By Major-General Jagatbir Singh (ret)
Maroof Raza is a person who wears several hats; a soldier, an academic and one of India’s foremost experts in strategic affairs. He is now out with; “Contested Lands,” a book that provides details of India’s borders with China, written almost two years later; Kashmir Untold Story which he co-wrote with Iqbal Chand Malhotra. As is the hallmark of his books, his depth of research and ability to convey the facts logically by connecting all the dots and looking at the issues from a different angle stand out in what is sure to be one of the most popular books on this subject. and a necessary addition of literature by those who wish to understand the historical context and the complexities of the border issue. The book delves deep into the story, going straight to the roots by examining how perceptions were shaped. It is indeed a remarkable book offering a rare insight into an extremely controversial issue with impressive clarity of thought.
The book traces the history of India’s border with Tibet and China, primarily motivated by the British Empire’s strategic consideration to keep Russia away. It clearly highlights the three sets of lines drawn by the British in the North, namely the Johnson Line in 1865, the Johnson-Ardagh Line in 1897 and the McCartney MacDonald Line in 1899. Border negotiations with Tibet took place in 1914, with the Chinese present. The only positive fallout was the Chinese recognition of the McMohan Line in the northeast. The deliberations were wonderfully covered to include the number of documents presented by Tibetans and the quiet dignity of Paljor Dorji to the Chinese representative who constantly tries to block talks and the role of a Chinese spy. Maroof clearly states that Ladakh’s claims are based on the Treaty of Chushul in 1842, which in turn is based on the Treaty of Tingmosgang of 1684 signed between Ladakh and Tibet when both were feudal states.
The Chinese began their occupation of Aksai Chin in the 1950s and quickly began to build the vital road that crosses it from Lhasa to Kasghar, better known as G219. It was known to the Indian government but has remained out of the public domain and rejected as CIA propaganda. Additionally, there is no clarity as to why Nehru chose to ignore confirmed evidence presented by the military following recognition by Captain (later Major General) Rajendra Nath. in 1952. He was commissioned to carry out this reconnaissance by General Cariappa but the report was never declassified. . The Longju incident in 1959 was also not sufficiently taken into account after the Dalai Lama was granted asylum in India. Was Nehru completely obsessed with being out of alignment and projecting such an image? China’s support seemed to be more important than India’s northern borders, which Iqbal Chand Malhotra also alluded to in his brilliant introduction where he states that Nehru handed over the Gilgit-Baltistan region to Pakistan because he did not want that India be considered anal by allowing the British nuclear monitoring station there.
Maroof writes of a historic opportunity in October 1949 when India could have seized the opportunity to side with the United States in an anti-Communist alliance. It was just before Nehru’s visit to the United States when Radio Beijing said the PLA’s immediate task was to liberate all Chinese territory, including Tibet, Xinjiang, Hainan and Taiwan. This might have prevented the annexation of Tibet by China, but as Maroof points out in the book, no country other than Mongolia recognized Tibet between 1911 and 1951 and even the UN resolution on the Tibet was proposed by El Salvador and India did not support the Tibetan initiative. and the UK abstained.
Clearly, Indian leaders were divided in their assessment of China’s occupation of Tibet and its intentions. Sardar Patel saw this as a clear sign of Chinese expansionism and even warned Nehru against his complacent approach in November 1950. The question remains whether Nehru should have been more realistic and less driven by idealism. The prophecy of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933; “Our political system will be reduced to an empty name” unfortunately rings true today.
An interesting element of the book is how Major Bob Khathing, MC, MBE, a Naga from Manipur, had by order of Assam Governor Jairamdas Daulatram established Indian administrative control over the border town of Tawang, and how he conquered the Monpas and unfurled the tricolor there in February 1951. This act was not appreciated by Prime Minister Nehru at the time but is certainly one of the most remarkable feats achieved without a shot. It was probably Sardar Patel who had decided on the operation in December 1950; and had ordered Jairamdas Daulatram to go ahead with Bob Khathing, not wanting to repeat the Kashmir experience.
