Tibet

India’s border woes: A legacy of Colonialism, geography and Pakistan

(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.

 

 

 

 

Nehru & his “Himalayan blunders”

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (the title of Pandit is a little incongruous for a sworn secularist) passed away on this day (May 27), 54 years ago in 1964. His larger than life image though has only lately begun to be put in perspective. A lot of it has to do with social media for it loosened the grip of mainstream media and academics in controlling the narrative, hiding the ugly and sprucing up the good.

This revisit on Nehru’s early years, his rise in Congress echelon, manipulation at the time of independence to PM’s seat, his shaping of Hindu Civil Code etc are now being fiercely ripped out in open. I would presently concentrate on two of his actions which have put India’s eastern and western borders in permanent strife. I am of course referring to Pt. Nehru’s conduct during the incursion of Pakistani raiders in Kashmir in 1947; and the disastrous China War of 1962.

Pak Raiders in Kashmir in 1947

Within a month of India’s independence, Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir offered his state’s accession to India in September 1947. Nehru refused for his “blood brother” Sheikh Abdullah was in jail. It was thus a deadlock. By next month, Pakistan’s raiders from North West Frontier Province had penetrated up till the outskirts of Srinagar, looting, pillaging, killing and raping along the way. On October 26, Hari Singh had agreed to sign the Instrument of Accession to Indian Union.

On the same day, Lord Mountbatten, the governor general, called an urgent meeting in Delhi. Nehru was his typical ambivalent self. Sardar Patel, the home minister, lost his cool. Sam Manekshaw, then an army colonel, was to later recall: “As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said `Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir or do you want to give it away?’.” Nehru was thus pinned into taking an action and thanks to Sardar Patel, troops were flown to Srinagar and the airport, the only link with New Delhi, was saved.

In just a few weeks, in December 1947, Nehru had committed his grave blunder for which successive generations of India are still paying the price. He referred the matter to United Nations—there was no need for Kashmir was literally India’s “internal matter” since Maharaja Hari Singh had already acceded the state to Indian Union.

Why did Nehru go to United Nations? There are two explanations forwarded: one, he wanted Sardar Patel out of Kashmir for the latter fed up by Nehru’s antics had offered to resign just a few days before in December 1947; two, Nehru walked into a trap laid by Mountbatten who wanted UN to mediate.

(The truth is, India didn’t need Mountbatten as its Governor General. Pakistan never considered a similar option for itself. Mountbatten then maneuvered himself as head of India’s defence council).

Nehru then approached United Nations for arbitration. In the first few months of 1948, the folly had begun to hit Nehru in the face. The British stance in front of UN was completely opposite to what Mountbatten had led Nehru to believe. The Indian complaint was ignored; instead UN Security Council began adopting anti-India resolutions.

The cat was out of the bag. Despite India’s protestations, Pakistan was firmly in control of “Azad Kashmir.” India had to lose Gilgit-Baltistan region. UN and its plans for a plebiscite went kaput. India’s next generations had been condemned with the festering wound of Kashmir. Terrorism and internal security, if not secession, are everyday issues emanating from the Valley.

India’s China War of 1962

This refers to India’s political and military humiliation at the hands of China during the 1962 War. The impression successfully perpetuated all these years is that it was all China’s aggression which didn’t respond to Nehru’s brotherly overtures. The truth is more nuanced.

Britain didn’t leave India with any boundaries. India were left to settle matters with Pakistan, Nepal and China. While the first two nations didn’t cause any problem, China was a different matter altogether. They were not prepared to let Nehru get away with his “forward policy” of aggression.

India inherited the McMahon line on its eastern border with China which British had created in mid-1930s by seizing the Tibetan territory, renaming it NEFA. The Chinese government’s plea for renegotiation was turned down by Nehru who latched on to London’s fake claim of Simla Conference (1945), legitimatizing the McMahon Line. Nehru topped it with his fake claim on Aksai Chin—a claim which even the British hadn’t made on a territory China had termed its own for over a hundred years.

Then on its Western (Ladakh) border, Nehru’s “forward policy” in September 1962 tried to force the Chinese out of territory it claimed as its own. Nehru announced on October 11 that the army had been ordered to “free our territory.” That’s how the war began with China reacting to the situation.

China fought the 1962 war while in the throes of economic hardship. It’s forces were hardly elite, mostly comprising regiments of local military. Their equipment and logistics were poor. Yet they overpowered the Indians. In that short war of two weeks—China called for a unilateral ceasefire as quickly as it had gained ground—India lost 1383 of its soldiers; 1047 were wounded, 1696 were missing.

Our only clue to 1962 China War is a book by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell: India’s China War. He could pen it down by accessing the Henderson (Brooks)—(Premindra Singh) Bhagat report which had been commissioned in the wake of 1962 War disaster. Even Maxwell could copy only a part of the report which the Indian government had classified as “top secret.”

It’s been over a half century yet the Henderson-Bhagat report as well as various correspondences of Nehru are out of reach—being treated as “private property’ of Nehru Library, a private trust. The papers of India’s first prime minister belongs to his family and not to the state!!! The classified secret clause of “30 years” is long over yet the report isn’t being made public.

That’s how truth in this country is treated. Everyone tries to muzzle changes in school text books and academia in light of new findings so that their narrative remains perpetuated. Doesn’t the history of this country deserve a revision when important annals of this country are being kept locked in the form of documents inside safety vaults?