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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
How the Kashmir crisis began
It's 60 years exactly since one of the world's most enduring conflict zones, the Kashmir valley, first erupted in violence. The BBC's former Delhi correspondent, Andrew Whitehead, looks back on how the Kashmir crisis started.

Pashtun tribesmen on their way to fight in Kashmir (Photo: Frank Leeson)

Before dawn on Monday, 27 October 1947, soldiers from the Indian army's Sikh Regiment gathered at short notice at Palam airport outside Delhi.

Their mission - to spearhead an urgent military airlift intended to secure the Kashmir valley for India.

"I arrived at Palam airport at 0300, an hour before the Sikhs were expected," Staff Officer SK Sinha recorded many years later. "The aerodrome was floodlit to facilitate loading and we had tea ready for the troops...

"We were racing against time but fortunately things somehow worked all right."

The Dakota planes could take at most 17 soldiers along with personal bedrolls and ammunition. The airfield at the capital, Srinagar was basic - no fuelling or servicing facilities, no tarmac landing strip, no lighting for night-time flights.

Unresolved conflict

The first Indian troops reached there about 9 am on that morning. By the end of the day, 28 military flights had been completed and 300 Indian servicemen had landed.

They were the first ever Indian troops in Kashmir, and the following morning - as they sought to check the advance of invading Pakistani tribesmen - Indian soldiers fired their first shots in a conflict which still remains unresolved.

When India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in mid-August 1947, the status of Kashmir remained uncertain.

A pamphlet for a women's militia formed to fight the tribesmen

Its autocratic princely ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, was a Hindu; three-quarters of his subjects were Muslims. He didn't know which way to turn, and he personally favoured the unrealistic option of independence.

To force the issue, sections in Pakistan's army and political leadership encouraged an invasion of the Kashmir valley by thousands of Pathan tribesmen.

They crossed the border in the early hours of 22nd October and - aided by desertions from the maharaja's army - quickly took control of the town of Muzaffarabad.

Khan Shah Afridi, a veteran of the invading force, said he was instructed to go to Kashmir by a Muslim holy man.

"The pir told us we will fight and we should not be afraid. It's a war between Muslims and infidels, and we will get Kashmir freed."

Many Kashmiri Muslims initially viewed the tribesmen as liberators, but the raiders' appetite for loot cost them much local support.

As the tribal army advanced towards Srinagar, the maharaja and his entourage fled by road, south to the city of Jammu.

"Everybody was furious," recalls Leela Pasricha, then in Srinagar; people said the maharaja was "running away, that he was abandoning everybody, that he was a coward. Saving his own skin, that's what we all thought."

Quest for booty

To save his capital city, the maharaja signed the document which made his princely state legally part of India.

Kashmiri women grieve
The conflict has left some 40,000 dead

At next-to-no notice, the Indian armed forces began the airlift of troops to Kashmir. It was the first big military test of independent India. By then the invading tribesmen, accompanied by a handful of Pakistani army officers, had captured Baramullah, the second city of the Kashmir valley.

"Dirty, blood-stained, ill-kempt with ragged beards and hair; some carrying a blanket, most completely unequipped," wrote Father George Shanks, a missionary priest in Baramullah, describing the ill-disciplined tribal army as it entered the town.

They were armed "with rifles of Frontier make, double-barrelled shotguns, revolvers, daggers, swords, axes and her and there a Sten gun. Jostling one another, shouting, cursing and brawling, they came on in a never-ending stream".

The tribesmen ransacked the mission, looted Muslim homes and businesses, and abducted Sikh girls and women.

The quest for booty delayed their advance towards the Kashmiri capital. The Indian airlift, and strafing and bombing by India's air force, started to tip the military balance against the invaders.

But the tribesmen were effective fighters, and they reached the outskirts of Srinagar.

KASHMIR 1947
14/15 August: India and Pakistan gain independence - Kashmir's status remains unresolved
21/22 October: Pakistani tribesmen invade Kashmir at night - by dawn they have overrun Muzaffarabad (now the capital of Pakistan Kashmir)
24 October: Tribal army captures Kashmir's main power station at Mahura, plunging much of the valley into darkness
25 October: Kashmir's maharaja and his entourage flees Srinagar late at night by road for Jammu
26 October: Thousands of armed tribesmen enter Baramullah, the second town of the Kashmir
27 October: In response to the maharaja's plea for help, the Indian army begins a huge air lift - the first troops land at Srinagar about 9 am. The Indian government accepts the maharaja's formal request for Kashmir to become part of India. Tribal fighters ransack and desecrate a convent and mission hospital in Baramullah, in the most notorious episode of the invasion
31 October: The Kashmiri nationalist Sheikh Abdullah sworn in as head of a new administration - his National Conference militia prepares to defend Srinagar from the advancing tribesmen
7 November: Indian troops rout tribal fighters at Shalateng outside Srinagar - the invaders retreat hastily
8 November: Indian soldiers take control of Baramullah
11/12 November: Nehru, India's Prime Minister, visits the Kashmir valley, almost all now under Indian army control

In the capital, the Kashmiri nationalist leader Sheikh Abdullah - an opponent of both the maharaja and of the tribal army - stepped into the power vacuum. He organised a militia of his supporters, men and women, to help keep the tribesmen at bay.

Within two weeks of the start of the invasion, the tribal fighters were in disarray. Almost overnight, they turned tail and headed out of the Kashmir valley, with Indian troops in pursuit.

But while the Indian army won control of the valley, some other areas which had been ruled by the maharaja remained with pro-Pakistan forces.

Kashmir has, in effect, been partitioned ever since.

By the spring of 1948, Pakistani troops were openly deployed in Kashmir, and the two countries were at war.

Kashmiri Muslims, many of whom initially acquiesced in Indian rule, have in recent years been more hostile.

The past 18 years of separatist insurgency has seen huge loss of life - about 40,000 people killed by the most conservative of estimates.

The rise of Islamic radicalism and the nuclear arsenals of the two claimants of the Kashmir valley, India and Pakistan, have compounded the conflict.

In recent months, there has been more talking and less killing. But 60 years on, there's still no sign of a lasting solution to Kashmir's suffering.

Andrew Whitehead's A Mission in Kashmir is due to be published later this month.



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