Facing the truth

Print edition : October 20, 2006

INDIA'S objection to Pakistan's legal right to sign the 1963 border treaty is justified, but the alignment it secured was correct.

PAKISTAN found a cold and suspicious China when it proposed talks in November 1959. China preferred non-aligned India to the United States ally. On May 16, 1959, the Chinese Ambassador Pan Tsu-li made a statement to Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt, couched in language unusual in diplomacy. It was not unfriendly. It was cautionary. It was in protest at India's blaming China for the outbreak of revolt in Tibet on May 10, 1959. It did not touch on the border dispute. Its core was clear: "China will not be so foolish as to antagonise the United States in the east and again to antagonise India in the west. Our Indian friends: What is (sic.) your mind?... It seems to us that you too cannot have two fronts... Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides." He ended by expressing best regards to Nehru, "the leader of India".

The language clearly revealed "the poet" Mao Tse-tung's hand. Nehru regarded this as "discourteous" and "drafted the reply to the statement" himself for the Foreign Secretary to read out on May 23 (With Nehru in the Foreign Office; Subimal Dutt; page 155). It was in the style of scolding which Nehru reserved for members of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). Doubtless it was transmitted to Mao. Worse followed in September 1959. The entire exchange was published in the first White Paper (pages 72-78). The Ambassador was ridiculed in our media. The White Paper and the ones that followed inflamed public opinion.

China was soundly rebuffed. It was struggling to wrest its seat in the United Nations from Taiwan. The U.S. contended that this required a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly and also kept postponing the vote. As late as 1960 Pakistan voted with the U.S. to reject the Soviet motion to include the item on the agenda. Under the rules, a decision on whether a two-thirds vote was required could be taken by a simple majority.

It took China a whole year to respond to Pakistan's move. It did so on December 8, 1960. Foreign Minister Manzoor Qadir revealed on January 15, 1961 that China had "agreed in principle to the demarcation of its border with Pakistan" (emphasis added throughout). Later, in an interview to The Hindustan Times (March 16, 1961), he revealed that "the Chinese, however, asked Pakistan to make their proposals".

It wanted to gauge Pakistan's intention. Pakistan sent a formal note on March 28, 1961. A highly placed and informed source in the Foreign Ministry told me that Pakistan conveyed to China its stand that the boundary should be based on (a) historical evidence; (b) the present situation and (c) customary international law.

China took yet another year to respond on February 27, 1962. So much for the conspiracy theory. It expressed readiness to attain "an agreed comprehension of the location and alignment of this boundary" and proposed a provisional agreement pending final settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistan replied, on March 19, 1962, accepting the Chinese suggestions. On May 3, 1962 a Joint Communiqu was issued embodying the agreement to commence negotiations.

PRESIDENT AYUB KHAN (right) and his Foreign Minister Manzoor Qadir at a meeting in Karachi in 1959.-

President Ayub Khan revealed in his memoirs Friends Not Masters how the change came about. In December 1961, the Chinese Ambassador called on him and sought Pakistan's support for the seat in the U.N., whereupon he reminded his visitor about his proposal on the border. The Ambassador replied that it was a complicated question, to which the President retorted that so was the issue of the seat. Adroit, Ayub Khan said: "We should look at the two problems on merit."

Later, Manzoor Qadir took up the matter with the Ambassador and got the impression that "the real reason" for China's hesitation was Kashmir. "At that time [early 1962] China did not want to get involved in another argument with India." Pakistan suggested mere identification of the boundary, leaving the status of the area to its south undetermined. "The Chinese were very difficult" when the talks began on October 12, 1962, Ayub Khan wrote. "They produced a map on the basis of which they claimed certain areas on our side of the actual line of control, the valley of Khanjarab and some area near K-2. Eventually they agreed to the actual line of control as shown on our map and it was adopted as the demarcation line with certain marginal adjustments. The watershed of the Indus Basin rivers was shown on our side and the watershed of the rivers of Yakang and certain adjoining areas on their side. There was some argument about K-2 and it was agreed that the line of control should be put right on top of K-2, this letting the mountain peak belong to both sides as had been done for Mount Everest with Nepal. Once we had agreed on the demarcation line, aerial surveys were undertaken and the whole matter was settled amicably and without any difficulty.

"We raised the question of the grazing ground which covered several hundred square miles on the other side of the Shimshal Pass. We proved to the Chinese representative that this area had been traditionally under the use of the people of Shimshal and that if they were denied access to the area it would cause them great hardship. The Chinese said they would check with the people of Sinkiang but agreed, in principle, that the matter be resolved on merit. They finally agreed to let us have the area" (Friends Not Masters; pages 161-164).

