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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

India at fault for Ladakh border dispute

The Sino-India conflict at Ladakh has been ongoing since years. But India's unwillingness to disclose military reports and its history of burning maps and manipulating historical facts has led to policies that do not work towards an equitable solution. Could India be at fault for the Ladakh border dispute?

Although India has publicly downplayed the recent Chinese military incursions along its eastern border in the Ladakh region, the anxiety is looming large in the region. It may that India is at fault for the Ladakh border dispute with China.

Both sides have fought a month-long war in 1962, which ended after China declared a ceasefire.

India believes that it all began with the Chinese onslaught on their forward posts. But over time, new material made public suggested that it was India’s flirtation with maps and claiming territory, which even British had not marked, led to the war and tension in the region.

India at fault for Ladakh border dispute with China

It was precisely due to these reasons, that even after five decades, India has not released Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report that documented the factors that led to the war and the role of military and political leadership during that period.

Wajahat Habibullah, the only civilian besides the defense secretaries, who has seen this report said contradictory maps presented by India in the 1950s and 1960-61 had led to the war.

While holding the charge of the country’s chief information commissioner, he had summoned the copy of the report to dispose of a petition filed by late journalist Kuldeep Nayyar demanding to make the report public.

Although, Habibullah, who rejected Nayyar’s petition in 2010, now believes that new Indian maps had created confusion.

“We had given maps with serious contradictions on the layout of the MacMohan Line to China. This led the Chinese to believe that one of the pickets being controlled by our forces in the northeast was theirs, according to one of the maps given to them by us,” he said while declining to name the picket along the Arunachal Pradesh border.

Accordingly, on Oct. 20, 1962, the Chinese army crossed over to occupy the border picket, leading to hostilities.

The 890-kilometer (553-mile) long MacMohan Line, laid down by the British in 1914, demarcates the border between Indian and China — although this is still contested by the Beijing.

The current situation at Ladakh border

There have been long-running border tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours, with a bitter war fought over India’s northeastern-most state of Arunachal Pradesh in 1962.

There have been numerous face-offs and brawls between Chinese and Indian soldiers, including one near the northwest Indian region of Ladakh captured on video in 2017, where troops were seen throwing punches and stones.

Read more: Ladakh: India-China troops face off again

In 2017, there was a high-altitude standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam region for two months after the Indian army sent troops to stop China from constructing a road there.

India’s former National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon has cautioned India against escalating India-China tension at the direction of the USA.

While describing China as India’s “greatest strategic challenge”, he said New Delhi needed to retain its strategic autonomy rather than seeking an alliance with the US, which is withdrawing from the world and also there is uncertainty of how it will choose to deal with China. He said this makes a case for India to devise its ways.

More recently, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate between the two countries to resolve their dispute through a tweet.

India, however, has rejected his offer. 

“We are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve it,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, replying to a volley of questions at an online media briefing.

“Our troops have taken a very responsible approach towards border management,” Srivastava added.

This unwillingness to engage the US may point towards India being at fault for the Ladakh border dispute.

History points towards India at fault for Ladakh border dispute

Soon after the war, Lt. Gen. Henderson Brooks and Brig. Prem Bhagat was assigned to outline reasons for the cause of war and the defeat of India. They presented a 28-volume report in 1963 to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The report since then is in the cupboard of defense secretaries under strict lock and key.

“I still believe the report should not be declassified. From 1962, the deployment of our armed forces has not substantially changed in these areas. So, declassifying will lead to supplying the Chinese with defense information. Moreover, the report on the role of the Indian army is so scathing that it would have a demoralizing effect on the forces even now,” said Habibullah, a former top bureaucrat.

Corroborating Habibullah, noted author and expert on constitutional and diplomatic affairs A. G. Noorani has also dug out evidence to show that Indian leaders and diplomats have been brushing aside the facts of history, especially from the media and academia with baleful and lasting consequences.

Deception on Kashmir issue: predecessor for India at fault for Ladakh?

Noorani said that a canard of lies has been concocted that Pakistan had gifted a large territory of Jammu and Kashmir to China in the 1960s.

Jammu and Kashmir state, as India claimed on Oct. 27, 1947, was declared having an area of 82,258 square miles.

But according to 1891 census documents, the area had been recorded as being 80,900 square miles, which was repeated in the 1901 census. In 1911, the area was shown as 84,258 square miles. But the census commissioner in 1941 urged its reduction to 82,258 square miles.

A white paper issued by India’s first Home Minister Sardar Patil on Indian states soon after independence repeated the figure.

However, in the 1961 census, possibly with an eye on its dispute with China regarding the fixation of the actual boundary line, India raised the area of Jammu and Kashmir to 86,024 square miles.

Nobody has any idea, wherefrom this additional 3,766 square miles came, even as there was no military adventure or any occupation of territory over this period.

