Fences and windows

Published : Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST

A political compact, based on give and take, is an essential pre-requisite to work out a boundary settlement with China.

IF the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is in earnest about a boundary settlement with China, it should, first, try to forge a consensus with the Opposition and, next, try to educate the people about the facts of history on which they have long been misled; especially on the crucial western sector in Kashmir. That is the best way to pre-empt demagogic attacks when accord is reached. In a pre-election year, not much can be expected except by quiet diplomacy vis-a-vis China and confidential discussions with the Opposition. Any settlement has to be a package deal which respects the facts of history, the sentiments of the people in both countries, the realities of 2003, and the wider political considerations which render an accord imperative.

The situation has changed since the boundary dispute erupted in 1959. Both sides committed grave mistakes. Jawaharlal Nehru's refusal to negotiate in 1959-1960 has cost India dear. It is fair to recall that the Bharatiya Janata Party's predecessor, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, and the Lohiaites never wanted any settlement.

China had not protested when, on February 12, 1951, Major R. Khating took over Tawang, evicting Tibetan administrators. Tawang was acquired by India from Tibet in 1914. India's control over the McMahon Line was complete. In the west, China spread out to further areas from 1959-1962, to the west of the Xinjiang-Tibet road, which was across the Aksai Chin.

In April 1960 Zhou Enlai offered India the Karakoram boundary and acceptance of the McMahon Line. In 1980 Deng Xiaoping offered the status quo, as altered in 1962, subject to mutual adjustments and mutual accommodation. He said in 1981: "Both countries should make concessions. China in the east sector and India in the west sector, on the basis of the actually controlled border line, so as to solve the Sino-Indian border question in a package plan."

Appointment of Special Representatives, as agreed during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to China last June, will be of no avail unless India defines a realistic negotiating position. A broad outline in the form of "principles" must be arrived at. China has followed a certain pattern in each of its nine major border agreements. A joint group was set up only as part of the settlement; not in preparation for it.

Under the agreement with Burma (January 28, 1960) a joint committee was set up "to discuss and work out solutions on the concrete questions" regarding the boundary (Article 1). But the disputed issues were settled already and the boundary was clearly defined (Article II). The pattern was followed in the agreement with Nepal (March 21, 1960). The dispute over Mount Everest was settled earlier between Mao Zedong and Prime Minister B.P. Koirala in Beijing. A joint committee was to delineate the boundary, conduct surveys, and "solve the concrete questions". The parties recorded that their "understanding of the traditional customary line is basically the same" (Article III). Such an "understanding" is necessarily a political one. It is an essential pre-requisite.

The Agreement with Pakistan (March 2, 1963) defined the boundary along the Mustagh-Karakoram watershed (Article II) and set up a joint commission. The pattern was followed in the agreements with Mongolia (March 26, 1963) and Afghanistan (November 22, 1963) - the boundary is defined broadly for a joint committee to elaborate in detail. This pattern was followed in the boundary accords with the Soviet Union on May 16, 1991, in respect of the eastern sector; with its successor Russia on June 28, 1954, in respect of the western sector; with Kazakhstan on April 26, 1994; and with Vietnam on December 25, 200. The agreement with Bhutan signed on December 8, 1998 clearly records (Article 2) that the parties "have reached agreement on the guiding principles for the settlement of the boundary issue".

This is a good pattern to follow - settle the outlines and ask the experts to fill the details. It has to be a political compact, essentially based on give and take.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment