Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha’s remark that PoK would have been with India, had India opted for a military solution, has revived the debate on decisions taken by our leaders 70 years ago
The recent remarks of the Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir would have been with India, if the country had opted for a military solution to settle the Kashmir issue rather than having taken the moral high ground and rushing to the United Nations for a settlement, are indeed significant.
In unusually candid remarks on the conflict in Jammu & Kashmir in 1947, when Pakistan sent in hordes of raiders into the State, the IAF chief said India did not follow a pragmatic approach to secure its interests. As a result, PoK has become a “thorn in our flesh”. According to Air Chief Marshal Raha, our foreign policy was enshrined in the charter of the UN, the charter of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as the Panchsheel doctrine. In his view, “We have been governed by high ideals and we really did not follow a very pragmatic approach ...to security needs.” As a result, we had ignored the role of military power to maintain a conducive environment.
Recalling how the IAF was pressed into service at a critical moment in October 1947, to rush troops and equipment to the Kashmir valley, he said the problem still persisted because, when a military solution was in sight, the country went to the UN for a peaceful solution, which never came about. The IAF chief’s remarks revive the debate on some controversial decisions taken by the country’s political leadership at that time, which has burdened the nation with a festering problem for 70 years. The problem began soon after independence. Following partition, all Indian States were given the option to accede to either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh of the State of Jammu & Kashmir was considering the idea of an independent State but was unable to make up his mind.
While he kept dilly-dallying on the issue, he was confronted with the Pakistani invasion of his State. Pakistan pushed thousands of heavily armed tribesmen in October 1947 across the border in a bid to capture the State by force. These tribesmen, led by Pakistani Army regulars attacked Muzaffarabad and soon thereafter, captured large parts of the State. The Jammu & Kashmir State Army, which comprised of Muslims and Dogras, was called upon to defend the State’s borders, but the Army was crippled by desertions. The Muslims deserted the State Army, joined the invaders and even provided them logistically and other support. Despite the desertions, the State Army led by Brig Rajinder Singh offered valiant resistance at Uri for two days. But once this resistance collapsed, the intruders captured Baramulla and were on the outskirts of Srinagar. They also cut off the power supply to Srinagar.
Thus, within days, Maharaja Hari Singh realized that his indecisiveness was costing him the State. He then pressed the panic button and made a desperate appeal for Indian forces. Despite the grave implications that these developments had for India’s strategic interests, the Jawaharlal Nehru Government took the view that it had no locus standi to go to the rescue of this State unless the State acceded to India. The Maharaja finally signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, and New Delhi began a massive airlift of troops to Srinagar from the early hours of October 27. Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s assertiveness ensured that the Indian Army arrived in Srinagar just in the nick of time. Within a fortnight, Baramulla and the heights of Uri were re-taken. Air Chief Marshal Raha’s comments relate to these events.
However, while the Army was on the job, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took the fateful decision on January 1, 1948 — much against the advice of Sardar Patel — to complain to the UN Security Council. India told the UN that Pakistan was aiding and abetting the intrusions into the valley but the latter vehemently denied its involvement. Following India’s complaint, the UN Security Council decided to set up a commission to assess the claims and counterclaims of the two countries. After persistent denials, Pakistan owned up that its Army units were engaged in the Kashmir operation. The UN Commission then passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire, followed by the vacation of aggression by Pakistan.
However, before he approached the UN, Nehru went to Lahore on December 8, 1947, to plead with his counterpart, Liaquat Ali Khan, to initiate steps to de-escalate tensions by issuing an appeal to the Pakistani intruders in Kashmir to withdraw. According to VP Menon, Secretary in the States Department at that time, Khan pleaded helplessness on the ground that he ran a moderate Government that was already under attack by the media for its failure to fully back the Azad Kashmir movement. If he issued such an appeal, there was every danger of his Government being dislodged by a more extremist political entity. Instead, Liaquat Ali Khan said, “it would be better for India to withdraw its forces and appoint an impartial administration in the state”. Nehru returned empty-handed from Lahore and thereafter decided to go to the UN. This hurt India’s interests on two counts: One, it internationalized the Kashmir dispute; and two, it stopped the Indian Army from finishing the job of throwing out the intruders. In fact, it is said that the ceasefire was ordered at a time when the Army needed just a few more days to complete its task. Further, the decision to beseech the UN showed India up as a weak state that needed third party intervention to throw out an aggressor. It led to the UN setting up a Commission and posting its observers along the ceasefire line and encouraged the US and other Western nations to meddle in India internal affairs.
Most Indians who are acquainted with the events that unfolded in Kashmir in the last quarter of 1947 are aware of how Kashmir got divided and how PoK became a thorn in India’s flesh. Air Chief Marshal Raha has only re-kindled those unpleasant memories of the pusillanimity of the Indian state from the very day of our independence and how this has been the unfortunate template for dealing with issues concerning India’s strategic interests. Also, despite our democratic experience over 70 years, the Nehruvian establishment’s tradition of burying the truth is still so entrenched in the national capital that eyebrows are raised even when a serving chief of our Armed Forces speaks of what went wrong 70 years ago. But we must thank Air Chief Marshal Raha for his candidness because, in security and military-related matters, the only unvarnished truth will serve the national interest!