either nation as akin to forced marriage. While the label Kashmir is convenient, its full title is Jammu and Kashmir (J & K), an entity containing three, extremely different, demographics: a Dogra Hindu majority in Jammu, a Muslim Kashmir and a Tibetan Buddhist Ladakh. This throws a series of spanners into the nationalist works, since most base their claims to independence on kashmiriat (a Kashmiri identity). The wrapper is not fit for purpose since, ethnically, Tibetans and Dogras are not Kashmiri. In fact, most Muslims in Jammu are not Kashmiri, but Punjabi and Gujurati.

To complicate this picture further, the Muslim majority in Kashmir was near to 95% (and quietist in nature), while the Hindu majority of Jammu was closer to 66% (with subsections, such as Dogra and Kashmiri ethnicities.) This split was best summarised by Karan Singh, who observed that:

“While [Those from Kashmir] saw themselves as Kashmiris who happened to be in India, [those from Jammu] saw themselves as Indians who happened to find themselves in Kashmir”.

The issue became yet more sensitive when, to Pakistan’s chagrin, the Bengalis broke away—with India’s help—to constitute Bangladesh in 1971. The crux of the Bengali argument was they weren’t simply Muslims, but Bengali Muslims. This partition pressed Pakistan’s existential queries harder upon its chest, but without consolation, since the Pakistani paradox is simple: it must integrate Kashmir, because its founding creed is religiously separatist. Indeed, if it were to forego the Islamic emphasis, then it would have to face its own separatisms from the likes of Sindhudesh, Pashtunistan and Balochistan. And again: pressing these claims on Kashmir risks the welfare of Muslims in India.

India, too, finds it hard to retreat without compromising its core identity. If it allows Kashmir to secede—in a second historical partition—then the ideology of “saffronisation”, not secularism, becomes the rising star. This double-bind means that, though keeping Kashmir costs lives, losing it would cause a massive rupture in identity, as well as further migrations, with potential for another mass bloodletting.

This tale of mutual alienation is unedifying. In many ways, it shows the virtue of older political units. A glance at Kashmir’s historically ineffectual, despotic and highly symbolic dynasties—which appear to have given few the time, ideas or inclination to weaponise narratives against each other—starts to make the past look rose-tinted when set against the secular, religious and ethnic nationalisms that have turned the region to a death-trap.

This includes the aforesaid Sheikh Abdullah, whose land reforms—even if intended to be socioeconomic in nature, and involving debt relief, access to free primary education and the abolition of begar, or forced labour)—were deemed to be a direct assault on the Hindus who made up the vast majority of landlords. The agitation that followed in 1952 at the hands of the regional Hindu party Praja Parishad smothered native Muslim support for India. Meanwhile, Indians were shocked at the death of nationalist leader S.P. Mukherjee—founder of BJS, a predecessor to today’s BJP—in custody, following his arrest for crossing the border in 1953.

Abdullah’s successor after a forced deposition by the son of the last Maharajah was Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. It was on his watch that the UN flooded, rather than drained, the quagmire by providing an arena in which the Cold War superpowers could pick their regional champions. In 1954, the US offered Pakistan a security alliance on the basis of it bordering the Soviet Union, and to the exasperation of Indians who predicted the use of US weapon caches against themselves. [5] The Soviets became suddenly invested in vetoing any resolutions against India in the hope of gaining a new ally.

These international interests made Nehru uneasy about how a referendum would play out. In a speech delivered in 1956, he added conditions stipulating that, in order to proceed, Pakistan should first withdraw its forces from occupied parts (mainly Azad); that Kashmir’s assembly approve of India’s constitution and that Pakistan withdraw from its security alliance, which showed signs of bad faith in seeking a military solution to a political issue.

This last point proved prophetic. When, in 1965, Pakistan perceived its nemesis weakened by border wars with China, it took its chance and infiltrated Kashmir with insurgents. [6] The Indian counterattack into West Pakistan was more conventional and involved the largest tank battle since WWII.

