Kashmir, Kuldip Nayar and Nehru -- by Brian Cloughley Back   Home  

The interview with Kuldip Nayar that was carried in The Nation on 5 July was interesting: not so much concerning his opinion on what might happen in the future in the Sub-continent but about his intriguing interpretation of the past.

Apparently Mr Nayar (for whom I have great admiration, indeed reverence, as a talented person of many parts) said words to the effect that Mr Nehru "changed his mind on holding a plebiscite in Kashmir in the wake of new developments, when Pakistan signed two defence pacts, Seato and Cento, with the US in 1954." This does not quite square with the facts.

CENTO, the Central Treaty Organisation, was originally the Baghdad Pact between Turkey and Iraq, signed on February 24, 1955, and came into force two days later. Britain joined the Pact on 4 April, Pakistan on 23 September, and Iran on 3 November. CENTO as such was formed on 21 August 1959. The US was not a signatory to either the Pact or the Treaty, but was an 'Associate Member' with no voting rights, and was represented on the Military Committee at lower lever than member states, whose chiefs of armed forces (of whatever title) attended meetings.

The claim that Pakistan's membership of SEATO, which it joined on 9 February 1955, was the cause of Mr Nehru's refusal in 1954 to permit an independent, UN-supervised plebiscite in Kashmir is also interesting. Regarding the plebiscite, Mr Nehru's letter of 3 September 1953 to his Pakistani counterpart is plain, but for various reasons is not often referred to by many people. He wrote:

"I should like to make it clear that there is no intention on my part to exclude the UN from this question of Kashmir." [Emphasis added, because this is an important statement by the Indian government that has never been formally rescinded.] He continued that "The Plebiscite Administrator would function under UN supervision, but it seems to me quite obvious that while the UN can be helpful, any settlement must depend on the consent and cooperation of India and Pakistan. Therefore it is for us to agree and not to look to the UN to produce some settlement, without our agreement." Quite so : but nobody had suggested that the UN would construct a settlement without participation by the two protagonists. It would have been absurd to suggest this in terms of international practice or of regional practicalities - and such a proposal would still be absurd today - but neither the UN Security Council nor any of the eminent people appointed by it as its representative in Kashmir ever considered any sort of imposed solution. Mr Nehru was answering an unasked question and countering a proposal with which nobody had made.

Then Mr Nehru sought to clarify further the matter of a plebiscite. On 10 November 1953 he wrote to the prime minister of Pakistan that because "other events have happened" the "Plebiscite Administrator should not come from any major Power or any country that is involved in the so-called cold war." That cut the numbers down a bit (and avoided appointment of the best person who was ready to serve, which may have been what was intended by Mr Nehru), but in spite of this quibble he continued to maintain that "Our object is to give freedom to the people of Kashmir to decide their future in a peaceful way," which was - and remains - unequivocal endorsement by the Indian government of the rights of Kashmiris to self-determination. In spite of the rest of that letter raising only difficulties, it was apparent that the time was ripe for a plebiscite to be held. It had the approval of the UN Security Council and the majority of UN members. It seemed that a plebiscite could not be delayed much longer, lest there be international disapproval of the way in which the matter was being handled. Then came the matter of US arms supplies. On 9 December 1953 Mr Nehru wrote to the prime minister of Pakistan that "I do not know what the present position is in regard to the military pact or assistance between Pakistan and the USA. But responsible newspapers state that large-scale military assistance and equipment, arms and training will be given to Pakistan by the US. It is even stated (The New York Times has said so) that an army of a million men may be trained in Pakistan." This would alter affairs, said Mr Nehru, because Pakistan was involved in "militarisation and not demilitarisation." This must be one of the most side-splitting logic jumps in the history of diplomacy, but it was reinforced in a further letter, of 5 March 1954, in which Mr Nehru said "I can only repeat that the decision to give this aid has changed the whole context of the Kashmir issue, and the long talks we have had about this matter have little relation to the new facts, which flow from this aid [sic]."

