Kashmir: The origins of the dispute Current tensions go back decades By Victoria Schofield, author of Kashmir in Conflict
In August 1947 when the Indian subcontinent became independent from Britain, all the rulers of the 565 princely states, whose lands comprised two-fifths of India and a population 99 million, had to decide which of the two new dominions to join, India or Pakistan. The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, whose state was situated between the two new countries, could not decide which country to join. He was Hindu, his population was predominantly Muslim. He therefore did nothing. Instead he signed a “standstill” agreement with Pakistan in order that services such as trade, travel and communication would be uninterrupted. India did not sign a similar agreement. Law and order In October 1947, Pashtun tribesmen from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province invaded Kashmir. There had been persistent reports of communal violence against Muslims in the state and, supported by the Pakistani Government, they were eager to precipitate its accession to Pakistan. Mountbatten favoured Kashmir’s temporary accession to India Troubled by the increasing deterioration in law and order and by earlier raids, culminating in the invasion of the tribesmen, the ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, requested armed assistance from India. The then Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, believed the developing situation would be less explosive if the state were to accede to India, on the understanding that this would only be temporary prior to “a referendum, plebiscite, election”. According to the terms of the Instrument of Accession, India’s jurisdiction was to extend to external affairs, defence and communications. Troops airlifted Exactly when Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession has been hotly debated for over 50 years. Nehru’s representative met the ruler of Kashmir Official Indian accounts state that in the early hours of the morning of 26 October, Hari Singh fled from Srinagar, arriving in Jammu later in the day, where he was met by V P Menon, representative of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and signed the Instrument of Accession. On the morning of 27 October, Indian troops were airlifted into Srinagar. Recent research, from British sources, has indicated that Hari Singh did not reach Jammu until the evening of 26 October and that, due to poor flying conditions, V P Menon was unable to get to Jammu until the morning of 27 October , by which time Indian troops were already arriving in Srinagar. In order to support the thesis that the Maharaja acceded before Indian troops landed, Indian sources have now suggested that Hari Singh signed an Instrument of Accession before he left Srinagar but that it was not made public until later. This was because Hari Singh had not yet agreed to include the Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, in his future government. To date no authentic original document has been made available. Pakistan immediately contested the accession, suggesting that it was fraudulent, that the Maharaja acted under duress and that he had no right to sign an agreement with India when the standstill agreement with Pakistan was still in force. Pakistanis also argued that because Hari Singh fled from the valley of Kashmir , he was not in control of his state and therefore not in a position to take a decision on behalf of his people. ‘Bad faith’ In the context of Pakistan’s claim that there is a dispute over the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the accession issue forms a significant aspect of their argument. By stating that the Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October, when it clearly was not, Pakistan believes that India has not shown good faith and consequently that this invalidates the Instrument of Accession. Indians argue, however, that regardless of the discrepancies over timing, the Maharaja did choose to accede to India and he was not under duress. On the basis of his accession, India claims ownership of the entire state which includes the approximately one-third of the territory currently administered by Pakistan. In 1949 Maharaja Hari Singh was obliged by the Government of India to leave the state and hand over the government to Sheikh Abdullah. He died in Bombay in 1962.