Circa 1950 was as momentous a year in Kashmir’s chequered history as any other. On May 1, 1950, Sadar-i-Riyasat Karan Singh issued a proclamation convoking a Constituent Assembly. Elections were held in September-October 1950 which were boycotted by pro-Pakistan elements. The session opened on October 31, 1950, but Pakistan took the matter to the Security Council on November 14 calling upon India to refrain from proceeding with the proposal for a Constituent Assembly.
Sir BN Rau, representing India at the Security Council stated on March 29, 1951, “Some members of the Council appear to fear that in the process, the Kashmir Constituent Assembly might express its opinion on the question of accession. The Constituent Assembly cannot be physically prevented from expressing its opinion on this question if it so chooses. But this opinion will not bind my government or prejudice the position of this council.”
The very next day, the Security Council appointed US Senator Dr Frank P Graham as its representative. He was given a staff of eleven members including General Jacob J Devers, former commander of the 6th Allied army that invaded Germany in the final assault as his military adviser. The team arrived in India on June 30, 1951 and stayed for eleven weeks.
It was the visit to Srinagar and the meeting with Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi that assumed the greatest significance during this visit. On July 7, 1951, an Indian emissary, bearing Panditji’s letter for Sheikh Saheb on his dialogue with Graham in Delhi, arrived in Srinagar. Graham and his party were to arrive in Srinagar the next day which was a Sunday. Sheikh, anxious to know what transpired in the meeting between Graham and Nehru, convened a meeting at 5 pm in Bakshi’s house. The emissary’s description of the meeting between Nehru and Graham were well received by Sheikh and Bakshi and both agreed to follow Panditji’s line.
On Sunday, the day of the arrival of Graham’s party, no interest was seen among the general public as was the case earlier when any prominent members of the UNCIP or representative of the Security Council was expected in the city. The general impression among the people both for and against the NC, was that Graham won’t be able to settle anything.
Only three meetings took place between Graham and Sheikh. The first was just a courtesy call in which no politics was discussed, except general things like Sheikh Saheb’s impressions about the state and what Kashmir could offer to a person holidaying there.
In the second meeting, when Graham expressed a desire to know Sheikh Saheb’s views on the Kashmir dispute, Sheikh took the same line suggested to him by Panditji by relating the history of political and economic resurgence of the people of Kashmir from 1930 onwards. Dr Graham did very little talking except for the fact that at places where a point seemed too fresh or new to him, he asked Sheikh Saheb to give more details. Such occasions were like when Sheikh stated to him the role of the Muslim League and Jinnah with regard to the Quit Kashmir movement and during 1943-44 when Jinnah visited the state and wanted Sheikh to convert the National Conference back to Muslim Conference.
Graham showed his interest to the extent that he asked Sheikh to provide him material in the shape of newspaper reports or any publications concerning these subjects. On the whole, Sheikh’s impression reportedly about the second meeting was that it was in the nature of a general survey of events in Kashmir and in India before the Partition. In this meeting, Sheikh did make a passing reference to the role of Britain vis a vis the Congress and the Muslim League.
The third meeting took place on the same day in the evening after the lunch thrown in honour of Graham concluded at Shalimar. Bakshi also participated in this meeting and the nature of talks was more specific on certain issues than in the previous meetings. Sheikh laid great stress on the correctness of India’s foreign policy and tried to impress upon Graham not to take Kashmir as an isolated issue, but as part of a bigger problem and in the context of India-Pakistan relations.
While discussing the conflict in Kashmir, Sheikh took a very legal position that he had never taken before. After discussion in detail once again the role of the Muslim League, the Congress and the British, he suggested the solution of the problem was an overall plebiscite only after the ruler’s sovereign authority was established in the entire state. Taking up cudgels on behalf of the sovereign authority – the Maharaja of Kashmir – he stressed that that as long as people don’t repudiate the Maharaja by any recognized international method, how can United Nations overthrow him just because it suits the interests of Pakistan? He stretched this point further by saying that if the King of England cannot be moved on the request of any foreign power, in the same way, the Maharaja in his own right cannot be dethroned or made to dismember his own state.
