Conflict with the tribes:
In June 1947, sentiments against the Maharaja took a turn for the worse. Nearly 60,000 former soldiers in the army began a harsh campaign against the Maharaja, refusing to pay taxes. The campaign soon gravitated towards a demand that the Maharaja step down until on the 14th and 15 of August, large numbers of “Poonch Muslims” began to hoist the flag of Pakistan. Despite the fact that the Maharaja attempted to restore order by the declaration of Martial law, this only further fanned the flames of violence in the region. The renowned British Historian Victoria Schofield states in her book on Kashmir that the complexity of the situation in Kashmir at the time was further exacerbated by the involvement of Pakistan’s NWFP tribes in the region. This involvement provided “ammunition and support” to the Poonch Muslims.
Conflict in the region continued for the next few months. In the month of September, both parties began to file allegations against the other complaining of repeated “covert incursions”. The then commander of Jammu and Kashmir, alleged that several unlawful covert incursions had been conducted by Pakistan, while Pakistan in response accused India of incursions by the Jammu Hindus in the “Sialkot region”.
This growing political conflict began to affect the Maharaja’s reputation. In an attempt to take away attention from the conflict, he reluctantly agreed to the much demanded release of Sheikh Abdullah from prison. This proved to be largely counterproductive for the Maharaja, whose reputation was further worsened by the allegations that were levelled against him nearly immediately after Abdullah was released from prison. Abdullah, contrary to what the Maharaja was trying to achieve, stated that “the demand of the Kashmiri is freedom”, implying that the rule under the Maharaja had been largely dictatorial and far from orderly.
The release of Sheikh Abdullah from prison and his widespread propaganda campaign also proved to inflame anti-Jinnah sentiments. Abdullah, in his speeches, made the hypocrisy of the notion of Kashmiri accession to Pakistan evident. In one notable speech, Abdullah stated, “ “How can Mr Jinnah or the Muslim League tell us to accede to Pakistan? They have always opposed us in every struggle. Even in our present struggle (Quit Kashmir), he (Jinnah) carried on propaganda against us and went on saying that there is no struggle of any kind in the state”.
Meanwhile the conflict continued to worsen. Given the excessive post-partition chaos during the time, the accurate statistical figures outlining the death toll and injuries caused due to conflict were mere estimations. The Times, a then prominent newspaper, approximated that the nearly 237,000 Muslims were suspected to be killed while reach Pakistan.
One such particularly prominent figure who spearheaded the “Poonch Liberation Movement” during the time was Sardar Ibrahim Khan, a lawyer hailing from Pooch. He was originally an administrator working under Hari Singh, but eventually broke away. His former administrative position allowed him to establish connections with key factions in Poonch and build his influence. He was the first to promote the idea of “Azad Kashmir” and later proved to be integral to its establishment in Rawalpindi.
The stagnation of the situation in Kashmir during the time caused Pakistan’s strong suspicions that Hari Singh would choose Pakistani Accession over accession to India. Kashmir during the time was considered a geo-strategic location; Kashmiri accession to India, Pakistan feared, would cause Pakistan to become geographically and militarily vulnerable. The extent of this vulnerability was outlined aptly in a research paper written by Dr. Sanjay Kumar on the India-Pakistan relations during the time of partition. The paper quoted the “Pakistan brigadier-in-charge in Kashmir Major General Akbar Khan, who stated that “Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan was not simply a matter of desirability but of absolute necessity for its separate existence”.
The extensive propaganda being disseminated by the Sheikh, however, caused them to grow increasingly insistent on a quick handover of power before the situation worsened. To Pakistan, the only feasible way to do this in a short timespan was to seize the region of Kashmir via a surprise attack and by force. What followed was a violent attempt at the seizure of Kashmir known as Operation Gulmarg.
- Book by Victoria Schofield: Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War.
- William Norman Brown, United States of India and Pakistan
- Book by Author P.N. Bazaz- Inside Kashmir
- Research Paper by Dr. Sanjay Kumar ‘India-Pakistan Relation Past Present and Future’