Earlier Manzoor Qadir told Averell Harriman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, on March 22, 1961 that the original intention was to confine the talks to Hunza but this proved unrealistic. On November 28, 1962 he told Harriman that he was hopeful of an accord "but would insist on retaining the Hunza grazing areas" though they were not part of Pakistan's territory (Foreign Relations of the U.S., South Asia; Vol. XIX, pages 29 and 411).

The best account comes from Agha Shahi, one of the ablest diplomats South Asia has produced. An alumnus of Presidency College, Madras and an Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer of the Sindh cadre, he had fond memories of colleagues in India like A.D. Gorwala. He gave me a detailed briefing on the phone on July 26, 2006, since he was leaving for Geneva the next day. He died on September 6.

ABDUL SATTAR, THE current Foreign Minister of Pakistan.-AZIZ HAIDARI/REUTERS

What he told Dennis Kux must be quoted first. "The border negotiations had stalled almost immediately after they had begun in Beijing in May 1962. When a study of the available records suggested that neither Pakistan nor China had a strong legal or historical basis to support any particular boundary claim, Shahi proposed to his superiors that Pakistan seek what seemed the most rational frontier - the watershed of the Karakoram Range - and also try to obtain five hundred square miles beyond the watershed that the people of Hunza traditionally had used for salt and grazing land. Foreign Minister Bogra and President Ayub gave their blessing to the idea and in December 1962 - after the Sino-Indian border war had ended - Pakistan's ambassador to China put the proposal on the table. According to Shahi, Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Yi and Premier Zhou Enlai agreed on the understanding that the Pakistanis were making a firm and final offer, not just bargaining. The Chinese, according to Shahi, later admitted that they also `didn't know where the boundary is because no claim is conclusive'. In territorial terms, the border accord was a good bargain for Pakistan," Kux remarks. (The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000; Oxford University Press, Karachi; pages 136-7).

Abdul Sattar sheds more light: "After the alignment was agreed, the Pakistan government belatedly realised that some grazing lands along the Mustagh River in the Shimshal Pass on the other side of the watershed were historically used by inhabitants of Hunza. It then appealed for an exception to the watershed principle to save hardship to the poor people. Zhou generously agreed to amendment of the boundary so that an area of 750 square miles remained on the Pakistan side."

This is precisely what Agha Shahi told me. A detail bears mention. Zhou met Pakistan's representatives at 1 a.m. and asked whether they had any other objection to the agreement. They said they had none and sought the Hunza concession as a matter of grace, not right. Zhou readily agreed.

On December 27, 1962, it was announced that an agreement had been reached in principle. The agreement was signed in Beijing on March 2, 1963. A boundary protocol marking positions on the ground was signed on March 26, 1965.

The agreement was based on the Karakoram watershed, not the Kuen Lun; on the Macartney-MacDonald offer of 1899 as varied by Curzon on the Shimshal Pass in 1905, and not on the Ardagh Line of 1897.

Nehru's reaction to the agreement is best set out in detail. In a formal statement in Parliament on March 5, 1963, he said, "It has been stated in Karachi that the difference between the Chinese claim line and the Pakistan claim line was 3,400 square miles. In the final agreement, Pakistan claims to have received 1,350 square miles, including 700 square miles of area which was in China's possession. The Chinese have been given 2,050 square miles under the agreement.

"According to the survey of Pakistan maps, even those published in 1962, about 11,000 square miles of Sinkiang territory formed part of Kashmir. If one goes by these maps, Pakistan has obviously surrendered over 13,000 square miles of territory." But these were the maps he had ridiculed as being inaccurate.

In the next decades and more, the italicised qualification gave way to flat assertion. On August 10, 1994, Minister of State for External Affairs R.L. Bhatia told the Rajya Sabha that "under" the agreement, Pakistan has "illegally ceded approximately 5,120 sq. km. of Indian territory" in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to China (The Hindu, August 11, 1994).

Nehru had visited Pakistan in 1960 to sign the Indus Waters Treaty with Ayub Khan in Karachi. They met at Murree on September 21, 1960 for informal talks on Kashmir. China also cropped up. We have testimonies from both. Ayub's memoirs aver that Nehru asked him whether he had approached China to demarcate the border. "He wanted me to show him the map on which we were basing our claim and wanted to know exactly the area to which our claim extended... Nehru asked me to let him have a copy of the map... " (Friends Not Masters, page 163).

Shortly after his return to Delhi, Nehru said at a press conference on January 18, 1961, "Pakistan does not know very much about the border... their knowledge of that is extremely limited." In a speech in the Rajya Sabha on May 3, 1962, he recalled the Murree talks: "I showed them our confidential maps as to where we thought the Chinese were and where we were and asked them what the position of the Chinese was on their side of the border... I found they knew less than I did even on that side of border."

Nehru repeated this in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 1962 and cited the Mir of Hunza's old claims on China. "The British government, after due enquiry, had not accepted the Mir of Hunza's claim to that particular grazing area, and therefore had refused to intervene in this matter. This refers to a particular spot, the grazing area, and not to the whole frontier... He [Ayub Khan] agreed with that - that particular area - the grazing area of Hunza. He said we cannot lay claim to that in the circumstances when the British government had given it up."

