A decade has passed since the struggle of the Indian subcontinent to free itself from British imperial rule was crowned with success. For half a century or more before emancipation, nationalists of both the great religious communities had stridently asserted that communal antipathy was illusory – a mere creation of the British Raj, allegedly following the old Roman maxim of “divide and rule.” History since independence has shown with tragic clarity that antagonism between Muslim and Hindu is much more deeply rooted than in an oppressor’s stratagem. For the ink was not yet dry on the 1947 charter of sovereignty before what had been one great single nation under British rule became split into two sullenly hostile countries, Pakistan and India.
However regrettable, this state of affairs is not really surprising. Long before the British conquered India, the Hindus had resented their Muslim Mogul masters and those who by conversion followed the same faith. The Muslim for his part had all the scorn of the warrior for those less martial than himself, not untainted with an intellectual inferiority complex vis-à-vis those commercially and politically more astute than he. With this historic background it would have required more courage, tolerance, and statecraft than any leaders in Delhi or Karachi have yet shown to heal the hereditary strains between the two great communal factions.
Instead, as each year passes, friction grows. What began with a squabble about the division of assets after partition, and went on to bitter conflict over the future of disputed princely states such as Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Kashmir, has now spread to the struggle for limited, precious irrigation water which literally spells life or death for millions upon millions of poverty-stricken, undernourished, illiterate peasants.
Externally, too, a wide gulf has yawned. Pakistan, West and East, with barely a fifth of the population of her larger neighbor, cut asunder by over 1500 miles of Indian territory, fearful of ultimate Indian subjection and absorption, has in her search for allies gone much further than she otherwise might have in openly siding with the West in the global struggle against Communism. For although Pakistan’s opposition to Communism is genuine, there is no doubt that to the average Pakistani, India, not Soviet Russia or Red China, is the number one foe.
India, superior in manpower and resources, is fundamentally resentful of, in her view, the quite unnecessarily continued existence of the only nation that stands between her and the complete hegemony of the Indian subcontinent. Nehru is not alone in the ambition to see his country leading a great Asian uncommitted third force between warring Capitalist West and Communist East. Inclined toward Communism to meet the social and political demands of his teeming peoples, he does not openly break with the West in shrewd calculation that only thence can flow the capital and technical know-how to ensure his country’s economic survival and its development. Pakistan, firmly linked with one side, the West, is a hindrance to this tightrope policy.
In Kashmir, hostility has reached near flash point. Today an uneasy peace is maintained between the two zones of rival occupation only through the vigilant presence of UN officers and troops ceaselessly patrolling the demarcation line.
In the Indian-occupied sector of this unhappy state, with a handful of local stooges backed by Hindu and Sikh troops keeping in subjection 3 million resentful Muslims, conditions remind one of life in one of the Soviet satellites. As you walk down a street in Srinagar, the state’s capital, a man sidles up to you, mutters something in barely intelligible English, and warily presses a crumpled piece of paper into your hand. Nearby stand a couple of police. On the other side of the road .a detachment of grim-faced soldiers marches along. Behind you casually strolls your own particular shadow, the man who seems always to be hanging around the lobby of your hotel when you come down from your room, looking at nothing in particular; who always decides to take a walk when you do; and who always, too, stops aimlessly when you pause on your way.
When you get back to the privacy of your own room, you look at the scribbled message which you were handed: it is either a plea for outside intervention of the forces of freedom, or a letter to a friend or relative across the border, which the writer knows would never pass the censor if posted the ordinary way. A few minutes later your telephone rings, and a voice hysterical with fear asks whether a few opponents of the regime may come and talk privately with you. Hours later, a handful of tired, nervous men crowd into your room, insisting on searching every corner for hidden microphones before they talk. They are late because the police, knowing of their plans through wire tapping, have forbidden all taxis, the only transport available, to bring them, and so they have had to walk several dusty miles. Their story is sickeningly familiar in this day and age – a tale of persecution, repression, midnight arrests, and aggrandizement of the local “Big Brother.”
Officials do not deny that thousands of Indian soldiers and gendarmery are stationed in the state to help preserve an outward calm. (Reliable estimates put the figure at 125,000-one soldier to every dozen adult inhabitants of occupied Kashmir.) A rigid censorship exists. All public assemblies and gatherings, except regime-sponsored ones, are banned. The prisons are full to overflowing, and those behind bars include twenty-five or more political leaders – among them a former prime minister – who are being detained under a local law which permits imprisonment without charge or trial, on executive order alone, for periods of up to five years.
As to the recent elections there, Hitler and Stalin could have approved of their conception and execution. In the Vale of Kashmir itself, only five out of a total of forty-five constituencies were contested, all the others returning unopposed ruling party candidates. Moreover, even where the five contests did occur, permitted opposition candidature was limited to purely domestic controversy. This was inevitable, since it is “unlawful,” under the constitution imposed from Delhi last year, for anyone to declare for any policy other than the status quo of absorption into India.
To appreciate how this sorry state of affairs has come about, one has to recall the year 1947, when Britain handed over the reins of government to the two newly born states of Pakistan and India, with consequent partitioning of the subcontinent. So far as the then autonomous princely states were concerned, they were faced with three choices: accession to India or to Pakistan or complete independence. The third alternative proved in every case illusory.
