22 September 2020 01:21 AM


Lt General N.S.BRAR | 29 AUGUST, 2020

The Paradox Of Border Settlement

PoK and Aksai Chin

The Treaty of Westphalia October 24 1648, involving no fewer than 194 states represented by 179 plenipotentiaries negotiating over a few years established the system of political order based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign states including the inviolability of borders and non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. However, where the borders lay and resolution of conflicting claims persists till today.

A clearly defined, accurately depicted and accepted boundary being essential for exercising sovereignty within the nation state, the process starts with mutually accepted broad contours of where the boundary should generally lie and political agreement to refine and define it.

The boundary is then subjected to ’delineation’ which essentially implies drawing on the map where the boundary runs and finally ‘demarcation’ by identifying and marking on the ground with natural features like rivers, watersheds, prominent landmarks and so on or artificially by latitude and longitude reference or boundary pillars.

While Europe resolved the fundamental concept of nation states, European colonialism in Africa, Middle East and Asia left a legacy of ill-defined frontiers or straight lines geometrically defining boundaries disregarding geography and arbitrary lines dividing ethnic communities, contagious cultures and leaving religious minorities on the wrong side of the line.

Independent India inherited the British Indian Territories directly and the feudatory princely states by accession. State boundaries within the mainland did not pose problems and were in due course reorganised within the Indian Union. Where the feudatory state or loosely administered territories shared boundaries or frontiers with the newly created Pakistan or emerging Communist China it had inherent scope for disagreements and conflicts which required statecraft, diplomacy and practical settlement through institutional mechanisms.

Jammu and Kashmir, with the legacy of colonialism, newly emerging states of Pakistan and Communist China and lack of formal delineation and demarcation, all converged into a dangerous cocktail. This was further compounded by lack of experience within all organs of the Indian State. The euphoria of independence perhaps overshadowed the responsibility of pragmatically settling borders as a nation state.

The Mughals took control of Kashmir in 1586 during the rule of Jalaluddin Akbar. The region came under the control of the Durrani Empire in Kabul from 1753. In 1819 the Sikhs took over. In 1846 the treachery of Gulab Singh, a Dogra general and Governor of Jammu, was rewarded by the British who gave him Jammu and further turned over the Kashmir Valley for Rs 75 lakhs.

The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir as one administrative entity thus came into being with Gulab Singh as the first Maharajah. As governor of Jammu, Gulab Singh had also captured Ladakh and Baltistan. His son Ranbir Singh added Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar to the kingdom. The state of Jammu and Kashmir encompassing these territories existed till 1947.

Post the First Anglo-Sikh War and under Article 4 of the Treaty of Lahore March 9 1846, the Lahore Durbar ceded all territories between Rivers Beas and Indus to the British and Article 12 in turn rewarded Gulab Singh with ‘Independent Sovereignty” of these territories to be made over to him by a separate treaty.

This was translated through Article 1 of the Treaty of Amritsar March 16 1846. Article 4 further stipulated that the territories of Gulab Singh shall not be changed without British concurrence. The Karakoram in the north and its extension south-east was the extent of the Sikh Empire when these treaties were concluded.

Johnson, an official of the Survey of India, while at Leh, en route to Khotan in 1865, came up with the “advanced boundary line” of the Kashmir State without any serious physical survey. This extended the ceded territories of the Sikh Empire eastwards to the Kun-Lun watershed encompassing Aksai Chin.

It found expression in the Survey of India map of 1868 and continued to be shown as such thereafter. In 1872, Johnson resigned from the Survey of India and joined the Maharaja’s service as Wazir of Ladakh. Perhaps the appointment was a favour for cartographically extending the maharaja’s domain without any physical presence or control.

In 1893, the Chinese official at Kashgar proposed a boundary along the Karakoram Mountains, which was a natural boundary. This showed the border up to the Indus river watershed. The British presented this line, known as the McCartney-MacDonald Line, to the Chinese in 1899 through Sir Claude MacDonald, the British representative at Peking. The Chinese did not respond and it was taken as accepted. The boundary had more or less reverted to the extent of the ceded territories of 1846. And then there were other unilateral suggestions and cartographic presentations by the British.

The Gazetteer of Kashmir and Ladakh of 1890 summarised the evolution of the state under British rule.

The territories of the Kashmir State comprise two provinces, Jammu and Kashmir, each of which is administered by a Chief Officer, or Governor, styled Hakim-i-Ala. The districts of Baltistan or Skardu and Ladak are included in the province of Jammu; and the district of Gilgit, including Astor, in Kashmir. The territory of Punch is administered by Raja Moti Singh, who holds it under a grant from the Maharaja. When the treaties of 1846 were made, Gulab Singh held, as Raja of Jamu, the hill chief ship around Jammu and a more or less complete state of subjection, and Ladak and Baltistan by right of conquest, and Gilgit had become an appendage of the Sikh governorship of Kashmir. The general and practical result therefore of the treaty of Amritsar was to confirm Gulab Singh in what he already possessed, and to transfer to him the province of Kashmir with its newly acquired authority over Gilgit.

