Christopher Snedden’s “Kashmir: The Unwritten History” looks at the Kashmir dispute from a new angle

“The Kashmir dispute is now so old that if it were a person, it would be entitled to pension,” joked Christopher Snedden, during a discussion with journalist Mehboob Jeelani at the recent launch of his book Kashmir: The Unwritten History (Harper Collins).

It was one of the few light moments in an evening that proved to be a grim reality check. An Australian politico-strategic analyst and author, Snedden’s book provides an alternative history to the Kashmir dispute, locating its origins not in the invasion of Pukhtoon tribesmen from Pakistan, as India has consistently claimed, but in protests in Poonch and Mirpur by people long disenchanted with Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule. The people of Poonch and Mirpur eventually ‘liberated’ themselves from the Maharaja’s rule and formed the government of Azad Kashmir in October, before the king acceded to India.

Providing the context to this ‘liberation’, Snedden said, “Poonch and Mirpur had a rugged terrain and very small land holdings. The people couldn’t subsist on the land they had. So a lot of Mirpuris joined the merchant navy, and the people from Poonch joined the British Indian Army. It seems by the end of the Second World War, there were 50,000 people from Poonch area who had some sort of military experience,” he said. The dispute started, Snedden said, when alarmed by their might, the unpopular Maharaja sent his army to brutally disarm them.

Asked about Pakistan’s unwillingness to challenge the Indian narrative, Snedden said, “At the time, the Pakistan government was heavily involved trying to establish Pakistan; they didn’t have the capacity to find out and report what had happened… The government in Azad Kashmir claimed to be government of all of Kashmir, but naturally they only controlled a little area. And Pakistan wanted all of Jammu and Kashmir and believed that by saying ‘we accept Azad Kashmir government. as a liberated area’, it would weaken their claim to the whole area.”

Apart from the events leading up to the king’s accession, the book also provides new information about how Azad Kashmir and Azad Kashmiris have fared since 1947, through a detailed examination of its resources, economy, administration, elections and internal politics, finding, in all these areas, a heavy dependence on Pakistan.

In addition to interviews with politicians, journalists and bureaucrats, Snedden has relied on primary source documents such as the restricted Report of the Sub-committee on Western Kashmir, 1949, of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan and the Census of Azad Kashmir, 1951. “I wanted to tell the story of Azad Kashmir as accurately as possible,” he said.

Talking about the larger Kashmir dispute, Snedden said that a resolution should be reached by involving the legitimate stakeholders — Kashmiris — and not treating them as the third party. But given India and Pakistan’s position of seeing Kashmir as an indivisible entity means, he argued, that a solution will not be arrived at unless there is a “circuit-breaker” — an unpredictable natural disaster, or an even more unpredictable Chinese invasion into Kashmir.