‘Nehru didn’t want to publicise the Poonch rebellion because it would have strengthened Pakistan’s case’
February 28, 2013
Christopher Snedden is an Australian politico-strategic analyst, author and academic specialising in South Asian studies. His consultancy, Asia Calling, works with governments, businesses and universities. Kashmir: The Unwritten History, he dismisses India’s claim that Pakhtoon tribesmen stoked the Kashmir conflict in October 1947. On the contrary, an uprising by the subjects of princely Jammu & Kashmir in Poonch, who were disenchanted with the Maharaja’s rule, triggered the conflict. Snedden, who is in New Delhi to launch his book, tells Baba Umar that the disunity among Kashmiri Muslims was to blame for determining the international status of pre-accession J&K.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
Christopher Snedden. Photo: Baba Umar
Your book challenges the very basis of New Delhi’s claim on Kashmir. India has always maintained that it was forced to send its army into J&K in 1947 because of the Pakhtoon raid. Your book claims state subjects triggered the conflict. How do we prove that?
I have used many primary sources in my book. They are chiefly newspapers, especially The Civil and Military Gazette. All suggest there was an uprising in Poonch and religious violence in Jammu. There are also some documents that talk about the uprising against the Dogra ruler (Maharaja Hari Singh). Then there is the secret correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel making it clear that they were aware of what was going on. The evidence was always there but I don’t know why these were not collected. India blamed Pakhtoon tribesmen for starting the conflict and Pakistan, I don’t know why, accepted this tactical claim.
Your book title provokes one to ask what’s there that has not been written about Kashmir?
This book contains new information about ‘Azad Kashmir’ (PoK). In short, it explains three actions that divided the entire state. First, the Poonch uprising that started on 18 August 1947 against the Maharaja’s rule. It has been mentioned before, but my book offers a lot of detail. Second, there was a lot of inter-religious violence in the Jammu region, some of which seems to be endorsed by the Maharaja and his forces. The third story is the actual creation of the provisional government of ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir’ on 24 October 1947. There has really been no book dedicated to telling the story of ‘Azad Kashmir’ since 1947.
Weren’t those in New Delhi aware of the Poonch uprising?
There is evidence to prove that they were. In fact, we are now getting access to correspondence among the Indian ministers. Nehru did write to Patel about the Poonch rebellion. The book really challenges the Indian claim that all the violence started on 22 October 1947 after the Pakhtoon tribesmen raided Kashmir.
And what about the people in Kashmir? Did Sheikh Abdullah know about this uprising? Then why didn’t he or Nehru disclose it? Did the media play any role in hiding the news?
I think Abdullah knew. One can find it in some of his writings too. I think he would have told Nehru also because they were very close. But again, it was also about communication, getting that story out in the press when so much was happening. In fact, the former editor of The Statesman later said that “we really don’t want to report this because there was already enough violence going and it would have further vitiated things”. Nehru was probably a little bit more political. He didn’t want to let this out because it would have strengthened Pakistan’s case.
What does the book say about the Poonchis? Were they armed? How did they manage to overpower the Maharaja’s forces?
My research says in 1947 there were 50,000 Poonchis who had served in the British Army. Poonch was one of the major recruiting grounds for the British. These people would always think of themselves as fighters. There were no economic opportunities and inadequate landholdings in this area. So, most of them fought alongside the British, unlike Kashmiri Muslims, who had enough land to till and were involved in economic activities. Poonchis had military and combat skills. Although the Maharaja’s forces disarmed them, they went across the border to arms manufacturers in North-West Frontier Province and Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan. They had a lot of local support; they managed to liberate their own area, defeated the Dogra army and even captured their arms.
Was Pakistan involved in this uprising in any way? Was any State actor involved?
I’m sure there was unofficial and family support. People in Poonch really relate much more to Punjab than they do with the Valley. Families across the other side of the Jhelum river would have supported them by offering food and shelter. But there was some degree of support from the Pakistan government, which I think was minimal, chiefly because the government was too busy trying to resolve other issues, perhaps to establish a capital in Karachi. Pakistan had very limited administration. It was mostly the local Poonchis who didn’t like the Maharaja and wanted J&K to join Pakistan.
You also blame disunity among Muslims in J&K in deciding the international status of pre-accession J&K.
That was a major factor. In 1947, there were about 77 percent Muslims. Had they been united, it would have been difficult for the Maharaja to accede the entire state to India.
You have been to both sides of Kashmir? Which side looks more prosperous and developed?
PoK is different in terms of terrain. It’s very mountainous. But in terms of living standards, houses, electricity, shops, roads, mosques and buildings, these are pretty much the same on either side. There is no stark difference, unlike say in East and West Germany. But the people in PoK are very different in how they dress. They dress like Punjabis. The literacy rate is high, almost 90 percent. However, people are very hospitable on both sides.
Your book might give a jolt to pro-Azadi quarters in Kashmir. How does it conclude that independent Kashmir isn’t possible?
I have written how history shows India and Pakistan haven’t been able to resolve this dispute. Pakistan is ready for a plebiscite, but India will never go for it. Both countries will never allow Kashmir to become independent. It’s a waste of time. So we need to find another mechanism that might be acceptable to both countries.
Does your book offer some solution?
India and Pakistan should devolve this issue to the people of Kashmir, including Hindu Pandits who left the Valley, people of Gilgit and Baltistan, and those who moved into these areas. There should be serious discussion among the people of all regions for as long as it takes to work out what they want in terms of status. They may have different aspirations. For example, Jammu and Ladakh may want to stay with India; PoK will choose to stay with Pakistan and the Valley may say it wants to remain independent. You might have three different statuses together. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be independent. But they need to understand the ramifications of being independent. Being an independent, landlocked State anywhere in the world is difficult. Ultimately, the solution has to come from the people. My book offers hope that one day India and Pakistan will quit their intractable row and allow the people to resolve this dispute.
How long did the research and writing this book take? And what’s your new project about?
I started researching for it in 1996 and the writing part started in 2001. My wife Diane Barbeler is the first editor of my work. My next project is also about Kashmir, which will be called Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris. This one is particularly about the Kashmir Valley.