BY RSN SINGH
Article 35A, which essentially determines as to who can be permanent citizen of Jammu and Kashmir is the lynchpin of Article 370. It was a Presidential Order in the year 1954 by way of which Article 35A was made operative. It has never been intrinsic to the Indian Constitution. This stark illegality or Constitutional fraud has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
It was not that the illegality of Article 35A was lost out on the then President Rajendra Prasad, who was Doctorate in Law from Allahabad University. He also presided over the Constituent Assembly. He did question to Nehru, the desirability and the validity of the said Article. Nehru replied that notwithstanding the illegality of the Article, there was a pressing imperative for its promulgation, which was extremely confidential in nature, and which he would discuss with the President in person.
What was the imperative? Was the imperative, external?
A deep study by this author has clearly revealed that the territory of J&K, which most significantly includes Gilgit-Baltistan, has been a strategic and geopolitical arena in pursuit of power play by global powers of the world. The strategic and geopolitical forces that have shaped the narrative of Gilgit-Baltistan or J&K in the larger context can be discussed under various phases, such as:
- Pre-independence period
- Post-independence period (1947-48)
- Cold War Period
- Period of US Unipolarity
- China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
In 1850s, the British became paranoid about the Russians, who had made deep inroads in Central Asia. British strategic thinkers were deeply apprehensive that Gilgit would be the doorway for the Russian invasion of South Asia, especially India, the jewel in the British Empire. Consequently the British erected a watch tower in Gilgit and began to take undue interest in the affairs of Maharaja’s northern territories. In 1868, a British officer was posted in Gilgit to act as an intelligence outpost. A British political agency or the Gilgit Agency was established in 1877. For nearly four years, this British outpost went through extreme travails because of climate and altitude. Gilgit was closed to the rest of the world for eight months of the year.Logistically and in terms of military infrastructure, sustenance became very difficult. The Agency packed up in 1881, but only to come back in 1889 with much better logistics and military infrastructure.
Readers may be reminded that this was the same period in which the Durand Line was established in the year 1893. The very purpose of this line was to divide Pashtuns into various pockets, i.e. Afghanistan, NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), FATA and Balochistan. The prospect of Russians rolling down through Afghanistan and acquiring Pashtun support for conquer of India was the most disturbing threat scenario. The Durand Line thus became the security line between British possessions and Russia. This line in a way, was also a defined limit or threshold of penetration achieved by military and demographic means. In a way Gilgit-Baltistan or the Gilgit Agency was an extension of the Durand Line.
In 1913, The British created the Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary force, which had 600 Officers and men. Subsequently, the Russian threat became a Soviet Communist threat and therefore there was a greater urgency of securing the Northern borders.
In 1932, the British seconded one Col Calvin to Maharaja’s Civil Service and prevailed upon him to appoint the Col as his Prime Minister. Col Calvin through his machinations persuaded Maharaja Hari Singh to lease Gilgit out to the British Government of India for a period of 60 years w.e.f. 1935. It was in the same year that an airfield was built in Gilgit. The lease deed however clearly stated that while temporary administration was to be with the British, the territory essentially belonged to Maharaja. Gilgit-Baltistan was not only a buffer against the Russians but also to act as an outpost for Xinjiang in China, where the Russian activities had increased considerably.
By the time India got its Independence, the Russian threat has morphed into a much larger Communist threat from Soviet Union as well as China. This threat was reckoned at a global level by the British and later the Americans. Therefore there was no way that the British could have left this global threat unaddressed, which had strategic consequences for entire Asia.The fact that China was contiguous to Gilgit-Baltistan only accentuated the threat.
It was therefore an inescapable strategic interest for the British to create a disputed and more importantly divided status of Jammu and Kashmir so that they could manipulate the affairs of J&K in the two countries, i.e. Pakistan and India in deference to its strategic imperatives in Gilgit-Baltistan. In this strategic pursuit, it very much suited the British to ensure the possession of Gilgit-Baltistan by Pakistan, whose leader Jinnah had endeared himself to the colonial masters.
