Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Interventionism as policy
Kanchan Gupta / Essay / November-December, 2008.
US President Barack Hussein Obama’s utterances on Jammu & Kashmir, indicating that the so-called ‘Kashmir issue’ will figure on the agenda of his Administration, just as it featured on the ‘To Do’ list of Mr Bill Clinton during his first term as President, have raised more than eyebrows in India. To his credit, President George W Bush had steered clear of the ‘Kashmir issue’; he snubbed Pakistan each time it tried to push for a revival of American interventionism, insisting that Islamabad had to deal directly with New Delhi. Even Gen Colin Powell, with his pronounced pro-Pakistan bias, could not get Mr Bush to change his view and send in Nosy Parkers from the State Department to play their insidious games. Recall a busybody called Ms Robin Raphael whom Mr Clinton promoted during his first presidential term to ‘solve’ the ‘Kashmir issue’. She used the opportunity to forge the All-Party Hurriyat Conference with disastrous consequences in Jammu & Kashmir, and colluded with Benazir Bhutto to create the monster called Taliban in the hope Mullah Mohammed Omar would look after Unocal’s business interests.
With the shadow of American interventionism as policy looming large, it would be instructive to scan the past, if only to figure out the genesis of the West’s proclivity to interfere in an issue that neither impacts it directly nor does it understand entirely. Interestingly, much before the US decided to get into the act, it was the UK which manipulated events in a manner that whetted Washington’s appetite. Equally interesting is the reason that shaped Anglo-American perception and policy on Jammu & Kashmir, which does not figure in much of the discourse on this issue but has been presented in great detail by former diplomat C Dasgupta in his path-breaking book, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir — 1947-48.
First, some bare facts. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, making Jammu & Kashmir an integral part of India. Simultaneously, Indian forces were airlifted to Srinagar to evict the Pakistani invaders and establish India’s sovereignty over its territory. The accession was — and remains — entirely valid in terms of the Government of India Act of 1935 and India Independence Act of 1947; it is total and irrevocable in international law. Speaking in the UN Security Council on February 4, 1948, the US representative, Warren Austen, said: “The external sovereignty of Kashmir is no longer under the control of the Maharaja... with the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India, this foreign sovereignty went over to India and is exercised by India and that is why India happens to be here (at the UNSC) as a petitioner...”.
India went to the UN in good faith after Pakistan refused to vacate territory occupied by its armed raiders. In its formal reference, lodged with the Security Council on January 1, 1948 under Article 35 of the UN Charter, which permits member states to bring any situation whose continuance is likely to endanger international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council, India asserted: “Such a situation now exists between India and Pakistan owing to the aid which invaders, consisting of nationals of Pakistan and of tribesmen from the territory immediately adjoining Pakistan on the North-West, are drawing from Pakistan for operations against Jammu & Kashmir, a State which has acceded to the Dominion of India and is part of India... The Government of India request the Security Council to call upon Pakistan to put an end immediately to the giving of such assistance which is an act of aggression against India.”
In the reference, India also asserted its right, under international law, to self-defence by initiating military action against Pakistan by way of what is today termed as ‘hot pursuit’: “In order that the objective of expelling the invader from Indian territory and preventing him from launching fresh attacks should be quickly achieved, Indian troops would have to enter Pakistan territory...”.
In addition to the five permanent members, the UNSC in 1948 had Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Syria and Ukraine as non-permanent members. The instant reaction of the UNSC was to issue a Presidential Statement on January 6, 1948, making an “urgent appeal (to India and Pakistan) to refrain from any step incompatible with the (UN) Charter and liable to result in an aggravation of the situation”. This was followed by Resolution 38 on January 17, 1948, reiterating the Presidential Statement and requesting both countries to immediately report to the Security Council any material change in the situation.
Across the Atlantic, the Commonwealth Relations Office entered the picture at this point, formulating a political perspective that came to greatly influence the Security Council’s subsequent handling of the ‘Kashmir issue’, at least up to the formation of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan. The CRO’s perspective was rooted, and strangely so, in the British Foreign Office assessment of the emerging political crisis in West Asia. Britain in those days stood accused by Arabs (and their sympathisers in Europe and the US) of having abjectly failed in its Mandate over Palestine as it had been unable to control the immigration of Jews. Britain was also seen as having failed in its responsibility to prevent or contain the outbreak of what was then referred to as ‘civil war’ (which still continues to rage between Palestinians and Israelis).
Britain took the Palestine issue to the UN in April 1947 and announced its decision to abandon its mandate by May 1948. The UN General Assembly immediately adopted a Resolution for dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, paving the way for Israel’s re-birth as the homeland for Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora. The Arab reaction was vicious, instantaneous and directed in bulk against Britain.
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After Britain took the Palestine issue to the United Nations in April 1947 and announced its decision to abandon its mandate by May 1948, resulting in the General Assembly adopting a Resolution for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab states, thus unleashing Arab rage against the West, especially the United Kingdom, the British Foreign Office embarked on a duplicitous and dangerous course. It convinced the British Government, struggling to cope with the rapidly changing post-War geopolitical realities, that the only way Britain could contain — and reduce — Arab anger was by adopting a policy on Jammu & Kashmir that would be perceived as weighing in favour of Pakistan, a Muslim state. It believed this would assuage enraged ‘Arab nationalism’ (which the British Foreign Office, to its credit, had the far-sight to recognise as incipient radical Islamism). A second factor that propelled British policy in this direction was Britain’s oil interests that had become crucial in post-War Europe’s search for energy sources that would reduce dependency on coal.
