The creation of Pakistan was critical in the British scheme of things
Muhammad Ali Jinnah addresses the assembly in Karachi in the presence of Viceroy Louis Mountbatten, August 15, 1947 (Photo: AP)
MANY EMINENT SCHOLARS, HISTORIANS, and politicians have probably written thousands of books on the Partition of India and the almost “accidental” creation of Pakistan as a logical conclusion to the spin that the Muslims of the subcontinent needed a separate nation. Perhaps, it is now time to review this paradigm which has been viewed as the Holy Gospel for the last 75 years.
I believe this is necessary as I look at it from the prism of my own family who were uprooted from their traditional homeland in the heart of the Punjab and forced to flee to the safety of India or else either be inevitably slaughtered, or forced to convert to Islam or Christianity, or lead the unfortunate lives of kafirs on the wrong side of the Punjab.
For my grandfather Puran Chand Malhotra, the stark reality struck home sometime in early April of 1940 when he received a phone call in Lahore from his good friend and mentor, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, then chief minister of Punjab. My grandfather had just accepted a commission from the government of India to take up a senior civil service position in Bombay. The Malhotra household at Number 3 Chamba House Lane in Lahore was busy packing up for the shift to Bombay.
On meeting my grandfather, Sir Sikandar told him that now that the Pakistan Resolution had been passed in Lahore during the previous month, the creation of Pakistan was inevitable. The Punjab governor wanted him to unequivocally and conclusively merge his party with the Muslim League and expel all its Hindu and Sikh members. Sir Sikandar impressed upon my grandfather that he needed to permanently sell off his assets and get out of the Punjab lock, stock and barrel. The Punjab would be partitioned and nobody knew the contours of the plan. Sir Sikandar’s first cousin, Mohammed Iqbal Hayat, had a property at Connaught Place in New Delhi which Sir Sikandar suggested my grandfather should exchange for his almost similar property on Lahore’s Mall Road. The deal was struck in August 1940. Further, Sir Sikandar pushed my grandfather to simultaneously sell a property on Golf Road in Lahore and purchase a house on Firoz Shah Road in New Delhi. Having done that, my grandfather, for sentimental reasons, still retained a foothold in the Punjab by holding on to his Chamba House Lane residence in Lahore. That property was lost in Partition.
Now, why did an astute, secular politician of the Punjab like Sir Sikandar, who as chief minister headed the Unionist Party government composed of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, suddenly accept the reality and inevitability of Partition in April 1940?
To answer this question that bedevilled Sir Sikandar during those fateful days, one needs to look at a pattern of events that were manifesting themselves and which have been largely ignored in favour of the version of events foisted on us since then.
The en masse resignation of eight Congress ministries in different provinces during October and November 1939 in protest against Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s unilateral declaration of war against the Axis powers in September 1939 was construed as a serious betrayal on the part of Congress, which was now proven to be unreliable within the context of the British Raj. However, other parties like the Hindu Mahasabha and the All-India Muslim League supported the viceroy’s actions. The British then began preparing Muhammad Ali Jinnah to politically articulate a formal demand for Pakistan. The first step was an article written by Jinnah on this subject in a London weekly Time and Tide on March 9, 1940. This was followed by the passage of the Lahore Resolution of the All-India Muslim League in favour of Pakistan on March 24, 1940.
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany declared war on the Soviet Union. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill flew to Moscow in July 1941 and signed the Anglo-Soviet Pact. After the collapse of Singapore on February 15, 1942, the defection of 40,000 Indian prisoners of war (PoWs) to Japanese forces under the leadership of Captain Mohan Singh, and the recruitment of 3,000 Indian PoWs in Germany by Subhas Chandra Bose, the British were distraught that they could no longer rely on the loyalty of Indian troops if the war came to India’s western borders. The threat appeared to be real. Case Blue or Fall Bleu was a joint military offensive of the German army and air force in southern Russia from June 28 to November 24, 1942. The operation was a continuation of the previous year’s Operation Barbarossa under which the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The British were very concerned about the possibility of German forces moving to the south and east within the Soviet Union, eventually linking up with Japanese forces in India which were then advancing towards Burma. However, the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad forced them to retreat from the Caucasus, and that marked the end of the direct German threat to India by December 1942. However, the Japanese threat remained very real.
British cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park had cracked German cypher traffic and had wind of this planned offensive. Consequently, the Cripps Mission was sent by the British government to India in March 1942 to obtain Indian cooperation for the British war effort. It was headed by Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, a Labour minister in Winston Churchill’s coalition government in Britain. The threat of a possible German-Japanese link-up in India was looming and Indian support was essential for Britain’s war efforts. Britain was also facing pressure from the US and other allied leaders over its own imperial policies in India, and also to secure Indian cooperation for the Allied war effort.
