Major William P. Cranston was a British Military Officer who served in the subcontinent at the onset of partition and is known for evacuating the British citizens from the state of Jammu & Kashmir after the commencement of the First Kashmir War between India and Pakistan. Cranston had also spent some time in Kashmir before 22nd October and had observed the on-ground situation during those days of uncertainty by himself. Below is his first-hand account, which he wrote to the British High Commission in Karachi on 18th October 1947, aptly describing what was brewing in Kashmir during those days:
18 October 1947
Whilst in Srinagar from the 10th to the 14th October, 1947, I took every opportunity of trying to find out what was the general political situation there. I naturally could not approach the authorities on this matter and just had to obtain my information from conversations with all types of people and in a manner that did not give any impression that I was trying to obtain unauthorized information. My general impression was that the situation at that time was perfectly quiet and calm in Kashmir apart from Poonch State. The future, however, is very uncertain and depends entirely on when the Maharaja makes his announcement as to whether Kashmir should remain independent or accede to either of the two Dominions.
So far, His Highness had given no indication whatsoever of his intentions but the general impression was that he would make an announcement either when he went to Jammu early in November or if and when he should go to Bombay a little later, and it was thought probable that he would then declare the accession of Kashmir State to the Dominion of India. This would cause an immediate reaction throughout the State by the Muslim population which numbers about 80 to 90% and which is strongly opposed to any union with the Indian Government. If this happened, it is also most probable that the tribes on the north and north-western borders of Kashmir would invade the State. I was informed that at that time 20,000 Hazara tribesmen, 15,000 from Chitral and 10,000 from Hunza States were ready to invade Kashmir as soon as they considered the Maharaja was declaring for accession to India. The Mehtar of Chitral and the Nawab of Dir have formally warned the Maharaja that if he accedes to the Indian Union they will invade his State.
Sheikh Abdullah, the Muslim nationalist leader, is said to have favored Kashmir remaining as an independent State. He is, however, believed to have made an agreement with the Maharaj that if the Maharaja should accede to the Indian Union he would support him. In such an event, however, it is extremely doubtful whether Sheikh Abdullah’s Muslim followers would continue to support him. It is possible that if the Maharaja should announce his intention of acceding to the Indian Union whilst he is in Jammu, the State of Jammu which contains many Dogras would support him and join the Indian Union, but the remainder of Kashmir State would break away and join Pakistan. Another theory is that Jammu should join the Indian Union and the rest of Kashmir and Poonch should join Pakistan, and at the same time the Maharaja would retain the sovereignty over both sections of his State. The military authorities, however, do not think such a proposal feasible.
There is at present considerable disturbance in Poonch State. After the demonstration and consequent agitation of the 26th August, concerning which a separate report is already in the office, the Maharaja withdrew many troops from Poonch State and declared that he would refrain from further action against the people there and that there would be no victimization. However, one brigade of troops was left in Poonch State and distributed in small units throughout the State and this force has continued to oppress and victimize the villagers. Several trustworthy persons have told me that they have seen villages in Poonch State burning. I also saw many refugees from Poonch State on the main Srinagar-Kohala road fleeing from the State and also making small rafts on which to cross the river which divides Poonch from the main Srinagar road. When I left, there were reports that the remaining Dogra troops who had met fierce resistance from the villagers and who had suffered casualties were being withdrawn. There is no reliable confirmation of this and some military authorities consider it is possible that troops are not being withdrawn out of the State but merely being concentrated in two or three centers so as to form a stronger force to take more decisive action when this should prove necessary. Many highly exaggerated stories are circulating that the villagers have inflicted extremely high casualties on the Dogra troops, even amounting to the destruction of one battalion. These figures can, however, be discounted.
A new development, which I noticed as I left Kashmir on the 14th October, was that a large number of Sikhs were leaving the Muslim villages in southern and western Kashmir and proceeding on foot to Srinagar where they would receive some protection from the Hindu Government and later might be able to make their way down to India if necessary, via the Jammu road. These Sikhs had not actually been attacked but had left their isolated villages from fear of retaliation by Muslims.
Political feeling in the State and some slight tension is increasing on account of the ban on exports imposed by the Pakistan Government. The State relied almost entirely on imports of sugar, salt, tea, food grains, cotton cloth, kerosene oil and petrol and the total stoppage of these imports is causing much hardship to the people there and will become increasingly felt as the winter approaches. I learned in Rawalpindi that the complete stoppage of these imports was largely the work of Mr. Haque, the Deputy Commissioner, Rawalpindi, who in conjunction with his cousin Mr. Ikramul Haque of the Defence Department, is trying to obtain considerable influence and power in that part of Punjab and to monopolize as far as possible the control and movement of the petrol, transport and other necessary articles. No direct authority appears to have been given to Mr. Haque for this action and the Commissioner of Rawalpindi Division personally admitted to Wing Commander Milroy Hayes, Defence Secretary of the Pakistan Government, that the matter was not in his hands at all but being controlled entirely by his Deputy Commissioner. Sir Francis Mudie, the Governor of West Punjab, intends to enquire into this matter during his visit to Rawalpindi between the 19th and 21st October.
During my interview with General Gracey, Chief of Staff, Pakistan Army Headquarters at Rawalpindi on the 15th October, stated that if an emergency should occur in the State and the State Government provided military escorts on the road between Srinagar and Kohala, these escorts should be composed of Muslim troops and not Hindu troops, since in the latter event the troops themselves would form a cause of provocation to Muslim tribesmen and would invite attacks to be made on themselves, which would probably not occur if the escorting troops were Muslims. An important point which he also asked me, particularly to bring to the notice of the High Commissioner in Karachi, was that the Pakistan Army authorities and the Central Pakistan Government or intended requesting the British Government that they be all to hire a complete Royal Air Force Transport Squadron from Britain for use with the Pakistan Air Force until such time as the Pakistan Air Force itself was sufficiently strong to undertake all its transport requirements. General Gracey considered that the addition of such a squadron which could be depended upon in all circumstances would greatly facilitate the general work of transportation in Pakistan not only for military purposes but at times especially during emergencies when the military had to assist in the movement and transportation of civilians. He suggested that if the High Commissioner also strongly recommends this proposal to His Majesty’s Government it would greatly increase the chances of the proposal being approved. I mentioned this matter to Sir Francis Mudie, who also considered it would be of a great value and hoped that the High Commissioner would give it every support.