British Foreign Office records, including minutes of discussions approved by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ernest Bevin, substantiate this assessment. For instance, a Foreign Office minute prepared for Prime Minister Clement Attlee said, “The Foreign Secretary has expressed anxiety lest we should appear to be siding with India in the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir which is now before the United Nations Security Council. With the situation as critical as it is in Palestine, Mr Bevin feels that we must be very careful to guard against the danger of aligning the whole of Islam against us, which might be the case were Pakistan to obtain a false impression of our attitude in the Security Council.” If six decades ago the Attlee Cabinet was keen to appease Islamists by short-changing India on Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Barack Hussein Obama’s Administration may be tempted to do something similar to establish its credentials in the Islamic world since it won’t dare to push around Israel.
Interestingly, Louis Mountbatten, who had played no small role in steering the Jammu & Kashmir issue to the Security Council, found the British Foreign Office policy harmful to larger Commonwealth interests. In one of his reports he recorded: “Everybody here (in India) is now convinced that power politics and not impartiality are governing the attitude of the Security Council... Indian leaders counter this (attempts to dispel this conviction) by saying that the Anglo-American Bloc apparently attaches so high a value on the maintenance of Muslim solidarity in the Middle-East that they are even ready to pay the price of driving India out of the Commonwealth into the arms of Russia...”.
Not known for being tolerant of Indian sensitivities, Philip Noel-Baker, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, was easily persuaded by Bevin’s perspective and he took it upon himself to pro-actively lobby with the US and non-permanent Security Council members to toe a pro-Pakistan line in enforcing a solution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue through a UN-sponsored plebiscite. Noel-Baker had his way with Resolution 39 adopted by the Security Council on January 20, 1948, on the setting up of a three-member UN Commission for India and Pakistan which would visit the two countries, study the ground situation, and report back to the Security Council.
Noel-Baker followed this up by aggressively pushing a draft resolution that was crafted in a manner to favour Pakistan. The US representative was initially hesitant to go along with Noel-Baker’s draft, but was soon won over. Surprisingly, at this stage the Chinese representative came up with an alternative draft that was comparatively more balanced. In a change of tactics, necessitated by his being reprimanded by Attlee who feared ‘irreparable damage’ to relations with India, Noel-Baker seized upon this draft and cunningly had it amended to such an extent that it bore no resemblance with the original draft; the Noel-Baker version of the Chinese draft came to be adopted as Resolution 47 by the Security Council on April 21, 1948.
Resolution 47 set out the terms of reference in two parts. Part One increased the number of members of the UNCIP from three to five (Noel-Baker believed that a larger team would enable a report more in tune with his perspective) and instructed the UNCIP to “proceed at once” in order to “place its good offices and mediation” at the disposal of India and Pakistan with the twin goals of restoring peace and order and holding a plebiscite. Part Two comprised the Security Council’s recommendations to India and Pakistan for achieving these goals:
i. Pakistan should “use its best endeavours” to secure the withdrawal of the raiders (tribesmen and other Pakistani nationals) from Jammu & Kashmir;
ii. India should withdraw its forces and reduce them to the minimum level required for the maintenance of law and order; and,
iii. UNCIP might employ troops of either dominion “subject to the agreement of both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan”.
Pakistan rejected Resolution 47, demanding an amendment that the deployment of Pakistani troops should not be subject to the agreement of the Government of India. The amendment was defeated. India rejected the Resolution on the ground that it was weighed in favour of Pakistan and that it skirted the main issue as contained in India’s reference to the Security Council — that of vacating the Pakistani aggression. India also pointed out that the Security Council had failed to issue a clear call to Pakistan to withdraw the raiders before going into the plebiscite arrangements. However, both India and Pakistan accepted the setting up of the UNCIP and agreed to receive the Commission.
The UNCIP visited India and Pakistan in July 1948. By May 1948, the ground situation had undergone a radical material change with Pakistani Army regulars being deployed in the occupied areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Zafarullah Khan admitted to the UNCIP that Pakistani Army regulars had been deployed since May 1948. This was seen by the UNCIP as a violation of earlier Security Council Resolutions that had insisted on there being no material change in the ground situation.
The UNCIP’s findings and its subsequent Resolutions (of August 13, 1949, and January 5, 1948) were not influenced by Noel-Baker primarily because there was no British representative in the commission. Also, by then India had launched a diplomatic offensive as well as demonstrated its determination to force out the Pakistani invaders militarily. Therefore, the UNCIP reports and Resolutions, unlike the Security Council’s Resolution 47, did not reflect a deliberate pro-Pakistan tilt; recognised that the entry of Pakistani Army into Jammu & Kashmir was a violation of Security Council Resolution 38; demanded that Pakistan must withdraw its forces from Jammu & Kashmir since their presence constituted a “material change in the situation”; and, conceded primacy to a ceasefire based on withdrawal of the invaders.
The rest is history.