GeoPolitical Tales Episode 12 | India China Border Dispute and Nehru’s Historical Mistakes | بھارت چین سرحدی تنازعہ اور نہرو کی تاریخی غلطی
Welcome to Big Socho The border dispute between China and India dates back to the British rule. One could say that India inherited it after the partition. Although this dispute should have settled long ago and in fact China contact India many times to settle this matter. There have been many talks over this but India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru failed to resolve this. With the passage of time, China got stronger and this dispute got more serious. Even to this day this unsettled dispute has turned out to be a big problem for India on economic, defense and geopolitical fronts.
Cino-Indian border is 3488 km long and it includes the Ladakh region of Kashmir as well. Even Pakistan claims this region as well. To get a better understanding of this long border, we can divide it into 4 parts. The first one is the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern side, which got the status of a state in 1987. Previously it was called North Eastern Frontier Agency or NEFA. But China claims it to be a part of Tibet and claims it. This border is 1226 km long.
India considers Macmohan line to be the border in this region, which was settled in Shimla in 1914 by a British administrator with Tibetian delegation. China does not consider Macmohan line to be the border as it does not consider Tibet to be an autonomous state. The total area of Arunachal Pradesh is 84000 sq. km and it is under Indian control. Secondly, there is an Indian state, Sikkim, between Nepal and Bhutan, and it’s 198 km long. Sikkim used to be an autonomous state but India made it a part of itself in 1975 with a constitutional amendment.
It was also objected by China. The third section includes the northern part of the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. This border is 554 km long. The fourth part includes Ladakh which is a part of Kashmir. This is one of the most controversial areas these days as it is claimed by China, India and Pakistan. This border is 1500 km long. This sector is as large as 38000 sq. km and it’s under Chinese control. More than 5000 sq. km region of Shaksgam valley, that was ceded to China because of an agreement by Pakistan in 1963, also lies in this sector.
It’s still under Chinese control and is also claimed by India. The total disputed area between India and China is about 135,000 sq. km. The disputed region includes Aksai Chin, some parts of Ladakh, all of Arunachal Pradesh … parts of Shaksgam valley, ceded by Pakistan in 1963 .. and some parts of the middle sector of the border. You can get an idea about the size of this region by the fact that 139 countries in the world are smaller than this region. The region of Ladakh is also claimed by Pakistan.
However, the region of Jammu and Kashmir, disputed between India and Pakistan, is not included in this region. Now lets look at this from a historical perspective. Situated in the north of sub continent at an altitude of about 4500 m from sea level, Tibet, used to be known as ‘the roof of the world’ in the British rule. Back then, Tibet was not a part of China and considered itself to be a free and autonomous area. But China never considered it that and there was frequent battles between the two. Since at that point in time, both these states were weaker Britain, so it was not a concern for them.
The British had trade ties with Tibet rulers and pilgrims were also allowed to go there. There were some rest houses and telegraph lines of British India in Tibet at that time. So trade existed peacefully. All of this went to India after partition. When China made Tibet to be one of its own states in 1950, the first Indian Prime Minister Nehru … gave all of these properties to China, unilaterally, in order to maintain good ties with them. This move by Nehru showed that India did not have anything against Tibet going under Chinese control.
Letting Tibet merge in China without asking for anything in return is considered to be a historical diplomatic blunder by Nehru. It can be said that by doing so Nehru hoped that China would accept the Indian stance on the disputed region of Ladakh. Consequently, China became a direct neighbor of India for the first time in history. Because the buffer zone of Tibet was no more. And Tibet was so large that all of the northern border of India, except for Ladakh was with Tibet and it is still. After Tibet became a part of China,
the then Army Chief of India pointed it out to Nehru … that a country like China, much stronger than Tibet, being at the northern border of India could become a potential threat. Therefore, certain strategic steps were imminent to improve India’s defense. However, Nehru did not take this seriously and asked the General to focus on Kashmir. It turned out to be a big mistake in the years to come. Even the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of India, Wallabhbhai Patel also sensed this potential threat by China.
In a letter to Nehru in 1959, he wrote that the border of India with China is not definitive. And if Tibet goes under the Chinese control, it could weaken the Indian defense. A potential offensive move can be made by China and something needs to be done about it. A committee was made for this purpose and it was called Himmat Singh Ji Committee. The committee was to present its recommendation about this situation and what needs to be done in NEFA, which China claims to be the southern part of Tibet, and hence making it a Chinese region.
But after the death of Patel in December 1950, nothing much was done in this regard. Actually Nehru didn’t consider it to be a threat and he always thought that China and India would sort this out on the table. He considered Pakistan to be the real threat and kept his focus there. At that point in time, China was busy with the Korean war and stayed silent about the border dispute with India. Post Himmat Singh Ji committee, not taking the matters with China seriously and ignoring to take any steps was another blunder by Nehru.
Prime Minister Nehru visited China in 1954 and signed an 8-year agreement with China, known as the Panchsheel agreement. It was focused on mutual cooperation and healthy ties between the two countries. However, the border dispute was not discussed. Rather, it was left for the future. Both countries have good relationship back then and slogans of India-China Brothers were common. The critics of Nehru argue that this agreement in fact gave China 8 years to establish its stronghold in Tibet. And there was no threat from the Indian side.
It also gave a weak country like China, the time to develop its armed forces. In the meantime, China was still busy fighting in Tibet. In 1959, the spiritual leader of Tibet, Dalai Lama, fled to India along with many of his followers and India gave them refuge. China considered this as an act of offense and a clear violation of the Panchsheel agreement. However, India ensured China that the Indian soil will not be used for any aggression in Tibet or China. Dalai Lama established a government in exile for Tibet from India and it exists even to this day.
