Pakistan’s relations with India over the years have been dictated by a fear of Indian hegemony in the region and the disagreement between the two countries over the Kashmir issue. Like most other conflicts between the two neighbours, the Kashmir issue is rooted in history and arose following the departure of our British overlords. During the pre-Partition period, Kashmir held the status of a semi-autonomous “Princely State” like 561 other states. It was ruled by a Hindu Raja while most of its inhabitants were Muslim. Hasan Zaheer has detailed activities undertaken by major political parties (Indian National Congress and All India Muslim League) in Kashmir during pre-partition era, in his magisterial account ‘The Times and Trial of The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case 1951’. Congress went on the front foot and wooed local politicians, in particular Sheikh Abdullah of National Conference. Muslim League, on the other hand, remained aloof and kept its distance from the internal politics of Princely states. This inaction was to have far-reaching implications after partition.

Partition of India was announced according to 3rd June Plan, which delineated the boundaries of future states and gave Princely states the option to join either India or Pakistan. Boundary Commissions were also formed to decide areas in Punjab and Bengal to be included in India or Pakistan. Pakistan’s official narrative states that India was unfairly given areas contiguous to Kashmir in Gurdaspur. Historian Shereen Ilahi noted in her paper titled, “The Radcliffe Boundary Commission and the Fate of Kashmir” that the basic unit used to divide Punjab was the tehsil, or sub-district, rather than the district itself. The Radcliffe Award gave three of Gurdaspur’s four tehsils to India, two of them Muslim-majority, for a variety of reasons to do with security concerns in Punjab. However, even if the two Muslim-majority tehsils had gone to Pakistan, the fact that the tehsil of Pathankot was Hindu-majority would have left India with control of the land route to Jammu and Kashmir. As such, the frequently reiterated charge that the award of Gurdaspur to India was part of a conspiracy to ensure that Jammu and Kashmir became part of that country has no real foundation in fact. “There is no evidence,” Ilahi concluded, “to imply that anyone gerrymandered the boundary because of its implications for the princely state.”

Pakistan’s leaders considered Kashmir an essential part of their plans and were convinced that the Raja would decide in favour of joining Pakistan. The Dogra Raja had other issues to consider though, including the security of his non-muslim subjects and his own safety. Soon after partition, tribesmen in Poonch initiated an uprising against the Dogra forces and overpowered them. Meanwhile, tribals from Waziristan and Balochistan were transported to Kashmir to take part in the “Jihad”. These tribal forces were aided by regular Army forces and supplemented by weapons from the Punjab Government. By the end of October 1947, the invading Lashkar reached Baramulla, at the outskirts of Srinagar. At this point, however, the invading force made a critical error. Renowned photographer and journalist Margaret Bourke-White witnessed the unfolding of this spectacle.

The tribesmen–Mohmand and Afridi, Wazir and Mahsud–of the North West were superb fighters, but saw little distinction between military conquest and war for pillage. For three entire days, Baramulla was subjected to an orgy of destruction, rape and loot. “Sometimes their help to their brother Muslims”, Bourke-White noted in ‘Halfway to Freedom’, “Was accomplished so quickly that the trucks and buses would come back within a day or two bursting with loot, only to return to Kashmir with more tribesmen, to repeat their indiscriminate “liberating” – and terrorising of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim villager alike. The nuns of the Baramulla Mission Hospital, were butchered en masse when they attempted to intercede on behalf of their patients. A National Conference leader, Mir Maqbool Sherwani, led covert operations by the Kashmir Militia against the tribal irregulars. He was captured by the raiders and asked to publicly claim support for Pakistan. On his refusal, “They drove nails through the palms of Sherwani’s hands. On his forehead they pressed a jagged piece of tin and wrote on it: The punishment of a traitor is death.” He was later killed by a firing squad.

Kashmir’s Dogra ruler had seen enough by the time and decided to accede to India. Within a few days, Indian forces arrived in Srinagar and took control of the city. Pakistan’s regular forces advanced to consolidate their position and were rebuffed by the Indian army due to their strategic advantage. The 1947-48 war lasted for a few months until a cease-fire was announced by the United Nations. Indian Journalist Praveen Swami mentioned in his book “India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad” that the war of 1947–1948 was a crusade initiated as an instrument of state policy, not an outbreak of religious anger or communal passion (as portrayed in our national narrative).

Even after the cease-fire, many of the officers involved in the original Operation Kashmir dreamt of “liberating” the land. One of the primary reasons cited by the “Rawalpindi Conspirators” was to liberate Kashmir after taking over Pakistan. Covert efforts to change the status quo were underway in the first decade after partition as discovered during the “Kashmir Conspiracy Case” of 1958.

The story of the first battle of Kashmir provides us with enough clues about the later strategy adopted by the Pakistani state.