BOOK REVIEW: Kashmir’s Untold Story: Declassified

Iqbal Chand Malhotra & Maroof Raza, Bloomsbury India 2019, Hardback, 200pp

Prior to writing the book,”Kashmir’s Untold Story: Declassified,” Iqbal Chand Malhotra, a television producer, and Maroof Raza, a former Indian Army officer, completed documentaries on Kashmir for the Discovery and Times Now channels. Both have intimate knowledge of their subject. Each of the well-researched 10 chapters has exhaustive sources listed in the end-notes. The book has a comprehensive index. It will serve the general reader and historians keen to unravel the convoluted story of Kashmir.

The book’s sweep from the 19th century unveils the conquest of Kashmir by the Sikh Empire in 1819, ending five centuries of Muslim rule; the skulduggery of the British at Partition; a geopolitically inept Nehru; and an invented nation called Pakistan which fostered insurgency in Kashmir since independence in 1947. 

It is a book that proceeds from the Indian viewpoint. But the Kashmir situation is a no-win scenario of infiltration, Islamic fundamentalist agitation and military response, as for the youth trapped in the Gaza. Until the ambiguity of sovereignty is settled and firm political leadership prevails, this will be an unending spiral of violence, much like Hong Kong as well.

British perfidy

The authors excoriate the departing British for their officers assigned to both militaries colluding to allow Pakistani territorial adventurism in the Northwest and Kashmir, while holding back an Indian military response. Nehru’s appeal for British officers to stand down was three times ignored on both sides. In frustration, he replaced the British Army Chief with India’s own military leader.

A secret British document titled “Operation Gulmarg – The Plan for the Invasion and Capture of Kashmir” was inadvertently discovered by an Indian major tasked with formally handing over command of his brigade in Rawalpindi to his Pakistani counterpart. The plot was set to roll on 20 October 1947, barely six months after Independence.

British Intelligence was obsessed with fear of Russian ‘Comintern’ infiltration through Afghanistan and suspicious of the cabal of political leaders with communist leanings whom Sheikh Abdullah had assembled in Kashmir to replace the rule of Maharajah Hari Singh. 

The British bet on Muslim Pakistan being a more reliable bulwark against communist ideology, versus Nehru’s pretentious ‘non-aligned’ posture, clubbing with China and Russia. The 1962 invasion by China cured Nehru of appeasement, belatedly. He genuinely believed China and India were ‘brother’ nations with shared goals. 

Wahabi Islam stirs jihad

Since 2000, thousands of mosques and religious schools were set up in Kashmir through Saudi Arabian funding channelled via the intelligence services of Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is a known global underwriter of Islamic fundamentalism. Wahabi mullahs preach their brand of hate and terror to incite vulnerable youth deprived of normal school and employment in a state under perpetual siege, according to the authors.

Moderate leaders are silenced by threats and assassinations, they say. There is real fear of the Pakistani intelligence operatives and their agents. The overwhelming effect is the alienation of Kashmiri youth. The infiltration of trained militants from across the line of control (LOC) and smuggling of arms into the valley make for tinder-box volatility. The live-fire reaction of the police and security forces fuels hatred.

The book makes clear the Kashmir situation is politically, economically, and socially, untenable. It has festered too long in a limbo that allowed the Abdullah family to monopolize wealth, block development and keep everyone on edge. Chaos worked to the benefit of the Abdullah clan and its inner circle, by keeping central government oversight at bay. 

End special status

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended Kashmir’s failed 72-year constitutional exceptionalism by abrogating Articles 370 and 35A and switching the combined Union Territory of Jammu (Hindu-majority) & Kashmir (Muslim-majority), and the Union Territory of Ladakh (Buddhist majority) to central government rule from November 2019. 

Pakistan is anxious and unsure of what to do next. India is wary of the US exit from Afghanistan when Pakistan will revert to its role of paymaster and guide to the Taliban. China is expected to work with Pakistan to fund the effort, and to prevent Xinjiang militants using Afghanistan as a base. Both are aligned to keep India out.

Siachen Glacier

At the ‘roof of the world’ sits the Siachen Glacier north of the eastern end of the Karakoram range, in a coveted triangle atop Pakistan, India and China. The glacier-melt from 20,000 ft. peaks, is the largest single source of freshwater for the western part of the Indian subcontinent. Its Nubra Waterhead feeds the Indus River which irrigates the Punjab Plains, Pakistan’s breadbasket.

Hydro-energy dam construction, irrigation management and flood control systems for Pakistan, India, China, and Bangladesh, are flashpoints for conflict, as each nation gains or loses from intercepts upstream. Rivers do not start or stop at national borders. Whoever controls the heights where glaciers melt into rivers, has the pre-emptive strategic advantage.

The Siachen Glacier also straddles the Himalayan passes for hostile entry into India. India has reason to deny such access. A barren, bleak and forbidding region of 20,000 ft rock faces, lacking oxygen and other life-support, with below-freezing temperatures, Siachen did not tempt any army to encamp there. For humans, it is literally hell freezing over.

The Pakistan government encouraged international expeditions as a way to stake its claim. An Indian army hobbyist reading about such climbs in an international mountaineering magazine organized an Indian team to scale the Siachen peaks in the 1980s. Finding a discarded pack of Indian cigarettes on a trail, the Pakistanis panicked. They contacted a supplier in London for suitable gear to station troops. 

The mountain-gear supplier alerted the Indian Army, which occupied the Siachen Glacier in 1984 before the Pakistanis could get there. India has regained strategic military advantage against the Sino-Pak alliance in the Shaksgam valley. It comes at a huge cost to sustain battle-readiness on Siachen. The fatalities the Indian Army suffers there are mainly caused by frostbite, avalanches, and extreme hypothermia.

Military-grade microchips

The book reveals China’s plan to dominate polysilicon manufacture, critical for advanced microchips in digital consumer devices, and for sophisticated military systems, including satellites. The location for this facility is north of the Siachen Glacier, at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. 

The two vital raw materials for microchips are sand and fresh water. The desert provides abundant sand. Almost 10,000 litres of fresh water are needed to produce one 30cm silicon wafer. The Himalayan ranges hold the freshest store of glaciers, lakes, and rivers. 

China’s state-owned polysilicon and wafer producer GCL-Poly Energy Holdings is commissioning a huge plant near Kashgar, Xinjiang, to become the world’s leading low-cost, premium-quality polysilicon supply. The extreme security measures being taken in Xinjiang obviously have a defense rationale, beyond Islamic terrorism.

China occupied Aksai Chin in the 1950s to build a road connecting Xinjiang to Western Tibet. That, plus the ‘transfer’ by Pakistan in 1963, of the strategic Shaksgam Valley, with 242 glaciers, attest to China’s strategic mindset, of which the ‘Belt & Road’ scheme is the latest. The authors contrast that with India’s hesitance to act decisively in its own interest – and habit of reactive, rather than proactive response.