The Telegraphic War of the British ‘Natives’

  • Rakesh Ankit
  • Publish Date: Jun 26 2016 2:44PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jun 26 2016 2:44PM
The Telegraphic War of the British ‘Natives’

The first British High-Commissioners in India and Pakistan whose tenure oversaw the first conflict over Kashmir

T he first Kashmir conflict (October 1947-January 1949) was an ‘odd war’ in which, arguably, the most influential participants were neither the Kashmiri ‘nationals’, nor the Indian ‘nation’ and not the Pakistani ‘state’. These were instead, the British ‘natives’ – generals and officers – commanding the two armies at their headquarters and on the ground, diplomats and officials at New Delhi, Karachi and Rawalpindi and civil administrators in the provinces of the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. They personified the informal influence of friendship, patronage and colonial links that persisted beyond the transfer of power in British India. In a conflict in which India and Pakistan were dependent on London for military supplies, diplomatic support and economic aid, these Britons were caught in an unenviable position. These men held very definite and different perceptions about the origins and evolution of the crisis in Kashmir and its potential impact on British concerns. Their understandings emerged against larger calculations regarding Indian intransigence and Pakistan’s insecurities towards the creation of the New Commonwealth and collective security imperatives of the Cold War. 
This short piece focuses on three such ‘natives’, the first British High-Commissioners in India and Pakistan, Sir Terence Allen Shone, Lt. General Sir Archibald Nye and Sir Laurence Grafftey-Smith, whose tenure oversaw the first conflict over Kashmir. Their ‘over-partisan’ reports forced London to note that ‘in this “odd type of war”, British High Commissioners were conducting their own “telegraphic war”’ [23.12.48, DO 142/524, TNA]. Sir Terence Allen Shone (1894-1965), a Career Diplomat, came to India in 1946 having served as the British Minister in Cairo (1940), Syria and Lebanon (1944-46). He served for two years in New Delhi and was succeeded by Lt. General Sir Archibald Nye (1896-1967). Enlisted in the ranks of British Army in 1914, Nye rose to become the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1941. Nye was friendly with the Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who sent him as Governor of Madras in 1946. There he ‘got on very well’ with Nehru [4.6.48, Nye to Mountbatten, MB1/D322, Mountbatten Papers], so much so that he was one of the two British Governors in provinces who were asked by the Congress Government to continue after the transfer of power. In spring 1948, Governor-General Mountbatten recommended Nye for High-Commissionership in India, given the ‘great delicacy’ attached to the post [13.5.48, CRO to Nye, MB1/D322]. Nye and Mountbatten shared ‘common sympathies’ on India’s ‘greatest potential’ [11.2.48, Nye to Gordon-Walker, DO 121/71]. Their counterpart in Pakistan during this period was Sir Laurence Grafftey-Smith (1892-1989). Having joined the Levant Consular Service in 1914, Grafftey-Smith had served in Albania (1939-40) and Saudi Arabia (1945) following which he came to Pakistan. Grafftey-Smith was convinced that early Anglo-Pakistan relations were ‘shipwrecked on the Labour Party’s long and historic association with the Congress Party’ [Grafftey-Smith’s note of January 1973, St. Antony’s College, Oxford]. His open advocacy would lead Attlee to censure Grafftey-Smith in March 1948 for becoming a ‘partisan’ of Pakistan [18.3.48 and 25.3.48, Grafftey-Smith-Carter correspondence, GB165-0123, Grafftey-Smith Papers].
From before the outbreak of conflict in Kashmir, Shone and Grafftey-Smith appeared to speak more on behalf of India and Pakistan than the UK. Three weeks before the critical events of 25-26-27 October 1947, Grafftey-Smith reported to the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) that ‘every argument works against Government of India in respect of Kashmir [but] this does not embarrass their diligent efforts to secure [its] accession’ [6.10.47, Grafftey-Smith to CRO, L/PS/13/1845b, IOR]. On the same day, Shone was sharing with the CRO his conviction that Pakistan was ‘turning the heat’ on Kashmir by ‘holding telescope to their blind eye’ and preventing essential supplies from entering into Kashmir in breach of their standstill agreement [6.10.47, Shone to CRO]. Soon, Shone proceeded to claim, as the Government of India would do later that insofar as the Valley and areas surrounding capital Srinagar were concerned the Muslim population there were not ‘enthusiastically ardent supporters of accession to Pakistan’, led as they were by the National Conference, which was ‘sympathetic to Indian Congress ideas’ [9.10.47, Shone to CRO]. 
