Questioning narratives or expressing animus?


Cease-fire line between India and Pakistan after the 1947 conflict IMAGE/Wikipedia

The past twenty-three years of armed conflict in J & K have witnessed the emergence of a plethora of political actors with diverse ideologies, motives, and aspirations. The conscription of a legitimate political space, attempts to decimate institutions of governance, and the inability of political organizations in the state, mainstream as well as separatist, to uphold and voice regional political aspirations have caused a loss of faith in the populace and, in my opinion, an unfortunate lack of knowledge about the evolution of a nationalist and political consciousness in Kashmir.

Shortly before the tribal invasion, while the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was still an independent entity and had not accessed to either dominion, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah sent emissaries of the All Jammu and Kashmir State People’s Conference to Pakistan to thrash out the terms of accession with those at the helm of affairs. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who at the time was hesitant to get involved in the internal affairs of princely states, did not meet with these representatives, “and many people have since said this was a great mistake. He might have had Kashmir with its three million Muslims if he had been willing to recognize popular rule” (Bourke-White 202-203). The People’s Government of Jammu and Kashmir made a last-ditch effort to negotiate with the Government of Pakistan. The negotiations were still in the foetal stage when the truculent tribesmen of the Northwest Frontier Province began infiltrating Kashmir. The ink of their official seals on the “instruments of accession,” affirming their loyalty to the Pakistani dominion, hadn’t yet dried when these tribesmen began surging into Kashmir under the rallying cry of Islam, “making off with all removable loot—including women—leaving a trail of sacked and burned villages, and fighting their way through the heart of the Valley.” These tribesmen, with their sacks full of booty and whetted appetites, arrived in Rawalpindi only to indulge, yet again, in plunder and pillage to satiate their gluttonous selves. Their terrifying, unrestrainable, and fractious rioting caused the newspapers of Lahore to scream themselves hoarse in vociferously demanding an immediate withdrawal of the “crusaders,” who had become a law unto themselves and Pakistan’s proverbial Frankenstein (Ibid.: 204). The rebellion in Poonch, which some claim the tribesmen were strengthening, was a local one and did not go beyond the borders of Poonch.

My curiosity having been piqued by the feisty debates that were aroused by the tribal invasion, I dug into some of the archival material available to me. In a dog-eared copy of Life Magazine reporter Margaret Bourke-White’s book, Halfway to Freedom (1949), I found riveting details of her rich conversations with 20th century political stalwarts of the Indian subcontinent. Bourke-white, who was sent to India on assignment in the eventful late 1940s, writes about the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir,

“Here such great strides have been taken toward democracy that it can serve as a beacon for the rest of India. . . . In the last lap of their long fight they were helped toward the achieving of democracy by their own Maharaja. He helped by running away.

. . . This took place at the very beginning of the invasion of Kashmir, in October of 1947, when hordes of fanatical Muslim tribesmen were pouring in from Pakistan, killing, looting, and burning villages. A startling sweep, which shook the whole Kashmir Valley by surprise, carried the raiders to the outskirts if Srinagar, the capital.

. . . Within forty-eight hours the People’s Party—or National Conference, as it is also known—had set up a new People’s Government, which administered food stores, organized a people’s militia for defense against the invader, and started working on a new constitution. . . . Torn by war and terrorized by fanatical invaders, Kashmir was the first spot on the newly freed Indian subcontinent to get its own constitutional plan down in black and white. Members of the People’s Party had studied constitutions from all over the world, particularly America. Their plan grants voting rights to all adult citizens—men and women—and guarantees equality of minorities and freedom of religious worship.

. . . The democratic quality of their achievement stems in part from the very depth of the oppression which they united to overcome, and is in large part a result of clear vision of their State People’s leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.” (193-194)

Apologists of the tribal invasion in Pakistan and present-day J & K emphasize the rationale of the invasion, which, according to them, was to save the Muslim populace from the persecution perpetrated on them by the non-Muslims in Kashmir. If that, indeed, had been the reason, it would have been strategically advantageous and beneficial to their “cause” to have entered the state through Sucheet Garh into the Hindu dominated part of the former princely state where the Maharaja and his cohort, still licking their wounds, were inciting the Dogra army to inflict atrocities on the Muslim populace of Jammu. Such a maneuver would have enabled the unruly lot to damage the Srinagar-Jammu route beyond repair, thereby, ensuring the severance of Kashmir from the rest of India and attenuating the possibility of its accession to the Indian union.

The Kashmir Valley, with its large Muslim populace and its resolute volunteer corps, did not require the services of the marauding and disgruntled tribals, whose deplorable prodigality on the Baramullah-Uri route created terrible misgivings among the people whom the marauders claimed needed to be saved by them. Even the patrons of the tribesmen couldn’t turn a blind eye to the savagery and barbarity evinced by them on that “campaign” (see Sardar Ibrahim Khan, Kashmir Saga, 1965, for details of the ruthlessness exhibited by the tribals during the invasion, which the author characterizes as an inevitability of war, but cannot ignore. Even people in the Pakistani military establishment have written about the indiscipline and brutality of the tribesmen and have admitted to having supplied logistics and flying supplies to the war front).

Dr. Khan can be reached at

Comments are closed.