Facing the truth

Print edition : October 06, 2006

Pakistan has solved its border problem with China, but India is caught in a prolonged dispute.

WHEN in 1846 Britain brought the Jammu and Kashmir Territories within its Empire, it acquired a boundary problem with China. When, a century later in 1947, the State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, the new republic inherited that problem - a looming potential boundary dispute which it could either ignore or face headlong and resolve by active negotiations. Robert Trumbull, one of the best The New York Times sent to New Delhi, warned that "a classic pattern for a boundary dispute is present" (The Times of India, December 7, 1950). It was pre-eminently susceptible to a solution.

India's non-negotiable vital interest, the McMahon Line, was securely in its possession. On February 12, 1951, Major R. Khatang took over Tawang, evicting the Tibetan administration. China did not protest. Tawang was acquired by India in 1914. The areas in the western sector, in the northern and eastern parts of Kashmir, were mountainous and barren. The Sino-Indian boundary problem developed into a boundary dispute early in 1959 over the western sector. China formally contested the McMahon Line but it was prepared to accept it realistically. It had built the Xinjiang-Tibet road through the Aksai Chin in Ladakh and spread westwards. That area represented its non-negotiable vital interest. "There exists a relatively bigger dispute on the western sector," Prime Minister Zhou Enlai said in New Delhi on April 30, 1960, at the end of his talks with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In private parleys, Zhou accepted the McMahon Line. The dispute centred on the western sector.

Nehru's main concern since 1950 was the McMahon Line. Vallabhbhai Patel's much-touted letter to him on November 7, 1950, was also confined to it, as was Trumbull's warning. Nehru replied to Patel on November 18, 1950: "Our major possible enemy is Pakistan. This has compelled us to think of our defence mainly in terms of Pakistan's aggression. If we begin to think of, and prepare for, China's aggression... we might well be got (sic.) in a pincer movement" (Sardar Patel's Correspondence; Volume 10, pages 340 and 344).

It would, however, be unjust to say that Nehru was unmindful of the western sector. The boundary dispute there got bifurcated from the Karakoram Pass to the east and the west, with the de facto partition of Kashmir by the ceasefire line drawn on July 27, 1949. In 1953 the Ministry of External Affairs prepared notes for talks with China. Nehru's response of December 3, 1953, to the Secretary-General of the Ministry is revealing: "There are references in the note to certain disputed areas in Ladakh, Hunza, etc. I imagine that some of these are in the Pakistan occupied territory, like Hunza. If so, we can hardly discuss these with them [China] and we can point out that all this area is under dispute with Pakistan... . I do not know that it will serve any useful purpose for us to ask for the restoration of the old trade route between Sinkiang and Kashmir. That route passes through territory held by Pakistan. It is exceedingly unlikely that we shall get back this territory. However, there is no harm in mentioning this." Nehru laid down the line in regard to the frontier at the very beginning of his note: "We should not raise this question. If China raises it we should express our surprise and point out that this is a settled issue" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 23, page 59; emphasis added throughout).

He went further. On July 1, 1954, he wrote a directive ordering the withdrawal of "all our old maps dealing with the frontier - new maps should be printed showing our Northern and North-Eastern frontier"; that is, both the McMahon Line in the eastern sector as well as a new line for the frontier for the western sector in Kashmir. "These new maps should also not state that there is any undemarcated territory." The maps attached to the two White Papers on Indian States, published by Sardar Patel's Ministry of States in 1948 and 1950, bore the legend "boundary undefined" for this sector while depicting the McMahon Line. The contrast was glaring. They are printed on pages 98-100 in the writer's article "Negotiating with China" (Frontline, August 14, 1998). Nehru added: "This frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anyone" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 26, pages 481-484).

Some words on maps are in order, given our half-century-old and unique obsession with "cartographic aggression" reflected in the inanities of the Customs authorities and of the Planning and Research Division of the Ministry of External Affairs. Maps are not documents of title. They are of evidentiary value, depending on the circumstances. Published over time as a matter of course and with consistency, they provide good evidence. If they conflict with the state's claims, they can constitute an admission. Published to create evidence, they are worthless. You cannot claim Mexico by showing it as Indian territory on our maps. The value of foreign maps depends on their provenance, whether in a work of learning or otherwise. Maps in periodicals or books published after a dispute has arisen do not affect either side's case; only the mental balance of some Indian officials, which is precarious even at the best of times. It is puerile to stamp warnings on issues of foreign magazines. Readers abroad do not enjoy the benefit of the warning, any way, sadly.

