NE of Jawaharlal Nehru’s
most controversial decisions was to refer the Kashmir issue to the UN Security
Council at the end of 1947. The decision is commonly ascribed to his idealism
and unrealistic faith in the UN.
This explanation does not do justice either to the man or to the complex
nature of the decision. An examination of the records proves that Nehru
did not pin much hope on the UN.
While agreeing to approach the UN, he simultaneously instructed the
C-in-C to make preparations to strike at the raiders’ bases in Pakistan.
By mid-December 1947, the prime minister had
come to the conclusion that further talks with Pakistan did not hold out
any hope of an early solution.
Nor were the military prospects encouraging. Nehru was deeply dissatisfied
with the manner in which the C-in-C, General Lockhart, conducted the war.
The C-in-C insisted that it would not be possible to expel the raiders
from the Jhelum valley until the spring.
Moreover, the service chiefs and Mountbatten had effectively scuttled
the government’s directive to employ the air force against the invaders
along the border from Naushera to Muzaffarabad.
Nehru recorded his views in an incisive policy note on December 19.
‘‘I cannot get over the feeling that our tactics have been unsuccessful’’,
he wrote. ‘‘There is a certain heaviness of thought and action which is
peculiarly unsuited to a conflict of the type we are waging...We cannot
go on carrying on this little war for months and months and maybe a year
The prime minister concluded that the ‘‘obvious course is to strike
at these concentrations and lines of communications in Pakistan territory.
From a military point of view this would be the most effective step’’.
The prime minister’s new approach alarmed Mountbatten. A war between
two dominions, both owing allegiance to the British crown, was unprecedented
in Commonwealth history.
In keeping with British policy, the governor-general had striven to
avert a full-fledged war between India and Pakistan.
In a letter to the King, Mountbatten had claimed that his presence as
governor-general of India was the best insurance against an actual outbreak
of war with Pakistan.
Mountbatten had always viewed a reference to the UN as an effective
method of preventing an all-out war.
It was he who had first proposed a UN-supervised plebiscite in Kashmir.
In early December, he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Nehru to ask
for a UN team to be sent out to the subcontinent in order to break the
impasse with Pakistan and to stop the fighting.
The new trend in Nehru’s thinking reinforced the governor-general’s
conviction that the only hope for preventing an inter-dominion war lay
in involving the UN.
The inevitable clash between the prime minister and the governor-general
occurred on December 20, in a meeting of the cabinet’s defence committee.
Nehru observed that a regular war was being waged on Indian territory
from bases in Pakistan. The talks with Pakistan held out little promise
of a settlement.
It might, therefore, be necessary to take a political decision to conduct
a limited strike into Pakistan.
The Indian army should be prepared to enter the Sialkot, Gujarat and
Jhelum districts of Pakistan in order to deny the raiders the assistance
they were getting at their bases.
Mountbatten, in his capacity as chairman of the defence committee, stated
flatly that no directive should be issued on these lines.
The proper course would be to refer the whole matter to the UN which,
he said disingenuously, would promptly direct Pakistan to withdraw the
After a stormy debate, the committee agreed to proceed on both lines
simultaneously. A reference would be made to the UN in a last attempt to
seek a peaceful settlement.
Meanwhile, the chiefs of staff were instructed to draw up contingency
plans for a military operation to evict the raiders from their bases in
Nehru explained to General Bucher: ‘‘We shall naturally continue our
efforts in the political field, by reference to the UNO etc...But I am
sure that this will not result in fighting stopping at present. We have
thus to be prepared for every contingency and to be prepared soon’’.
Mountbatten, however, was determined to thwart the cabinet. He promptly
alerted Attlee about India’s intentions.
Full details of his exchanges with Nehru, together with relevant minutes
of the defence committing meeting, were passed on to London via the British
Attlee lost no time in warning Nehru that it would ‘‘gravely prejudice’’
the Indian case if it were to send its forces into Pakistan.
Prompted by London, Washington also sought assurances about India’s
intentions. In the Security Council it soon became clear that India would
face condemnation if it were to send its forces into Pakistan.
The planned counter-attack became politically infeasible.
Meanwhile, the service chiefs dragged their feet over the preparation
of contingency plans.
The new C-in-C, General Bucher, confided to the US charge d’affaires
in early January that he had taken no steps to prepare the Indian army
for a cross-border operation.
Before the end of the month, in the light of UN developments, Mountbatten
was able to persuade Nehru that there was no present need for the defence
committee to consider the question of a counter-attack across the border.
The diplomatic factor is particularly important in wars among countries
of the Third World. These countries are vulnerable to a variety of pressures
from the great powers — military, political and economic.
The course and outcome of wars in the Third World can, therefore, often
be influenced by the great powers.
In such wars, surprise and speed are vital requirements, not only in
a military but also a diplomatic sense.
Decisive results must be speedily achieved before the major powers can
In 1947-48, it was virtually impossible for India to meet the requirements
for secrecy and surprise since the defence committee and the armed forces
were all headed by the British.
Contingency planning for a counter-strike into Pakistan could be seriously
undertaken only after the army leadership had been Indianised.
Thus, in August 1952, Nehru was able to inform Parliament that ‘‘any
further aggression’’ in Kashmir would lead to ‘‘all-out war not in Kashmir
only, but elsewhere too’’. This was the policy implemented in 1965.