Taking note of the widening gaps in the reports of the High-Commissioners, the CRO sought to remind both on 12 October, to ‘look after UK interests in Kashmir’. The implication that Shone and Grafftey-Smith might be looking after the respective dominion’s interests was not an unfounded concern. Already on the Poonch revolt of August-September 1947 against the Maharaja’s rule, they had not sung from the same sheet. While Shone thought the Poonch affair was ‘greatly exaggerated’, Grafftey-Smith highlighted Muslim ill-treatment in Poonch at the hands of the Dogra state troops as casus belli. They agreed, however that ‘the Maharaja and the Hindu ruling class would join India if they dared and that the stage was being set for Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union’. Both also felt that this would mean ‘disturbances’ and axiomatically raised the ‘Russian bogey’. Where they differed was on where the Muslim population would be inclined to go, whether there would be a planned ‘invasion’ or a spontaneous ‘incursion’ from Pakistan areas into Kashmir and finally where it would be better for Kashmir to go for British interests. What then did the future hold? Either Kashmir to join India, ‘which the rulers want but which they can only accomplish by a coup d’état, Indian troops being rushed to Kashmir and trusting to disorganisation in Pakistan. Or, if that does not happen, Kashmir will eventually fall like a ripe plum to Pakistan’ [6.10.47, Shone to CRO and 15.10.47, Grafftey-Smith to CRO]. Shone and Grafftey-Smith confirmed to CRO, separately, on 25 October 1947 about the tribal ‘invasion’ and ‘incursion’, respectively, of Kashmir. Next day, Shone confirmed India’s determination to stop infiltration ‘at all costs’, while Grafftey-Smith conveyed Pakistan’s ‘doubts of Hari Singh’s bona-fides’ to accede to India. 
The day Indian troops were airlifted to Srinagar there followed hectic diplomatic traffic. Grafftey-Smith sought to explain the events thus: ‘Anger aroused among tribesmen by stories of persecution of Muslims in Kashmir by state troops, risk of conflagration in Frontier Province and numerous routes to Kashmir prevented the Pakistan authorities from stopping the tribesmen’. Shone, on the other hand, sought to explain India’s intervention as a ‘forced response to a difficult situation’. On 29 October, Shone laid out the contours of the future Indian case. India believed that Pakistan was behind incursion of tribesmen from NWFP and plan was to reach and take over Srinagar by 26 October and announce accession to Pakistan. India could not allow Kashmir to be overrun by tribes whose control was unacceptable in an area so close to the Soviet border. It claimed the support of more than 50% of the Muslim population of Kashmir led by Sheikh Abdullah. There would be no discussions until the raiders were driven out. At the end of the first week of what was to be a fifteen months long conflict, it was difficult to resist the conclusion that for some time both India and Pakistan had been jockeying for a position in which with some measure of legal pretext they could acquire domination over Kashmir. It was now Grafftey-Smith’s turn to send a telegram to the CRO, which was to become the pivot of Pakistan’s position towards the conflict. Calling Kashmir’s accession to India, ‘the heaviest blow yet sustained by Pakistan in her struggle for existence’, it continued: 
Strategically, Pakistan’s frontiers have been greatly extended. India gains access to NWFP and tribal areas [leading to] a heavy defence budget [for Pakistan], a [re-defined] Afghan policy and disorder in Gilgit, which will excite Russian interests and appetite. Kashmir’s developments have created a new international situation to which UK and US government cannot remain indifferent. Economically threat to Pakistan’s irrigation systems, hydro-electric projects is serious and real. Further, if five and a half million Muslims can be driven out of East Punjab then three million Muslims of Kashmir will create a massive refugee problem. [It] would provoke reactions in Pakistan which would be impossible to control. I doubt Pakistan’s ability, even if the will existed, to prevent incursions into Kashmir. Jinnah has done everything he could... [29.10.47, Grafftey-Smith to Noel-Baker]
Two days later, Shone took up India’s case with vigour. Arguing that ‘the only man who can stop fighting is Jinnah’, he wanted Prime Minister Clement Attlee to make it clear to Jinnah that ‘his action in conniving or permitting the tribesmen to pass through his territory was thoroughly blameworthy’. He was convinced that ‘Pakistan in this matter was the guilty state’. Shone went further and, in a direct response to Grafftey-Smith, argued that ‘whatever jockeying for position the two Dominions may have done up to now, Pakistan has been guilty of conniving in actual use of force in case of Kashmir’ [31.10.47, Shone to CRO]. A worried CRO shared its concerns with the Foreign Office (FO) that ‘the H-Cs in Delhi and Karachi appear to be taking up the cudgels on behalf of the governments to which they are accredited’ [1.11.47, FO 371/63570]. 