When and how, then, did the boundary dispute with China arise? First, it was over the old Chinese maps. Nehru complained of them to Zhou in 1954. Interestingly, his memo of July 1, 1954, while drawing a new line unilaterally, instructed the Ministry of External Affairs "to point out to the Chinese government" errors in their maps when occasion arose. In parenthesis, after the hostilities erupted in October 1962, Zhou sent out a letter to "the Leaders of Asian and African countries on the Sino-Indian Boundary Question" dated November 15, 1962, annexing six maps. Inclusion of the 1954 maps, along with the previous one, was telling.

Nehru decided to bring matters to a head by a demarche to Zhou on the maps on December 14, 1958. Zhou's reply of January 23, 1959, mentioned the western sector and said "border disputes do exist between China and India". But, he offered an overall settlement and was "prepared to take a more or less realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line". Nehru replied after two months on March 22, 1959, obviously after full deliberation. He asserted that "in most parts" the boundary "has the sanction of specific international agreement". Almost every single sentence of the paragraph concerning the crucial Ladakh sector was factually wrong: "A treaty of 1842 between Kashmir on the one hand and the Emperor of China and the Lama Guru of Lhasa on the other, mentions the India-China boundary in the Ladakh region. In 1847, the Chinese government admitted that this boundary was sufficiently and distinctly fixed. The area now claimed by China has always been depicted as part of India on official maps, has been surveyed by Indian officials and even a Chinese map of 1893 shows it as Indian territory." These claims fall into two parts - a definitive frontier treaty of 1842 and Indian maps.

That treaty marked the end of hostilities after the Jammu and Ladakh ruler Gulab Singh's army commander Zorawar Singh's march into Tibet and its equally unsuccessful counter-attack which had brought it near Leh. Officials who signed it on September 16-17, 1842, purported to act on behalf of their respective immediate principals as well as the latter's suzerains - Gulab Singh and the Sikh Darbar at Lahore and the Lama Guru of Lhasa and the Emperor of China. They agreed to respect the boundaries of Ladakh "as fixed from ancient times". It was a treaty of non-aggression, not a boundary accord, which was concluded.

A month later on October 17, 1842, the Sikhs and the Chinese concluded a treaty, which said (Article 1): "That the boundaries of Ladakh and Lhasa shall be constituted as formerly, the contracting parties engaging to confine themselves within their respective boundaries, the one to refrain from any act of aggression on the other" (An `Agreed' Frontier Ladakh and India's Northern-most Borders 1846-1947 by Parashottam Mehra; Oxford University Press, 1992; pages 169-170).

Such imprecise expressions might have sufficed then. In 1959, it made no sense to invoke them to claim a defined boundary, ignoring British ventures in map-making and admissions of undefined borders there for decades since 1842, not to forget India's maps of 1948 and 1950.

China's "admissions" on January 13 and 20, 1847, were as imprecise ("sufficiently and distinctly fixed" borders). Nehru's claim that "the area now claimed by China [in Ladakh] has always been depicted as part of India on official maps" was manifestly untrue.

The linear boundary is a modern innovation. In the 19th century the frontier zone (ilaqa) prevailed. The boundary problem of old now became a full-fledged dispute; incidentally, well before the Dalai Lama left Lhasa on May 17, 1959.

Meanwhile, Chinese maps had exercised Pakistan as well; even more so. India was non-aligned and had friendly relations with China. Pakistan was the United States' much allied ally; bilaterally, in the Baghdad pact, and in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO). Its relations with China were strained, as, indeed, were Sino-U.S. relations. On April 2, 1953, its pro-West Foreign Minister, Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, complained of China's incursions into Hunza. The next year, Pakistan found China's maps claiming vital passes. The leading daily Dawn reported on October 1, 1959, circulation of similar maps. On October 23, 1959, President M. Ayub Khan warned China of "dire consequences" if the "hovering giant cast a baleful shadow over Pakistan". But, he admitted that the boundary was not defined and said that he would propose talks on the border to China. Inconsistently enough, Pakistan twice contested (December 3, 1959, and December 23, 1960) India's right to enter into any accord with China on Kashmir's borders.

