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Tribal Invasion: An American Reportage

Margaret Bourke-White was a correspondent and photographer with American magazine LIFE. She authored many books, based on her coverage of Africa, England, France, China, Russia, Italy and Germany during the Second World War. Bourke-White also covered tribal invasion of J&K in 1947-48. Her reportage on Kashmir –  “Democracy in the Himalayas’ and ‘Struggle forKashmir’ form part of her book on India ‘Halfway to Freedom’ (New York, 1949).

The ‘Struggle for Kashmir’ deals specifically with Raiders’ invasion.Bourke-White was in Pakistan when invasion was beginning. Pakistangovernment was reluctant to let her cross into Kashmir. They feared that an upright journalist like Bourke-White would not hesitate to tell the world truth about Pakistan’s complicity in the invasion. Pakistanis trotted out excuses to put her off saying, ‘there was nothing to photograph’, ‘it was very dangerous for a woman,’ ‘Tribesmen abducted women’. When she insisted on visiting places which were bases for invasion local officials escorting her would drive her over ‘picturesque but deserted roads to the border of Kashmir and show her ‘a breathtaking vista of mountain scenery which had fine picture-postcard value but little news value’.

On occasions Bourke-White was able to slip out unescorted and meet tribal Pashtun invaders. She narrates her conversation with one Invader leader, Badsha Gul of Mohmand tribe. Gul had brought one thousand tribals, a convoy of trucks and ammunition for invasion of Kashmir. The trucks and buses would at times come back within a day or two “bursting with loot, only to return to Kashmir with more tribesmen, to repeat their indiscriminate “liberating” – and terrorising of Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim villagers alike”.

About the buses and lorries Bourke-White writes “taxi companies (in Rawalpindi) were donating twenty or ten or a couple of trucks each, the number I suppose depending on the intensity with which the owner believed the Muslims in Kashmir needed ‘rescuing’.

Bourke-White debunked the myths that arms for the invasion came from tribesmen themselves, some of whom owned arms factories. She writes, “I photographed one of the larger of these munition works, belonging to the Afridi tribe. It was a rock-bound shack where five men worked. Since it took one man a month to make a rifle, it is doubtful whether all the shacks on the North-West Frontier would account for more than a fraction of the equipment with which the tribesmen poured into Kashmir during the fall of ’47. Certainly these miniature ballistics establishment would hardly explain the mortars, other heavy modern weapons, and the two aeroplanes with which the invaders were equipped”.

In an eyewitness account about the delivery of arms she writes, “InPakistan towns close to the border, arms were handed out before daylight to tribesmen directly from the front steps of the Muslim League headquarters”.

She makes revelations e.g. ‘From Pakistan’s Capital a train loaded with medical supplies and volunteer personnel left every Wednesday morning for the Kashmir frontier, “some of the ‘Azad Kashmir’ soldiers, taken as PoWs by the Indian army, were found to have pay books of the Pakistan Army in their pockets’.

While Bourke-White was still in Abottabad she had the opportunity to meet the nuns from St. Joseph Hospital in Baramulla who survived the carnage. They had escaped over the border at dawn. A nurse gave her a detailed description of how raiders ransacked the babies’ ward on the Convent grounds. She said, “the tribesmen began smashing up X-Ray equipment, throwing medicine bottles to the ground, ripping the statuettes of saints out of the chapel, and shooting up the place generally. Two patients were killed: an Englishman and his wife who were vacationing at the mission were murdered; and two nuns were shot”.

For nine days Baramulla witnessed reign of terror under the forces of occupation. About the situation in the Convent Bourke-White records, “The nuns, their hospital patients, and a few stray towns people who had taken refugee at the mission were herded into a single dormitory and kept under rifle guard. On one of these days, after an air attack from the Indian Army had left the tribesmen in a particularly escited and nervous mood, six of the nuns were brought out and lined upto be shot. It was the accident that one of them had a conspicuous gold tooth that saved the sisters. One of the riflemen wanted to get that tooth, before his colleagues had a chance at it. In the scuffle that followed, one of their chiefs arrived; he had enough vision to realise that shooting nuns was not the thing to do, even in an invasion, and the nuns were saved”.

Bourke-White visited Baramulla soon after its liberation by Indian forces. She records, “The once lovely town, straddling the Jhelum River at the gateway to the Valley, was as heaped with rubble and blackened with fire as those battered Jewels of Italian towns through which many of us moved during our war in Italy…the deserted convent on the hill was badly defaced and littered…We made our way into the ravaged Chapel, Wading through the mass of torn hymnbooks and broken sacred statuary. The altar was deep in rubble”. She also gives a graphic account of how martyr Maqbool Sherwani was killed by Pakistanis. Bourke-White met Sherwani’s father and brothers. On seeing Sherwani’s photograph Bourke-White notes, “Even the soft-focus effect of the fuzzy studio portrait could not erase the intensity of the eyes and the look of strength in the high forehead”. (Sentinel Research Bureau)

Raiders’ Evidence

Major General Mohammad Akbar Khan was  in active service in the Pakistan Army in October 1947. He commanded the raiders under the pseudonym “General Tariq”. Excerpts of his interview published in the “Defence Journal” (Karachi, June-July, 1985) are reproduced below:

Planning of the Invasion:
“A few weeks after partition, I was asked by Mian Iftikharuddin on behalf of Liaquat Ali Khan (Prime Minister of Pakistan) to prepare a plan for action in Kashmir. I found that the Army was holding 4,000 rifles for the civil police. If these could be given to the locals an armed uprising in Kashmir could be organised at suitable places, I wrote a plan on this basis and gave it to Mian Iftikharuddin. I was called to a meeting with Liaquat Ali Khan at Lahore where the plan was adopted, responsibilities alloted and orders issued. Everything was to be kept secret from the Army. In September the 4,000 rifles were issued at various places and the first shots were exchanged with the Maharaja’s troops and the movement gathered weight.

He (Khurshid Anwar) had joined the Muslim League and he had been appointed commander of the Muslim League National Guards. In September 1947, when the Prime Minister launched the movement of the Kashmir “struggle” Khurshid Anwar was appointed Commander of the Northern Sector. Khurshid Anwar then went to Peshawar and with the apparent help of Khan Qayyum Khan raised the Lashkar which assembled at Abbottabad… Thereafter he (Khan Qayyum Khan) continued to take active interest in Kashmir and helped with the tribal Lashkars through the Kashmir operations.”

On Looting of Non-Muslims:

“It was part of their (Pakistan Govt.) agreement with Major Khurshid Anwar of the Muslim League National Guards who was their leader that they would loot non-Muslims. They had no other renumeration”. Conclusions drawn: Once a Sufferer, always a SAFFERER.  (Source: kpindia, kpnetwork)

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

Tribal Raid 1947
Pakistan’s Role

Andrew Whitehead

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