Crucial to Pakistan’s efforts was (and is) the ability to deny interference—not matter how implausible—due to the vulnerability of Islamic rights in India. This fig-leaf approach, however, has led to numerous preposterous narratives, not least during the war of 1965, when it insisted that Kashmir’s insurgents—who understood only Punjabi and no Kashmiri—were native freedom fighters.

The war was not, of course, without its benefits. An expensive draw at best, it meant both Gandhi and Bhutto were willing to sign agreements that abjured force, and Abdullah open to reaffirming Kashmir’s status as a part of India. [7] In return, Article 370, which granted the state relative autonomy, was revived and a sort of peace restored. This rapprochement was symbolised by a chant heard at Abdullah’s funeral, echoing a slogan from his 1940s campaigns:

“Sher-e Kashmir ka kya irshad? Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Ittehad”

(“What was the message of the Lion of Kashmir? Friendship between Hindu, Muslim and Sikh”)

It may have been this fairly successful assimilation into the Indian state that caused issues, by dragging the region into the gauntlet of Indian domestic politics. It made Gandhi a political opponent of Abdullah’s successor and son, Farooq. Seeking votes from the Hindus of Jammu and to neutralise the states that were not ruled by Congress parties, Gandhi made tensions rise. Indeed, after a litany of centralising acts—not least of which was the dismissing of Farooq’s government on dubious grounds—it became clear that the federal principles of 370 were being traduced.

Orthodox political logic would have pushed Farooq deeper into alliances with other local parties. Instead, when Gandhi died in 1986, he joined the aggressors by signing a deal with Congress. This seemed like treachery to many and resulted in a surge of support for orthodox Islamic parties. Previously a non-entity in a land ruled by syncretic variety, its boost made the government panic and rig the 1987 election.

Pushing politics on to the streets, fundamentalists burned flags and mobs took matters into their hands. To make matters worse, Pakistan had a new leader in Zia ul-Haq, who kickstarted a fresh wave of Islamisation and proved unafraid to push it into Kashmir. His two main vehicles were the Hizbul mujahedeen and the more secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Numbering roughly 50 and armed to the hilt, these groups—though often with conflicting aims—brought the security apparatus of the Indian state to a standstill in a manner roughly analogous to that between the IRA and the British state.

The Indian reaction involved an arsenal of security laws granting special powers to deal with insurgents, as well as bouts of emergency rule enforced by as many as 500,000 troops. To cynics, this was a well-rehearsed Indian strategy. Hadn’t Nagaland, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur all suffered the same treatment since 1947? Matters escalated, with tragedies such as 1993’s Sopore Massacre fomenting just the sort of response Pakistan had previously fabricated or at least exaggerated, i.e. native resistance movements more or less loosely attached to the azaadi (freedom/independence) movement,causing a death toll of up to 80,000 lives between 1989–2003.

This violent backstory fuelled the intransigent stances assumed by India and Kashmir, with the former insisting that talks must take place within the framework of the Indian constitution, and the latter refusing to participate unless independence is addressed and/or Pakistan is included as a third party in negotiations. Despite the stalemate, casualties have fallen since the early noughties; not because of a cessation in conflict, but on account of a strategic shift to terrorist operations involving civilian targets that deleveraged the risk of total war once Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998. Twenty-four years earlier, India had launched “Smiling Buddha” in a rather macabre use of the teacher’s name. It was the Kashmiri insurgent group Lashkar e Taiba, for instance, that committed the Mumbai train bombings of 2006 and attacks of 2008.

Another change in gear—back to a more conventional military confrontation—came this year, when India claimed to have bombed the headquarters of a militant group known as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on a hilltop in Balakot, Pakistan, in retaliation for a car bombing in February that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir.

