The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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War and Diplomacy in Kashmir By C. Dasgupta, Sage, Rs 440

The war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in 1947-1948 could be called a catalytic war. In such a conflict, the weaker side (in this case, Pakistan) deliberately attacks a relatively strong power (India) for bringing in a third party. The objective is to get concessions through the mediation of the outside power. C. Dasgupta, a retired official of the Indian Foreign Service, analyses the role of Britain during the first Indo-Pak war. The Indian army and the air force were much stronger than their Pakistani counterparts. Then why did the Indian army fail to evict them' Why did Jawaharlal Nehru appeal to the United Nations, an action that led to the internationalization of the Kashmir issue' Dasgupta grapples with these questions.

Nehru realized that the intruders could not be evicted through negotiations with the Pakistani political leadership. The Indian cabinet ministers, especially Baldev Singh and Vallabhbhai Patel, repeatedly ordered the general staff to prepare contingency plans for invading Pakistan. The reasoning was that the tribals could be pushed back only when the bases supplying them deep inside Pakistan would be destroyed. From the original records, Dasgupta shows that Nehru was even willing to go in for an all-out war beyond the confines of Kashmir in order to teach Pakistan a lesson.

But all such efforts came to a naught. The British officers who, even after independence, occupied the top slots of Indiaís politico-military command, sabotaged all aggressive action against Pakistan. The two British commanders-in-chief of the Indian army, Rob Lockhart and Roy Butcher, stalled the cabinetís plan. They argued that if India tried to evict the tribals from azad Kashmir, the Pakistani army would intervene. An attritional war would start, and India would face problems in supplying more soldiers in Kashmir. When the Indian political leadership pressed for the use of the air force, the British commanders argued that the terrain and climate of Kashmir were not suitable for large-scale air offensive. In fact, Air Vice Marshal Thomas Elmhirst had an informal agreement with his Pakistani counterpart, a Britisher, that the air forces of the two dominions would not fight each other. To cap it all, Mountbatten, who was the chairman of the defence committee, created obstacles when Nehru pressed for a military solution of the Kashmir problem. In fact, he advised Nehru to appeal to the UN.

Mountbattenhad his reasons for doing this. In case of a full-fledged conflict between the two dominions, he would lose his position. Besides, global strategic considerations pushed London to discourage any Indian military action against Pakistan. Dasgupta analyses the imperatives behind Clement Attleeís governmentís pro-Pakistan stance.

The Western bloc, at that time primarily comprising Britain and America, feared that Pakistan would disintegrate in case of an all-out war. The ensuing chaos would provide a chance to the communists to edge their way in. To prevent Pakistan going red, the London-Washington axis decided to rein in India. Further, London was in charge of defending the west Asia. Britain feared that a pro-Indian pose would damage Britainís standing with the Arab countries who, for obvious reasons, empathized with Pakistan.

The best part about the book is that it is based on the archival records available in Britain. But Dasgupta fails to engage with the existing secondary literature (for instance, the works of Correlli Barnett and Anita Inder Singh) dealing with post-war Britainís grand strategy. An important reason behind the Western blocís appeasement of Pakistan was the fact that the joint chiefs of staff wanted the air bases in Pakistanís northwestern province for bombing the Ural industries of Russia in case a third world war broke out.

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