PRIME MINISTER JAWAHARLAL Nehru with his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in New Delhi in June 1954.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

In November 1959, "Pakistan approached China... with the proposal for demarcation of the border between their two countries", former Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar records (on page 70 of his documented study, Pakistan's Foreign Policy, to be published shortly by Oxford University Press, Karachi, a proof copy of which he was kind to lend the writer).

In a little over three years, Pakistan's move resulted in a Boundary Agreement, which was signed in Beijing on March 2, 1963. Over time a close entente developed. News of the accord shook India. Myths grew. To this day hardly anyone is willing to shed them and look facts in the face. But, for five good reasons the negotiations preceding the treaty, its methodology and terms and the history behind it merit objective study.

First, unlike lessons from history derived by analogy - for instance, Munich, Pearl Harbour and so on - on the boundary question, history teaches directly. It is a liberating force. Secondly, the boundary dispute is still with us. History and the approach adopted in the Sino-Pakistan pact provide valuable lessons. Thirdly, it provides a fascinating study in diverse styles of diplomacy. Fourthly, it exposes the flaws in Nehru's policy towards the neighbours. Lastly, India's reaction reveals a chauvinistic disregard for the historical truth; a disregard which rendered conciliation and accord difficult for decades.

Two myths predominate: India's two adversaries ganged together to cut a deal on the border and Pakistan gifted China with large chunks of territory. In truth, China was most reluctant to accept Pakistan's proposal and responded only belatedly. It got no territory. Instead, it was Pakistan which secured from China 750 square miles of administered territory. How did this happen?

Agha Shahi, former Foreign Minister, revealed how this came about at a seminar in Geneva: "As one who was involved in the negotiations with the People's Republic of China during 1962-63 over the delimitation and demarcation of the boundary between Northern Areas of Kashmir under Pakistan's control and China's Sinkiang province, let me recall that a study of the archives of British rule over the Indian empire failed to reveal credible evidence of any plausible claim to territory beyond the watershed of the Karakoram mountain range. The Agreement is based on the internationally recognised geographical principle of the watershed as a natural divide in boundary settlements" (News; November 29, 1998).

But the Historical Division in the Ministry of External Affairs also delved into those very archives and arrived at a different result. The issue is not who is right; but what is the historical truth. The roots lie in the creation of Jammu and Kashmir. Its founder was not Gulab Singh, but the British government. "The present State of Jammu and Kashmir was created by the British government, when Gulab Singh was established as Maharaja under the Treaty of Amritsar," C.U. Aitchison recorded in the 1909 edition of his classic A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries (page 247).

The British first signed the Treaty of Lahore with the Sikh State on March 9, 1846, after the First Anglo-Sikh war, and acquired "in perpetual sovereignty" inter alia the province of Kashmir. This was in part-payment of the equivalent of "one crore of rupees" which the British demanded as "indemnification for the war expenses".

A week later, on March 16, 1846, the British ceded to Gulab Singh, the Sikh State's feudatory, as reward for his treachery to his masters in Lahore the lands they had thus acquired - the territories of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh "for the sum of seventy-five lakhs of rupees". He "acknowledged the supremacy of the British government". Article 4 of the Treaty of Amritsar said: "The limits of the territories of Maharaja Gulab Singh shall not be at any time changed without concurrence of the British government." This was prompted by the experience of 1842.

The British lost no time in approaching China to define the boundary. Aitchison records those efforts: "In 1846 and 1847 two commissions were appointed to demarcate the eastern boundary. They were to arrange first, a boundary between British territory [now the districts of Lahaul and Spiti] on the south and the Kashmir territory of Ladakh on the north; and then a boundary between Ladakh on the west and Chinese Tibet on the east.


"The first commission submitted its report in May 1847, and it was accompanied by an explanatory memorandum and by a sketch map, showing the boundary between the territories of Gulab Singh and British India, as determined by the commissioners.