The reality, as demonstrated by the joint refusal to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with unconditional access, is that both sides refuse to move away from the Cold War playbook of disinformation. The (farcical) truth: 12 IAF Mirages dropped a 1000 kg payload on what seems to be a partially wooded field. Twenty-four PAF planes then set out for Indian Kashmir to drop bombs on an army base, but missed. Eight IAF fighters then scrambled to pursue the intruders, with each side losing a single plane–each, oddly, flown by the sons of air marshals–in the first aerial combat between the two nations since 1971. [8]

Beneath the headlines, Kashmir’s pot continues to simmer. Kashmiris ask how India could send three Prime Ministers to negotiate peace with Nagaland but none to their homeland. The inference is that it’s because they’re Muslim: a victory in ideological swordplay, since that’s the accusation India, as a secular republic, has historically denied.

Nor is Pakistan the only major actor in the region. China controversially occupies part of the region known as Aksai Chin and has been positioning itself as Pakistan’s ally since the sixties, with Gwador Port serving as the tail-end of China’s economic corridor into the Arabian Sea. This has resulted in some unusual diplomatic proclamations, including Pakistan’s support for China’s “re-education camps” for (Muslim) Uyghurs, with China reciprocally blocking UN sanctions and blacklists on Pakistani fundamentalists in Kashmir on technical grounds.

This mess means the clock needs resetting. Just as the Levant is poorer for lack of its historically rich, multicultural tapestry, so is Kashsmir. As things stand, most indigenous Muslims want the 100,000 native Hindu pandits who fled in the violence of the nineties back. This should be organised.

The Indian state should grasp that its current approach is counterproductive, alienating the support it once enjoyed. It should shift away from its heavy-touch, top-down emergency laws to bottom-up human-rights protection, ensuring Kashmiris are safe against the protection-rackets and patronage-networks that feed the Islamic cycle of terrorism (and maybe stemming the stone-pelting antics of civilians currently aimed at Indian forces in the process.)

Almost no progress can be expected from Pakistan, which is something between a rogue and a failed state. [9] Eschatologically chained to a vision that involves nuclear and/or mass warfare with India for fear of being swallowed by it, its mission has been historically abetted by American military aid; a measure Trump reversed in early 2018. Suspending roughly $2 billion in security aid and dismissing its protests as more “lies and deceit”, the country’s military complex is fast becoming something it can ill afford.

Cash injections from Saudi Arabia, UAE and China tide it over in the short-term. But haemorrhaging over $1bn a month to cover imports and debt servicing payments (total debt is c.$90bn) while repeatedly devaluing the currency is hardly the sign of a healthy economy. China is already signalling that, without movement on the promised Special Economic Zones (SEZs), their cash won’t be around forever. Perhaps they’d be more generous if Pakistan conducted itself as a normal client-state from which it could ultimately settle debts with territory. But Pakistan is not, alas, a military pushover.

Virtually bankrupt, corrupt and structurally flawed—even Bangladesh exports more—the IMF should stipulate that aid will be dependent on Pakistan’s withdrawal of all proxies from Indian Kashmir. This shouldn’t prove too hard, given the US government holds by far the largest share of votes in the organisation.

India, in return, should convert much of its paper autonomy for Kashmir into real autonomy. This would require its own form of demilitarisation in the medium-term. Kashmir, after all, needs to feel that it is being run for the benefit of the Kashmiris, just as the Indians needed to know the British were running India for theirs. Didn’t thinkers like D. Naoroji develop the drain theory, and others beat the drum of swaraj or self-rule (armed with satyagraha or truth-force) when the imperialist claims fell into doubt? Why should the Kashmiris behave any differently with their own overlords unless their own interests are served?

These are obviously tall orders and big brush-strokes but, if given half a chance, there is a probability they could set the three nations on a new footing; one that might benefit all.