Notwithstanding clearly defined boundaries, a Standstill Agreement and the Instrument of Accession, Pakistan launched a tribal invasion of Jammu and Kashmir and at the time of the ceasefire on January 1 1949 was in illegal occupation of a substantial part of the state. Given the legal status, administration, communications and contagious populations, India had every right to employ any means to recover that part of the state, yet, except calling it ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’, there was no concerted effort to do so.

On November 19 1962, as the national newspaper headlines announced the fall of Sela and Bomdila to the Chinese, and the Assam plains lay open, the individuals who had dictated and monitored the ill-considered ‘forward’ deployment of the Army were silent, and instead of rallying the nation to fight the Prime Minister was shooting off a desperate letter to the Western Powers for military assistance.

The entire handling of the Sino-Indian border issue, including the plea to the Western Powers, was based on individual perceptions with little or no consultative inputs from any institutions including the cabinet and parliament.

Following the request for military assistance, high level military and political delegations from USA and Britain visited India. President Kennedy was willing to provide all assistance but not at the cost of their relationship with Pakistan especially their membership of CENTO. Consequently, their precondition was a settlement of the Kashmir issue with Pakistan which the Indian leadership willingly agreed.

Following some heavy-handed shuttle diplomacy by the Americans between New Delhi and Islamabad, the Commonwealth Secretary, YD Gundevia, and the Director Military Operations, Brigadier DK Palit, were tasked to prepare maps suggesting converting the Cease Fire Line of 1948 into an International Border.

Five maps were prepared with the fifth map proposing giving away substantial portion of the Kashmir Valley including the Handwara Salient in the North-West and parts of Poonch and Naushera amounting to approximately 3500 sq km of territory.

Following six rounds of talks between December 1962 and May 1963 between the Indian Delegation headed by Sardar Swaran Singh and the Pakistani headed by Zulfikar Bhutto, the talks collapsed mainly due to the obstinacy of the Pakistani delegation.

Based on imperial British cartographic declarations of shifting boundaries in Eastern Jammu and Kashmir, India inherited and chose to persist with the whole of Aksai Chin being part of erstwhile Kashmir state integrated into India. It was another matter that British India had no physical presence, administration, communication or contagious population settled in this area. The Border War of 1962 was in pursuit of this approach.

Beginning 1993, India held a series of talks with China and signed a number of agreements on the border question. While the Agreements of 1993 and 1996 focussed on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control, the Agreement of April 11 2005, titled ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question’, though couched in diplomatise, in fact committed both countries to ’delineation’ and ‘demarcation’ of the border along the line of actual control and not to displace existing populations.

Article VI reads “The boundary should be along well-defined and easily identifiable natural geographical features to be mutually agreed upon between the two sides”.

Article VII “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”

Article VIII further clarifies the method of delineation “Within the agreed framework of the final boundary settlement, the delineation of the boundary will be carried out utilising means such as modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys,” which in fact laid to rest all past cartographic definitions.

And to reemphasise the earlier agreements, notwithstanding the changes in the political dispensations in both countries, Article 12 of the Joint Declaration of May 15 2015 stated: “…. Pending a final resolution of the boundary question, the two sides commit to implementing the existing agreements and continue to make efforts to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.” Rationality and pragmatism seems to have at last prevailed. Given these agreements, any public announcements of claiming or recovering the entire Aksai Chin, including military options, are obviously not well considered or practical.

But the fly in the ointment for implementing these agreements was domestic political posturing of being the wronged party or a muscular national security stance and an opposition, irrespective of ideological orientation, which paints any settlement as a sell-out leaving no scope or ground for serious and pragmatic debate for resolution with national interest in focus. Internal politics overrides national interest.

This and the Indian Parliament 1962 resolution to recover every inch of Indian territory from China (as perceived by us, post-Independence) makes any seriously negotiated settlement very nearly impossible. Obviously, all political parties will have to come on board with a parliamentary approval of such a settlement.

The paradox in settling our borders is that we were, and possibly still are, willing to forego our legitimate claim on POK but persisted in pursuing a complex and convoluted claim on Aksai Chin. Further compounding the tangle are the recent Indo-China Agreements on border settlements which we are unable to project to the nation at large. Taking the moral high ground or jingoism is certainly not the solution.

The thaw in the India-China relationship and a more confident India signed the Agreements of 1993 and 2005 followed by the 2015 Declaration reiterating the same. The political leadership, irrespective of their ideological affiliations, had the option since 1993 to explain the pragmatism of a border settlement to the public, especially when military parity prevailed, or to reinforce the existing negative perception for narrow domestic political gains. Domestic political self interest prevailed over national interest.

Milton Friedman, an American economist and Noble laurate of 1976 propounded a theory that ‘only a crisis – actual or perceived produces real change’. When crises occur, issues and ideas which have been lying dormant can be implemented. Post 1962 and half heartedly post Kargil 1999 for the Indian military and 1991 for the economy are pertinent. Perhaps the Covid 19 crisis or the current border crisis with China can induce implementation of such dormant ideas?

Lt Gen NS Brar (Retd) is former Deputy Chief Integrated Defence Staff and Member Armed Forces Tribunal.

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