A fortnight before Independence (August 1947), the British terminated the lease of Gilgit and with this the charge of the area shifted to Brigadier Ghansara Singh, a governor appointed by Maharaja. Nevertheless, the Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts Major William Brown had different plans. He was known to be persistently advising Maharaja Hari Singh and Brigadier Ghansara Singh to join Pakistan. When this did not happen, Major Brown and his second–in-command Captain Maitheson, in October 1947,instigated their men (582 officers and men) of Gilgit Scouts to revolt against the Dogra rule. Major Brown declared that the Hindu rule had come to an end and Gilgit would join Pakistan even though the local leaders favoured Independence. It may be mentioned here that Gilgit-Baltistan was never a part of the Pakistan movement. As soon as the Maharaja signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’, the Independent Republic of Gilgit was declared. This Republic lasted merely for 16 daysand Brown deceitfully ensured that it came under Pakistan’s control as Northern Areas.
Could Major Brown, an Army Officer, have acted in violation of his British superiors? He used every means including the Muslim card to ensure that Gilgit-Baltistan does not remain in Indian possession.
Post-independence period (1947-48)
The chain of events in 1947 unambiguously indicates that the British had decided to reward Pakistan with J&K or divide it in a manner that strategically suited them. Ambassador Rajiv Dogra in his book, Where Borders Bleed, quotes HV Hodson (The Great Divide): ‘Kashmir was deliberately omitted from a Committee of States Representatives called by the Pre-Independence States Department of India to discuss the terms of accession, though Hyderabad was included’.
When Pakistan invasion of J&K in the garb of tribal began in 22 October 1947, Field Marshal Auchinleck was the Supreme Commander. Nehru in consultation with Sardar Patel had sacked Auchinleck in September 1947. Sardar Patel accused Auchinleck of ‘throttling the initiative of Headquarters Indian Army and acting as advance outpost of Pakistan’.Nevertheless, he continued to overstay in India as a member of Joint Defence Council.It is also established that at the time of invasion, the Pakistan Army Chief Gen Gracey and Indian Army Chief Gen Lockhart were in constant communication. Indeed, in early October, Gracey had informed Lockhart about the assembly of armed tribals at Rawalpindi. Had Lockhart in turn fulfilled his duty of informing the Indian Cabinet the invasion could have been disrupted at the point of ingress itself. It was many days later i.e. on 22 October that 250 trucks carrying 5000 Afridi and Mehsud tribesmen and regular Pakistani soldiers on leave entered J&K. The marriage between jihadi irregulars and Pakistan military was thus solemnized by Jinnah and the British at the very inception of Pakistan.
Look at the wicked imperial mindset of the British Indian Army Chief –in a meeting in the wake of the invasion, when the situation had become alarming and was crying for immediate Indian response General Lockhart asked at the Defence Committee meeting, ‘Was Kashmir of vital importance to India?’ As per Ambassador Rajiv Dogra in the book ‘Where Borders Bleed’: Both Nehru and Patel asserted that Kashmir was vital to India’s very existence.’
The British but could be least bothered about the tenability of the new Indian State, all that mattered to them was their future strategic interests in the region.
Auchinlek, Lockhart and Gracey were acting to a pre-meditated script. In fact Gracey was not averse to the idea of formally supervising the operations once India responded militarily. Barner White – Spunner in his book ‘Partition’ (pg 318) says: ‘… Mountbatten had telephoned Gracey and told him that if he did move troops he would not get a knighthood.’’
The main British characters Gracey, Lockhart and even Mountbatten were convinced that J&K would fall to Pakistan within matter of days. Even an ailing Jinnah fell victim to this optimism and relocated himself to Lahore to make himself readily available for unfurling the Pakistani flag at Srinagar.Accordingly, even as the situation grew increasingly alarming, these British characters persisted using the legal spanner of‘Instrument of Accession’to thwart military intervention by India.Events however overtook their plans. Instrument of Accession was signed and the Indian leaders, particularly Patel, pounced on the opportunity of military intervention. Mountbatten had no choice but to acquiesce. He took responsibility for the spoilt script by a rather apologetic plea to his masters back home and wrote (Feb 48):
“… had the Indian troops not been sent to Kashmir, after the Instrument of Accession had been signed, the European inhabitants of the city would have been probably massacred, and the Government of India might have fallen—giving way to an extremist Government with the likelihood of an Inter-Dominion war.’’
The overriding worry of Mountbatten, the first Governor General of India were therefore Europeans, fall of Nehru government and war between the two dominions. What did Mountbatten imply by ‘extremist government’? Did it imply a government less faithful to British strategic agenda? Further, in case of an inter dominion war on all fronts who would have been the loser? It should be remembered that Pakistan as physical and psychological entity was still nebulous, far from structured. NWFP and Balochistan were resisting the concept of Pakistan with all their might.
