Essay

The Atlas and the Army chief

Print edition : February 14, 2020

Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane. He made a pointed reference to take over the PoK “if we get orders to that effect”. Photo: PTI

April 20, 1960: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in New Delhi. With respect to the boundary dispute between the two sides, Zhou gave up claims to the McMahon Line. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The signs are many and disturbing that the Modi government may be contemplating military action to wrest Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Is the Narendra Modi government contemplating military action to wrest Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) from Pakistan’s control? The signs are many and disturbing. Relying on MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), created by both countries’ possession of the nuclear deterrent, is a limited military operation under contemplation by India to secure that objective? It has long been nursed by many in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some others.

Perhaps not. Such a military operation, however limited and swift, is certain to involve not only China but also Russia and the United States. That, however, is no reason for ignoring the ominous signs.

First came the new official Atlas, which was published on November 2, 2019, by the Surveyor General of India. It is a case of inspired lunacy. Maps are not documents of title. Anyone can manufacture any map with any claim no matter how far-reaching.

China and Pakistan voiced their objections. The strongest reaction came from Nepal, a country with which India’s relations are already strained. On December 21, 2019, Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilambar Acharya said: “Nepal does not see the Kalapani area as a small issue.”

Close to 98 per cent of the boundary with India is already settled. The dispute centres on the Nepal-India-China trijunction; very much like the India-Myanmar-China trijunction around the Diphu Pass. Nepal’s Ambassador said that there already existed a Foreign Secretary-level mechanism to resolve issues relating to “outstanding border issues”. He seemed to imply that India was dragging its feet on settling the dispute. It centres on an interpretation of the Treaty of Sugauli (1816) which defined the boundary (The Times of India, January 1, 2020). On December 30, 2019, in the Supreme Court of Nepal, Justice Hari Prasad Phuyal ordered the Government of Nepal to submit to the court, within 15 days, the original map annexed to the Treaty of 1816, the map annexed to the Boundary Treaty with India in 1960 and the map published by the East India Company on February 1, 1827 (Hindustan Times, January 2, 2020). Involved is a small but significant area, comprising Limpiyadhwa, Lipulekh and Kalapani, which is shown as Indian territory. What purpose then does the Atlas serve?

The answers came swiftly. First in the RSS organ Organiser and next, hold your breath, from the newly appointed Chief of the Army Staff, General Manoj Mukund Naravane. First came a mildly worded article which pinpointed the changes in the new Atlas. It said: “The Union Territory of Ladakh includes two districts [of] Kargil and Leh. While Kargil has been carved [out] of Leh and Ladakh district, Leh includes the districts of Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas, Tribal Territory and the remaining areas of Leh and Ladakh. The new map of the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory includes 22 districts, including area of Muzaffarabad and Mirpur, which were under the PoK in the previous map.”

In short, the erstwhile Northern Areas of Kashmir, administered by Pakistan, are now shown as part of the Union Territory of Ladakh. The rest of PoK is shown as part of the “Union Territory” of Jammu and Kashmir.

‘Unfinished agenda of Partition’

The second article in the Organiser, of December 15, 2019, was entitled “Retaking POJK is vital to India’s Geo-Strategy”. It began thus: “The time has come to finish the unfinished agenda of partition of India. Pakistan occupied part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir is begging to be reunited with the rest of India, and logically too, after amendment of Article 370 and abrogation of [Article] 35-A of our Constitution, which were the main impediments behind the full integration of the said State. The next step must be to retrieve the areas which are in illegal occupation of Pakistan. It is encouraging that, statements from the ruling party’s ministers, including Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Jitendra Singh, are indicating that soon some concrete steps are going to be taken to reclaim our land without which the State of Jammu & Kashmir is incomplete.” Finally, on January 11, 2020, came General Naravane’s unusual declaration. “As far as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is concerned, many years ago there was a parliamentary resolution on it that the entire Jammu and Kashmir is part of India. If Parliament wants that area should also belong to us and if we get orders to that effect, then definitely we will take action on it.”

Several features stand out. A parliamentary resolution is not law and after a time it ceases to matter. On November 14, 1962, the Lok Sabha unanimously passed a resolution which concluded thus: “With hope and faith, this House affirms the firm resolve of the Indian people to drive out the aggressor from the sacred soil of India, however, long and hard the struggle may be.” Within weeks, India was prepared to negotiate with China. No one talked of driving out China thereafter. Parliament’s resolution on Kashmir is equally irrelevant.

General Naravane’s reference to the resolution on Kashmir by Parliament is pure rhetoric. What is important and ominous, in the light of the new Atlas, is his pointed reference to the government’s orders to take over PoK—“if we get orders to that effect”.

Who inspired him to say that? No Army Chief had ever said that before. The matter is not on the agenda of India-Pakistan talks. The Army Chief could not have spoken as he did if he had not been instructed to say that. It is a brazenly political declaration.