[1] Kashmir had been brought under British suzerainty by its defeat of the Sikh confederacy in 1846, but it was then sold to Gulab Singh for the sum of rupees 75 lakhs. At the end of British rule, India comprised nearly 600 states. The princely states were advised by Britain to choose between India or Pakistan, though theoretically independence was available (an option not made explicit due to the balkanised subcontinent that would result). Three anomalies emerged: Hyderabad flirted with independence for a year, Junagarh (though in Gujurat) had a ruler who opted for Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir beat its own path. All three were eventually strong-armed into union with India— a tactic that proved less successful with the latter—and something Pakistan likes to memorialise by colouring these states green on maps.

[2] Nehru’s family were Kashmiri pandits (Hindu teachers) who originally hailed from the valley. A temperate land of lotus lakes, alpine pastures and snow-tipped mountains, the land has always appealed to the Indian imagination–a little like Britain’s own north-west paradise, the Lake District.

[3] The ceasefire line remained, slightly adjusted, as the 1972 Line of Control. It has little to no geographic, strategic, economic or social convenience, simply freezing the locations of the armed forces when a ceasefire was declared in time. The slight adjustments addressed attacks such as the 1984 offensive, when India grabbed the Siachen Glacier, and the 1999 offensive, when Pakistan infiltrated the heights above the strategic Srinagar-Leh road at Kargil.

[4] Pakistan had only recently turned from an academic fiction, first adopted by a group of Muslims at Cambridge in the 1930s as a wishful acronym for a greater Muslim homeland, to a reality. It consisted of P(unjab), A(fghania), K(ashmir), I(ran), S(ind), T(urkharistan), A(fghanistan) and Baluchisa(N), and could also handily be manipulated to mean ‘the land of the paks’ i.e. the spiritually pure and clean.

[5] As Washington saw it, Soviet access to the Indian Ocean had to be blocked; an initiative that rose in importance when an Afghan coup in 1973 invited a Soviet presence. Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan also helpfully barred Soviet access to the Arabian Sea, an additional boon.

[6] To say that Pakistan chose to “takes its chance” is slightly facetious. Other causes at play included Bhutto believing that India’s British tanks would be no match for Pakistan’s superior US weaponry and that, faced with its backbone of traditionally martial Muslims, Indian infantry would quickly crumble. The saying “one Pakistani jawan (youth) was worth seven Indian ones” was proverbial for a reason.

[7] In reality, Bhutto’s conversion to peace was more political in nature than sincere. He blamed the 1965 defeat and the humiliation of the Indian tanks in the outer suburbs of Lahore on Field Marshal Ayub Khan, despite it being almost entirely his initiative. Indeed, to his domestic audience Bhutto claimed that, had Ayub stuck to his guns a little longer, the Chinese would have resupplied the Pakistani army (after an Anglo-American arms embargo had contributed to halting Pakistani operations) and the Indonesian navy had committed to assist its war efforts. Though the evidence for either enterprise was conspicuously absent, it played very well to the gallery.

[8] What’s odd about the Indian loss is that it was a Mig-21, a rather old aircraft designed by the Soviets in 1959, when it has hundreds of Sukhoi 30s, as well as dozens of Mig 29s and 45 Mirage 2000s at its disposal. At least India can console itself that its pilot managed to down a superior plane, the F16. And this, perhaps, was the point it was trying to make, i.e. that its pilots were so skilled, they could take on the PAF using inferior stock.

[9] The blame for villainous behaviour cannot be solely placed at Pakistan’s door. In the partition, the power being transferred from Britain to Pakistan was more potential than real. Its five provinces were either economically maimed (East Bengal lacking Calcutta’s processing centre and port for its jute), potentially vulnerable to Indian interference (West Punjab’s canals were downstream of Indian rivers), robbed of their metropoles (the Sind was dependent on the province of Bombay), electorally hostile (NWFP) or so devolved they wanted little to do with centralised government (Baluchistan).


A regular contributor to Lapsus Lima, Henry Hopwood-Phillips is a Byzantine historian, travel-guide hack(er) and book reviewer. Follow him on Twitter @byzantinepower or at Excvbitor (www.excvbitor.com) for jottings.