Once India intervened militarily the British had to revise the script. The new script remained steadfast to the objective of ensuring possession of Gilgit-Baltistan if not entire J&K by Pakistan. As in the Great Game period this territory in conjunction with newly created Pakistan was critical for checking communist expansionism under the overarching leadership of Soviet Union. Whatever happened in the rest of J&K was a fallout of the strategic imperative of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is no brainer to appreciate that without a divided and disputed status of a territory, extra regional players cannot play their strategic games therein.
When the Pakistan dispensation hived off Gilgit-Baltistan from so called Azad Kashmir (75 percent – 72,496 kms out of 78,000 Kms) by way of Karachi agreement in 1949 Britain remained silent. When Gilgit-Baltistan was gifted to the Federal Government, the British still remained silent. It reinforced the assessment that primary strategic interest of British lay in Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan was only furthering Anglo-American strategic agenda.
It is rather inexplicable that when India lodged complain with the UN, it was not under Chapter VII which deals with aggression, it rather sought invocation of Chapter VI under which parties to dispute ask for pacific settlement of dispute by negotiations, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement. This was nothing but pandering to the British strategic agenda. In the diplomatic battlefield at the UN, Britain was brazenly on the side of Pakistan. Philip Noel Baker, Britain’s chief delegate at UN on Kashmir ensured that the aggression aspect was not discussed and he successfully managed to shift the entire focus on plebiscite. This partisan and cunning British diplomat was later conferred with Nobel Prize for Peace.
The British collusion in Pakistan’s aggression against India in the wake of Independence is most tellingly revealed in Ambassador Dogra’s book, ‘Where Borders Bleed’ (pg80): “The British in India were following the lead given to them from London; and it was clearly in favour of Pakistan. The chief of the Indian Army, General Roy Bucher (Lockhart’s successor), passed on vital Indian Army operations plans regularly to his counterpart in Pakistan, General Douglas Gracey. It was on the basis of the information passed on by General Bucher that India would not open a front in Punjab that Pakistan diverted a brigade-level force which it had kept in reserve for the defence of West Punjab, to Kashmir. Bucher also ensured that the desire of Maj KS Thimmayya, the Commander of 19 Infantry Division … to switch from cautious military approach to offensive action was not authorized by the Indian Cabinet.”
When Pakistan felt that the military situation was turning rapidly adverse it played the card of ‘collective defence against communism’.
Facts as discussed so far lead to the ineluctable conclusion that Indo-Pak War of 47-48 was scripted in London and orchestrated on ground by British Generals who led Indian and Pakistan Army respectively. Mountbatten was very much part of it. This entire British conspiracy had Gilgit-Baltistan as central objective, for which Kashmiris were, and continue to be just leverage.
Cold War Period
In the beginning of 1950s the leadership and strategic imperatives of the western world shifted from Britain to the US. Wars such as WW-II do engender such massive geopolitical shifts. By 1954 Pakistan had completely embraced the American camp. With Pakistan becoming a member of CENTO alliance — militarization of region was inevitable. CENTO was essentially a military pact to check Communist expansion. Mr Balraj Puri in his book, ‘Kashmir Insurgency and After’ talks about reaction of Nehru to the US Military Pact of 1954: ‘This produces a qualitative change in the existing situation and therefore it affects Indo-Pak relations more especially in Kashmir.’
A major consequence of the 1947-48 Indo-Pak war was the creation of Cease Fire Line (CFL) which post 1971 War became the Line of Control (LoC).
The ferment of Islamic radicalization that we are witnessing in the Valley in the name of ‘Kashmiriyat’ that too after the purge of the Hindus would have not been possible without the LoC. The LoC has indeed provided a closed arena for this ferment. Culturally and linguistically those residing in the PoK are totally different from Kashmiris and therefore the term ‘Azad Kashmir’ is a misrepresentation by Pakistan. To that extent the term PoK is also a misnomer and should be appropriately called PoJ&K.
Consequent to the Pakistan’s military pact with the US, J&K including the Kashmir Valley became victim of the Cold War. It became a sort of ‘tug of war’ between the US and the Soviet Union. Prior to this the Soviet Union had maintained an ambivalent or pro-Pakistan posturing with regard to J&K. In 1954, it changed overnight.
