Thursday, April 25, 2013
Let us look at facts: for centuries, the Great Himalayas were an incident-free customary natural border between Tibet and India; then in 1950, the Chinese invaded the Roof of the World. Progressively, the People’s Liberation Army spread over the Tibetan plateau, building roads, airstrips and setting up garrisons. The border became an LAC, a Line of Actual control.
Now, the LAC has become ‘perceptional’. This is an extremely convenient appellation for the Chinese side as they can at will enter the places they perceive as ‘theirs’, plant their tents or send their yaks grazing.
The Times of India reported that New Delhi “has recorded well over 600 ‘transgressions’ - the government's euphemism for cross-border intrusions - all along the unresolved 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) by the People's Liberation Army”. And this, over the last 3 years only!
The latest Chinese ‘perceptional’ land grabbing, marks a new leap forward; this time, the Chinese have gone much deeper into India’s territory and in a larger number.
According to media reports, a large group of Chinese soldiers set up a camp some 10 km inside the Indian territory in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector of Ladakh on April 15. To make things worse, two helicopters apparently provided logistic support to the Chinese troops.
India asserted its own ‘perception’ two days later, sending a battalion of Ladakh Scouts to camp some 500 metres from the Chinese position.
An officer told The Times of India: "Our soldiers are conducting 'banner drills' (waving banners and placards at the Chinese troops to show it is Indian territory) through the day."
Reuters quotes another official: “Ladakh in particular …is being targeted. Though Chinese troops usually go back after marking their presence, they are increasingly coming deeper and deeper into our territory with the aim to stake claim to disputed areas.”
The Indian government says one should not worry, many mechanisms are in place: “the two countries are in touch with each other to resolve the row.”
It is true that an Agreement on the Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs was signed on January 17, 2012, but it is clear that the Chinese use these mechanisms (including the 1993 and 1996 border agreements) to do what they please …as in any case there a ‘mechanism’!
A question should be asked, why is the LAC still not defined? What was the point for successive NSAs to meet 15 times since 2003 with their Chinese counterpart, if they are unable to define an ‘actual’ line? The blame is usually put on the ‘insincerity’ of the Chinese side which is not ready for the slightest compromise, but it is also a fact that instinctively the Indian leadership prefers to hide behind a ‘mechanism’, to not ‘hurt our Chinese neighbours’ feelings’ or ‘makes things worse’, especially when the Chinese Premier is expected in Delhi.
A telling incident is worth recalling. In September 1956, 20 Chinese crossed over the Shipki-la pass into Himachal Pradesh. A 27-member Border Security Force party met the Chinese the same day. The BSF were told by a Chinese officer that he was instructed to patrol right up to Hupsang Khad (4 miles south of Shipki La, the acknowledged border pass). The BSF were however advised "to avoid an armed clash but not yield to the Chinese troops."
Delhi did not know how to react. A few days later, Nehru wrote to the Foreign Secretary: "I agree with [your] suggestion …it would not be desirable for this question to be raised in the Lok Sabha at the present stage."
The Indians MPs being unpredictable, they may raise a hue and cry, better to keep it secret and eventually mention it 'informally' to Chinese officials, thought the Prime Minister.
Finally, the MEA told Beijing "The Government of India are pained and surprised at this conduct of the Chinese commanding officer."
This was fifty-six years ago. Is the situation different today?
The Chinese incursions continued in the 1950’s in Garwal (Barahoti), Himachal Pradesh (Shipkila) and then spread to Ladakh and NEFA. Mao’s regime could have only been encouraged by the Government of India’s feeble complaints. Hundreds of such protests have been recorded in the 15 Volumes of the White Papers published till 1965 by the Ministry of External Affairs. Read them, you will understand that nothing is new under the Himalayan Sun.
Delhi should have noticed earlier that Beijing did not want to settle the border. In March 1954, T.N. Kaul, the Joint Secretary negotiating the ‘born in sin’ Panchsheel Agreement with China thought he was being clever (‘self-assured to point of arrogance by birth’, says a Wikileaks cable), to name a few border passes in the accord, the bright Indian negotiator thought that it would be enough to automatically define the frontier. He was for a big surprise when the Chinese delegation presented a draft of the Agreement; an article said: "The Chinese Government agrees to open the following mountain passes in the Ari [Ngari] District of the Tibet Region of China for entry by traders and pilgrims of both parties: Shipki, Mana, Niti, Kungribingri, Darma and Lipu Lekh”.
China ‘permitted’ India to cross Indian border passes.
Though the Chinese later agree to rephrase the article: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes…” Beijing never agreed that the border had thus been demarcated. Kaul had foolishly been taken for a ride.
During the Sino-Indian border talks in Beijing in 1960, the Chinese reiterated “The negotiations and Agreement of 1954 did not involve at all the question of delimiting the boundary between the two countries.”
A few months earlier, the Chinese Premier Chou Enlai stated that the two sides had been able to settle all questions “ripe for settlement”.
Then, the Five Principles were incorporated in the Preamble of the Agreement. The Report of the 1960 border talks says: “Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity assumed clear and precise knowledge of the extent of each other's territory. Two states with a common boundary could promise such respect for territorial integrity and mutual non-aggression only if they had a well-recognized boundary.”
It was not the case; it is not the case 59 years later.
What can India do? One solution would be to postpone Premier Li Keqiang’s forthcoming visit. However Delhi will most probably prefer to ‘engage’ China: in which case, one possibility would be to ‘fix’ the borders by reopening several border passes to trade and pilgrimage.
On the occasion of the BRICS meet in Durban, President Xi Jinping told the Indian Prime Minister that he regards “ties with India as one of the most important bilateral relationships”. According to him, an important issue was “enhancing people-to-people exchanges and cooperation, and broadening youth exchanges.”
The reopening of the Demchok route in Ladakh would not only ‘pin’ the border in this area, but also allow Indian pilgrims to reach the Kailash-Mansarovar area in relatively comfortable conditions.
Another border post which would make a difference, if reopened, is the old trade route via the Karakoram pass (DBO is located a few kilometers south of the pass). By building a border infrastructure, both sides would have to have to agree on an LAC, if not a proper border in the area; some gaps between the border posts may remain, they could be tackled in a later stage, though it is true that the ‘perceptional’ intrusions occurred mainly in the gaps.
To fix a few border posts would however go a long way to begin solving the border vexed dispute.