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Poonch rebellion, not tribal raid, triggered Kashmir conflict: Author
New book on J&K offers fresh perspective on dispute
NEW DELHI, Feb 27: An Australian politico-strategic analyst, author and academic specialising in South Asian studies in his latest book has dismissed India’s claim that Pakhtoon tribesmen stoked the Kashmir conflict in October 1947. On the contrary, he maintains that an uprising by the subjects of princely Jammu & Kashmir in Poonch, who were disenchanted with the Maharaja’s rule, triggered the conflict.

Christopher Snedden, author of ‘In Kashmir: The Unwritten History’, who is in the capital city to launch his book, said in an exclusive interview to Tehelka that the disunity among Kashmiri Muslims was to blame for determining the international status of pre-accession J&K.

Snedden said, in the interview, that disunity among Muslims in J&K was a major factor in deciding the international status of pre-accession J&K. 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.

Talking about the Poonch rebellion and its role in the status of Kashmir, the author said, “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.”

Quoting Snedden, the Tehelka report says, “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.”

Snedden further says that there is evidence to prove that those in New Delhi were aware of the Poonch uprising? “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.”

He also adds that probably Sheikh Abdullah also knew about the uprising as one can find it in some of his writings too. He adds that probably 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, Snedden points out in the interview. He quotes former editor of The Statesman, who 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”. Christopher Snedden avers that Nehru was probably a little bit more political. “He didn’t want to let this out because it would have strengthened Pakistan’s case,” he adds.

The author further points out that 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, he elaborates.

On Pakistan support to the uprising, Snedden maintains, “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.”

The author who concludes in his book that independent Kashmir isn’t possible, is quoting in the interview as saying, “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.”

Offering a solution, he says, “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.”

Christopher Snedden who started researching for his book in 1996 and also visited the state on both sides of the Line of Control several times with his wife Diane Barbeler, who is also the first editor of his book, is now planning to write another book on ‘Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris’, focused primarily on Kashmir Valley.
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News Updated at : Thursday, February 28, 2013
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