While coming to the British policy in the Middle East and the role which Pakistan was made to play, he pointed out to Dr Graham that it was the game of the British to nurture and shape Pakistan as a leader of these countries. He further emphasised that because the British had received a tough fight from the Congress both before Independence and after partition, it was the objective of the policy makers of Britain to bring India to her knees and build Pakistan, since it was their own creation. Sheikh frankly even expressed his regret at the way the US government’s State Department was being led into a blind alley by Britain.
While coming to the sincerity and honesty of purpose of the leaders of India, Pakistan and the rest of the world, Sheikh Saheb was almost lyrical in praising Gandhi and Nehru. He told Dr Graham that Pandit Nehru would prefer to go down fighting for his principles of truth, honesty and integrity, rather than speak lies like Liaquat Ali Khan and Sir Zafarullah Khan with whom it was a passion to pronounce big lies and to repudiate them when faced with an awkward situation like the presence of their troops in Kashmir.
As the discussion grew more animated, Dr Graham put a straight question about the solution of the Kashmir problem in the light of the Security Council’s decision. Sheikh and Bakshi in one voice told him that much as they would prefer to help him solve the problem, they were not in any manner bound by the decisions of the latest resolution of the Security Council which was rejected by them. They stated that to them the solution of the problem could be achieved if the UN gives precedence to justice and fair play over power blocs.
Sheikh’s final reactions to his three meetings with Dr Graham were that he appeared to be a good natured man, faced with an awkward situation of settling a problem for which his terms of reference give him very little scope to suggest methods other than laid down in the Security Council’s resolution.
After an interface with the local media, the impression that Dr Graham gave is that he was on the fringes of the problems and did not see much chance of his mission succeeding. His colleague PJ Schmidt said that they were on a delicate and serious mission. When quizzed further by the gathered media on whether the mission was serious, Graham backed off and said that it was only delicate and not very serious, as that give it a completely different connotation.
Anyway, by September, Graham dispatched letters to the two prime ministers inviting their suggestions on detailed plans for demilitarisation. But let Mohd. Yusuf Saraf take up the narrative: Most of the proposals were not of substantive nature. While India accepted most of them including proposal number four which reaffirmed her acceptance of the principle that the question of the state’s accession to India and Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of UN, India proposed that on their side of the cease fire line, the minimum number of troops, she would like to keep was one line of communication area-headquarters, and one infantry division of four brigades of four battalions each, plus the state militia comprising a force of 6000, all totaling about 35,000 troops.
On the Pakistan side of the cease fire line, India insisted like in the past that Azad Forces be disbanded and disarmed and at the end of demilitarisation, there should not be a force of more than 4000 men consisting of persons resident in Azad Kashmir only, half to be followers of Azad Kashmir and the other half not followers. This force was to be commanded by officers or locals only. The Government of India added that demilitarisation was not possible within ninety days and further refused to give a commitment on when the plebiscite administrator would be inducted.
Once again, there was a deadlock. And so the ping pong carried on, till Graham wrote to the two prime ministers saying that demilitarization should be completed by July 15, 1952 and the administrator appointed not later than the final day of the demilitarization period. But nothing materialised and the chain of events over the next several months saw the Security Council continue to debate the issue, but to no avail, though Graham carried on gamely. India was sticking to its stand of disbanding and disarming Azad Kashmir forces and territorial integrity.
As the haranguing and wrangling over demilitarization got worse, Graham’s fifth report also saw no headway being made, the Security Council practically gave up the ghost after Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest. Pakistan, receiving military aid from the US and joining SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, helped India mobilise non aligned world opinion against it.
Finally, Kashmir re-emerged on the Security Council’s front-burner in February, 1957 when Australia, Cuba, the K and US introduced a fresh resolution. But in a stunning reversal of events, Russia vetoed it. What was this resolution?
