Daily Archives: 25 November 2004

Kashmir at Partition, 1947

In August 1947, Kashmir’s autocratic ruler, His Highness Maharaja Sir Hari Singh Indar Mahindar Bahadur Sir Hari Singh, was faced with a momentous decision. The imperial government in London had always allowed some major landholders on the subcontinent a degree of autonomy and, technically, Kashmir had never been part of British India. The maharaja’s antecedents had secured the right to govern some of their own affairs by recognising the paramountcy of the British Crown. The compact between the British and the maharaja’s family was symbolised by the payment of a tribute: each year Hari Singh had to provide the British government with a horse, twelve goats and six of Kashmir’s famous shawls or pashminas.

When the British left, the maharaja had three options: Kashmir could become independent or join either India or Pakistan. The rulers of over 550 Princely State rulers faced the same decision but in the case of Kashmir the issue was especially sensitive. Its large population and proximity to both China and Russia gave the state considerable strategic importance. The matter was further complicated by religion: Kashmir was one of a handful of Princely States in which the ruler did not practise the same religion as most of his people. While the maharaja was a Hindu, over three-quarters of his subjects were Muslims. The fact that Kashmir was not only predominantly Muslim but also congruous with Pakistan convinced Mohammed Ali Jinnah that the maharaja’s decision would go in his favour. ‘Kashmir’, he said at the time of partition, ‘will fall into our lap like a ripe fruit.’ It was a naive misjudgement of Himalayan proportions.

The maharaja had most of the foibles associated with India’s decadent aristocracy. He was a hedonist and a reactionary whose main interests were food, hunting, sex and, above all else, horse racing. As his own son put it: ‘Quite clearly, my father was much happier racing than administering the State …’ On one occasion, he had been tricked by a prostitute in London’s Savoy Hotel who proceeded to blackmail him. He showed a similar lack of judgement in matters of state. In July 1947, with the transfer of power just weeks away, he took the view that ‘the British are never really going to leave India’!

The maharaja’s ancestors had been blessed with greater political acumen. The State of Jammu and Kashmir had been established in the first half of the nineteenth century by a relatively minor Jammu chieftain, Gulab Singh. A combination of adept military conquests and astute financial deals enabled him to create one of the largest Princely States on the subcontinent. By 1850 he had moved on from Jammu (with its Hindu majority population) and had added Ladakh (Buddhist majority), Baltistan (Muslim majority) and the Kashmir Valley (Muslim majority). In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Gulab Singh’s successors extended their control to another Muslim majority area, Gilgit.

SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 56-57

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Hyderabad and Junagadh at Partition, 1947

Once again, however, Jinnah failed to explore all the options open to him. One possibility was to make compromises over another Princely State, Hyderabad. The Muslim ruler or nizam of Hyderabad faced the same dilemma as Maharaja Hari Singh. He wanted independence but was far from sure he could achieve it. Jinnah understood that it was never realistic to expect the nizam to accede to Pakistan: Hyderabad was entirely surrounded by Indian territory. But he always hoped that the nizam could pull off independence. He considered Hyderabad to be the ‘oldest Muslim dynasty in India’ and hoped that its continued existence as an independent state right in the heart of India would provide a sense of security for those Muslims who didn’t move to Pakistan. Once again, however, Jinnah was thinking in terms of legally possible options rather than political realities. In the long term the independence of Hyderabad, while constitutionally proper, was never going to happen. The new Indian leadership saw the issue clearly enough and when the nizam tried to strike a deal which would allow him to hang on to some degree of autonomy, Delhi flatly refused to consider the idea.

In retrospect most Pakistanis would agree that it would have been worth abandoning the aspiration for an independent Hyderabad if it had meant securing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Furthermore, Jinnah had good reason to believe that such a deal could have been struck. In late November 1947 Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan met to discuss the situation in Kashmir. To understand their conversation it is first necessary to consider briefly what had happened in yet another Princely State, Junagadh.

The Muslim nawab of Junagadh ruled over a million people, 80 per cent of them Hindus. Junagadh was located in western India and, even though it was not strictly contiguous with Pakistan, its coastline offered the possibility of sea links to the Muslim state that was just 200 miles away. The nawab of Junagadh, guided by his pro-Pakistani chief minister Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto (the father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), decided to ignore the feelings of his Hindu population and acceded to Pakistan. It was the mirror image of the situation in Kashmir. The Indian government did not accept the decision, blockaded Junagadh and then invaded it. Delhi then imposed a plebiscite and secured the result it desired: Junagadh became part of India.