But it doesn’t mean that India doesn’t consider Tiber to be a part of China. Rather India has accepted that on many occasions. In 1959 … then during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988 … and then in 2003 during Atal Bihari Bajpai’s visit. India didn’t even object to the China – Tiber merger in 1950. But it’s quite possible that India has given refuge to Dalai Lama just to keep some pressure on China and play this card in future. There have also been some correspondence and meetings between Nehru and Zhou Enlai in 1960.
Zhou Enlai wanted to resolve the matter for mutual benefit of the two countries considering the ground realities. But he hinted at his desire that India should cede the Aksai Chin region in Ladakh to China. And in turn, China could cede the NEFA region. But Nehru did not agree to that. This could have been an opportunity for India to improve its relations with China and for a better economic future of India. Nehru insisted that an established border already exists in east in the form of Macmohan line.
And towards the west in Ladakh, the border between China and Tibet had been established by the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1842. So he considered Ladakh and Aksai Chin to be a part of India. However, China had the stance that the Macmohan line agreement was signed with Tibet … And China did not consider Tibet to be a free state, rather a part of China. Hence, the agreement becomes invalid. As for the western borders in Kashmir, there are 3 counter evidences against the Indian claim on northern and north eastern borders of Ladakh.
Firstly, when Kashmir was made a part of India in 1946 by the British, they also invited China a number of times to settle the dispute on northern and eastern border. But China never accepted that invitation. Now if the borders were established in 1842, then why were the British trying to get in touch with China about this matter. Secondly, there’s another proof against the Nehru claim on Ladakh region. The history division of the Defense Ministry of India was directed to make a new map of Ladakh with new borders. And this was done without taking Pakistan or China into confidence.
In 1954, Nehru endorsed this new map and ordered to burn the old maps. Now, if Nehru actually believed the 1842 borders were correct, then why would he ask him team to make new maps. This new map created a lot of confusion and disagreement. Because China still agreed on the old map with undefined borders. Whereas, in the new map, India had made the borders of its own choice. Thirdly, according to the 1891 and 1901 census of British India, the area of the state of Kashmir was 80,900 sq. miles. It was changed to 84,258 sq.
miles in the census of 1911. But in 1941, the Census Commissioner reduced this area to 82,258 sq. miles. The first Interior Minister of India, Wallabhbhai, also endorsed this area, in his white paper written after partition. In 1961census, India increased this area to 86,024 sq. miles. But neither did the Indian army capture any new area nor was any agreement signed. One can now easily deduce that historically there was no border for the northern and eastern side of Kashmir. The Aksai Chin region of Ladakh in Kashmir is strategically very important for China.
That’s because the road that connects Xinjiang with western Tibet to keep strong Chinese stronghold goes from here. Due to this strategic importance, China would never let Aksai Chin go. The access of Aksai Chin from Chinese side was much as easier as compared to the Indian side. The mountain range of Karakorum lies in between. Zhou Enlai was willing to declare the Karakorum range as the border but India did not want to cede Aksai Chin at any cost. Nehru’s refusal made this matter linger on and get more stressed which resulted in a war in October 1962.
India had to face defeat in NEFA on the eastern front. The whole of the 7th brigade along with the brigadier was arrested by China Clearly, the Indian army did not have the supplies and there was no infrastructure to build a supply chain. The performance of the Indian army on the western front in Ladakh was relatively better. In November 1962, China itself announced cease fire. Almost all the NEFA region had gone under Chinese control. But after cease fire, the Chinese army went back to their pre-war position which gave the whole area back to India.
However, the area captured by Chinese on the western front in Ladakh was not returned. And that also included the 38000 sq. km area of Aksai Chin. After the war, a 320 km long, temporary army line was established in this region of Ladakh. It was called LAC or Line of Actual Control. The Chinese still claim the point in Ladakh up till which they had reached in the 1962 war and consider it Chinese Claim line. Obviously, India does recognize that. Since, China voluntarily withdrew its troops back from this line, India still claims the old border.
After the 1962 war, Pakistan further strengthened its ties with China and exchanged some regions with each other in 1963. China ceded some parts of Shimshal and Khunjerab to Pakistan. In return, Pakistan gave the 5475 sq km area of Shaksgam valley, that was part of Ladakh, to China. India did object to this, claiming that it was a part of the Indian Ladakh. China responded to that by saying that when the Kashmir dispute will be settled between Pakistan and India, they will re-evaluate this agreement with the part that gets Ladakh.
Those few years were quite significant for Pakistan, India and China, and had a long lasting impact on the history of this region. Had Nehru agreed to Zhou Enlai’s offer, India would have had the same strategic relations with China that Pakistan has today. Because China could not sign the 1963 agreement with Pakistan, if they had already signed it with India in 1962. In 1959, China had marked some of the Pakistani controlled areas as a part of China. Pakistani immediately forwarded its protest, sent a formal message to China and also invited them over for discussion.
But China offered talks to India first and they signed the agreement with Pakistan only after getting disappointed from India. The outcome of that political blunder by Nehru is in front of the whole world. Not only is the 1000s of km of Indian border is under Chinese threat … But also their ties are strained with an economic super power like China for over a quarter of a century. In other words, India is under constant threat of China in the north and Pakistan in the west and that means high defense costs.
How could such a blunder take place from an experienced and sharp person like Nehru? Was it his own policy or was it his cabinet’s decision? Or was it something totally different? It can be better decided by the Indian historians and politicians. Do let us know in the comments section if you think that Nehru’s blunder cost India dearly. Or is it because of the policies of Prime Minister Modi? Do share your opinion. We value your feedback. Thank You.
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