The Cripps Mission failed. Cripps returned to England. In furtherance of their cooperation in fighting Nazi Germany, the USSR and Britain signed the Anglo-Soviet Treaty in London on May 26, 1942, weeks after the collapse of the Cripps Mission, and Congress led by Mahatma Gandhi started their new campaign, the Quit India Movement in August 1942.
Most historians have ignored the fact that the fallout of the defections of Indian PoWs in Germany and Singapore had a major impact on the government of India. Added to this were the Quit India Movement of 1942 and the potential threat from the radicalised labour force involved in working the thousands of factories involved in the war effort in India.
The British were in two minds about pulling out of India as, without the resource base of India, the rest of their empire would eventually collapse.
SIR GEORGE CUNNINGHAM, ONE OF THE KEY CIVIL servants in the government of India, began to plan in 1944 for the Partition of India and the transfer of power. Blessed by Cunningham, who was serving his second term as the governor of the NWFP, a frontier committee was formed under Lieutenant General Sir Francis Tucker of the Indian Army. Its task was to recommend a new frontier policy. This committee recommended withdrawing regular Indian Army troops from the Razmak, Wana, and Khyber Pass garrisons and replacing them with scouts and khassadars (tribal levies). Both Cunningham and Sir Olaf Caroe supported the immediate implementation of these recommendations. The immediate effect of this was the removal of all Hindu and Sikh Army officers and soldiers from the NWFP and having the northern frontiers of India defended by the Muslim-staffed Frontier Scouts and Frontier Constabulary.
In 1944, the Indian Army’s Khojak Brigade on the Baluchistan frontier was disbanded. In March 1945, the Indian Army’s Tal Brigade was disbanded and some of its units were assigned to the Kohat Brigade. In April 1946, the commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, presided over a high-level conference at Peshawar. It was attended by Sir George Cunningham, the political agent to the governor of Baluchistan, the British consul at Kabul, and senior military and civil officers. A unanimous decision was reached to replace regular troops in all tribal areas with scouts and khassadars. It was to be a gradual withdrawal in five phases and to be completed over two years. It was against this background that the Pishin Scouts were raised. A decision was also made to raise the Central Waziristan Scouts and to retrain the Malakand Battalion. The Khyber Rifles were re-raised on April 26, 1946. The recruiting pool was to be drawn from the wartime-raised Afridi Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Sharif Khan, aka Sharifo (5/10 Baluch Regiment), was appointed the Commandant of the Khyber Rifles. Khassadars were to be trained and disciplined to make them a reliable partner of the scouts. To achieve this objective, a new position called ‘district officer’ was created in 1946 to take charge of the khassadars. In North Waziristan, for instance, about 2,000 khassadars were put under the command of the new District Officer Frank Leeson.
These local levies and scouts were not raised for military purposes only. Importantly, they nurtured an intimate bond between the British and a considerable part of the local population. In the course of revisions of levies and scouts, this intimacy was constantly extended. For instance, the time spent with British officers for training was prolonged, the number of scouts under training at one time was reduced and the scouts were converted from part-time to full-time troops. The use of discipline should not be seen primarily as repressive and negative, but as transformative, even educative, enabling the management of the subject population. Members of the scouts and tribal levies were imparted British visions of regularity, order, command, and obedience. It was not as if all energy was invested in intangible benefits. Equally significant was material remuneration given to the scouts to compensate for their services, as it made them and their dependents and relatives conscious of the “boons” of British rule. However, it became clear that these British district officers, who had developed some kind of symbiotic relationship with the scouts and levies under their command, could not be employed in an invasion of Kashmir, in order to militarily absorb it into Pakistan, as that would embarrass Prime Minister Attlee’s government.
After the collapse of Singapore on February 15, 1942, the defection of 40,000 Indian prisoners of war (PoWs) to Japanese forces under the leadership of Captain Mohan Singh, and the recruitment of 3,000 Indian PoWs in Germany by Subhas Chandra Bose, the British were distraught that they could no longer rely on the loyalty of Indian troops if the war came to India’s western borders
In 1944, the US and Britain signed the top-secret Hyde Park Agreement. The signatories were Prime Minister Churchill and President Franklin D Roosevelt. For some strange reason, the US copy of this classified document was lost in Roosevelt’s papers after his death in 1945. Unaware of this top-secret Anglo-US agreement, the US Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, aka McMahon Act, which became law on August 1, 1946. It restricted access to nuclear information to other countries and left Britain out of the loop.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the greatest atomic secret was that the US was fighting to maintain a global monopoly on the supply of uranium. The main aim of that monopoly was to keep uranium out of Soviet reach. But unfortunately for the US, uranium was being mined in Sinkiang, right on Kashmir’s northern borders. Sinkiang was nominally under the control of the then Kuomintang government of China but the Soviets exercised de facto control over the territory.