In December 1955, the President of Soviet Union, Khruschev and the Prime Minister Bulganin visited Kashmir and declared: ‘The question of Kashmir as one of the states of India has already been decided by the people of Kashmir.’
Geopolitically, the Soviet support as a spinoff of the Cold War was a blessing for India. India was no longer beholden to the Anglo-American camp internationally and at the UN. Soviet Union, India’s new strategic partner, vetoed all resolutions on J&K that were contrary to the Indian position. The Americans, however, only stepped up their activities in the Kashmir Valley by creating new leverages, which included Sheikh Abdullah. He was proving to be too malleable to the strategic agenda of the Anglo-American camp. The American strategic embrace of Pakistan spurred Sheikh Abdullah to make a secret bid for independence from India. He was arrested with his lieutenant Mirza Afzal Beg and 22 others for conspiring against India.
Bolstered by the Soviet support, the Indian leaders grew increasingly bold on the Kashmir issue. In 1957, the then Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, visited Srinagar and declared that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was integral part of India and question of plebiscite did not arise. The impact of the new geopolitical equations is best summed up by Gunnar Jarring, the UN representative in 1957. Mr Balraj Puri quotes him: “I could not fail to take note of the concern, express in connection with the political, economic and strategic factors surrounding the whole of the Kashmir question, together with the changing pattern of power relations in west and south Asia … implementation of international agreement … may become progressively more difficult.”
The favourable geopolitical situation owing to the Soviet strategic patronage emboldened the Indian leadership to effect a slew of Constitutional amendments in 1964. Articles 356 and 357 were made applicable to the State, which gave the Center the power to dissolve the State Assembly and the head of the State (now the Governor) was no longer to be elected by the State Assembly but was to be nominated by the Center. This could not have been possible without the strong Will of Chief Minister GM Sadiq, known to be close to the Soviet Union.
The Cold War exposed the truth that the J&K problem was a British construct to meet the Communist challenge. Later when Britain lost its numero uno position in the region, the mantle was taken over by the US and J&K subsequently became an American project.
Period of US Unipolarity
Once the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in the end of 1980s, the Cold War had come to an end, the J&K arena was left entirely to the machinations of the US. J&K again became leverage or a stick to strategically and diplomatically manipulate or intimidate India. The blow-back of the defeat of Soviet Union in the grand finale of the Cold War in the battlefields of Afghanistan was most severe on J&K. Foreign jihadis imbued with the agenda of global jihad were redirected by the Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into J&K. This fallout possibly was not calculated by the US.
As the proxy war by Pakistan intensified, the US began to create new leverages. One such leverage was the Hurriyat conference created by the joint effort of the Robin Raphel and Pakistan High Commissioner to India Riaz Khokhar. Robin Raphel, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia under the Presidentship of Bill Clinton, was a India hater and known for ‘pro-Pakistan’ proclivities. This former CIA analyst served in the US Embassy in India between 1991 and 1993. Significantly, her husband Arnold Raphel was US Ambassador to Pakistan and was killed with Zia-Ul-Haq in the plane crash. While in India, she made several visits to the Kashmir Valley and propagated the Pakistani position on J&K.
The unipolar global situation restricted the diplomatic maneuver space for India internationally with regard to J&K. The leaders of the Kashmir Valley, which includes the Muftis and Abdullahs exploited the Indian geopolitical compulsion. This explains the reason for the Kashmiri leaders, both mainstream and Hurriyat, to disregard the nationalist sensitivities of Indians and strut around on the Indian canvas with impunity. They carried with them the American and Pakistani stamp of authority. For the Hurriyat and the Kashmiri leaders, the High Commission of Pakistan became their second home.
Very many of these compulsions have been rendered effete by the radical change in the geopolitical circumstances, especially by the strategic challenges unleashed by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
The China factor has always weighed heavily on the J&K geopolitical narrative. It was very much a factor in the Great Game and thereafter. Even as the status of J&K remained disputed, Pakistan had begun to negotiate the borders of J&K with Xinjinag. The 1947-48 war in J&K was later to have a great significance for Sino-Pak partnership and now the CPEC. By managing to retain the PoK after the ceasefire, Pakistan carved direct geographic interface with China. Pakistan without the PoK would have little strategic value for China. It would not have been able to cede 5000 square kilometer territory of PoK to China and 1300 kilometer Karakoram Highway that connects Islamabad with Kashgar in Xinjiang. Without this territory the CPEC and the strategic thrust to Gwadar Port would also have not been possible.
