Is generational change the key to resolving the Kashmir dispute? 11 June 2013
Recently, I returned from New Delhi where I launched a book I have written called Kashmir: The Unwritten History (published by HarperCollins India). To my pleasant surprise, my book has been well received in India. Since its release, it has been on India’s ‘Top Ten Non-Fiction Best Selling List’, rating as high as three at one stage.
My book may be popular because it is controversial. Using primary sources, I have discussed how people in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) started the dispute over J&K’s international status (the so called ‘Kashmir dispute’) in 1947—and not outsiders, as India has long claimed and in which claim Pakistan surprisingly has acquiesced.
The people of J&K instigated the Kashmir dispute by undertaking three significant acts in 1947:
- soon after partition on 15 August 1947, some Muslim ‘rebels’ living in the south-western Poonch and Mirpur areas of the Jammu Province of J&K mounted an uprising against the ruler of J&K;
- in September-October 1947, residents of Jammu Province (‘Jammuites’) engaged in serious inter-religious violence throughout Jammu Province, as a result of which many people in all communities (Hindu, Sikh, Muslim) were killed, or were forced to flee to other areas;
- Poonchi and Mirpuri ‘rebels’ created the Provisional Azad (Free) Government in those areas that they had successfully liberated or ‘freed’ from the ruler’s control, with this area quickly becoming known as ‘Azad (Free) Kashmir’.
Significantly, all of these three actions by the people of J&K (who collectively I call ‘J&K-ites’) occurred before the ruler of J&K, Maharaja Sir Hari Singh, acceded to India on 26 October 1947. Surprisingly, they have received scant—or even no—attention in most histories about the Kashmir dispute.
Nevertheless, these three actions importantly confirm that the people of J&K not only have long been stakeholders in the long-running Kashmir dispute, but also that they actually instigated this serious, ongoing, matter. This conflicts with the official Indian version that Pukhtoon tribesmen from Pakistan instigated all of the violence and troubles in J&K in 1947 when they invaded Kashmir Province on 22 October. Most Pakistanis also have ignored the significant events that preceded the embarrassing (for Pakistan) tribal invasion.
While some Indians have called me a rebel, or they think that I am pro-Pakistan, or that my ‘revision’ of history will empower Pakistan, many subcontinentals are pleased to hear that there is more to the Kashmir dispute than has been enunciated in Indian and Pakistani histories. In particular, J&K-ites have been pleased to see their forebears’ side of the story revealed in a comprehensive way for the first time. Some have informed me that they have found my book empowering.
One Indian reviewer believes that my book was based on a false premise: that the Muslim League and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were responsible for organising whatever negative (that is, anti-maharaja or anti-Indian) events happened in J&K in 1947. Interestingly, he did not provide a shred of evidence to support his position. This reviewer also stated that my book ‘flies in the face of historical facts’. I agree with him. Indeed, this was always my intention: to provide a more complete picture of what happened in 1947, rather than to selectively relate historical ‘facts’ advantageous to India (particularly) or to Pakistan.
Another reviewer claims that I have not accessed any Indian documents about these events. I did actually do so, including some that show that Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were aware in late September/early October of what was happening in J&K, including in the Poonch area, and, more pointedly, that they both knew that the Pukhtoon tribesmen were planning to invade Kashmir Province.
Interestingly, there seems to be a generational issue involved in people’s acceptance or rejection of my book. Many younger people—those under about 45 years old—appear more prepared to consider the book’s contents on its merits. People older than 45 tend to want to apportion blame for what happened in J&K in 1947.
This possibly suggests that, in terms of resolving the Kashmir dispute, a resolution may happen more easily when the older generation that directly experienced or that strongly remembers partition in 1947 has moved on. In Pakistan, most such people have passed away. In India, there are still many alive, with some serving in important political positions. This includes the current Indian President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister.
My sample has been small, but perhaps younger people in the subcontinent might be more amenable to resolving the Kashmir dispute than the older generation?
(Kashmir: The Unwritten History, published by HarperCollins India in 2013, was first published by Hurst and Co., London, and Columbia University Press, New York, as The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir. The title was changed to take account of the Indian Government’s sensitivity in relation to the use of the term ‘Azad Kashmir’, which region India considers to be under Pakistan’s ‘occupation’.)
11 June 2013