For Britain, therefore, it became vital to spy on what developments were taking place in Sinkiang, Soviet Tajikistan, and Soviet Kazakhstan, and the relationship that various entities involved in the development of the nuclear bomb, established in these areas, shared with the Soviet-controlled uranium mines in the Koktogai Valley, which was also in the same region. This was vital for Britain if it wanted to make the atom bomb using its own resources and skills.
The complexity and gravity of the developments required Commander Eric Welsh, who was head of a highly classified nuclear spying unit in MI6, codenamed Tube Alloys Liaison (TAL), to take direct control over another Sinkiang-focused classified British spy network operating out of Gilgit in Kashmir. Welsh knew that the Gilgit operation was going to be crucial in Britain’s quest for the atomic bomb. The remit of the operation had to be expanded and more data needed to be generated from what was clearly emerging as the site of the Soviet nuclear explosion. This was at Semipalatinsk in Soviet Kazakhstan bordering Sinkiang. If Britain could share this data with the US, it could not only subsidise the costs of this operation but also enable it to continuously strengthen its access to the US nuclear weapons programme. The Semipalatinsk test site, about 150 km west of Semey, was the anvil on which the Soviet Union forged its nuclear arsenal.
Monitoring seismic and acoustic activity at Semipalatinsk became a top priority for Welsh. Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Manhattan Project that built the US nuclear bomb, doubted that the US will detect the debris from a Soviet nuclear test because of the distances involved. Therefore, the British exercise out of India became perhaps the only accurate scientific assessment of whether or not the Soviets conducted a nuclear test. It also had to be highly secret and deniable as it was located in an area the British would have to shortly vacate, both legally and physically. The trick was to retain control despite the ongoing process of Partition and the inevitable withdrawal from India.
Welsh manoeuvred to install Lieutenant Colonel Roger Bacon as the political agent in Gilgit. Bacon was an astute officer of the Indian Army who had been co-opted into the Indian Political Service (IPS). Welsh gave Bacon the additional undercover mandate to construct and commission a seismic monitoring station to monitor seismic changes occurring at Semipalatinsk in the run-up to the actual test. This station’s records are still classified. Its code name was Stowage. It was established in the Gilgit Agency close to the Indus River and lay within the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountain range. This station was closest to Semipalatinsk, and it generated a daily output that was telegraphed to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and then to AFOAT-I, the United States Air Force (USAF) agency responsible for monitoring Soviet nuclear tests. Because of its proximity to Semipalatinsk, Stowage was always the first to receive the signal from a test. Further, Bacon also commissioned two acoustic stations in the Gilgit Agency, codenamed Beaver and Tagday.
All three of these stations in the Gilgit Agency were to collect nuclear debris after the explosion. Over a period of 10 years starting in 1946, these three stations were collecting at their peak up to four filters worth of material a day, which were flown by a squadron of 20 Avro Lincoln aircraft from Chaklala airbase in Rawalpindi directly to Royal Air Force (RAF) Harwell in Oxfordshire, UK, for radiochemical analysis by a team led by Dr Frank Morgan. Morgan was, perhaps, Britain’s pre-eminent radiochemist. The RAF also operated the Chaklala-based Lincoln bombers and a squadron of converted Halifax bombers for debris collection flights out of both Chaklala and Risalpur in NWFP to coincide with any blasts at Semipalatinsk. A part of this detachment of aircraft was also used for aerial photographic reconnaissance over different nuclear-related sites of interest in the Soviet Union.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE ACTIVITIES IS not that they happened, but that they took place so close to one another. The Soviet test site at Semipalatinsk and the Soviet uranium ore processing site in Tajikistan were near the British airfields in Chaklala and Risalpur. This also underscored how critical the creation of Pakistan was in Britain’s scheme of things. With the prospect of Partition looming, Britain moved to secure its nuclear dream. The Lincoln and Halifax aircraft were neither limited by service ceiling nor range and were even able to cover distances north and northwest of Semipalatinsk. Thus, Bacon’s “nuclear monitoring empire” became a vital cog in the British quest to make the atom bomb.
