Friday, June 5, 2020

Drokpo Karpo: A Dispute between Ladakh and Tibet

The relations between Ladakh and Kashmir have recently been the subject of  hot discussions in the Indian media.

At the time of India's Independence, there was only one dispute between the Wazarat of Ladakh and Western Tibet (Ngari Khorsum).
It has been described by Hugh Richardson, the first 'Indian' Head of the Indian Mission in Lhasa (he had served earlier in the same position for British India).
At the end of the 1940's, he published a classified Tibetan Précis.
The following paras are extract of the Précis, it is titled "Relations between Kashmir and Ladakh".
At the end, I am posting a map of Tibet published in 1962 by Tsepon Shakabpa, the foremost Tibetan historian and author of a Political History of Tibet.
From Richardson's Précis:
The early history of Ladakh and Western Tibet may be read in Francke's History of Western Tibet. For many centuries Ladakh and Western Tibet formed an independent Tibetan Kingdom which underwent a number of changes in dynasty, extent and strength. From the middle of the Seventeenth Century the boundary between the Tibetan kingdom of Ladakh and the territories of the Lhasa Government were roughly what are now the boundaries of Ladakh and Tibet. The Kingdom of Ladakh was conquered by the Raja of Kashmir in 1834-1840, since when there has been some sort of understanding about trade and general relations between the two countries.
In 1918, the Tibetan Governor of Rudok carried off a Kashmiri subject, named Lhagyal, and his flocks, from a grazing ground known as Dokpo Karpo. The Kashmir Durbar protested and from this incident has followed a long series of discussions, mostly inconclusive. The Tibetan Government, after pressure, released Lhagyal but asked that some of their subjects, who appear to have left Tibet to avoid taxation should be returned to them. They also claimed that Dokpo Karpo was in Tibet, and they alleged that the Kashmir officials had imposed an embargo on the export of barley from Kashmir, contrary to a treaty between Kashmir and Tibet, and that there were disagreements about the mutual provision of transport.
It may be observed in passing that Tibetan memories are long, and that as recently as 1937 Shape Lanchungnga referred to the return of Lhagyal as a reason for the return of Tibetan subjects from Kashmir. He ignored, as the Tibetan Government have consistently ignored, the difference between the release of a man held in Tibet against his will, and the return of Tibetan subjects who do not want to leave Kashmir. It was proposed that matters in dispute should be settled at a joint conference which should be attended by a British Commissioner in view of the necessity for ratification by the Government of India of any decision reached by the Kashmir authorities. They also gave their opinion on the treaty of 1842 between Tibet and Kashmir, which they regarded as of doubtful validity, since it was made between the defunct Sikh state and the Emperor of China, and was in any case in vague terms. The joint meeting took place at Dokpo Karpo (see map) in 1924, and its heritage is a series of confused, unsettled, problems.
The main points discussed are detailed below and each is followed briefly to its position at the present time.
1. The Boundary
The area under dispute is high, uninhabited, grazing land. It appears that the boundary, as in most grazing countries, had never been fixed. The claims of both sides, which neither would relax, are shown on the accompanying sketch map. No decision was possible. The Government of India did not think that the Kashmir Durbar's claim was likely to succeed, and suggested a graceful concession, but the Durbar declined.
In 1929 the government of India decided that the matter, which was of no real practical importance should be allowed to drop, and this hope has so far been fulfilled, although the Tibetan Government did touch on the question in 1937·
A detailed analysis of the evidence, conducted in 1929 by the Surveyor General, led to the conclusion that Tibet's claim was by far the better.
2. Trade Relations between Kashmir and Tibet
The embargo on the export of barley from Ladakh was explained as a temporary measure due to a local shortage.
In the place of a system of exemption from taxation of certain traders it was proposed that both countries should introduce a 2 per cent. duty on imports. This duty is a complicated question and a full note on it will be found in Sikkim File 7(7) P/41.
The tax obviously needed the approval of the Government of India and the Government of Tibet, but it seems that the Kashmir authorities began to levy it at once without getting ratification from the Government of India. The Tibetan Government, when the proceedings were reported to them, did not approve of the tax but preferred that existing usage should be followed. The Garpons [Governor of Western Tibet] protested against the levy by the Kashmir officials, who told them that they might do the same. The B.T.A. [British Trade Agent] Gartok tried to prevent the Garpons from imposing the tax until the Government of India and the Tibetan Government approved, and his action in ordering British subjects not to pay the tax caused very bad feeling.
