Border Fracas With China & Nepal-I
Needed A Proper Himalayan Boundary

Bibekananda Ray

The Himalayan range to the north of India’s landmass, extending 2500 km from east to west has been her traditional border since time immemorial. In the fourth century, poet and playwright Kalidasa (366-446 AD) began his poem, Raghuvamsa. describing it as the ‘king of mountain’ (Nagaadhiraja). Literally meaning ‘the Abode of Snow’, its width varying from three to five km. borders the landmass of Tibet (China), Nepal and the territory that came to be known as Pakistan from 1947 . Two other ranges- Karakorum and Hindukush on north of Afghanistan, adjoining its western border, are considered separate. It is deemed holy to Hindus and Buddhists; the former believe, Lord Shiva lives with his consort Parvati and their four issues in one of its western snow-bound massif, Kailash, near Mansarovar.

Border Disputes With China
Engagement with China has a longer and more complicated history.Until the Communist Revolution in October 1949, India and China have been friendly nations with two-way trade and cultural relations. The ancient Silk Route through the Himalayas carried trade of mutual products like wool, silk and spices, China selling her silk and India her spices. Both countries had links streching across centuries, when Buddhism had a great sway in China. At least, two Buddhist monks- Fa Hsien and Hiuen Tsang- travelled to India to study it; another scholar, Xuanzang studied in Nalanda university for five years. He travelled across India and returning home, published a memoir where he praised King Harshavsrdhana. Rabindranath visited China in April, 1924, leading a delegation from Viswa Bharati and gave a series of lectures, organised by a leading Chinese scholar, Liang Qichao but within a few days came across protests for urging China to remain anchored to her own traditions rather than embracing Western culture for material prosperity. Then the Chinese had contempt for India for losing freedom to the British and helping the coloniser to fight imperialist wars. Rabindranath urged Asian nations to remain moored to their own traditions, as Western culture may not suit them, which angered the Chinese. He upheld spirutualism over materialism but his urge for spiritual rejuvenation was not liked by the young and elders, lured to the prosperity of the West. His tirade against rank nationalism rattled the Chinese too, as it did Japan and the USA, revelling in pre-War jingoism. He had a look at ancient Buddhist texts and temples in Chinese cities and to bring China closer to India he founded Cheena Bhavan in April, 1937 to promote Chinese, Tibetan and Buddhist studies in Santiniketan, initiated in 1921 by Prof. Sylvan Levi. Chinese apathy toward India diminished after India’s freedom in 1947, although some Communist leaders were critical of Nehru and deemed him “an agent of Anglo-American imperialism. During the 1950’s relations improved after the signing of the India-China Accord of 1954 over Tibet; New Delhi was among first nations, apart from communist regimes, to recognise Communist China and pleaded with western countries to admit PRC in the UN.

Attempts By British Raj
The first significant attempt to delineate the Himalayan border was a treaty between China and Maharaja Gulab Singh, the Sikh King of Punjab in September 1842. In 1841, Sikhs had invaded Tibet but was defeated by Chinese forces who entered Ladakh and besieged Leh. When Sikh forces checkmated them, both sides signed the treaty which ratified the status quo ante. After the British defeated Sikhs in 1846, Ladakh became a British-Indian territory but it was not demarcated on the ground. The boundaries at two extremities- Pangong Lake and Karakoram Pass- were reasonably well-defined but the Aksai Chin area in between was not.

W. H. Johnson, a Survey of India officer proposed what came to be known as the ‘Johnson Line’ in 1865 that put Aksai Chin in Jammu & Kashmir. When Johnson apprised the Maharaja of J & K of this line, he claimed 18,000 sq. km.of territory more, further north as far as the Sanju Pass in the Kun Lun Mountains. The Maharajah constructed a fort at Shahidulla (modern-day Xaidulla), and stationed troops there for some years to protect caravans; it became a convenient staging post and headquarters for nomadic Kirghiz. In 1878 the Chinese reconquered Xinjiang, and by 1890; they had Shahidulla before the issue was decided. By 1892, China erected markers on the boundary at Karakoram Pass. In 1897 a British military officer, Sir John Ardagh, proposed a boundary line along the crest of the Kun Lun mountains, north of the Yarkand River. He claimed that his line was more defensible. The Ardagh line was effectively a modification of the Johnson line and became known as the "Johnson-Ardagh Line".

Macartney-Macdonald Line
In 1893, a senior Chinese official showed Beijing’s maps of the region to George Macartney, the British consul general at Kashgar that coincided in broad details with Johnson-Ardagh Line. In 1899, Britain proposed a revised boundary, developed by Viceroy Lord Elgin on Macartney’s suggestion, which showed Lingzi Tang plains, south of the Laktsang range, within India and Aksai Chin proper, north of the Laktsang range, within China. British officials supported it, because the Karakoram range formed a natural boundary, which would set the British borders up to the Indus River watershed, while leaving the Tarim river watershed to China whose control of this tract presented an obstacle to Russian advance in Central Asia. The British presented the Macartney-MacDonald Line to the Chinese in 1899 but the Qing regime did not respond, implying that China had accepted the boundary.

1899 TO 1945
Both Johnson-Ardagh and Macartney-MacDonald lines figured in British maps of India. Until at least 1908, the British took the second line to be the boundary but did not set up any outposts, or assert actual control on the ground. In 1927, the line was adjusted again, as New Delhi preferred a line along the Karakoram range, further south to the Johnson line; however, the maps were not updated and still showed the Johnson Line. From 1917 to 1933, the Postal Atlas of China showed the boundary in Aksai Chin as per the Johnson line. Peking University Atlas, 1925 also put Aksai Chin in India. When British officials learned of Soviet survey of Aksai Chin for Sheng Shicai, warlord of Xinjiang in 1940–1941, they again advocated the Johnson Line. At this point too, the British did not establish outposts or exercised control over Aksai Chin, nor was the issue ever discussed with the governments of China, or Tibet. The boundary remained undemarcated after India's independence in 1947 too.

Since 1947
In 1947, Aksai Chin was thus part of India. New Delhi fixed india’s official boundary in the west, including Aksai Chin in a manner resembling Ardagh–Johnson Line, going “chiefly by long usage and custom” but China did not agree. Unlike the Johnson line, India did not claim the northern areas near Shahidulla and Khotan; from undisputed Karakoram Pass, India claimed territory northeast of the Karakoram range; from there, it ran east along the Kunlun range before turning southwest through Aksai Chin through the Karakoram range and then to Pangong Lake. On 1st July 1954 Prime Minister Nehru directed Foreign Ministry to revise the maps to show definite boundaries on all frontiers. Up to this point, the boundary in Aksai Chin sector, based on the Johnson Line, was "undemarcated."

The Johnson Line is not extended to the west of the Karakoram Pass, where China has its border with Gilgit–Baltistan in POK. . On 13th October 1962, China and Pakistan began negotiations over this boundary and in 1963, they settled their boundaries largely on the basis of the Macartney-MacDonald Line, which left the Trans-Karakoram Tract (5,800 km2 ) in China. India does not recognise this common border of Pakistan and China and claims the tract as part of pre-1947 state of J & K. However, India's claim line in that area does not extend as far north of the Karakoram mountains as the Johnson Line. British India annexed Assam in 1826 by Treaty of Yandabo at the end of the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). After subsequent Anglo-Burmese Wars, the whole of Burma was annexed giving the British a border with China's Yunan province.

(To be continued)

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Jul 26, 2020

Bibekananda Ray

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