The Day That Changed Kashmir's Fate

22 October 2009
The Week


Srinagar: On Thursday, it will be 62 years since tribal invaders descended on Jammu and Kashmir from the Pakistani side, laying the seeds of a dispute that would turn the region into one of the world's most enduring flashpoints. London-based Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Choudhry describes Oct 22, 1947, as a 'black day'. He says Jammu and Kashmir would never have been a subject of dispute had Pakistan not launched 'unprovoked tribal aggression against the people of the state' more than six decades ago. Choudhry, who belongs to the Kashmir National Party (KNP), says Pakistan unleashed 'extremist war in (the) name of jehad in 1947 to advance (its) political agenda' in the state that was yet to decide on whether to accede to India or Pakistan after the blood-stained partition of the subcontinent. 'If there was no tribal invasion, then there might have been no Kashmir dispute,' Choudhry told IANS in an e-mail interview. 'Oct 22 is a black day in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The attack of the tribesmen forced the ruler of the state to seek help from India and subsequently accede to India.' Kashmir was one of the 565 autonomous states of British India that had a choice to accede either to secular India or Muslim-dominated Pakistan after the end of colonial rule. The accession, however, was the prerogative of the ruler, not of the population. Most of these princely states acceded peacefully, except for Junagadh (Gujarat), Hyderabad, Tripura and Jammu and Kashmir. Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, then ruled by a Hindu maharaja, proved to be and still is the biggest bone of contention between India and Pakistan - the two countries that rule the state in parts but claim it in full. Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler of the state, who was dreaming of Kashmir as an independent nation, had signed a standstill agreement with India and Pakistan to buy more time to decide on the political affiliation of his state. As history has it, the agreement was violated by Pakistan that tried to force the issue, encouraging first a local uprising and then an invasion by tribesmen backed by its army. On Oct 22, 1947, thousands of Pakistani tribesman from the North West Frontier of Province (NWFP), known as Lashkars, invaded the state, letting loose a rein of terror. Nearly 1-3rd of the territory now known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, or Pakistan-administered Kashmir, fell to the raiders before the maharaja pleaded to India for help. Indian troops, airlifted into the Kashmir Valley on Oct 27, succeeded in blocking the tribal army's advance beyond Baramulla, a frontier district in the north of the valley. BBC's Andrew Whitehead, who has chronicled the tribal raids in his 'A Mission in Kashmir' (2007), gives an account of one of the survivors of the invasion. Sister Emilia, a nurse in a Christian missionary hospital, spoke about the time 'when the faith and vocation of the missionaries had been put to their greatest test', Whitehead writes in his book. 'There were rumours that they (tribesmen) were coming - we were thinking they won't do nothing to us. The Monday after the feast of Christ the King they reach here. Then they started to shoot. They came inside. We were working still. Our dispensary was working still. The hospital had patients. They were on the veranda of the hospital, going from one ward to another,' Emilia is quoted as saying in the book. 'Sister Emilia and other nuns were lined up in the mission grounds, sure they would be shot. They were saved by a man who turned out to be a Pakistan army officer in civilian clothes who had been given the task of instilling a semblance of military coordination among the invaders,' Whitehead writes. The tribal army, although indisciplined, was a formidable fighting force. But at Baramulla, as the Pathans dispersed in search of loot, it lost its momentum. Many Kashmiri Muslims initially viewed the tribesmen 'as liberators', but their 'appetite for loot' cost them that support. The tribesmen managed to advance to the outskirts of Srinagar before the maharaja came off the fence and signed up to India. It was a profound political and military setback for Pakistan's ambitions in Kashmir. Kashmir remains one of the world's most enduring geopolitical faultlines, complicated by the rise of Islamic radicalism and the three wars India and Pakistan fought over the land.