Nehru added: "It seemed to me that both sides were not fully cognisant of the facts of the situation. Such facts as we knew were a little more than they knew. We knew that area. We discussed it. I showed them our maps and later they sent their maps which differed slightly, not much." But the brochure published by his Ministry on March 16, 1963 gave a different impression: "The Pakistan government sent a map showing what they termed their de facto boundary or their line of actual control", not their claim line. "This de facto line ran south of the traditional frontier." ("Sino-Pakistan `Agreement' March 2, 1963; Some Facts".)

In the lingo of the border dispute, each side characterises its claim line as "the traditional frontier". The area between Pakistan's LAC and India's line was "about 1,600 square miles". Pakistan's LAC of 1961 must not be confused with its claim line of 1962 in the "Survey Map" which claimed far larger areas from China and on which Nehru based his criticism of the accord on March 5, 1963. Rather inconsistently, for he had ridiculed Pakistan's maps and, indeed, its ignorance of the borders generally.

The cause for hurt lay deeper, as Nehru explained on May 7, 1962. It was "the acceptance by the Government of Pakistan of the Chinese government's view that this boundary has never been delimited and their willingness to demarcate it now". His stand, as he implied, was different. He had spoken to Ayub "because we thought that any action which they might take should be in line with the action we were taking in regard to this border, and should not conflict".

This was intolerance twice over. Vis--vis China, Nehru had said on January 18, 1961: "In our opinion, we have nothing to negotiate; our minds are quite clear. That is one thing. But so far as we are concerned we are always prepared to talk." Incidentally, this is a classic Nehruvian distinction which remains his permanent legacy in Indian diplomacy - we will talk; we will not negotiate. Vis--vis Pakistan, Nehru demanded conformity with his stand based on bad history and arrogant chauvinism. Pakistan acted sensibly and settled up. Nearly half a century later, India is still locked in the dispute of old. But few care to reckon with the sorry record.

What did the border alignment under the 1963 agreement spell - a sell-out or a gain? W.F. Van Eekelen, a Dutch diplomat who had served in India, wrote a book based on archival material. It was little noticed because it was pro-Indian (Indian Foreign Policy and the Border Dispute with China; Martinus Nijhoff; The Hague). The alignment, he wrote, "followed the main Karakoram watershed but once left it for another spur and a river bed to accommodate Pakistan in her desire for the pocket of Sokh Balaq... The compromise border left about two-thirds on China side, but while Pakistan in the main had given up only claims on maps, China would be withdrawing from about 50 square miles" of administered areas.

Right now, India would be only too happy to secure that very line of 1899 as it runs east of the Karakoram pass. It would thereby regain areas which China acquired in the last quarter of 1959 and the war of 1962. India's objection to Pakistan's legal right to sign such a treaty is perfectly justified. Sovereignty over the area does not vest in Pakistan under the very U.N. resolutions it has relied on. That said, the alignment it acquired was correct.

Article 2 of the agreement lays down the agreed alignment while recording the differences on the maps, which were to be resolved by a joint Boundary Commission after surveys on the ground. Article 6 reads thus: "The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People's Republic of China on the boundary, as described in Article Two of the present agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement, provided that in the event of that sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People's Republic of China and Pakistan."

As it happens India is moving closer to a boundary accord with China and towards a Kashmir settlement with Pakistan. China has consistently refused to discuss with India the sector west of the Karakoram Pass whether in the officials' talks in 1960 or on the LOAC recently. No Kashmir settlement will secure that sector to India. Why not write it off in the talks with China and, while maintaining the legal objections, accept the alignment in the accord of 1963?

It is sad that in the cold wars between India and Pakistan and between India and China the historical truth received such merciless battering from Jawaharlal Nehru. The historical falsehood about the treaty of 1842 which he propounded in March 1959 barred the door to conciliation with China and created a deadlock - there was nothing to negotiate. Another falsehood that he propounded in March 1963 about Pakistan giving away to China thousands of square miles spawned a myth which continues to inflame imagination to this day. A prize specimen of this malady has just appeared in a propagandist pamphlet on Kashmir which reeks of exploded bogeys and false myths. It asserts as it author's ipse dixit characteristically that Pakistan "conceded to China some 5,000 square kilometres of Jammu and Kashmir territory in the Shaksgam Valley and adjacent areas north of Siachen from east of K-2 to a point little short of the Karakoram Pass". This is utterly false. The Shaksgam Valley was never part of Kashmir and the northern and eastern boundaries of Kashmir were undefined. The author displays a U.S. map depicting the LOC, Siachen and Shaksgam, which on the author's own admission incorrectly depicts the LOC.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor