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Thursday, April 18, 2024

India and China fundamentally misunderstand each other on the LAC

There are genuine differences on border `perception’ that intermittently lead to face-offs. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.

The post-Galwan joint statement resolves that LAC and status quo shall be abided by. In the past similar statements have been made as well by India and China.

For instance, India’s external-affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava said at a press conference on June 25 ‘Respecting and strictly observing the Line of Actual Control is the basis for peace and tranquility in the border areas and explicitly recognized so in the 1993 and subsequent agreements. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas and abide scrupulously by it’.

China and India have divergent perceptions of the LAC. Flanked by Pakistan’s prime minister, before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China’s President Xi Jinping said they opposed India’s “unilateral actions” in Kashmir and called for a dialogue.

Understanding the dynamics of the LAC between China and India

India-China border is divided into three sectors, where the LAC in the western sector falls in the union territory of Ladakh and is 1597 km long, the middle sector of 545 km length falls in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and 1346 km long eastern sector falls in the states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The middle sector is the least disputed sector, while the western sector witnesses the highest transgressions between the two sides.

One could peek into Indian mind through books such as Shivshankar Menon’s Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Shyam Saran’s How India Sees the World,  and A G Noorani’s India-China Boundary Problem 1846-1947.

Read more: India China tensions over Ladakh could explode at any time

It is a common misperception that LAC is more sacrosanct than the LoC. For instance, India’s prestigious Indian Express explained `The LoC emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir War. It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Shimla Agreement between the two countries. It is delineated on a map signed by DGMOs of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement. The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground.

The newspaper poses the question `what was India’s response to China’s designation of the LAC?’. It then explains India rejected the concept of LAC in both 1959 and 1962.

Even during the war, Nehru was unequivocal: “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometers from what they call ‘line of actual control’. In July 1954, Nehru issued a directive that “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”.

This map, as is officially used to date, formed the basis of dealings with China, eventually leading to the 1962 War’.

There are genuine differences on border `perception’ that intermittently lead to face-offs. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.


Shyam Saran discloses that the LAC was discussed during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s 1991 visit to India, where PM P V Narasimha Rao and Li reached an understanding to maintain peace and tranquillity at the LAC. India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC.

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The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed. To reconcile the differences in some areas, the two countries agreed that the Joint Working Group on the border issue would take up the task of clarifying the alignment of the LAC.

It appears India is short on fulfilling its promises, be it LOC/LAC or plebiscite.

The resolution of border disputes with China is intertwined with resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Aside from India’s atoot ang mantra (integral-part iteration), China and Pakistan regard Ladakh as part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State.

At heart, Nehru did not care a fig for the LAC, or for the disputed state’s constituent assembly, Indian parliament or the UN. This truth is interspersed in Avtar Singh Bhasin’s 10-volume documentary study (2012) of India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007.

It contains 3649 official documents, accessed from archives of India’s external affairs ministry. Despite efforts for over a year, Bhasin was denied access to coveted Nehru Papers. But, in 2014, Bhasin was able to get permission from India’s Department of Culture to access them.

These papers gave new perspectives on Nehru’s vacillating state of mind concerning the Kashmir dispute.

In his 2018 book (published after six years of his earlier work), India, Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds, Bhasin discusses Nehru’s perfidy on Kashmir in Chapter 5 titled Kashmir, India’s Constitution and Nehru’s Vacillation. The book is based on selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru and the author’s own compendium of documents on India-Pak relations. Let us lay bare a few of Nehru’s somersaults.

Shallow Indian claims of honoring plebiscite demand

Nehru banked on the so-called Instrument of Accession and its authentication by the `Constituent Assembly’. Nehru unmasked his brazen volte-face in a letter dated October 31, 1947, addressed to the disputed state’s prime minister, on the fourth day of ‘signing’ of the mythical accession instrument by maharajha on October 26, 1947.

It was `counter-signed’ by Lord Mountbatten on October 27, 1947.  The letter says `after consideration of the problem, we are inclined to think that it [plebiscite] should be held under United Nations’ auspices.

He reiterated in New Delhi on November 3, 1951 that `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar] as we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council, or the United Nations’.

Again, at a press conference on June 11, 1951, he was asked `if the proposed constituent assembly of Kashmir “decides in favour of acceding to Pakistan, what will be the position?”’ he reiterated, ‘We have made it perfectly clear that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was not meant to decide finally any such question, and it is not in the way of any decision which may ultimately flow from the Security Council proceedings’.

He re-emphasised his view once again at a press conference in New Delhi on November 3, 1951. He said `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar as] we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council or the United Nations’.

Read more: India, China and Pakistan tensions – Impact on Global Order

Bhasin points out that `there was a perceptible shift in his [Nehru’s] stand on July 24 1952`about the future of the State if the decision of the Security Council was at variance with that of the Constituent Assembly’.

Nehru said, `Unless the Security Council functioned under some other Sections of the Charter, it cannot take a decision which is binding upon us unless we agree to it. They are functioning as mediators and a mediator means getting people to agree’.

Indian ambivalence on the border dispute and LOC

Bhasin points out at the same press conference on 24 July 1952 when asked what the necessity of plebiscite was now that he had got the Constituent Assembly, he replied “Maybe theoretically you may be right. But we have given them assurance and we stand by it.

If Kashmir is India’s integral part, what is the United Nations’ Military Observers’ Group on India Pakistan doing on LOC since January 24, 1949? India is wary of their presence.

Read more: India is using its economic clout to buy friends in its fight against China

It asked them to vacate their residence at 1/AB, Purana Qila Road, Connaught Place, Delhi – 11000; from where it has been functioning since 1949. It even harassed as three members of the United Nations Military Observers Mission for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) had a close call along the restive Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after Indian troops shot at and injured two locals who were briefing them on the situation prevailing in the wake of ceasefire violations.

Besides being a geographical dispute, Kashmir dispute has a human rights dimension. Even the Simla accord does not repeal UN resolutions and Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

Key to peace lies in solving the Kashmir issue

India does not own the LOC or LAC. It shrugs off UN resolutions or Simla Accord. Then will it abide by the LAC or status quo?

The buffer zone is a temporary measure to ward off conflict with China. A permanent solution lies in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Pending a final settlement, softening the borders appears to be need of the hour to mitigate the suffering of the Kashmiri.

If a broad solution is not hammered out, then, still, there are two solutions- a nuclear holocaust or, perhaps, divine intervention.

Read more: Indian army claims victory over China in Ladakh dispute

Let India know that a state that flouts international treaties is a rogue state: pacta sunt servanda, treaties are to be observed and are binding on parties.

Self-determination is not only a political but also a legal right in disputed lands.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved is the editor of the monthly magazine, The Consul. He is the author of eight e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.