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The mistakes India made that strengthened Pakistan’s proxy wars in Kashmir

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Sardar Patel had urged Nehru after Independence to adopt a hard-line policy towards those who sought Pakistan’s assistance in shaping the political landscape in Kashmir.

Reflecting on his masterly plan to infiltrate tribals and jihadis into the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the autumn of 1947 that almost succeeded, in an operational pamphlet titled ‘How to Solve the Kashmir Problem’, Major General Akbar Khan argued:

“The terrain inside Kashmir was ideally suited for guerilla and sabotage action — In addition, our frontier tribesmen have for centuries found India an attractive hunting ground.”

Fast forward to a few decades later, and Akbar Khan was all but forgotten in the 1980s in the wake of a powerful discourse that attributed the origins of Pakistan’s proxy war against India to President Zia-ul-Haq as part of a wider Islamist jihad. This is a flawed discourse that ignores a systematic and sustained subversion strategy that has changed colours over the years like a chameleon, but not its basic form.

While ‘Operation Gulmarg’, the tribal-led and Pakistan army-orchestrated infiltration operation in 1947-48 was poorly executed and snuffed out by a spirited and professional Indian military response before it could expand into an insurrection, its two-tier script played out fully during the year-long conflict. When the first tier of the planned insurrection failed, the second tier was operationalised with the Pakistan army joining battle to support the armed raiders. However, the main objective of the operation was to further Jinnah’s two-nation political theory that looked at religion as the basis for the division; and consequently, the argument was that Kashmir, with a predominantly Muslim population, ought to have rightfully joined Pakistan.

Nehru and Sardar Patel, on the other hand, were determined to showcase Jammu and Kashmir as a successful example of Indian secularism wherein a region with a liberal Muslim majority was an integral part of the large multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual mosaic that India was determined to be.

1965 & 1971

Before looking at Pakistan’s inability to wrest Kashmir militarily in 1965 and its post-1965 Islamic revival, it would be unfair to say that Kashmir was peaceful and devoid of any subterranean political intrigue and religious fissures and cracks. While Sheikh Abdullah and his love-hate relationship with Nehru dominated the political landscape, his association with separatists sent alarm bells ringing within India’s intelligence community and attracted the ire of India’s home minister, Sardar Patel.

Patel urged Nehru to adopt a consistent but hard-line policy towards those who either propagated the idea of ‘azadi’ or sought Pakistan’s assistance in shaping the political landscape in Kashmir. Unfortunately, Patel’s death in December 1950 left India’s Kashmir policy entirely in the hands of Nehru, and his rather altruistic obsession with seeing peace return to his home state at any cost meant that he would be prepared to turn a blind eye to fissiparous cracks emerging within Kashmir’s polity.

Praveen Swami, one of India’s most persistent Pakistan-centric analysts has, over the years, made some very astute observations about the slow deterioration of the security situation in J&K in the 1950s and 1960s, and introduced the term ‘informal war’, which he says had a greater impact on India-Pakistan engagement than both the 1947 and 1965 wars.

He has often written that Jammu and Kashmir was thus a zone of continued warfare – low-grade warfare, it is true, but warfare nonetheless and what we term loftily today as proxy war.

His book, ‘India Pakistan and the Secret Jihad’, is a must read for policymakers, military leaders and students of contemporary Indian history who want to revisit the origins of what has been a chameleon strategy of subverting the Indian state.

The aftermath of the 1965 war with Pakistan saw a surprisingly alert and resilient Indian intelligence network in J&K smash the remnants of the Pakistan-sponsored covert cells after the 1965 war. Unfortunately, neither did this extinguish the embers of Kashmiri separatism, nor did it wean Sheikh Abdullah away from his ambivalent approach towards the Kashmir problem and his struggle to regain the reins of leadership in Kashmir.

Surendra Nath, who served as governor of Punjab during its troubled era in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and is credited with being a major player in restoring peace in the state, cut his teeth in understanding internal conflict in J&K in the 1960s as a police officer. Had his early reports on J&K been heeded by Delhi, first by PM Shastri, and then by PM Indira Gandhi, Pakistan’s covert war strategy may well have floundered in its infant years after the 1965 war.

The strategic consequences of Indira Gandhi’s magnanimity of not forcing a resolution on Kashmir during the Simla Agreement of 1972 was a blunder that that would haunt India for decades to come. In its moment of triumph and, while preparing for the summit, India had neither looked ahead at Kashmir, nor reflected on how warfare may change in the years ahead.

The Indian military just disappeared during the post-war and pre-Simla summit discussions – India has paid the price for this strategic oversight. By not forcing a ‘cartographic and non-interference in India’s internal affairs’ commitment from Pakistan over Kashmir, it left a window open for the continuous re-evaluation of strategies by the Pakistan military, its intelligence agencies and jihadi forces as they worked on a ‘master plan’ to avenge the humiliation of 1971 through a constantly evolving ‘covert war’ strategy that sought to gradually incite the people of Kashmir to rise against the Indian state.

Arjun Subramaniam is a retired Air Vice-Marshal from the IAF and is currently a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University.

