1947: the October narrative

Interactions over the past week, heart to heart talk, some e-mails pertaining to what came to pass in October 1947 that historical month of which the lingering Kashmir conflict was borne prompts the narration of the decisive moments related to the month. What added to the quest was last week’s October 4’s write-up of highly rated fellow columnist…Zahir-ud-Din. As Zahir-ud-Din’s write-up implies, October 1947 could be branded as highly relevant, as far as historical compilation of Kashmir’s recent past is concerned.

On October 4, 1947, as Zahir-ud-Din notes, Ghulam Nabi Gilkar announced formation of ‘Azad Jumhuriya-i-Kashmir’ [independent democratic republic of Kashmir]. Hotel Dawn in Rawalpindi was probably the venue [Shuhab in Shuhab Nama, a voluminous Urdu chronicle, uses the word–Ghaliban (most probably) regarding the venue]. Gilkar’s thirteen member cabinet, says Shuhab, was mostly compiled of Qadianis–a sect that Gilkar himself belongs to. The role of this sect figures prominently in many narratives of Kashmir, as the earliest close associates of Sheikh Abdullah including Gilkar emerged from it. The word of the mouth as well as some local narratives put a question mark on the role of this sect, Shuhab Nama…the narrative of the first top civil servant of Pakistan administered Kashmir [PaK] is no exception.

While Shuhab is categorical on Gilkar naming a cabinet on October 4, Alistair Lamb presents a different version in [Birth of a Tragedy—Kashmir 1947, Roxford Books, UK, pub: 1994, page: 73]. While the person naming the cabinet on October 4, 1947 is related to be M Anwar, the venue is mentioned as hotel ‘Paris’ in Rawalpindi. M Anwar, it is speculated might have been the pseudonym of Gilkar. Notes Shuhab [page 386/387 of Shuhab Nama] two days after October 4, announcement, Gilkar reached Srinagar via Muzzafarabad. On October, 6, he met Sheikh Abdullah, though what transpired between the two, says Shuhab, stands unrelated. Zahir-ud-Din’s contention that Sheikh Abdullah wanted Gilkar to join his administration is an interesting piece of information, though one would like to know the source. It is known though that Zahir-ud-Din over the years has collected lot of information from personal interviews. His quest is commendable. Shuhab does not lend credence to Gilkar’s cabinet, while asserting that the real ‘Azad Kashmir Government’ was formed twenty days later on October 24 [page: 386] and it was headed by Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim Khan [page: 380].

In the historical compilation, the query will remain, whether October, 4 or October 24 would be taken as the date, when the Kashmir across called ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ [AJK] came into being. Since Shuhab is categorical on October 24, being the top civil servant of AJK administration as it initiated, his account may be taken as reliable. That should set at rest Zahir-ud-Din’s query whether 4th or 24th October should be taken as the authentic date of the initiation of ‘AJK’. However, whatever the official record says, on the basis of Shuhab’s testimony, Zahir-ud-Din’s take of October 4, being significant may not be dismissed lightly. The date will reverberate in historical accounts, whatever other versions—official or unofficial may state.

Shuhab has put an interesting sidelight to October days.  Gilkar naming the cabinet remains suspect in Shuhab’s narrative. He implies that it was an attempt by Qadianis to take over the movement. He recounts it as one of the reasons that contributed to failure of Major Khursheed Anwar’s thrust to take the valley. Major Khursheed commanded forces in northern sector of the valley. The composition of these forces has been contended by stakeholders. Some accounts name it as tribal invasion, while some Kashmir centric accounts relate that Poonch revolt that initiated in August 26, 1947 was joined by sister tribes of Poonchis across the borders of erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir.  Shuhab goes to the extent of making out that once Qadianis got convinced that they could not call the shots, they lost interest in its progress of gaining the Valley. Shuhab casts doubts on Khursheed Anwar’s role, too. Major Khursheed Anwar, says Shuhab, was working out a personal role in future Kashmir scenario.    

Another interesting question could be-did Gilkar maintain his links with his acclaimed leader of early days of the movement-Sheikh Abdullah, though the relation between two had developed strains? In 1931, during Sheikh’s early incarcerations, Gilkar was his front line companion. The man who actually gave a kick-start to 1931 movement-Abdul Qadeer too is related to have been a Qadiani in some accounts, butler of a Britishers, making many to speculate that there might have been a British hand in it? The Qadiani angle in the tale of Kashmir comes up so often, that it is difficult to do a study without looking at it, and however abhorring play-up of sectarian politics might be. Shuhab’s narrative of Gilkar might be a bit harsh, say some. Whatever his religious inclinations, he might have had no personal axe to grind. On purely political level, keeping sectarian consideration apart, there are accounts, which laud his role. Some accounts attribute the idea of an independent Kashmir to him and K H Khursheed, though the militant element was later induced by Maqbool Bhat. Gilkar suffered for it in Pakistan administered Kashmir. Many have paid a tribute to his honesty. It is related that he died in penury in early seventies–unwept and unsung.

There is another point that Zahir-ud-Din makes vis-à-vis exchange of prisoners. As per his account, Gilkar was exchanged for Brigadier Ghansara Singh…Maharaja’s Governor in Gilgit. It would be interesting to relate Ghansara Sigh’s tale, which is a part of October narrative, of the last days of the month of October 1947. Ghansara Singh was held in protective custody by commander of Gilgit scouts—Major Brown. The scouts, says Brown in his account, revolted and he was left with no option but to take Ghansara Singh in protective custody. Indian accounts, however, continue to relate that Brown acted contrary to what he was supposed to do officially…take orders from Ghansara Singh. Brown while conceding that following handing over of Gilgit by British Raj to Maharaja before the 60 year lease [1935-1995] ended, he had to take orders from Ghansara Singh, implies that he acted as per the exigencies of the situation in hand.    

Brown held charge for two weeks virtually controlling Gilgit, On November 16, 1947, Col Aslam Khan of Pakistan Army took command from him. It was two years later in 1949 that Ghansara Singh was exchanged for Brigadier Rahmatullah–Col Aslam’s father, who had been in Maharaja’s service and was placed under arrest during the war. Also exchanged was K H Khursheed—Mohd Ali Jinnah’s former private secretary, later President of AJK. There is no mention of Gilkar being exchanged for Ghansara Singh in Victoria Schofield’s account [Kashmir in the Crossfire-pub: I.B.Tauris, London & New York-p: 156]. It would be interesting to know Zahir-ud-Din’s source…a writer; I admire and hold in high esteem.

The October narrative may continue in weeks to follow.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi
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