The Pulse | Diplomacy | South Asia

Why Did Pakistan Lay Claim to the Indian Territory of Junagadh? 

The Junagadh issue had once been used to raise points in the Kashmir dispute. But this is no longer of significance.

Krzysztof Iwanek
Why Did Pakistan Lay Claim to the Indian Territory of Junagadh? 

Mahabat Maqbara Palace, Mullawada, Junagadh, Gujarat, India.

Credit: Unsplash

“Our goal is Srinagar,” declared Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureishi. Srinagar is the capital of the erstwhile Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – or Indian-occupied Kashmir, as Pakistan’s government would have it. The statement was made on August 4 when Qureishi, along with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, unveiled a new political map of their state. 

These words are not surprising given the long dispute over Kashmir. And yet what caught a lot of attention in India was not a statement (once again) by the Pakistani government on Kashmir, but the fact that the new map also marked other small and slightly more distant parts of India as Pakistan’s territory: Junagadh and Manavadar.

Junagadh is a district in the Indian state of Gujarat; located on the Kathiawar Peninsula, its territory extends to the coast of the Arabian Sea. And while a boat’s journey from there to Pakistan would not be a relatively long one, nothing in the district’s recent history suggests it is disputed territory. And yet there had been a time when Junagadh, indeed, acceded to Pakistan. 

By the end of colonial rule, India was dotted with hundreds of princely states – smaller and larger principalities that in theory remained autonomous from the British administration. Some, like Hyderabad or Kashmir, were large and of significance but most of this host – including Junagadh – were small states with little power. Their future was to be mostly decided in 1947, on the verge of British withdrawal from South Asia. Having already decided to recall its soldiers and bureaucrats from India, the London government understood that the princely states would become independent with the end of its rule. The new nations-to-be, India and Pakistan, did not want this to happen and their leaders persuaded most of the states that fell within their territories to accede (given the princely states’ little strength, the process of persuasion was usually peaceful, although with notable exceptions in both countries). The merger with India or Pakistan was a decision of the rulers, understood as final with their signing of the instrument of accession. 

By August 14 and 15, 1947 – the two days when Pakistan and India eventually declared their independence one after the other – nearly all of the princely state monarchs had signed their documents. Those who did not included the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, hence the subsequent disputes. What it is less known, however, is that at the moment of India and Pakistan’s declarations of independence, Junagadh had decided to join the latter state. This course of events was briefly covered in “India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy,” an excellent book on India’s modern history by Ramahandra Guha.

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The ruler of Junagadh (the Nawab, Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III) was persuaded to join Pakistan by his Dewan (prime minister), Shah Nawaz Bhutto. With hindsight, the decision appears a folly. The state was small and nearly completely surrounded by Indian territory, but it could have theoretically retained contact with Pakistan through the sea and air. Moreover, while its ruler and Dewan were Muslims, the majority of the population in the area was Hindu. The sovereign’s subjects thus did not like the decision and started protesting against it. Despite the state’s small size and importance, these circumstances triggered a protracted and significant political crisis, which was of consequence to general India-Pakistan relations of the time.

What made the situation more complex were the decisions of Junagadh’s three vassal states. While the ruler of Bantva-Manavadar (Manavadar, for short) confirmed his accession to Pakistan, the overlords of the two other principalities (Mangrol and Babariawad), declared that they would became part of India, openly challenging their sovereign’s choice. He reacted by using military force, making it harder for India to not intervene. The vassals’ decisions in 1947 probably explain why the current Pakistani government’s recently unveiled map marks the territory as “Junagadh & Manavadar.”

But to get back to 1947: Pakistan dragged its feet on the issue but eventually decided to accept Junagadh’s joining its territory on September 15, a month after the state’s declaration of accession. This turn of events sharpened the Indian government’s attitude toward settling the broader territory issues with Pakistan. The idea behind the state of Pakistan was that it was to be a nation of Indian Muslims located in the northwestern part of South Asia, out of territories where followers of Islam were a majority. Junagadh was not envisaged as part of it, nor was it a Muslim-majority region. Moreover, on October 22, 1947, a thinly veiled invasion by Pakistani forces in another coveted territory, Jammu and Kashmir, began. Now, if Pakistan could use force against Kashmir, why could India not do the same in the case of Junagadh? And if a Muslim ruler of a Hindu-majority region (the Nawab of Junagadh) could choose to accede to Pakistan, why couldn’t a Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority region (the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir) choose to accede to India? This was exactly what soon transpired: On October 26, the ruler of Kashmir, cornered by Pakistan’s aggression, was forced to accede to India. Soon after Indian soldiers began arriving in Kashmir. In November they also entered Junagadh.

Thus ended a short but eventful period of Junagadh belonging to Pakistan, though even at that time this status was confirmed only on paper. The Nawab and the Dewan fled to Pakistan, the principality’s little force could not hope to put up resistance against the Indian army, and Pakistan did not attempt to send its forces in support of the tiny state, instantly leaving New Delhi in full control. In February 1948, a referendum was held in Junagadh (including all of its vassal states) and as per the will of the majority of the voters the territory acceded to India. Pakistan and many Kashmiris often point out that India’s prime minister of that time, Jawaharlal Nehru, promised to hold a similar referendum in Jammu and Kashmir but never did. For its part, Pakistan never accepted the results of the Junagadh referendum.

While the Junagadh dispute is largely forgotten, in 1947-48 it did matter – and it mattered more than the state itself. The events in Junagadh were used to raise legal, ethical, and political points in India and Pakistan’s other territorial disputes – primarily the one around Kashmir. But does Islamabad’s marking of Junagadh as Pakistani territory matter now, in 2020? Not at all.

First, Pakistan’s political maps had marked Junagadh – not to speak of Jammu and Kashmir – as its territory before, in the first decades after 1947. Second, the situation in Junagadh is vastly different from that of Jammu and Kashmir. The latter territory is indeed contested, partially held by Pakistani forces, and Indian rule is indeed unpopular with many Kashmiris (which does not mean all of them would opt for Pakistan, given the chance). Moreover, Islamabad does have certain significant leverage in the Valley of Kashmir, as it supports various radical entities active there. None of this is true of Junagadh, which is as much a part of India as any of the country’s other districts, in theory and in practice. Islamabad’s new map is therefore bound to remain a diplomatic gesture.