After taking note of Pakistan’s proposal for a UN supervisory force for the demilitarisation programme, the resolution asked its president, the representative from Sweden, to proceed to the subcontinent and enter into negotiations with the two governments to examine proposals for progress towards the settlement. With the Russian veto, the colour and text of the resolution changed and all references to the UN supervisory force was jettisoned. This is when VK Krishna Menon spoke for thirteen hours as he slammed Pakistan for being the aggressor in Kashmir and asked it to vacate the Azad Kashmir territory. Yusuf Saraf writes : “His main argument was that Kashmir not having opted out of India at the time of Partition, remained a part of India”.
Around the same time, a letter purportedly written by Sheikh Abdullah from Kud jail was smuggled to Pakistan via Gulmarg and handed over to Mehraj-ul Hassan, SP heading Kashmir Intelligence and passed on to Security Council members and its president. The letter saw the usual Sheikh, vociferous and angry: “In March 1956, the Indian prime minister made a public declaration ruling out plebiscite in Kashmir. It has shocked the world conscience and stunned the people of Kashmir to whom innumerable assurances had been held out that they will shape their own destiny through a fair and impartial plebiscite.
“Reasons advanced for this volte face are that Pakistan has joined SEATO, received arms from the US and signed the Baghdad Pact. The absurdity of this argument is patent. Kashmir is at present ruled by monstrous laws which have crippled all political and social life and paralyzed all progress”.
The Sheikh who stood for nationalism, the Sheikh who engaged Graham in a wordy duel and battled the Maharaja for freedom and fundamental rights, why did he begin thinking of the middle path of autonomy and distancing himself from the Indian Union? In previous chapters, one has dealt with the phenomenon, accentuated by the growing divide between Jammu and Kashmir provinces till Sheikh began to think on a religious divide.
But to go back in time once again, one needs to look at how Sheikh’s psyche was changing as he began to distrust Nehru and Delhi. Sheikh Abdullah, on many an occasion since 1948, indirectly demanded an autonomous Kashmir, even if that Kashmir was truncated, but always stopped short highlighting practical difficulties with regard to its geographical location. However, somewhere along the way he was encouraged by the US-UK interests. In May 1949, Sheikh in a statement to the Sunday Observer and Scotsman said: “Accession to either side cannot bring peace. We want to live in friendship with both the Dominions. Perhaps a middle path between them with economic cooperation with each will be the only way to do it. However, an independent Kashmir must be guaranteed not only by India and Pakistan, but also by Great Britain, the US and the UN”.
Were these merely trial balloons, which when Sheikh discovered did not find any takers or backers evolved into a fully autonomous Kashmir carved out from the state on religious lines including the Azad Kashmir area? It is believed that these ideas were spawned after his visits to Europe and the US in 1949 and 1951 respectively. Speaking to the Constituent Assembly on March 25, 1952 and referring to independence as an alternative solution, Sheikh said: “Suppose for the sake of argument that the people do not ratify this accession, the position that will follow would not be that as a matter of course Kashmir becomes part of Pakistan. No, that would not happen. That cannot happen legally or constitutionally. What would happen in such an eventuality would be that the state would regain the status that it enjoyed immediately preceding the accession. Let us be clear about it.”
The game was afoot. Soon after, The Times, London in an editorial declared on May 8, 1952: “If Delhi and Kashmir have tended to assume in the past that Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference party were pliable instruments dedicated to strengthening the ties between Kashmir and India, the time has come to revise this assumption. Sheikh has made it clear that he is as much opposed to domination by India as to subjugation by Pakistan. He claims sovereign authority without limitation by the Constitution of the Indian Union.
“He knows that he may have to accept protection from outside, but he insists that Kashmiri people have the right to rule themselves. This stand has a strong appeal to Kashmiris on both sides of the cease fire line; and if this movement of purely Kashmiri nationalism were to gain ground, it might well oblige India, Pakistan, and the UN to modify their views about what ought to be done next”.