As 1948 began, it was clear to the CRO that ‘the strength of the feeling in the NWFP and the West Punjab…this pressure of public opinion quite apart from fear of reaction from the tribes, makes it impossible for Pakistan leave India in possession of Kashmir’ [15.1.48, Grafftey-Smith to CRO, DO 142/494]. Archibald Nye now sought to re-balance the equation. In a letter to the Under-Secretary CRO, Patrick Gordon-Walker, Nye elaborated on the ‘obvious political and strategic importance of our relations with India’ as the ‘greatest potential market for British trade in the world’. Nye thought of Delhi as ‘the most important and most difficult ambassadorial job in the world’. In a thinly veiled reference to Russia, he pointed that ‘other countries are alive to the possibilities and are serious competitors’ [11.2.48, Nye to Gordon-Walker, DO 121/71]. Grafftey-Smith, on the other hand, was a consistent advocate that UK must restrain the Indian offensive in Kashmir and, regularly, appraised the CRO that ‘British officers in Pakistan army feel most strongly that Pakistan’s claim to a fair plebiscite under UN auspices in Kashmir is entirely just, and they therefore fully support Pakistan’s defensive operations in Kashmir’ [6.11.48, Grafftey-Smith to CRO, DO 133/82]. In December 1948, he would write that: 
...any British Officer commanding the Pakistan army must consider present operations in Kashmir as more immediately critical and dangerous than they may appear in Delhi. Pakistan’s political and economic existence will be in the gravest jeopardy if West Kashmir falls into unfriendly hands. Fighting is now going on in areas peculiarly vital to Pakistan’s survival. There seems to me a great difference in the relative urgency of these considerations as they affect each Dominion and I doubt whether an attitude of detachment, however possible in Delhi is possible or indeed permissible in Pakistan [19.12.48, Grafftey-Smith to CRO, L/WS/1/1144]. 
From New Delhi, Nye cautioned the CRO of the damage that this stand was doing to Anglo-Indian relations [20.12.48, Nye to CRO]. The CRO was caught in this controversy ‘that Sir A. Nye engage[d] in with Sir L.G. Smith’ [23.12.48, DO 142/524]. Accordingly, it sought to apply pressure from the highest quarters for the High-Commissioners to get their act together. It recommended to Attlee that it should be suggested to the ‘two High-Commissioners that they endeavour to promote early action by the two British C-in-Cs to prepare for ceasefire’ [29.12.48, DO 142/525].
India and Pakistan ceased fire effective from 5 January 1949. The issue now shifted to the diplomatic battleground. And now it was no longer either ‘accession’ or ‘invasion’ but the ‘plebiscite’ that mattered. This local conflict now came increasingly to be seen through the prism of the hardening realities of the Cold War. Nye, whose relations with Nehru deteriorated in 1949, joined hands with Grafftey-Smith to impress upon the CRO the larger implications of the dispute in Kashmir. In August 1949, he reminded the CRO that the difference between the Anglo-American position and the Indian stand on Kashmir was India’s insistence upon its claim to Kashmir while the emphasis of Washington and London emphasised on the general interests of India and Pakistan which demand a cessation of the Kashmir dispute leading to economic development in the region as a shield against the spreading Communism [18.8.49, Nye to CRO, DO 142/530]. If the Soviet Union and Communist China provided the global context for Kashmir, then Afghanistan constituted the regional prism. Grafftey-Smith visited Kabul between 17 and 21 August 1949 and wrote to CRO thus: 
There were indications of both Indian and Soviet interest in the tribes on the Pakistan side of the frontier. That Afghanistan and India are co-operating in their anti-Pakistan activities, I personally have no doubt. That the Soviets have their baited hooks in the troubled waters I have also no doubt. Dissension within the Muslim bloc is as useful a tool as any [25.8.49, Grafftey-Smith to CRO, FO 371/76094]. 
Grafftey-Smith took every opportunity to remind the CRO that on Kashmir, ‘it should be realised that – however deeply Nehru himself may be emotionally involved – India’s position is basically tactical while Pakistan’s position is one of life and death’ [18.11.50, Grafftey-Smith to Noel-Baker, DO 142/519]. The first Kashmir conflict was indeed an ‘odd war’, in which the agencies of Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis were curtailed by the continuing presence of the colonial state structure and its old imperial-turned-new-international imperatives of the post-1945 world order. With neither newly-independent dominions in total control of their government apparatus, given the preponderance of the British, the fast-changing situation in Kashmir between first July and October 1947 and from then to December 1948 evolved in a matrix of wider strategic concerns, escalating much beyond the old princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.     
(Rakesh Ankit is Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for Law and Humanities, Jindal Global Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he completed an M.A in history and later went on to do Ph.D in History with Professor Ian Talbot at the University of Southampton)