Pakistan was broke in 1953 too and Nehru had a deal on Kashmir. Then this happened
For all the talk of jihad-without-end over Kashmir, leaders of Pakistan knew the country needed to reduce military expenditures. That meant seeking peace.PRAVEEN SWAMI
4 June, 2023 12:27 pm IST
Love had led Aziz Parwana over the dense, high-altitude meadows of Yus Maidan, across the minefields separating the armies of India and Pakistan, and into a bomb-maker’s workshop. The Srinagar resident had set out to ask for the hand of his beloved Atiqa Bano from her father in Rawalpindi, he later told incredulous police officers. As custom mandated, there was a bride price to be paid: the explosives he would plant in Palladium Cinema, the Hind Kashmir Hotel and Allochi Bagh bridge.
“We have in effect to deal with a State carrying out an informal war,” former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru ruminated, “but nevertheless a war.”
Exactly 70 years ago this month, in the summer of 1953, Prime Minister Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart, Mohammad Ali Bogra, began a now-forgotten effort to negotiate peace in Kashmir. The failure of the 1953 peace talks would lead on to Parwana’s bomb campaign in 1957, the wars of 1965, 1971 and 1999, the crisis of 2001-2002 and 2019, as well as the long jihad that began in 1988.
Like it is today, Pakistan was facing an economic meltdown, and desperately needed to cut military expenditure. Like Bogra, former Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa pushed for peace with India—but could not sign on to the status quo in Kashmir.
The war after the warThe Pakistan Army unleashed covert operations against India in Kashmir even as the war of 1947-1948 ended. Led by Salim Jehangir Khan, a Srinagar resident working for Pakistani military intelligence, a cell shipped in 643 improvised explosive devices and 666 hand-grenades, the Kashmir police claimed. Later, in 1951, multiple government roads and bridges were set on fire in Akar, Nagranag, Kangan, Sagipora and Singhpora.
Fourteen conspirators were eventually tried for the attacks, of whom nine were convicted. The accused who could not be tried included Abbas Ali Shah, a superintendent of police in Rawalpindi, and Major Asghar Ali Shah, a military officer serving in Azad Kashmir.
The architect of the campaign to seize Srinagar in 1947, Major-General Akbar Khan, claimed to have been tasked after the war by Pakistani President Iskander Mirza to set up a covert force that could target “unguarded bridges, isolated wires and unprotected transport.” The force, Major-General Akbar claimed to have been told by Prime Minister Malik Feroze Khan Noon, later became operational under the command of Deputy Inspector-General Mian Anwar Ali.
The memoirs of Lt. General Gul Hassan Khan, former commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army, record that these efforts were not confined to Kashmir. Through an air transport service based in Australia, the General has written, Pakistan supplied small arms to royalist forces fighting Indian troops in Hyderabad.
From Major-General Akbar’s account, it appears the designers of the covert campaign hoped it would precipitate a crisis, requiring renewed international intervention. Exactly that threatened to happen.
Through the summer of 1951, violence erupted along the Cease Fire Line. Two Indian soldiers, historian Srinath Raghavan has recorded, were ambushed, their bodies dragged into Pakistan-occupied territory. Three more Indian troops were killed days later. Late in June, a group of raiders attacked villages 15 kilometres inside Indian territory. Indian military intelligence reported that a division was being moved from Peshawar to Rawlakote.
In early July that year, India responded by moving the 1 Armoured Division from Meerut to Punjab, together with the 4 Infantry Division and 2 Independent Armoured Brigade. Further troops were positioned along the border with East Pakistan.
The war to come, Nehru brooded, would be “neither brief nor gentlemanly.” He predicted, instead, “a bitter conflict full of suppressed hatreds”.
Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s then-prime minister, realised he’d reached too far—and pulled his troops back. The story wasn’t done, though.
The summer of hopeEntering the harvest season of 1953, historian Christopher Clary notes, Pakistan faced a crippling economic crisis. The Sterling reserves it had inherited from the United Kingdom at Independence had been all but exhausted. The foreign exchange crisis forced Pakistan to sharply reduce imports. This, in turn, choked tariffs, the main source of government revenue. To make things worse, water shortages held out the prospect of looming food shortages.
For all the talk of jihad-without-end over Kashmir, leaders of Pakistan knew the country needed to reduce military expenditures. That meant seeking peace.
Led by Bogra, the ethnic-Bengali politician who had become Pakistan’s third prime minister, the country reached out to India in the summer of 1953. The proposal led to a three-day conference in London, where both sides were to lay out their proposals to end the impasse.
“First-day meeting characterised by [a] lengthy historical monologue by Nehru which began pre-Alexander Great [and] had not reached British period by end day,” the United States chargé d’affairs, John Emmerson, moaned in a diplomatic telegram.
The next month, at Bogra’s invitation, Nehru visited Karachi to pursue the conversation further. To Nehru, it seemed that Pakistani leaders were desperate. “Their appeals to me were plaintive, even desperate,” he wrote in a letter to Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi, the powerful Kashmiri politician.
To Chester Bowles, the US’ ambassador to India, it appeared as if Prime Minister Nehru was “determined [to] avoid agreement.” Instead, Ambassador Bowles speculated, the prime minister “would continue [to] avoid coming [to] grips with [the] situation on [the] general theory [that] if it allowed drift, [the] present status Kashmir might gradually become accepted.”
Even though India was willing to settle on a division of Kashmir along what is today called the Line of Control, it was impossible for Bogra to push the idea through his Cabinet. To make things worse, army chief General Muhammad Ayub Khan—soon to become the country’s military ruler—had growing influence over political decision-making.
The talks in Karachi ended with an agreement to appoint a new plebiscite administrator—empowered, among other things, with deciding the disposition of Indian and Pakistani troops ahead of a referendum. Within months, though, the two countries were arguing about the nationality of the plebiscite administrator and the regional basis on which a vote would be conducted.
Late in 1953, the US decided to supply military aid to Pakistan, fuelling rage in India.
From 1955 on, the influential diplomat Escott Reid recorded, Nehru began saying the only solution was to make the ceasefire line of the war of 1947-1948 “permanent with minor adjustments, with the result that Pakistan would get one-third of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and India, two-thirds.”
The living pastGeneral Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the memoirs of diplomat Satinder Lambah revealed earlier this year, came close to realising exactly a version of this formula both countries could live with. However, the grim events of 26/11 made clear that the top leadership of the Pakistan Army was unenthused by the prospect. For reasons Musharraf and Singh would not have been unfamiliar with, various iterations of the same idea collapsed since 1971.
Following the collapse of the Karachi talks, Nehru moved to consolidate his direct control over Kashmir, deposing Jammu & Kashmir Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s government. Later, the state government charged Abdullah with seeking the violent overthrow of the Indian government.
The so-called Kashmir Conspiracy Case dragged on through 1963, amid bitter controversy. Then, the theft of a relic from the Hazaratbal shrine led to simmering political frustrations exploding across the state. Nehru was obliged to release Abdullah. Subsequently, in 1973, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Abdullah signed an agreement that returned him to power—only for the deal to be swept away by violence less than two decades later.
Like Abdullah, many of the actors in the violent theatre that erupted after 1947 found themselves embedded in the tumult. Salim Jehangir, charged with running the bomb plot of 1948, was finally arrested in 1961 and tried in the Kashmir Conspiracy Case. The prosecution collapsed, though, and Salim was released in 1968. He set up a poultry farm—which would go on to become, in his old age, a training base for a new jihadist group, al-Fatah.
In Kashmir, the past is the present—a grim perdition from which there seems to be no escape.
The author is National Security Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @praveenswami. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)