And as if this wasn’t enough. The New York Times filed this report from Delhi on April 12, 1952 : “Indians are disquieted by the firm assertions of sovereignty for the princely state of J&K by Sheikh Abdullah, premier of India-held part of this northern territory……Sheikh Abdullah’s provocative statements appear to be timed with the report of Dr Graham……Sheikh told his Constituent Assembly that his local legislative body was one hundred per cent sovereign and that no parliament, be it Indian or any other country, has any authorisation here”.
Finally, speaking at Khanyar, on July 13, 1953 only days before his dismissal, he said, “We don’t want this state to be made an appendage of India or Pakistan. No power on earth should stand in the way of Kashmiris in taking this decision. And it should never happen that Kashmiris are led by the nose and dragged towards a direction that they don’t like. It should be for Kashmiris to go wherever they choose.”
And yet, his number two and the man who aligned himself with India when it came to the crunch – Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed – remained in direct contact with Panditji and kept him abreast with the ground situation in the Valley. In many ways India’s mistrust of the way United Nations observers were trying to leverage the role of power blocs in the Valley can be gauged from a confidential note that J&K deputy prime minister GM Bakshi wrote to Panditji on June 25, 1951, only days before Graham’s visit:
“Ever since the UN observers have been posted in the state, their activities have given rise to doubts as to the proper discharge of their duties devolving on them for the purpose of keeping watch on the maintenance of the cease fire.
Of late, and particularly, after the decision to set up a Constituent Assembly in the state was taken, the activities of the UN observers have intensified. Their duties should have kept them close to the cease fire line, but they spend most of their time in the city and other towns in the Valley. They go about making contacts with civilians, in the main those who are known to be working for Pakistan like Col. Abdul Majid, Hafeez Vakil, Kh. Anayatullah Kakroo, Zaffar Yahya, Ghulam Ahmed Jeweller and Abdul Ahad of Nishat, and also foreign journalists who are already prejudiced in favour of Pakistan.
“During the course of their movements throughout the Valley, the observers many a time in plain clothes have been noticed taking photographs of various important places and strategic installations. The observers are also noticed to be moving about wherever there may be a public gathering.
“Some of the observers have been noticed making no secret of their pronounced bias towards Pakistan and they have been heard making abusive remarks about India and its prime minister and about the desire to see Pakistan established in Kashmir.
“It is clear that the UN observers in the state don’t confine themselves to their legitimate function of watching the cease fire line, but in a greater part act as agents of Pakistan. They are obviously abusing their position as functionaries of the UNO and are engaging themselves in what appears to be spying within the state.
“It has been gathered that the observers are chiefly directing their energies towards estimating reactions of people to this government and the accession of the state to India, with a view to drawing inferences about people’s real political aspirations.
“While on this subject, mention may be made also of the activities of the wife of the US Ambassador in India, Mrs Loy Henderson, who has been in Kashmir for some time. Ostensibly she is here for reason of climate, but it has been noticed that her contacts are mostly with well known Muslim Leaguers. The inference seems to be more than obvious”.
As if these comments were not damaging enough, particularly the bit about the American ambassador’s wife, Bakshi also forwarded an intercept from Commander John Cadwalader, UNO HQ, Srinagar to one Dr Francis Fisher Hart in Ambler, Pennsylvania, USA which was truly shocking :
“The work consists in trying by various means to prevent war between India and Pakistan from starting again, and so far this has been accomplished, but because of the stiff necked and uncompromising attitude of Nehru and the Indian government, I don’t know how much longer we can prevail. Incidents keep happening, whereupon we rush to the scene by jeep, horseback or on foot and try to pin the responsibility on someone before retaliation has time to get started. It is sometimes pretty active”.
Bakshi also sent Nehru an appendix of how, for instance, UN observers were taking photographs of Moharra bridge and River Jhelum, Lt Col Ceily contacting a British journalist Colin N Reid, Lt Col Paul Garneau saying that he would stay here till Kashmir acceded to Pakistan etc.
Against this backdrop, Sheikh probably thought that the Americans would bail him out, but this did not happen.