"As regards the Ladakh-Tibet boundary, the commissioners, owing to Imam-ud-din's rebellion in Kashmir, were unable to reach the Tibet border. Mr. Vans Agnew, one of the commissioners, however, wrote a memorandum in which he pointed out that the line was, as he thought, already sufficiently defined by nature, and recognised by custom, with the exception of its two extremities.

"On the appointment of the second commission steps were taken to secure the cooperation of Chinese and Kashmir officials; but no Chinese delegate appeared and the demarcation of the boundary had to be abandoned.

"The northern as well as the eastern boundary of the Kashmir State is still undefined. On the north-west also, from Hunza southwards along the frontier of Yasin, Darel, Tangir, and Chilas to Kaghan, no boundary has been officially laid down."

This was recorded in the 1929 edition (pages 44-45). Nothing happened thereafter until Independence to alter the fact, which India's maps also recorded until 1954 - there was no defined boundary right from the Sino-Afghan-India trijunction in the west to the Sino-Nepal-India trijunction in the east. Only the McMahon Line was defined in 1914. Thus, in Kashmir both the boundary to the west as well as to the east of the Karakoram Pass was "still undefined".

If the 1842 treaty was decisive, as Nehru asserted in 1959, why did Britain, a far stronger power militarily, ask China repeatedly to define the boundary? Also, why did it not draw up a line unilaterally as Nehru did in 1954? Despite repeated rebuffs, Britain persisted in its efforts. A lot happened after 1846.

Less than five months after the Treaty of Amritsar, the Viceroy Lord Hardinge wrote to "the Vizier of L'Lassa-Gartope etc. etc." and the authorities in Tibet, on August 4, 1846, informing them of the treaty and asking them "to settle definitely the boundaries to the eastward" of Kashmir - the northern part adjoined Xinjiang, not Tibet - "in order that hereafter no questions or disputes may arise concerning their exact limits". The Chinese were insecure and evasive.

Surveys of the frontier region were conducted. In 1873 the Viceroy Lord Northbrook noted that the boundaries are "not laid down authoritatively". It is unnecessary to trace the voluminous consultations between London and Calcutta and within the Government of India. Four landmarks are relevant. Col. John Ardagh, Private Secretary to the Viceroy, rose to become Director of Military Intelligence in the British War Office. On New Year's Day 1897, the Colonel, now Sir John Ardagh, wrote a memorandum entitled "The Northern Frontier of India, from the Pamirs to Tibet". It had baleful consequences. He drew a line far to the north to keep Russia away. Departing from a strong consensus in India from Viceroys to Residents in Kashmir in favour of a boundary along the Karakoram watershed, he wrote: "We are justified in claiming (sic.) up to the crest of the Kuen Lun range." It was rejected in India as well as in Britain. The Viceroy Lord Elgin propounded his line in detail in a note to Lord Hemilton, Secretary of State, on October 27, 1898.

This was the line which the British Ambassador to China, Sir Claude MacDonald, presented to the Tsungli Yamen (the Chinese Foreign Office) in a historic note of March 14, 1899. It is also called the Macartney-MacDonald line after its real author, Sir Charles Macartney, the British Minister at Kashgar. Shahidullah, Suget and the Aksai Chin plateau, north of Lingzi Tang were conceded to China. But it did not respond to the note. Hunza's claims to Raskam were renounced in return for China's renunciation of Hunza's tribute to China. The Viceroy Lord Curzon was restive about the uncertainty and decided to close the chapter - unilaterally. He wrote to the Secretary of State St. John Brodrick on March 24, 1904, that "as they [the Chinese government] have not shown any reason for not (sic.) disagreeing with the proposals placed before them in Sir Claude MacDonald's [despatch] of 14th March, 1899, we shall henceforth assume Chinese concurrence and act accordingly". He did not stop at that. On August 10, 1905, he proposed a modification of the 1899 offer so as to include fertile tracts of Raskam north of the Shimshal Pass in Hunza. The Aksai Chin part of the offer remained unaffected. It is these fertile lands that Pakistan regained in 1963; areas north of the Shimshal Pass.

In 1907, Richmond Ritchie, the Secretary of the Political Department at the India Office, asked Sir Louis Dane, India's Foreign Secretary, to look into the boundary mess. Dane's reply of July 4, 1907, settles all doubt: "For the time being, we had followed the old maps and gazetteers and had shown the boundary as following the Kuen Lun range from the north eastward of the Gusherbrun Pass... We are afraid that the boundary must be withdrawn from the Kuen Lun range to the line detailed in para 10 of the attached Note, this being the boundary indicated to the Home Government in 1898 and to the Chinese authorities in 1899, and unless there is any objection this will now be done."

