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Updated: September 1, 2009 14:20 IST

Discourse on Kashmir conflict

PRAVEEN SWAMI
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Ever since President Barack Obama’s government began its new engagement with Pakistan, India has come under increased pressure to make concessions in Jammu and Kashmir. Panigrahi’s book on the concerns that drove the West’s early policy-making vis-a-vis J&K could not have been better timed. Indian policy-makers ought to be paying close attention to the ideological genesis of the ideas they find themselves confronted with — and to the lessons his work holds out.

Western support for Pakistan, Panigrahi shows, played a key role in shaping the India-Pakistan contestation on Jammu and Kashmir. The military and diplomatic assistance to Pakistan, his argument suggests, sustained its long-running offensive to take control of the State.

Formulation of policy

The author’s account locates the formulation of the United States’ and the United Kingdom’s policy on J&K in the context of their evolving post-World War II strategic concerns in West Asia.

British civil servant Olaf Caroe, who had served for many years in the North-West Frontier Province, Punjab, and the United Provinces, saw the new state of Pakistan as a key asset in the defence of West Asia’s oil resources. Caroe, whose ideas carried a lot of weight not only with Britain’s policy establishment but also with the Pentagon, believed the region’s oil could best be protected from the northern rim — that is, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan — rather than through control of the Suez.

Echoes of these ideas figured in a 1949 address by Field Marshal Archibald Percival Wavell, commander of the British forces in West Asia during World War II and the penultimate viceroy of India. “The next great struggle for world power,” Wavell argued, in an address whose ideological relevance is evident even today, “if it takes place, may well be for the control of these oil reserves. It may centre on Western Asia, the Persian Gulf, the approaches to India both on the north-west and on the north-east. This may be the battleground both of the material struggle for oil and air-bases, and of the spiritual struggle of at least three great creeds — Christianity, Islam, [and] Communism — and of the political theories of democracy and totalitarianism.”

Pro-Pakistan stand

Ideas like these, as well as the British hopes of salvaging their Palestine-battered reputation among Muslims, Panigrahi argues, drove the U.K. to adopt a pro-Pakistan position on Jammu and Kashmir.

Back in 1935, Britain had leased the Gilgit Agency from the princely State, in a strategic response to the Soviet Union’s occupation of parts of Xinjiang. The lease ended after India’s Independence. But instead of handing Gilgit back to J&K, local troops led by British officer Major W.A. Brown annexed the province for Pakistan. Major Brown was rewarded both by the British government and Pakistan for his enterprise.

From the outset, Panigrahi shows, Britain supported Pakistan’s case that it was in no way involved in the 1947 assault on J&K it now administers — a myth the Pakistani commentators, including Major-General Akbar Khan who commanded the assault, have long laid to rest.

Military aid

For its part, the post-World War II policy establishment in the U.S. saw India and Pakistan in stark Cold War terms. Much to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s alarm, the U.S. committed itself early to military aid for Pakistan, in return for stationing its personnel at Babader airbase outside Peshawar. In June, 1953, Dulles told the National Security Council of the United States that Pakistan was the “one country that has [the] moral courage to do its part [in] resisting communism.” By 1955, Pakistan had become a part of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation.

Foreign policy commentator Walter Lippman discussed the issue with Dulles. “The only Asians who can fight,” Dulles insisted, “are the Pakistanis. That’s why we need them in the Alliance. We could never get along without the Gurkhas.”

Lippman responded that the Gurkhas were neither Pakistani nor Muslim. “No matter,” he recorded Dulles as saying, before launching into a protracted lecture on the benefits of the United States’ military relationship with Pakistan.

Indian policy-makers today confront many of the same pressures they did five decades ago — this time, without the support of the erstwhile Soviet Union to ward off the West.

JAMMU AND KASHMIR, THE COLD WAR AND THE WEST: D.N. Panigrahi; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17 Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 595.

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