The 1962 conflict is covered in great detail by the author in which he highlights certain strategic errors, in particular the failure to take into account the advice of the post-army exercise “LalQuila” led by General Thorat, Defense Minister rejecting evidence of Chinese piling up photographed by none other than Wing Commander Jaggi Nath, MVC and not using the Air Force for fear of some escalating influence , including Professor PMS Blackett, British Defense Advisor, to decide the will of Air Vice Marshal Jaswant Singh, AOC-en-C Eastern Air Command to send fighters to defend NEFA. While much of the blame is directed to the triumvirate of Nehru, Krishna Menon and BN Mullick, the question of responsibility for India’s debacle in the East remains unanswered as to whether this was General Kaul or the politico-military leadership.
There are answers to many questions regarding India’s setbacks that can be found within the pages of the Henderson Brooks report, but unfortunately they remain declassified. The book covers this in detail, including the views of Ram Madhav and the vested interests behind the need to keep it a secret. According to the author, the immediate cause of the collapse of the NEFA lies with the generals which include Pran Thapar, Bogey Sen, Bijji Kaul and Brigadier Monty Palit. The book also points out that only General Umrao Singh resisted the indiscriminate establishment of posts under advanced politics and was sidelined from his responsibilities.
The book also examines the incidents of Nathu La in 1967 and Jelep La in 1964 and the contrasting approaches of the 17 and 27 Mountain Divisions. As the 27th Mountain Division liberated its positions on the watershed, Major General Sagat Singh stood firm in Nathu La and Cho La and many unprecedented acts of bravery by the ground troops drastically changed the Sino dynamic. -indian. The next time India responded was in 1986 in Sumdrong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh when then-chief General Sunderji mobilized forces on the McMohan Line as part of Operation Falcon and the Checkered board operation. Maroof explains in detail how he held his own while briefing the Prime Minister in the South Block Military Operations Room.
The Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement was signed in 1993 during Prime Minister Narshima Rao’s visit to China, but Chinese transgressions have not stopped. The development of infrastructure and the improvement of capacities and capacities have not weakened.
India had demonstrated its resolve at Doklam, a triple junction between India, China and Bhutan when the Chinese attempted to change the status quo. For the first time, it was a dispute over the territory of a third country. India has shown that it does not want to be defeated and that it will defend its friends. The Galwan incident was also covered in detail where, again, the response was swift and well coordinated by the military, navy and air force. Unfortunately, Galwan destroyed the myth that we could have peace and quiet on our northern borders with the Chinese.
The book once again reinforces that the Chinese are taking advantage of any major global crisis to continue their agenda because they feel the spotlight is no longer on them. The first negotiations on the border issue in 1914 were not implemented by the British as they found themselves embroiled in the First World War. Subsequently, when Russia was in retreat in 1942 during World War II, the KMT began the reinstatement of Sinkiang. Again during the Korean crisis in the early 1950s, China annexed Tibet, closer to us, the 1962 war took place when the world faced the most defining challenge; the Cuban Missile Crisis and more recently the barbaric clash in Galwan was at the height of the pandemic facing the world.
It is evident that the Chinese captured large areas of the Aksai Chin area and refused to return them. It even led to the Himalayan conflict of 1962. And despite the series of illusory “peace and quiet” agreements between Indian and Chinese leaders from 1998 onwards, which led to 22 rounds of high-level dialogues, the Chinese have not yet accepted our maps and claimed the ALC lines along Ladakh and McMohan Line in the northeast.
Unfortunately, they are focused on trying to achieve gradual tactical gains and consistently taking action in violation of numerous bilateral agreements and mechanisms, but the collusion with Pakistan has now deepened considerably.
While the question under consideration may seem complex, Maroof articulates it around two key questions; Who owns Aksai Chin? And will China accept the McMahon Line, which separates it from the northeastern regions of India, as the international border between the two countries? Responses to both have a profound impact not only on Indo-Chinese relations but also on geostrategic relations around the world. There is no doubt in everyone’s mind that the Undefined Frontier is the central issue that needs to be addressed and the book provides insight into how we need to shape our narrative to protect our strategic interests. Unfortunately, the outlook for LAC differs to a large extent which has been strengthened over time and hardened in beliefs so for any progress to take place regarding dispute resolution India and China must first. agree on the recognition of CLA.
The history of developments over the years and the dominant thoughts as documented by Maroof deserve serious and broad attention because the trials of the present do not diminish the importance of the past. On the contrary, it now seems more relevant.