PoK was not gifted by India to Pakistan. The authoritative History of Operations in Jammu & Kashmir 1947-48 by S.N. Prasad and Dharm Pal, published in 1987 by the History Division of the Ministry of Defence, records:

“There is a feeling among some Service officers, as well as a section of the civilian population, that India should not have accepted the Cease Fire or any Cease Fire Line, and should have pressed on to liberate the rest of the territories of J&K State…. The enemy had in December 1948 two infantry divisions of the regular Pakistan Army, and one infantry division of the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir army’ fighting in the theatre. These comprised fourteen infantry brigades; or 23 infantry battalions of the Pakistan Army and 40 infantry battalions of ‘Azad Kashmir’, besides 19,000 scouts and irregulars. Against this, the Indian Army had in J&K only two infantry divisions, comprising twelve infantry brigades, a total of some 50 infantry battalions of the regular army and the Indian States Forces, plus 12 battalions of the J&K Militia (some with only two companies) and 2 battalions of the East Punjab Militia.…

“Even if the above statement of comparative strength is taken as approximately correct, it is clear that Indian forces were definitely outnumbered by the enemy in J&K, and only the superior valour and skill, and perhaps fire-power, together with the invaluable help from the tiny Air Force, enabled the Indian Army to maintain its superiority on the battlefields. There can be no doubt, however, that any major offensive required more than troops in J&K.…

“Indian forces, therefore, had to operate in J&K under a definite and severe handicap. The enemy could not be beaten decisively by local action within the boundaries of J&K. For decisive victory, it was necessary to bring Pakistan to battle on the broad plains of the Punjab itself; the battle of J&K, in the last analysis, had to be fought and won at Lahore and Sialkot, as events brought home in 1965. So, if the whole of J&K had to be liberated from the enemy, a general war against Pakistan was necessary. There can be hardly any doubt that Pakistan could be decisively defeated in a general war in 1948-49, although both the Indian and the Pakistan armies were in the throes of partition and reorganisation then” (emphasis added, throughout).

The ceasefire line drawn up at Karachi in 1949 and the Line of Control drawn up at Suchetgarh in 1972 confirm those realities. The Atlas does not show the Line of Control that divides the two parts of Kashmir.

The Government of India’s Atlas, while utterly useless or otherwise, expresses and records a statement; namely that it no longer considers itself bound by the Simla Agreement of July 2, 1972. It says in Paragraph 4(ii), “In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the cease-fire of 17 December 1971 shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this Line.”

There is a precedent for this folly. A myth that grew up and is being fostered still by Nehru’s admirers and detractors alike must be put to rest because it rests on self-righteous chauvinism. On June 18, 1954, Prime Minister Nehru sent a note on Tibet and China to the Secretary-General, the Foreign Secretary, and Joint Secretary. He wrote: “No country can ultimately rely upon the permanent goodwill or bonafides of another country, even though they might be in close friendship with each other. It is conceivable that the Western Atlantic alliance might not function as it was intended to and that there might be ill-will between the countries concerned. It is not inconceivable that China and the Soviet Union may not continue to be as friendly as they are now.… Of course, both the Soviet Union and China are expansive. They are expansive for evils other than communism, although communism may be made a tool for the purpose. Chinese expansionism has been evident during various periods of Asian history for a thousand years or so. We are perhaps facing a new period of such expansionism.” Nehru was no romanticist or idealist. He was a confirmed hardliner.

On July 1, 1954, came a fateful 17-paragraph memorandum in which he gave an important and explicit directive. Paragraphs 7 to 10 read thus:

“7. All our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North Eastern frontier without any reference to any line. The new maps should also be sent to our embassies abroad and should be introduced to the public generally and be used in our schools, colleges, etc.

“8. Both as flowing from our policy and as consequence of our Agreement with China, this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody. There may be very minor points of discussion. Even these should not be raised by us. It is necessary that the system of check-posts should be spread along this entire frontier. More especially, we should have check-posts in such places as might be considered disputed areas” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Volume 26, pages 477 and 478).

Paragraph 8 shut the door on negotiations on the boundary line—“not open to discussion with anybody”. That very much included Aksai Chin. India unilaterally revised its official map. The legend “boundary undefined” in the western (Kashmir) and middle sectors (Uttar Pradesh) in the official maps of 1948 and 1950 were dropped in the new map of 1954. A firm clear line was shown, instead.

In New Delhi in April 1960, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai proposed six points. “I. There exist disputes with regard to the boundary between the two sides. II. There exists between the two countries a line of actual control up to which each side exercises administrative jurisdiction. III. In determining the boundary between the two countries, certain geographical principles, such as watersheds, river valleys and mountain passes, should be equally applicable to all sectors of the boundary. IV. A settlement of the boundary question between the two countries should take into account the national feelings of the two peoples towards the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountains. V. Pending a settlement of the boundary question between the two countries through discussions, both sides should keep to the line of actual control and should not put forward territorial claims as preconditions, but individual adjustment may be made. VI. In order to ensure tranquillity on the border so as to facilitate the discussions, both sides should continue to refrain from patrolling along all sectors of the boundary.” He thus gave up claims to the McMahon Line.

These were, in fact, an elaboration of five points he sent forth to Nehru on April 22, 1960, in private after two days of sterile debate on the rights and wrongs. They were actually an elaboration of four because a crucial point was omitted.

“(iv) Since we are going to have friendly negotiations, neither side should put forward claims to an area which is no longer under its administrative control. For example, we made no claim in the eastern sector to areas south of the McMahon Line, but India made such claims in the western sector. It is difficult to accept such claims and the best thing is that both sides do not make such territorial claims. Of course, there are individual places which need to be re-adjusted individually; but that is not a territorial claim. In plain words he dropped his claim in the eastern sector.”

Zhou repeated them in crisp formulations in a meeting with Nehru the next day as forming “common ground”. Nehru refused. His Atlas bound him.

The RSS and the BJP denounce Nehru for his secularism but faithfully follow his follies in foreign policy.

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