Surprisingly, this territory was added soon after Prime Minister Nehru returned from Karachi after signing the historic Indus Basin Water Treaty with then Pakistani President Ayub Khan in 1960.

India’s sinister plan to occupy Kashmir involved burning maps

Qudratullah Shahab, principal secretary of Khan, records in his autobiography that at an informal interaction during a retreat in scenic Murree, Nehru enquired whether Pakistan was negotiating a boundary agreement with China.

When Ayub replied in affirmative, he asked for a glimpse of maps.

“It was an informal meeting. Ayub even agreed to send a copy of the map. But Nehru soon back in Delhi, raised a diplomatic cry, issuing a demarché asking Pakistan to handover maps to India through official channels,” reads Shahab’s memoirs.

Nehru even described it as a conspiracy hatched jointly by Pakistan and China in the parliament.

Almost corroborating Shahab, Noorani in his latest book India-China Boundary Problem, 1846-1947: History and Diplomacy (Oxford) has mentioned how old maps were burnt in the Ministry of External Affairs to create a new unilateral line.

“On 24 March 1953, a decision was taken to formulate a new line for the boundary […] Old maps were burnt,” says the author, quoting a former foreign secretary, who, as a junior official, was obliged to participate in this fatuous exercise.

Speaking  from his Mumbai residence, A.G. Noorani, a noted expert on legal and constitutional issues, said a 17-para memorandum, issued by Nehru had given explicit directives to the ministry to withdraw all old maps.

“Archival evidence suggests that new maps were printed showing Northern and North Eastern frontiers without any reference to any line. Nehru also directed to send these maps to embassies abroad and advised that they are introduced to the public generally and be used in schools and colleges. He also advised officials that this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one and should not be open to discussion with anybody,” said Noorani.

The memorandum reproduced in books directs officials not to even discuss old maps and take reference only from new maps.

“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,” said Nehru’s memorandum.

Pakistan, China not to be excluded from Kashmir

Noorani believed that this directive closed the doors to any negotiations or give and take on the boundary issue. The legend “undefined boundary” was dropped in the western (Kashmir) and middle sector (Uttar Pradesh) in the new map of 1954, which existed in the official maps of 1948 and 1950.

The author also rebuffed the impression created by India and even widely accepted by Kashmiri leaders as well that Pakistan had ceded or gifted some territory to China. Archival evidence suggests that it was China that ceded 750 square miles of territory to Pakistan under the Pakistan-China boundary agreement of March 3, 1963.

“India may contest that Pakistan had no authority to enact this agreement, as Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, but Article 6 of the agreement envisages its revision after the conclusion of the Kashmir settlement,” said Noorani.

Chaudry Mohammad Aslam, a renowned cartographer and then surveyor-general of Pakistan, who was instrumental in the demarcation of the borders with Chinese, recorded the demarcation were delineated on the bases of the facts of history.

He was responsible for the demarcation of the border with Iran. As a result of was awarded the Nishan-i-Humayun by the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Noorani said Pakistan’s response was also based on the facts of history and existing realities. Pakistan’s government led by President Ayub Khan had just waived claims on old antiquated maps, which also led China to withdraw from 750 square miles.

India’s current policies a mismatch with historical facts

Under the Treaty of Amritsar of March 1846, when the British created the state of Jammu and Kashmir, they had left its northern and eastern borders un-demarcated. In 1846 and 1847, the British invaded China to negotiate a boundary agreement. But China refused.

The agreement of 1963 is based on the British proposal it offered to China in 1899, which gained areas for Pakistan. Further, according to Noorani, it was not China which pressed Pakistan for a settlement. On the contrary, it preferred to settle with India first.

B. N. Goswami, formerly a professor at the University of Calcutta and North Burdwan, has also outlined that “to a limited but knowledgeable section of the people, the agreement appears to be just and fair to sides.”

Noorani also blames a divided cabinet, an irresponsible opposition, an uninformed Indian press, and a restive parliament for dragging the boundary problem. He further reveals that only a comprehensive and objective study conducted by K. Zakariah, the director of the Historical Division in Ministry of External Affairs, in 1953 has been still kept secret.

Maintaining that there seemed a total disconnect between the facts of history and India’s policy on the boundary problem, the author said the diplomacy also became inflexible because it espoused a policy which barred give and take.

Then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En-lai was too ready to accept a solution based on vital non-negotiable interests during his visit to New Delhi in April 1960.

“He was rebuffed. China proceeded to practice its brand of unilateralism, sanctifying territorial gains won by armed forces,” the author claimed. He believed that the diplomatic consequences of the deepening rift between India and China are “incalculable”; especially in India’s relations with its other neighbors, particularly Pakistan.

Thus, the burning of the maps, along with the unwillingness to improve relations with neighbors or allow other countries to help mediate, points towards India at fault for the Ladakh dispute with China.

Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk