Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War

Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War

An excerpt from Myra MacDonald's new book.

So too would the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), though its influence was lopsided. If Pakistan insisted on the centrality of the dispute, India regarded it as an irritant. J&K was the largest of the semi-autonomous princely states in British India and geographically contiguous to both India and Pakistan. It was a sprawling, diverse kingdom that included the Kashmir Valley, its political heartland, the remote mountain regions of Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan, and Jammu, which ran from the foothills of the Himalaya down into the plains of Punjab. As Independence Day passed in August 1947, the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority state was unable to decide whether to accede to India or Pakistan or try to remain independent. Pakistan discreetly began helping his rebellious pro-Pakistan subjects in the west of the state, while also supporting an invasion of the Kashmir Valley by a tribal militia. When the maharajah panicked and appealed for Indian help, Delhi persuaded him to sign an Instrument of Accession to India as a condition for its support. On October 27, 1947, India airlifted Indian soldiers to the capital, Srinagar, to secure the kingdom. With Pakistan then sending its own soldiers to support the rebels, the two countries began their lives as independent states at war.

When the fighting stopped with a ceasefire in 1948, some two-thirds of the territory of J&K was in Indian hands, including the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and much of Jammu. Pakistan held Gilgit and Baltistan, along with a strip of land it called Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir. At the height of the crisis, India had approached the United Nations for help, leading to a UN Security Council resolution recommending a plebiscite. This called on Pakistan to withdraw all its nationals from J&K first, followed by Indian moves to reduce its own troops to the minimum needed to maintain law and order. The people of J&K would then be asked whether they wanted the state to join India or Pakistan. The princely state was to be treated as a whole, rather than disaggregated into its constituent parts, and independence was not offered as an option. The conditions for a plebiscite were never met. J&K would remain divided through all the wars between India and Pakistan, the source of a dispute that was both territorial and ideological. As a signifier of national identity, Pakistan saw possession of Kashmir as confirming its role as a natural homeland for Muslims, while India viewed it as evidence of its secularism. Neither country had any interest in letting J&K reunite as an independent state. This dissonance over Kashmir fed into broader assumptions about national security that informed the way both countries approached nuclear weapons. Pakistan claimed innocence, insisting its nuclear weapons programme had merely been a response to India’s efforts to acquire nuclear bombs. India downplayed the influence of Pakistan on its own decisions. In reality, both played catch-up with the other at different points in time.

Myra MacDonald is a journalist and author specializing in South Asian politics and security. She was a correspondent for Reuters for nearly thirty years.

Image: Indian Army Armoured Corps T-90 main battle tank. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/@cell105