Lord Louis Mountbatten, India’s first governor-general, had strongly felt that it was the Maharaja who should have the final word on whether to join the Jammu and Kashmir principality with India or with Pakistan or remain independent.
Equally strongly, Mountbatten also recommended internationalisation of the Kashmir issue following the clash between India and Pakistan over the state’s status in 1947.
In hindsight, these besides the other recommendations he made, ensured that the state remained a bone of contention between the two countries in future and prevented the two neighbours from striving for peace in the region.
Sample this: When Pakistani tribals invaded the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir on October 22, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh asked India for help but Lord Mountbatten held back. His argument was that he would not be able to send in troops at that juncture as General Claude Aunchinleck was the joint commander of Indian and Pakistani troops and Mountbatten did not want a situation wherein British forces faced British forces in war.
Maharaja Hari Singh had to decide on accession to India or Pakistan before help could be sent. Time was running out. Tribals had penetrated deep and if Srinagar airport was captured, it would be difficult to send in Indian troops. On October 26, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in favour of India.
Mountbatten, however, ruled that the accession was temporary and that the people of the state would finally decide to go with India or Pakistan on the basis of a referendum under the UN aegis.
Somehow, Nehru agreed to Mountbatten’s caveat with fateful consequences.
Vallabhai Patel's strongly objected to the suggestion but the Indian Cabinet referred the entire conflict to the United Nations Security Council. Many round of negotiations later, a ceasefire was negotiated in January 1948. On August 13, 1948, the Security Council submitted a resolution that was to shape the terms of India-Pakistan engagement on Kashmir for half a century.
The August 13 resolution, which both India and Pakistan agreed to honour, had three parts.
* The first part called for a ceasefire to come into force.
* The second part mandated that since the presence of troops of Pakistan constitutes a material change and since it was represented by the Government of Pakistan before the Security Council, the Government of Pakistan agrees to withdraw its troops. Pakistan also committed to use its best endeavour to secure the withdrawal of tribesmen and other forces present there for the purposes of war. Section B of this second part of the resolution held that when the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) certified that Pakistani tribesmen and troops had withdrawn, India would withdraw from the State and all but a minimum level of force will be kept back to maintain law and order.
* Subsequently, Part Three of the resolution mandated, the future of Jammu and Kashmir would be decided in accordance with the will of the people.
Lord Mountbatten’s suggestion ensured that Kashmir remained a simmering pot of discontent. His suggestion of UN intervention also ensured that western powers would always be in a position to meddle in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.
The suggestion of a plebiscite under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah would probably ensure the merger of the state with Pakistan and the British knew India would never accept it. Tension would continue unabated as Pakistan would always refer to the plebiscite issue and harp on the UN charter to resolve the problem.
For the British, Kashmir always was important outpost to Central Asia. They had a pro-British man on the throne of Jammu and Kashmir, and later, they organized the Gilgit agency to monitor Soviet Russia from Kashmir.
By keeping control over Kashmir, the British also ensured that the region’s largely Muslim population would also serve as a conduit through Pakistan to the Islamic world.