Nehru's Word: The flawed calculations of world powers on Kashmir

Nehru's letter to chief ministers on 1 Aug 1951 places the hostile attitude of the UK and US towards India on the Kashmir issue in a geo-political context, and clears air on his Kashmir policy

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

It is a sad commentary on the state of political discourse in our times that Jawaharlal Nehru’s 133rd birth anniversary on 14th November 2022 became an occasion for a high-ranking functionary in the government to escalate his attack on Nehru’s Kashmir policy.

In that context, we bring to you this week the second part of the letter written by Nehru to the Chief Ministers dated 1st August 1951 in which he places the hostile attitude of the UK and the USA on the Kashmir issue in the United Nations and elsewhere in a geo-political context. As usual, his sophisticated and multi-faceted understanding of domestic and world affairs is in sharp contrast to the over-simplifications and distortions that are inflicted on us these days.


"Even so, the attempts to keep some kind of control of the Middle Eastern regions continued. It was little realised by the diplomats and the policy makers of Western countries that new and powerful forces were rising all over Asia and that they could not be dealt with in the old way, either by military pressure or financial inducement.

It seems astonishing how lacking in awareness Western nations have been and, to some extent, even are today, about these forces. They seem to think that their analysis of the situation is complete when they talk of the Communist danger which must be met.

Undoubtedly, Communist expansion must be met. But it cannot be met adequately with the support of reactionary and feudal regimes. It is there that European and American policies have failed. The US supported the reactionary Kuomintang regime in China and came to grief. Even now they support the remnants of that regime in Formosa.

It is in this context of Middle Eastern policy that one can fit in the old British policy in India of encouraging separatism and ultimately building up of Pakistan. Pakistan was to become a part of this Middle Eastern Islamic bloc.

It was not realised that while Islam is undoubtedly a great force, the new nationalisms of Asian countries were, on the political plane, a much greater force. India was and is considered very important, as it undoubtedly is. But there was some uncertainty about India’s policy, as it followed an independent line of its own. Pakistan, for all its loud talk, was a much more pliable instrument and easy to control.

They [the US] felt with the UK, and perhaps even more so, that Pakistan was easy to keep within their sphere of influence in regard to wider policies, while India was an uncertain and possibly not reliable quantity in this regard...In the final analysis, however, it is thoroughly understood in the UK as well as the USA that India counts far more than Pakistan.

Hence Pakistan was to be the centre of this Islamic bloc of nations in western Asia and it was through Pakistan that this bloc could be most easily controlled. It became important therefore to build up Pakistan for this purpose, both internally and externally. The vast and well- established publicity machine of the UK worked to this end.

Pakistan publicity had little to do because others did its work much more efficiently and thoroughly. All it had to do was to make clear that it would fit in with the general policies laid down for it. Inside Pakistan, there continued, both in the defence forces and the civil service, a considerable number of British officers, nearly all of them of the old colonial type. They influenced policies there and even day to day activities.

If Pakistan had to be built up, then it became necessary that Kashmir should go to Pakistan both to give it additional strength and so that the borderland touching the Soviet Union should be under control. Hence the basic policy of the UK in regard to Pakistan. This flows from the old policy and it is easy to justify it on the simple plea that Kashmir is predominantly Muslim and therefore it should go to Pakistan.

The USA did not have this background of Middle Eastern and Indian policies of the UK. But, in such matters, they followed the UK advice and lead. This was all the more easier because they felt with the UK, and perhaps even more so, that Pakistan was easy to keep within their sphere of influence in regard to wider policies, while India was an uncertain and possibly not reliable quantity in this regard.

Because of this also, both the UK and the USA have been irritated with Afghanistan, which does not fit in with their ideas of how Pakistan should develop, and have continually brought pressure to bear upon it to fall in line with Pakistan. Afghanistan has refused to do so and continues to be hostile to Pakistan because of the Pakhtoonistan issue.

This whole policy which the UK and the USA have pursued in varying degrees in Asia may meet with some success in some places and on some occasions. But it is basically misconceived, because it fails to take into consideration the major factor, that is the new urges that move masses of men and women in the different countries of Asia.

In the Far East this policy has led to an impasse; in Iran it has created great difficulties for the UK. As I pointed out to you in my last letter, the oil dispute in Iran is but the outward manifestation of something much bigger.

I hope that the analysis I have made of the past and present policies will help you a little to understand the situation in relation to India, and especially Kashmir. We are often blamed for our propaganda and some of the criticism is no doubt justified. We are, of course, at the same time told to economise and not to waste money in foreign countries. We cannot have it both ways.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan throws money about in foreign countries on its propaganda and uses many methods which we do not consider desirable. But, in the main, they have the benefit of vast propaganda machines of other countries which we do not and cannot have, if we pursue our independent policy.

This is, of course, a simplified way of describing a complicated situation. In the final analysis, however, it is thoroughly understood in the UK as well as the USA that India counts far more than Pakistan.”

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