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Kashmir: the Unwritten History

Christopher Snedden

HarperCollins

Pages: 460 Rs. 599

Thorough analysis marred by an unrealistic conclusion

Christopher Snedden’s history of Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, is a thoroughly researched account which errs only in its utopian outlook, writes Omair Ahmed.

OMAIR AHMAD  1st Jun 2013

Christopher Snedden (right)

hristopher Snedden's Kashmir: the Unwritten History is a detailed study of that forgotten region which we call PoK, and Pakistan calls AJK. For the last two decades what little work has been done on Kashmir has been — understandably — focused on the Kashmir Valley, which was the locus of militant and military conflict. Over time issues related to the Jammu region, Ladakh, as well as the Gujjars and Bakerwals, have also found some expression. Snedden's book adds one other segment — those living under Pakistani administration (though neglecting those in Gilgit-Baltistan). The title, in that aspect, is misleading. PoK/AJK is largely populated by paharis, who are not ethnic Kashmiris, nevertheless they are an important part of the history of J&K, and Snedden's book highlights their role.

The book is divided into two main sections. The first one is pre-1948, and examines the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir before Partition and up until the first India-Pakistan war instigated by the entry of raiders from Pakistan's tribal regions into Baramulla, and Maharaja Hari Singh's accession to India. Snedden makes a strong case showing that the violence had begun long before that in J&K, prompted by the Maharaja's combination of vacillation and incompetence. Snedden quotes the late Maharaja's son on the last: "Karan Singh also considered that his father suffered from the 'feudal virus' of indecisiveness."

Conflict in J&K began in the region of Poonch sometime between February and June 1947. Tens of thousands of soldiers from the area had served with the British Army in World War II. When they returned home, the Maharaja ordered them to deposit their personal weapons with the government, and imposed more taxes. It is unwise to tell battle-hardened soldiers to pay more tax, while threatening to take away their guns, and they duly revolted. The Maharaja soon lost control of the hilly regions, while his government either allowed or initiated massacres against Muslims in Jammu city. He was the only princely ruler to use the traumatised refugees from Partition as shock troops against his own citizens.

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Conflict in J&K began in the region of Poonch sometime between February and June 1947. Tens of thousands of soldiers from the area had served with the British Army in World War II.

ll of this occurred much before the October 1947 tribal raid in Baramulla supported by the Pakistanis, and may actually have provoked the raid. Snedden alleges that Indian politicians — particularly Nehru — stressed the October in justifying Indian intervention, and ignored the earlier Poonch uprising. Even if this is true, diplomacy is all about arguing your position strongly, so it is hardly as major an issue as he makes out. Maybe Snedden should have laid greater stress that the areas that would go on to become PoK/AJK were also the ones where the Muslim Conference led by Chaudhury Abbas had its strength. It has always been an interesting question as to why the most pro-Indian Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, agreed to the Ceasefire Line dividing J&K pretty much at the point where his popularity ran out.

The second part of the book is an extremely welcome introduction into the politics of PoK/AJK, excellently researched and very detailed. Unfortunately Snedden goes too far when he says that, "Few books have been written on the region. None is contemporary." Luv Puri's Across the LoC was the first such detailed study, published in 2010. Justice Manzoor Jilani's book analysing the constitutional relationship between Pakistan and the Kashmir territory it administers is also relatively new, and is one of the best works on the subject.

Lastly, Snedden's conclusion is ridiculously utopian. He advocates that India and Pakistan should consider the people of J&K as a third party and negotiate accordingly. In the last 65 years, both countries have spent enormous resources — as Snedden documents himself — to shape the parts of the former princely state of J&K that they administer. It is unrealistic in the extreme to imagine that either state will throw away the little gains they have made after such an enormous outlay of blood and treasure — especially as there is no longer, if there ever was, a pan-J&K grouping to negotiate with. In the case of other such conflicts — such as Alsace-Lorraine, South Tyrol, or Northern Ireland — peace has come when the two large states involved have come to terms with each other. Peace in Kashmir is likely to follow a peace between India and Pakistan, and is unachievable without it. May it come soon.

 
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