These three monitoring stations in the Gilgit Agency were very important for the British and remained so until 1956. First, they provided direct evidence of the kind of weapons the Soviets were testing. Second, this resource facilitated a much-valued technical dialogue between the British and the Americans, which was necessary if Britain was to remain in the hunt for the bomb. Third, they provided scientific indications that were vital for the development of Britain’s own atomic weapons. The Chaklala and Risalpur airbases provided a regular stream of photographic intelligence, which was the second vital component of this exercise. The debris collected during actual and practice tests added to the intelligence being studied and analysed. Finally, the human intelligence (HUMINT) resources of Bacon’s setup out of Gilgit, Chitral, and Hunza, provided the much-needed real-time intelligence to complete the picture.
There were other developments as well. In the summer of 1947, sensing the inevitability of Partition, the Mir of Hunza, Mohammad Jamal Khan, dispatched a two-man mission to Kashgar to explore the resumption of ties with the Chinese Nationalist Party or KMT government that controlled Sinkiang. He wanted to keep his post-Partition options open. The Mir, who was already a vassal ruler of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, also paid a visit to Maharaja Hari Singh in Srinagar. In his meeting with the Maharaja, the Mir of Hunza learnt that the Maharaja had retracted his earlier policy of merger with Pakistan. While the Mir was in Srinagar, the Chinese deputy C-in-C of the Sinkiang Garrison Force in southern Sinkiang, General Zhao Xiguang, decided to personally visit Hunza to examine the opportunity that was emerging.
When the Indian Consulate in Kashgar came to know of these developments, Limbuwala, the Parsee radio operator at the consulate sent a wireless message to Bacon’s deputy, Major William Brown, in Gilgit. Brown passed this news up the chain of command and was ordered to dispatch a force of Gilgit Scouts who intercepted Zhao’s party and forced them to turn back. Zhao’s move was interpreted by Welsh at TAL in London as being orchestrated by the Soviets. A new threat placed Bacon’s nuclear monitoring empire once again in the arc of insecurity. Clearly, both the Gilgit Agency and the Valley had to be properly secured. Nothing short of military action would suffice. The entire region must be put under de facto British control at the very least.
During his June 1947 visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten suggested that the state secure standstill agreements with both India and Pakistan. Such agreements would enable the state to continue to enjoy trade, communication, and service arrangements it had enjoyed within British India. On August 12, 1947, after taking charge as prime minister, the first thing the newly installed Brigadier Janak Singh had to do was to send telegrams to both the emerging dominions of India and Pakistan, proposing parallel standstill agreements. The telegram sent to the government of India stated that Jammu and Kashmir would welcome a standstill agreement with the Union of India on all matters that existed between the state and the outgoing British India government. It suggested that the existing arrangements should continue until the formal execution of fresh arrangements. These arrangements, according to the Treaty of Amritsar of 1846, mandated the use of Indian forces in the event of internal rebellion or invasion by a foreign power.
On August 15, 1947, Pakistan agreed to sign a standstill agreement with Jammu and Kashmir. Under this agreement, the Pakistani government assumed charge of the postal and telegraph systems of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to supply foodstuff and other essential commodities to the state. However, the government of India demurred. Could the Indian government help Jammu and Kashmir, without recourse to the proposed standstill agreement or/and the Instrument of Accession, if the state was besieged by internal rebellion or external invasion? Did Mountbatten cancel the Gilgit lease of 1935 so that it would not even have an iota of contingent residual validity if the proposed standstill agreement was not signed with India?
There was deception and intrigue in every corner. There were traps and fallback positions at every stage. It appears that the entire exercise was manipulated to ensure that Bacon’s nuclear monitoring empire was protected. Someone at the highest level in the government of India stalled the signing of the standstill agreement to buy time for a military intervention in Jammu and Kashmir to secure British interests.
Although Kashmir was, on August 15, 1947, legally an “independent” country, it still housed technically “illegal” nuclear monitoring facilities unknown to the ruler of the state. And if it acceded to India, it would then become a part of the British Empire, as the King of England was still the sovereign power even though he had lost his title, Emperor of India, at Nehru’s insistence. It became a very troublesome issue and was unsatisfactorily resolved by replacing all British-origin Lashkar commanders of the Kabaili invasion force with Muslim Pakistani officers. The problem was that while the British officers all spoke Pashto, very few of their available Pakistani replacements knew Pashto. All the replacement officers were overwhelmingly Punjabis. Moreover, none of them could command the loyalty of the men quite like their British predecessors. This was one of the key reasons behind the failure of the Kabaili invasion.
Consequently, the creation of Pakistan and the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir became an integral part of British policy. Both the “unreliability” of the leadership of Congress in British eyes and Nehru’s reported unwillingness to allow British military bases in India to be retained under British control, necessitated the creation of Pakistan.