(A reprint from NewsBred).
India is shouting from the rooftop it has made no transgressions across its eastern borders in neighbouring Nepal but it has made no difference to latter whose prime minister KP Oli has joined his citizens who hit the streets in protest last week.
Nepal’s bitter political rivals, Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress, are united in anger and so are the students on the streets who are convinced India has swallowed the long-disputed Kalapani area in its latest map which it released in the wake of reconfiguration of Jammu & Kashmir state early this month.
India, meanwhile, has stressed it’s the same map and same boundaries it has depicted all along for over half a century now, including the other disputed territory of Susta in Nepal’s south which for the time being doesn’t get Nepal’s hackles up.
Blame it on geography’s changing moods and the toxicity of colonialism that India finds itself enmeshed in border disputes with not just Nepal but many others in its neighbourhood, including China.
Kalapani, and Susta are territories around Kali and Gandak rivers. After the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816), Nepal and East India Company signed a treaty in March 1816. The two rivers drew the arbitrary borders between these two long-disputed sites. Territories right of Gandak river, including Susta, belonged to Nepal; those on the left were with India. Since then Gandak river has changed course: Now Susta is on the left of Gandak river and hence with India. As for Kalapani, British kept changing the source of Kali river which has led to rival claims of today.
China: Talks after talks
India’s border disputes with China are one of the most protracted ones in the world. Since the first border talks began in 1981 to the latest, the 22nd round, which is due later this year, solutions have eluded the two Asian giants who fight the legacy of British colonialism and are afraid to upset the domestic audience in a give-and-take eventuality.
The two countries share a 3,488-km long unresolved border but two, the Western and Eastern ones, are particularly contentious. China controls 37,000-square km sized Aksai Chin in the West, a virtually uninhabited high-altitude desert; India 84,000 square km-wide populated Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The two fought for a month in 1962 but since a peace deal was struck in 1993, dialogues have been preferred over violence.
Yet, no solution is in sight. Along vast stretches of the borders between the two, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India follows the Johnson Line in the Western sector, proposed by the British in the 1860s, which allocates Aksai Chin to them. China asserts it never agreed to the Johnson Line and thus Aksai Chin is its own. Aksai Chin is between volatile Kashmir and China’s Xinjiang province which are seen troublesome to the two nations. Then there is MacMahon Line in Eastern sector, initiated in 1913-14 between China, India and Tibet which is disputed.
Fortunately, pragmatism has brought about Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two Asian giants. Soldiers patrol their territory but back off when brought face-to-face with each other. Quite often military commanders at the border share a bonhomie, exchange views and sort out local issues.
Pakistan: An intractable issue
The border dispute between India and Pakistan concern Kashmir and are on since their independence in 1947. Pakistan launched a tribal militia in Kashmir on independence and the ruler of Kashmir, Maharja Hari Singh, sought India’s assistance which put a condition on Kashmir first acceding to India. Having duly secured the accession, India airlifted its troops to Srinagar and by the time cease-fire was secured after a year, India controlled two-thirds of the Kashmir while the remaining one-third was possessed by Pakistan. The status-quo has prevailed despite three wars and as many peace agreements (Tashkent, Simla, Lahore) between the two neighbours.
Bangladesh: All quiet at borders
India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) became free from the British empire in 1947 but the two retained thousands of citizens in hundreds of enclaves in each other’s territory. These enclave dwellers lived without any rights or papers, virtually stateless and lacking basics in education, health and security. All this changed for the good when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi signed a historic pact with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in 2015. It allowed these thousands of stateless people an opportunity to choose either of the two countries as their own. Land was also swapped between the two nations. The border dispute between the two is settled for good.
Similarly, India had a small dispute with Sri Lanka over an uninhabited 235-acre island, Katchatheevu, which was satisfactorily solved after India formally gifted it to Sri Lanka in the 70s. India has extremely minor border issues with Myanmar and practically none with Bhutan.
The curse of colonialism has left India with border issues which are non-existent, say in a majority of Europe or even between United States and Canada even though the demarcating line between the two countries is a straight one. With strong governments in place, India and China could settle the mutual issues to a great deal. The one with Pakistan though is another matter.
The Russia-India-China (RIC) meet of its foreign ministers in Moscow is unlikely to have thawed the freezing relations between two Asian giants, China and India.
The same is true of the simultaneous visit of India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar to China where he met his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chang Wanguan and stated India attaches highest priority to its relationship with China.
Both China and India suffer from a trust deficit though the niggling issue is simple enough: Both China and India need to look at each other’s territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin plateau in a spirit of cooperation and resolve the long-standing dispute.
As a nation which stands to gain the most through India-China alliance, Russia could offer its own example: the Russian-Chinese borders were formalized in 2004 after 40 years of bad blood between the two nations.
The last fortnight has been particularly frosty: China blocked India’s move in United Nations to have Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief and allegedly Pathankot terror attack mastermind, Masood Azhar be designated as terrorist,
India, on their part, went ahead a signed an agreement with the United States on sharing military logistics in Indian Ocean, the area which is strategically and economically lifeline to Beijing.
But the RIC meet is unlikely to have much influence. Despite it being a foreign ministers’ conclave, it largely deals with the economic, and not security, issues.
The economic prospects of trade between India and China are mammoth. It’s already worth $100 billion and given their market and areas of strength, it holds immense possibility.
India could offer its Information Services strength and avail China’s expertise to build high-speed rail network in India. China’s excess production could also be easily absorbed within India.
India is extremely touch on matters of terrorism and finds itself regularly frustrated by China on international forums. Last year, China had blocked India’s bid to question Pakistan over the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a commander in Lashkar-e-Taiba, which had carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed 160 lives.
A leaked cable of US State Department in 2010 had revealed that China had in the past blocked UN sanctions against Lashkar-e-Taiba and the al-Akhtar Trust (a charity front for Jaish-e-Mohammad). It had also blocked India’s request to list Syed Salahuddin, a terrorist wanted in relation to numerous Hizbul Mujahideen attacks.
Though China’s moves were procedural within the UN sanctions committee, it was in opposition to the stands of US, UK, France and Russia all of whom were willing to back India on the issue.
China has a history of shielding Pakistan-based terror groups from sanctions under resolution 1267 even though it hardly ever uses a veto—exercising it only 10 times in its 70-year history of UNSC. It parrots the same line in defence that Pakistan does: “Pakistan is a terrible victim of terrorism itself.”
Such acts hardly endear China to India. It also reveals the closeness between Pakistan and China in modern context. India feels hemmed in between its two nuclear-armed northern neighbours. All it is doing is to drive India into US’ arms which dread the prospects of close India-China relations.
It still is encouraging that RIC has shown its concern on terrorism and a willingness to use international forums, such as BRICS, SCO, East Asian summits and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) to get the three nations closer.
Russia is keen to play a mediator’s role between China and India. It won’t be Asia’s century unless India and China draw closer to each other. Joint enterprises, preferential trade system and a common trade currency offer a huge opportunity.
China’s Great Silk Road project involves a huge territory—from Southeast Asia to the Caucasus. Russia, like India, isn’t yet a part of it even though a cooperation between the Silk Road and Russia-inspired Eurasian Eonomic Union exists.
There is a need to cool down the tempers from both sides. Says NewsBred columnist Shen Dingli: “China actually has many ways to hurt India. China could send an aircraft carrier to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. China had turned down the Pakistan offer to have military stationed in the country. If India forces China to do that,” there could be a threatening navy at India’s doorstep.