By G. Kishore Babu
In working on an out of the box solution of our border disputes whether with Pakistan or China or Bangladesh, on a practical and realistic basis, India may not have a more stronger government in terms of voters’ mandate. Prime Minister Modi’s historical peaceful border settlement with Bangladesh reinforces the strength of peace dialogue so far unachieved in independent India.
When it comes to Pakistan and China, we must realize that the borders settlement with the two nations necessarily would need to be trilateral, with India, China and Pakistan being an integral part of the settlement. The borders dispute with Pakistan and China are fast getting interlinked with Chinese inroads into the border areas. We can easily close our border issues with China and Pakistan on a trilateral basis, particularly under the evolving ground realities changing daily. The issues are fast taking the shape of regional dispute with smaller nations getting dragged in.
The British on an ad hoc basis to suit its convenience drew border lines at different times to keep away different enemies from coming to their possession of India. Decades later Prime Minister Modi is trying to bring in practical approach to problems solving that remained pending since independence. Showing great statesmanship and decisiveness Modi has successfully settled the 70-year-old dispute with Bangladesh to the satisfaction of all, winning global recognition for the same. Prime Minister Modi rightfully stresses that India alone cannot walk the talk of peace, others should also move.
In the column Pakistan Diary published in Outlook recently (24 December 2018) eminent senior journalist S. Venkat Narayan recalled how former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told in a press conference after the signing of the Simla Agreement with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1972 about the way forward. She said at the press conference that India’s official stand would be that the whole of Kashmir – including the one-third occupied by Pakistan in 1947 – belonged to India. But if someone suggested that India should keep J&K and allow Pakistan to retain Azad Kashmir to ensure lasting peace, and recognize the Line of Control (LoC) as the international boundary, India could consider it.
Historically, India’s Prime Minister Vajpayee started a process of settlement with Pakistan in 1999, as he saw that despite two decisive wins of war by earlier prime ministers, there was no political move by India to take over the parts of Kashmir held by Pakistan. Vajpayee brought in peace talks with President Musharraf in Lahore that almost saw a resolution to the border issue. When asked by Farooq Abdullah about the peace talks, Vajpayee informed (as reported by PTI): “I have suggested to Pakistan President Musharraf that you keep this part [Kashmir] with you and we will keep ours, this way we will settle the [Kashmir] issue and also set right the Line of Control”. As stated by A.G. Noorani in his book “The Kashmir Dispute”, the peace process was later pushed hard by the then Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, the Man Mohan Singh-Musharraf plan to give “Equal Autonomy” to both Azad Kashmir and India occupied Kashmir, along with a replacement in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, that gives special status to Kashmir. However, none of these could see the light of the day.
On the Chinese aspect, in 1960, the then Chinese premier, Chou En Lai had written to Nehru; “In order to maintain effectively the status quo of the border between the two countries, to ensure the tranquility of the border regions and create a favorable atmosphere for a friendly settlement of the boundary question, the Chinese government proposes that the armed forces of China and India each withdraw 20 kilometers at once from the so called Mc Mahon line in the east, and from the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west”.
Of all things said about China it foremost wants peace in the area as it does not want escalation of the independence movement in the Xinjiang and Tibet provinces. It was willing to settle along the international border of the Mc Mahon line in the East giving us Arunachal Pradesh, as it accepted the Mc Mahon line as the border of Sikkim and China, and in the west the issue is still open to negotiations, as the Chinese agreed to settle with the McCartney- Mc Donald line, offered by Chou En Lai on a “As is and where is basis.” Before the 1962 war, the Johnson Line drawn in 1865 by the British becoming the border with Tibet or the Johnson-Ardagh line were probable lines of settlements. However, in 1982, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was willing to settle the border issue on status quo of 1980 on an “As is and where is” and not as of 1960 as Chou En Lai had offered Nehru.
Best possible solution of swapping our interests in Aksai Chin in the West while retaining our interests in Arunachal also came up during the Vajpayee administration. It appears however that lack of political mandate did not allow any further development. If re-elected Vajpayee would have perhaps solved both the Indo-Pakistan and the Indo-China border issues. However, that did not happen.
The question of constitutional validity of agreements between nations on give and take of land and India’s borders under the Constitution of India have been examined and held possible by the Supreme Court of India if done by way of under amendment to the Constitution and its ratification as it ruled in the Indo-Pakistan Agreement, 1958-Division of Berubari Union and exchange of Cooch-Behar Enclaves. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gifted to Sri Lanka the Kachchatheevu Island, for stated peace and good neighbourly relations, it was challenged in the Supreme Court as not having been ratified by Parliament, to which the then Government had stated that no territory belonging to India was ceded nor sovereignty relinquished since the area was in dispute and had never been demarcated. Notwithstanding the manner of border settlements, the sad reality remains that much of India’s borders that were never clearly demarcated by British India remain painful issues pending to be sorted out.
It is ground reality today that India’s borders with Pakistan and China have taken the shape of regional issues whereby the interest of all the three nations are interdependent from economic and trade point of view and this necessitates the coming together of the three nations. It would appear thus that Prime Minister Modi’s principle of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas does extend to regional cooperation among the three nations warring at the borders with no real benefits to any but only loss of precious lives on all sides. It is imperative that the three nations put their heads together to resolve the border issues once and for all and bring about regional peace and prosperity. Effective countering of terrorism would also be a hopeful not so distant reality in the face of peaceful coexistence of the nations.
Peace in the subcontinent is the need of the day for the world. To control the spread of terrorism, it is in the interest of the USA, Russia and China. Russia & China are having big issues with Islamic militancy. In their countries now with terrorism being exported out of Syria, Afghanistan & Iraq, peace between India & Pakistan & China is the need of the hour for all, more so for India to take care of the developmental need of its people.
The fact remains that Prime Minister Modi has shown bold decisiveness in many aspects whether it was the peaceful settlement of the Bangladesh border dispute, or demonetization, or introduction of GST. It is well possible that the unfinished chapters of borders will be closed amicably at the earliest. The bold visions of Vajpayee of settling the border disputes of India, Pakistan and China can be taken forward by PM Modi to a logical conclusion.
The writer is an analyst & editor, World Focus, a Delhi-based international affairs academic journal