The last British Viceroy, Earl Mountbatten, then holding the ring between the rival claimants in this territorial lottery, affecting more than five hundred separate states and 93 million people, declared, with the prior approval of the governments of both India and Pakistan, the considerations that should decide the states’ choice. The overriding factor was to be the will of the people concerned, which was to be implemented through the medium of a formal accession instrument lodged by the ruler either in Delhi or Karachi. In cases where the ruler’s personal wishes conflicted or were likely to conflict on communal religious or other grounds with those of his subjects, the latters’ will, to be given a free, prompt opportunity to express itself, should prevail.
Meanwhile, in any instance where the issue seemed to be in doubt, interim agreements could be entered into with one or both of the national claimants, in order to preserve certain existing essential links, such as the postal system and trade. To the general principle of self-determination, the Viceroy added a practical warning that in reaching a decision the inescapable consequences of frontier contiguity could not he ignored. What happened next is history.
In Junagadh, a small princedom with a Muslim ruler but a population which was predominantly Hindu, surrounded by Indian territory except for an outlet to the sea, the decision of the Nawab to join Pakistan was immediately thwarted by force of Indian arms – in the name of democracy.
In Hyderabad, one of the few princely states large enough and strong enough economically to support itself, the Muslim ruler of a largely Hindu population opted, as was his constitutional right, for total independence, and initiated a referendum to test the will of his subjects. Refusing to await the outcome of this, the Indian government, in what it soothingly described as a “police action,” entered the territory with tanks and infantry and forcibly integrated the state with India.
In Kashmir, partition rivalry between India and Pakistan produced an even more confused and dangerous situation. Thankful for an opportunity at long last to rid themselves of the autocratic minority Hindu regime which had ruled them so long, the local population supported by sympathetic tribesmen from outside the state rose in revolt and drove the Maharajah from the land. The fleeing Prince sought Indian help and, in exchange for the promise of Indian military intervention on his side, signed an accession instrument in favor of India. In accepting this purported accession, the Indian government also accepted the condition that it should subsequently be ratified by a free and fair expression of the people’s will. Meanwhile, Pakistan refused to accept at all the validity of the ousted ruler’s accession, and fearful of her own national security as Indian troops continued their advance northward toward her own frontiers, Pakistan moved her troops into Kashmir and a local war began.
It was at this point that Nehru, who now so bitterly complains of United Nations interference in “an internal domestic matter,” took the matter to the Security Council for settlement. After much bitter wrangling, a temporary truce and cease fire was arranged and accepted by both sides. From that day to this, the story of Kashmir has been one of endlessly recurring delay, procrastination, and obstruction, by which India has sought to evade the obligations to hold a plebiscite that she solemnly affirmed between 1947 and 1949. Argument and counterargument have ranged over who was the original aggressor, the number of troops of each side that would have to be withdrawn before a fair test of public opinion could be held, and the terms and timing of the plebiscite.
In patient efforts to end the deadlock, mediator after mediator, investigatory commission after investigatory commission, conciliator after conciliator, have been appointed. Despite even the division in the Security Council between Communist and non-Communist powers, one unanimous recommendation after another—eleven in all, including neutral arbitration of the points of detail still in dispute have been put forward. Every time Pakistan has said “Yes,” India has said “No.” Always, as one argument is met or falls to the ground, Nehru or his delegate at the United Nations, Krishna Menon, supported lately only by Soviet Russia, produces another, with seemingly inexhaustible fertility and often total irrelevance. Thus quite recently, when it at last seemed that the clouds were lifting, India suddenly announced that because Pakistan had joined in such anti-Communist security treaties with the West as SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, and had accepted military aid from the United States, Kashmir’s self-determination was permanently debarred. Now, the issue is once. more firmly back in the “For Urgent Action” file of the UN.
While this controversy continues to rage, another perhaps even more menacing quarrel divides India and Pakistan; that of the division of their natural water resources. The Indus basin, watered by the Indus and its five main tributaries, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, all having their source in Indian territory, forms one of the largest irrigation systems in the world, created during the bygone days of British rule. On partition, the duly authorized representatives of both the two new countries gave assurances that each would abide by well-established principles of international law, requiring all riparian users of common rivers to respect one another’s established uses and to divide surplus waters, in accordance with the rule of equitable apportionment. Patient efforts by the’ International Bank in Washington have so far failed to find a solution that would produce for India the extra irrigatory supplies she needs for her increasing millions of impoverished peasants, without reducing the flow no less vitally needed by Pakistan to feed her own fast-growing population. For India the problem is grave, but for Pakistan it is one of national survival.
If on this, as on all other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, any permanent cure of the present estrangement is to be effected, sacrifices and gestures will have to be made by both sides. Yet it is India who will have to make the first constructive efforts to break the log jam. For it is her recalcitrance that blocks the UN attempt to provide a settlement of the Kashmir quarrel; it is her obstinacy, based doubtless on uneasy foreknowledge of the probable verdict, that prevents the Canal Waters dispute going to thee International Court of justice at The Hague for adjudication. Is it too much to hope that Nehru, who has already lost so much of the moral stature he had gained for himself and his country since the war, will yet, before it is too tragically late, have second thoughts?