A note on the history of the boundary of Kashmir between Ladakh and Kashgaria, which was attached to Dane's letter, explained: "It will appear... that prior to 1898 no definite boundary was recognised as existing between Ladakh and Kashgar, but that since that date we have been consistent (except with reference to the trivial alteration near Shimshal) in recognising one definite boundary line, which has twice been described in detail to the Secretary of State and once to the Chinese authorities. At the same time, the Chinese have never accepted our proposed boundary, so that we cannot be held to be committed to abide by it."

The Chinese revolution in 1911 induced second thoughts. The Viceroy questioned the Macartney-MacDonald line of 1899: "Russia would be brought thereby within 300 miles of Simla and 150 miles of Srinagar". He proposed reversion to the Ardagh Line of 1897, with the Aksai Chin and the rest "inside our territory and outside that of Russia". The line would run "along Kuen Lung watershed to frontier of Tibet crossing Karakash river, the plain of Aksai Chin being left on our side of the frontier".

Two things stand out. The 1899 offer was ignored by China and therefore lapsed. India was not bound by it. But there was no accord with China either; and no agreed, defined boundary. The net result was well summed up by Sir Arthur Hirtzel of the India Office to V. Wellesley of the Foreign Office on January 10, 1924: "So far as we know there is no officially recognised boundary, though obviously the main Muztagh-Karakoram divide would constitute a natural frontier."

The Ardagh line died as a suggestion but survived as a myth; baleful as myths tend to be. An official account published by the Ministry of External Affairs entitled "Sino-Pakistan `Agreement': Some Facts" wrongly claimed that "both the upper valley of the Khunjerab river and the upper valley of the Shaksgam river, lying south of the Aghil mountains had always been part of Hunza". Quite the contrary. The British were at pains to point out that they did not support the Mir of Hunza's claims to sovereignty over this area; only to rights of grazing and cultivation.

But it adds: "In some British maps a colour wash had been used reaching further north into Sinkiang and covering this area north of the traditional frontier where such grazing and cultivation took place. The British Government, however, recognised the correct traditional frontier in the area and in 1899 authorised Sir Claude McDonald, their Minister in Peking, to make proposals to the Chinese Government for a realignment. These compromise proposals envisaged the inclusion within Hunza of the Taghdumbash region, north of both Hunza and the traditional alignment, where the Mir had exercised grazing rights, in return for concessions south of the alignment between the Aghil and the Karakoram ranges." The latter part is obviously wrong as the note shows. But the Ministry of External Affairs accepted the 1899 time as "correct".

It added: "In 1927 as a result of an examination on the ground by officials of the Government of India, it was reaffirmed that administration only extended up to the traditional boundary, and consequently in 1936 the Government of India asked the Mir to abandon his grazing rights in the Taghdumbash area. The rectification of the alignment was duly carried out in all maps published by the Government of India after 1947."

But it was not carried out by Pakistan. India pointed out to Pakistan that India had no claims to territories north of the traditional frontier in Sinkiang, "but the Government of Pakistan continued thereafter to show an alignment far north into Sinkiang, including about 11,000 square miles of territory. This alignment admitted that the frontier was `undefined'. As a result of repeated requests by India, the Pakistan Government in 1961 sent a map showing what they termed as their de facto boundary or their line of actual control. This de facto line ran south of the traditional frontier, the area between them being about 1,600 square miles."

Yet after the agreement of 1963 Nehru upbraided Pakistan for giving away those very 11,000 square miles which admittedly were wrongly shown on its map as Kashmir territory. After Independence, India made good the McMahon line and occupied Tibet. China built the road through the Aksai Chin and fanned out westwards. In the entire western sector, to the east and west of the Karakoram Pass, the boundary remained undefined. In 1959, India and Pakistan reacted differently to the situation then obtaining and also to the common historical record. Hence the different results in their respective parleys with China. Pakistan succeeded in arriving at a boundary agreement on excellent terms. India got bogged down in conflict.

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