In early 1954 the intention-the promise-to have a plebiscite in Kashmir was dumped by Mr Nehru on the grounds that Pakistan was believed to be about to accept aid from America. The New York Times had spoken, and its report was believed unconditionally by the Prime Minister of India, who did not instruct his ambassador in Washington to inquire of the US government what its intentions were in regard to the subcontinent. He did not summon the US ambassador in New Delhi to ask what, if anything, was going on that might be contrary to the interests of India. Apparently he was convinced by a newspaper report that a million soldiers were to be trained in Pakistan by the US. Mr Nehru's honourable statement that "Our object is to give freedom to the people of Kashmir to decide their future in a peaceful way" was nullified because of an agreement between two countries concerning a mutual defence pact. And SEATO had nothing to do with this, because that organisation was not formed until September 1954, although the US and Pakistan had signed a 'mutual defence assistance agreement' on May 19 - two months after Mr Nehru said everything to do with Kashmir was changed because these countries had entered into a military pact.

Mr Nehru had announced in the Lok Sabha on 24 July 1952 that Indian-administered Kashmir was to have a special status within the Constitution, which was a signal that the fate of the region was not to be discussed with anyone in serious terms - certainly not Pakistan or the UN, and least of all the inhabitants. Further, the plebiscite-supporting Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, a long-time and intellectually intimate friend of Mr Nehru, was arrested and jailed without charge in August 1953, which was hardly an expression of democracy on the part of the New Delhi government which claimed disingenuously that his imprisonment had nothing to do with them. Mr Nehru not only abandoned his friend: he let him be consigned to the depths, along with his own principles.

It is relevant, if slightly awkward, that on 6 February 1954, rather before creation of CENTO, SEATO or a US-Pakistan accord, the Constituent Assembly of the disputed territory of Kashmir ratified the accession to India of the 'State' of Jammu and Kashmir. No consultation with "the people of Kashmir" took place before that unilateral declaration ended the aspirations of Kashmiris to be able to make their own choice of governance, and paved the way for the uprising in 1989. "Our object is to give freedom to the people of Kashmir to decide their future in a peaceful way," said Mr Nehru - but he never had any intention of granting them that freedom. Nor has any subsequent government that has ever sat in New Delhi. (Or Islamabad, for that matter ; I am not being partial in this affair. Both India and Pakistan have dubious and self-serving motives for their positions as regards the future of Kashmir, and have eschewed both common-sense and judicial propriety in furthering, excusing or justifying their stances. I merely comment on what Mr Kuldip Nayar apparently said to The Nation about the reasons given by Mr Nehru for his wriggling out of and away from stated principle.)

Mr Nehru was desperate for an excuse to avoid a plebiscite because he was intense and emotional about holding Kashmir for India, and found his rationale in the US-Pakistan nexus. He was grasping at straws, but he was a Kashmiri Brahmin and can hardly be blamed, as a committed, passionate individual, whose family had for centuries been prominent in the Valley, for doing his utmost to try to hold on to the region to which he was so attached.

But his feelings on Kashmir were entirely personal and parochial, and you can't make international policy from the parish pump.

Let us be realistic about the US reason for providing arms to Pakistan in the Fifties and later : Washington wanted allies against the Soviet Union. If India had decided to align itself with the US instead of the USSR, Washington would have acted in like fashion regarding New Delhi. But it is stretching credibility to claim that the US-Pakistan link was the real reason for Mr Nehru's visceral rejection of the plebiscite.

The truly ironic aspect of the whole affair is that in 1962, when India had its back to the wall and was reeling from attacks by China it not only begged the US, Canada and the UK for weapons, but actually permitted foreign combat aircraft to operate from Indian soil. Not much principle there, alas - and although Mr Nehru contended that the Kashmir plebiscite was ditched because the US provided military assistance to Pakistan, it seems that the Kashmir problem was not altered in any way by India's grateful acceptance of enormous quantities of American weapons.

So far as Kashmir is concerned, principles have never been much in evidence. Let us hope that times might be changing and that Mr Vajpayee and President Musharraf can be more realistic - and that they will find it attractive and practicable to "give freedom to the people of Kashmir to decide their future in a peaceful way."

This article was published in TheNation, newspaper, Pakistan. The author, a former colonel in the Australian Army, has served as a UN Observer in Kashmir and as defence attache in Islamabad. He has written an authoritative 'History of the Pakistan Army.