A few American tourists interested in exotic places and wealthy enough to get to them visited the state
Before the 1947 partition of India, few Americans knew or cared about the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Tucked away in the high western Himalayas, Kashmir, as it was commonly called, was an amalgam of territories widely varied in language, culture, religion, ethnicity, and eco- nomic development. Its disparate regions had been cobbled together by the dynastic ambitions of the state’s rulers abetted by British imperial design. In the first half of the nineteenth century, these maharajas, Hindus of the Dogra ethnic group based in the Jammu area of the state, had with British backing created one of the largest states in Britain’s Indian empire. Situated along India’s border with China, touching Afghanistan, and close to the Central Asian regions of Czarist Russia and, later, the Soviet Union, it was also one of the most strategically placed.
What little American interest there was in Kashmir before rival Indian and Pakistani claims brought the state to international attention in late 1947 was confined to occasional private visitors. A handful of traders came to the state to purchase carpets, papier mâché, and other handicrafts for export to the U.S. market. American missionary activity was limited; the state was the preserve of mainly British church groups. A few American tourists interested in exotic places and wealthy enough to get to them visited the state. During World War II, U.S. servicemen operating in the China-Burma-India theater went to Kashmir on leave to lounge on houseboats and get away from the heat and dust of the Indian plains. Some of these boats still carry names, like the Mae West, that recall that era. But none of this limited exposure made
any serious, lasting impact. As the British prepared to wind up their sub- continental raj and leave in its place the independent dominions of India and Pakistan, ignorance of Kashmir remained profound among U.S. officials and the American public.
The United States kept careful watch as the British negotiated with the contending Indian political parties—the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League—about the form India would take when it became independent. American diplomats stayed in frequent contact with British officials and Indian political leaders. The United States fully supported British efforts to bring about a peaceful transfer of power on the basis of a federally united India rather than its partition into two separate states, as the Muslim League called for in its demand for a sovereign Pakistan comprising areas where Muslims were a majority. As these efforts failed and partition became increasingly likely, Washington strongly opposed any further breakup of the country and instructed American officials to be careful to avoid doing anything that might suggest otherwise.1 This opposition to the balkanization of the subcontinent, which remained U.S. policy after India and Pakistan became independent in August 1947, led Washington to resist calls for support from advocates of a separate status for Kashmir and other areas unhappy with their lot within the Indian Union.
As they prepared to quit India, the British gave the rulers of the 565 Indian princely states the right to decide whether they wished to accede to India or to Pakistan. They encouraged these rulers to make their choice on the basis of the religious composition of their people and the contiguity of their states to India or Pakistan. With the lapse of British “paramountcy” over them, the princely states could theoretically remain outside both dominions. But the British strongly urged the rulers to avoid that option and told them they could not look to the crown for protection and support if they went it alone.
Howard B. Schaffer
The limits of influence: America’s Role in Kashmir