In 1930 the Government of India, apparently overlooking the Tibetan Government's objection to the 2 per cent. duty, informed the Garpons through Mr. Wakefield that they might levy the tax. It appears that Colonel Weir was to have informed the Tibetan Government about this on his visit to Lhasa, but there is no record that he did so, and letters from the Tibetan Government in 1924, 1927, 1931 and 1932 treat the whole of the Dokpo Karpo proceedings as still under discussion. In 1932 Mr. Williamson on his visit to West Tibet found that the Rudok Dzongpon [District Commissioner]  was levying a 2 per cent. duty, but no tax was levied by the Garpons. Again in 1937 when there was another joint conference attended by representatives of Kashmir and Tibet and by the B. T. A. Gartok, it appeared that the Garpons considered this question of a mutual 2 per cent. duty as still under discussion.
The position is unsatisfactory and the 2 per cent. duty seems to have been taken out of its proper place as part of the proceedings at Dokpo Karpo which do not yet appear to have been ratified by the Government of India or the Tibetan Government. In spite of this the Kashmir Government has been levying the duty, and the Government of India have informed the Garpons, but not the Tibetan Government, that the 2 per cent. duty may be levied. The Rudok Dzongpon appears to be levying the duty, but there is no sign that the Tibetan Government are aware of this.
3· Return of Tibetan Subjects from Kashmir
No decision was reached. The Tibetan officials pressed for the unconditional return of their subjects although they were told that this could only be considered where some offence was alleged. The reasons for their insistence on this matter seems to be that in the sparsely populated country of West Tibet the services of all Tibetan subjects in providing forced labour, transport and taxes, are of considerable importance.
This matter dragged on, and as the Tibetan Government received no reply to their reminders, it seems that the local officials decided to take matters into their own hands. They made armed raids into Rupshu and sought to threaten their subjects into returning. The matter was taken up with the Tibetan Government who were asked to order their officials to desist from such unfriendly acts.
4· The Return of Ganpo, a Kashmiri Subject Detained in Tibet.
The Garpons refused to consider this unless their subjects were returned. The Tibetan Government, when the matter was referred to them, said that the man should be returned, but nothing seems to have been done, for in 1929 the Kashmir Government wrote of it as being apparently still unsettled.]
5· Concessions for the Lopchak [triennial mission to Tibet] and Choba Missions. The continuance of these missions on amicable terms was agreed upon.
It was agreed that there was no need to appoint a British Aksakal [a wise elder] in the Changthang.
In 1937 another joint conference was held at which in addition to adding to the confusion about the 2 per cent. tax, other subjects were discussed without much progress. No agreement could be reached on procedure for the trial case in which a Kashmir subject is alleged to have been murdered by Tibetans. The case has been dropped.
It will be seen that there are several possible sources of further disputes between Kashmir and Tibet.
6. Ladakhis at Lhasa
Ladakhi traders have been in Lhasa for a long time. Bogle found them there in 1775 and at that time they appeared to be well established.
The pure bred Ladakhis, who have homes and families in Ladakh and who return there at intervals, consider themselves British subjects and look to the Government of India for protection. The offspring of mixed marriages treat themselves as Tibetan subjects. There is some rivalry between these two parties and the Tibetan officials naturally support those who claim to be Tibetan subjects. In the past, the leader of the pure bred Ladakhi community, which numbers about 250, has usually received a title from the Government of India. The principal grievance of these merchants is that they have never had any compensation from the Tibetan Government for the damage they suffered at the Revolution in 1912. From time to time they become involved in disputes with Tibetan officials about taxation and such matters, and if there is a British officer in Lhasa they promptly appeal to him. We have not any claim to extraterritorial jurisdiction in Lhasa, but it is presumed that we have a sort of consular right to protect British subjects from violence or injustice. The Ladakhis have consistently been told that they should conform to the laws of the country in which they have chosen to live.
Shakabpa's Map (1962)
Enlarged from the above

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