The China factor in J&K also came into play before 1965 war. In February 1965, Sheikh Abdullah toured Europe, West Asia which included a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was accompanied by his wife and Mohammad Afzal Beg.He met the then Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai in Algiers. The Indian government construed this as an act of treason and threatened to cancel his passport if he did not return immediately. On his arrival at the Delhi airport in May 1965, he and Beg were arrested.
CPEC is the lynchpin of China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Setback to BRI will be setback to China’s maritime strategic thrust in the Gulf region. The US and its allies are loath to the presence of a another robust player in the oil-rich region. Pakistan’s facilitation to Chinese thrust in this region will not be taken kindly. It will be contested in by every means and every form.
This strategic reality is not lost out on China. It is acutely conscious that it cannot pour billions of dollars on CPEC whose most critical segment traverses Gilgit-Baltistan, a territory rightfully claimed by India. Hence it has been leveraging on Pak based jihadi outfits like the Jaish-e- Mohammad (JeM)and Kashmiri leaders, and hence it has been coming to the rescue of JeM and its chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Geopolitical orientation of Kashmiri leaders with regard to China and CPEC was underscored by Naeem Akhtar, the PWD minister in J&K government in a recent interview to the Indian Express. He said: “The Kashmir issue is not limited to the fight between India &Pakistan. There is another major factor involved. It is’nt Pak alone, it is China too. General (Bipin Rawat) said that the Army is ready to fight on both fronts—but there aren’t two fronts any more. Now it is one single front circling around. From Bhutan to Arunanchal, Ladakh Valley to Jammu, Sri Lanka and Maldives, it is all one front. Pakistan and China aren’t separate.’’ Akhtar unequivocally accepted that Beijing has literally adopted JeM. His arguments finally culminated in the suggestion which implied that because of the emergence of China factor, India must talk to Pakistan. The China threat card was sort of ploy to compel India to push for permanent territorial settlement of J&K, in deference to CPEC. Again, the prized territory, which the march of history could not alter, is Gilgit-Baltistan. Only the player has changed, this time it is China.
Use of jihadi outfits and leaders in quest of endurance and stability of CPEC is not confined to J&K. In fact the CPEC has pitched China into many conflict zones, including Balochistan. Reports reveal that China has been directly confabulating with Baloch militants for last five years. As per Financial Times: ‘’China has been in direct contact with militants in the south-western province, where many of the schemes of most important projects are located.’’
Reportedly, the Chinese are offering money to those Baloch youth who surrender weapons. China has recently manipulated the change in the provincial government of Balochistan guided by the exigencies of the CPEC. In Kashmir Valley too, the Pro-China and Pro-CPEC proclivities of the Kashmiri leaders is getting increasingly pronounced, primarily because Pak-China strategic and territorial embrace hurts India.
Earlier China did political manipulation in target countries through the communist parties. Now with very deep pockets it is brazenly manipulating mainstream political parties. The visit of Rahul Gandhi to the Chinese embassy at the height of Doklam crisis is an open invitation for political interference.
The J&K problem is a foreign creation, rooted in colonial manipulation. J&K without respite has served as strategic playground for Britain, then US, then Soviet Union and now China. Article 370 and Article 35(A) actually are reminder and instrumentalities of slavery under neo-colonialism. India can indeed adjust to geopolitical circumstances but cannot be perpetually subservient to it. The government and the judiciary must redeem India from this curse.
In the post Independence history of India, the geopolitical situation has never been so favourable. The J&K issue has lost traction in the international arena. Pakistan’s strategic embrace of US has been supplanted by territorial embrace with China, much to the strategic chagrin of larger international community. The entire narrative on J&K has altered and will remain so if CPEC persists.
These realities and opportunities should not be wasted by the government. Article 370 and 35(A) should not be permitted to strangle India. Article 35(A) did not dissuade the anti-national leaders in Kashmir and their patrons in Delhi from settling Rohingyas around most sensitive army installations in the Jammu region.
Let Article 370 and 35(A) be a crying case for judiciary to adjudicate after delving deep into geopolitical and strategic aspects of J&K.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)