When Liaquat Ali Khan met Nehru at the end of November he exposed the illogicality of India’s position. If Junagadh, despite its Muslim rulers’ accession to Pakistan, belonged to India because of its Hindu majority, then Kashmir surely belonged to Pakistan. When Liaquat Ali Kahn made this incontrovertible point his Indian interlocutor, Sardar Patel, could not contain himself and burst out: ‘Why do you compare Junagadh with Kashmir? Talk of Hyderabad and Kashmir and we could reach agreement.’ Patel was not alone in this view. On 29 October 1947 officials at the American embassy in Delhi had told the US State Department: ‘the obvious solution is for the government leaders in Pakistan and India to agree … [to the] accession of Kashmir to Pakistan and the accession of Hyderabad and Junagadh to India’. British officials in London concurred.

SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 68-69


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Russian Perspectives on Ukraine

All About Latvia, who fervently supports democracy but is not keen on either Yanukovich or Yushchenko, offers an interesting roundup of Russian views on the Ukrainian elections, including a translation of a cynical op-ed in Komsomolskaya Pravda.

The gloomiest predictions are about to be proven true. Ukraine once again is divided in half. The president of all-Western and Central Ukraine–Victor Yushchenko and the president of all-Eastern and Southern Ukraine–Victor Yanukovich both demand coronation.

Apart from Russia, the list of firm Yanukovich supporters is not very impressive.

Lenta reports that Belorussian president Lukashenko congratulated Victor Yanukovich with his presidential victory. So, officially or not, three leaders expresed their support for Yanukovich: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko and the leader of the Trans-Dienstr breakaway Moldovan Republic Igor Smirnov.

The official status of the Russian-supported Transnistrian portion of the former Moldovan SSR is still unresolved.

Beyond the control of any strong national government, the region has become an international transit center for smuggled goods. A Russian-sponsored peace plan for the region was rejected by Moldova in Nov., 2003, after Moldovan demonstrations against it; the deal would have permitted Russian troops to remain until 2020.

UPDATE: The Head Heeb has an interesting take on the reactions of Ukrainian Jews, in general cautiously favoring ‘the devil you know’. Zackary Sholem Berger elaborates further. Also see the Head Heeb’s earlier post, which opens with a segue I feel sure has never, ever been uttered before:

As most of you are no doubt already aware, French Polynesia is no longer the only country with two presidents.

UPDATE: Now China, Kazakhstan, and Armenia are reported to have joined the list of countries recognizing Yanukovich as president. And Economist.com has an update that concludes on a cautionary note.

International pressure may also have a significant effect on the outcome. As well as the pressure from America and the EU, a key determining factor will be the attitude of Mr Putin. The crisis in Ukraine is bound to overshadow his summit with EU leaders this week (see article [with map!]) and he risks serious difficulties in his relations with both Europe and America if he backs Mr Yanukovich in repressing the protests. Towards the climax of the Georgian revolution last year, Mr Putin seemed to lose patience with Mr Shevardnadze, perhaps contributing to his downfall. Does the Russian leader’s even-handed call for both candidates in Ukraine’s conflict to obey the law suggest he has already begun to hedge his bets?

All along, both Russia and the West have been taking a close interest in Ukraine’s election, not just because it is one of eastern Europe’s largest countries, with 49m people, but because the outcome could have important consequences for the whole region. Mr Yushchenko presented himself as a pro-western, free-market reformer who would clean up corruption and enforce the rule of law. Mr Yanukovich, in contrast, stood for deepening Ukraine’s close links with Russia. If Mr Yushchenko had gained the presidency and led Ukraine towards becoming a westernised democracy with European-style prosperity, voters in Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe might have begun to demand the same. Thus a win by Mr Yushchenko would have been a huge blow to Mr Putin, whose attempts to exert control over former Soviet states would be greatly diminished.

Though Mr Yushchenko is now hoping for a Georgian-style bloodless revolution to deliver him the presidency, there are also some less promising precedents among the former Soviet states: only two months ago, Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenka, “won” a rigged referendum to allow him to run for re-election. The EU decided this week to tighten its sanctions against those in his government it blames for the “fraudulent” ballot. But so far there is no sign that Mr Lukashenka will be dislodged from power. Azerbaijan and Armenia also held flawed elections last year: in Azerbaijan, there were riots after the son of the incumbent president won amid widespread intimidation and bribery, but these were violently put down; and in Armenia, voters reacted with quiet despair at the re-election of their president amid reports of ballot-stuffing. If Ukraine follows these precedents, hopes for change there, and in other parts of the former Soviet Union, may be dashed.

Siberian Light asks Why is Russia afraid of democracy? In his answer he acknowledges:

Russia has plenty of legitimate interests in Ukraine. It has a massive naval base in the Crimea, there is a large ethnic Russian population, and a big chunk of Russia’s oil and gas exports go through Ukraine.

Time and again Russia meddles in the affairs of its neighbours. It almost never supports democratic opposition groups, preferring to prop-up regimes, good or bad (mostly bad). It seems pretty clear that Russia has made the decision that its interests are best served by opposing the spread of democracy through the Former Soviet Union.

And of course this rarely causes even a ripple of protest in the West.

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