[ Rimmo Karbak ]
That China claims Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh (in particular western Arunachal) is a historical fact. The genesis of the current India-China face-off in Galwan Valley and some other parts of eastern Ladakh lies in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as perceived by each side.
What is an LAC and how did it come into being? It is believed that on 24 October, 1959, the then Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai (considered next only to chairman Mao Zedong in the People’s Republic of China’s hierarchy) in a letter to India proposed that each side withdraw their troops 20 kms from the line that each army was on. Shortly afterwards, Zhou defined this line as the “so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercised actual control in the West.”
Thus the LAC came in to being in the western sector (Ladakh region) for all purposes of references on border issue.
On the other hand, the line demarcated as per the 1914 Shimla Agreement between Tibet and British India, named after Sir Henry McMahon (then foreign secretary, British India) was called the McMahon Line. However, this agreement was not recognized by China on the plea that Tibet was not a sovereign state (China claims about 65,000 sq kms south of the line – practically entire Arunachal – as part of Tibet).
However, in the eastern region, as per Zhou’s note, the McMahon line was accepted only for the purpose of reference to the line. In due course the entire border between the two has been loosely called the LAC.
Why is the LAC violated by China so often? It is simply because the LAC is not defined on the ground, unlike the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir. In the existing scenario, any of the two countries can move forward anywhere in the border (if unopposed) and claim that place to be the LAC. To cite a hypothetical example: The nearest Indian army post is, say, a place called Nanda. From Nanda they patrol up north to the LAC, seven stages from Nanda. One fine day, an Indian patrol from Nanda finds Chinese sitting on a place called Raja, midway between Nanda and the LAC. On being told to vacate, they say this is where the LAC runs. To India, it is a clear violation, but for China Raja is on their side of LAC.
But why is this happening on the ground? It is simply because the LAC is not defined on the ground. It depends on the perception of the LAC by each side. To overcome this tricky problem, the 1993 agreement between the two countries lays down that a joint working group be set up to define the LAC on ground.
Unfortunately, till date there has been no progress on it. Therefore the current face-off in Galwan Valley will not be the end. In fact, it may just be the beginning all over the border.
For a nation to be secure and for its all-round development, a secured border is a must. This is best achieved by border agreements with neighbouring countries. Probably the most propitious time to settle the border issue with China was when the giant was asleep. Have we missed the bus? Any final settlement will necessarily entail give and take. Given the dynamics of vote bank politics and Indian democratic values, no government in India can give up claim to any part, like, say, Aksai Chin, for eastern region. Hence border dispute is there to stay and tension can erupt on and off.
Given the realities in the fields of military, economic and political equation between the two, resolution by diplomacy seems the best option, not withstanding the media hype and the so-called defence experts of all hues belting out hundreds of options and strategies. We must however remain prepared 24/7 to meet any eventuality. A nation wins wars that fights as one. Let us fight as one. (The writer is a retired colonel who served as a deputy brigade commander in eastern Ladakh.)
[ Rimmo Karbak ]