Two days after Maharaja Hari Singh acceded the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India on October 31, 1947, a Pakistani flag was hoisted at the headquarters of Gilgit Scouts by British officer Major William Alexander Brown. November 2 to be precise. It was a British operation and Brown himself called it a ‘coup’ taking Hari Singh’s regent Ghansara Singh prisoner. He reported that Gilgit was taken, through higher-ups in Peshawar, to the British Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army Douglas Gracey in Karachi. A few months later, on February 1948, a Pakistani Army column, still under the overall command of a British General, moved from Gilgit via Skardu toward Buddhist Ladakh with the intention of capturing Leh. Thankfully it was stopped by an Indian Army formation, after a first-for-the-world military operation, moving tanks up the 3,500 meters high Zoji La pass. Brown was bestowed the ‘Most Exalted Order of the British Empire’ (OBE) by the King of England for this service to the retreating Empire in 1948!
But more remains to be told. Immediately after this coup, as Lord Mountbatten was persuading Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru to take the Kashmir developments to the United Nations, the then British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin was prevailing upon his American counterpart Secretary of State George Marshall to let Kashmir become a dispute. “The main issue is who would control the main artery into Central Asia. The Indian proposals would leave that in their hands…,” is how Bevin put the issue before a not-so-sure Marshall on the side-lines of UN General Assembly meeting in Paris on October 27, 1948. For a nail-biting account of that period and the developments read Narendra Singh Sarila’s 2005 book ‘The Untold Story of India’s Partition’ which gives a peep into the mind of the British government that saw Kashmir issue as strategic not legal.
What then is this bogey of Kashmir’s “internationalization” that so ties India’s foreign policy establishment into knots? From its accession in 1947 to the abrogation of its special status through Article-370 on August 5, 2019, the State of Jammu and Kashmir has been discussed at hundreds of international platforms, most notably at the United Nations itself. Directly at Tashkent, or indirectly, through the offices of the likes of Adlai Stevenson among others, many have tried their hands, and yet Kashmir has held good its legal relationship with India. It was never stronger as it stands today. More importantly, we live in times when the issue of a maid’s altercation with her employer in my Noida condominium can become a subject matter for both The New York Times and The Washington Post to discuss.
The idea of writing this a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes his address at the UNGA in New York is to underscore a couple of points. One, Kashmir is an integral part of India, and yet, has been in the crosshairs of a global great power game since independence. Two, for the same reason, it’s time we overcame the fear of the world discussing it in any manner and focus on pushing our narrative instead. I say this on a day when the British Labour party – which midwife India’s independence and Kashmir’s division in 1947 – has passed a resolution seeking mediation to solve the issue. Also, on a day when the new keeper of the Ummah, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has raised Kashmir from the UN. Erdogan incidentally questioned the existence itself of Israel in the same speech.
Roughly the same time as that of Reconstruction Era in the United States, Japan hit the road to Meiji Restoration, opening to the world for learning, and fully focus on the uplift of the national mass under the Emperor. Shutting out all conflict was integral to the national project. The Meiji period over the next four decades underscored a nation's collective will to dream of a progressive future, which Japan continues to live in some ways even a century later. China took a similar route under Deng Xiaoping, his pragmatism encapsulated in his dictum “hide your ambitions and disguise your claws.” Chinese detente with the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and its subsequent rise over the last four decades is recent history. Behind the self-assured brazenness of today's China is that period of focusing all energies on developing economically and not concern itself much with the world.
Between his ‘All-Is-Well’ speech at the NRG Stadium in the presence of President Donald Trump, and the keynote addresses at the Climate Summit, Bloomberg business summit, and the Gates Foundation award in New York, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has underscored the intent of an India that only looks ahead. The diplomatic blitz over the last five days has created a picture of India that is not going to be affected by the distractions of history. The solar power plant atop UN building and the Gandhi peace garden inside a NY campus highlight the global ambitions of India as a responsible member of the comity of nations. So, as he takes to the podium at the UNGA tomorrow, it would be good if Kashmir finds mention only in the context of Pakistan’s sponsoring of terror, and the rest of the speech focuses on Modi’s USD 5-trillion project instead. Post-August 5, India can be more confident that while the world is free to discuss Kashmir, it increasingly sees the Indian perspective – both legal and historical. When Imran Khan rakes up Kashmir, as he would, we can leave it to our young diplomats to respond. The world knows the difference.