This is part II of the author’s two-part series on the origins of Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K. Read part I here.

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  1. The biggest mistake by both India and Pakistan was not to implement the resolutions of United Nation showing their immaturity and irresponsibility towards the international law. Even today the best and pragmatic solution is to accept the realities and let people of Kashmir decide.

  2. I entirely endorse the comment of Syed Liyakhat Ali posted in Part I of the writer’s article .: “Islamic Concept defined by [Zionist America+Zionist-American Saudi Arabia+so called Saviour Pakistani Army] against Islam defined by BOOK is sole CAUSE of Cross-Border terrorism ” AVM Subramaniam is silent on all the following:
    (a) Islamism is Western Imperialism’s answer to the Afro Asian movement born in Bandung in 1965. The West has always subverted Asian nationalism. They armed Pakistan unneccessarily to counter independent India. Nasser and Iraqui/Syrian Baath party were fairly/very secular, but the West activated Israel to demolish Arab Nationalism, setting the stage for Saudi and Gulf sheikhs (puppets like our Maharajahs pre-1947) to come out of the woodwork where Nasser had consigned them,.(Baath party founder was a Christian Syrian). All hell broke loose in J&K after the CIA used Pakistan for Ronald Reagan’s Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
    (b) Of all the Maharajahs, Hari Singh was easily the worst. Sheikh Abdullah was a good leader before 1947 and he had Hindu associates in Jammu in his National Conference, like Girdharilal Dogra, father-in-law of Arun Jaitley. Dogra was, post-independence, a Minister in J&K. But Hari Singh was very hostile to our national movement and , as late as 1946, jailed Sheikh Saheb for a 9 year term. Unfortunately, we compromised with the Brits that each Maharajah as “the State” in his area would accede to a Dominion of his choice. Hari Singh was in trepidation that he would be prosecuted in independent India for his numerous crimes, though this was not on the cards. Hari Singh , in June 1947, refused an appointment to Mahatma Gandhi in Srinagar. Nevertheless, a month letter Mountbatten came to Srinagar, and Hari Singh, checking his diary and calendar found he had time for the Viceroy.And for accession, Hari Singh talked conditions and tried to remain on the Gaddi.
    (c) Alas, not only the Maharajahs, the top brass of the Indian Army had been compromised by their serving under Brfitish command pre-1947. Old habits die hard, and open relationships between some army officers and Western diplomats persisted very unwisely. Wikileaks has disclosed a cable in 1965 from US Consul-General Kolkata to State Deptt where, Maneckshaw 9then GOC-in-C, Eastern Command) has stated that he will become Army Chief and will start supporting US in Vietnam. (PM L B Shastri had accused USA of aggression in Vietnam). And General Jacob had disclosed that Sam , had wanted the entry into east Pak to stop at Khulna and spare Dacca. Again suggestive of western influence. Our distinguished AVM says”The Indian military just disappeared during the post-war and pre-Simla summit discussions – India has paid the price for this strategic oversight”. No surprise, because our political leaders knew about the inclination s of the brass. Had Gen Harbhaksh Singh become Army Chief in 1969 instead of Sam, perhaps, he would have been given a larger role.

  3. It is true that the matter would have been best settled either militarily in 1948 or as part of the Simla discussions after the 1971 war. Another opportunity perhaps was the Kargil conflict in 1999 where the world clearly saw Pakistan as the initiator of the conflict. Thatvit followed right on the heels of PM Vajpayee’s historic outreach via the Lahore bus visit gave us all the moral legitimacy we needed. The high casualties being incurred in the frontal assaults to clear the peaks provided every rationale – military and political – to cross the LOC to interdict the lines of supply of the intruders and their supply sources in the depths of POK. That could, given deft political and diplomatic handling, have provided the cover to pursue a conquest of Skardu, Gilgit, Baltistan and the remainder of Kashmir and settle the matter once for all. It is unfortunate that it was not done. The reasons being that we never had – and still don’t have – a clear goal of reintegrating Kashmir into India. We have been content to slumber and stumble to the next episode. Such a goal would be the starting point for a strategy, military doctrine and capabilities to be put in place. As the years pass and Pakistan passes more firmly into China’s embrace, and the cost of a military conflict rises, the chances recede of a successful resolution ever being reached. It may, however, still not be too late – one never knows what opportunity may present itself.

  4. “Showcase Jammu and Kashmir as a successful example of Indian secularism wherein a region with a liberal Muslim majority was an integral part of the large multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual mosaic that India was determined to be”..Well now that Kashmiris are no longer a “liberal” muslims but angry and yearning to be free from a military occupation AND India is a Hindutvashthan so let’s drop the pretense of integrating and think of cutting losses. The twain’ shall never meet……

  5. Biggest mistake was made post-1971, when India returned captured Nagar Parkar and Shakargarh salients and war-criminal POWs with NO concessions from Pornistan — it should have told Pornistan “you withdraw, then we discuss Nagar Parkar and Shakargarh; on the POWs, you deal with Mujib — it’s out of our hands”!

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