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Sino-Pakistan boundary

January 09, 2010


IN recent months, Kashmiri leaders, cutting across the political divide, claimed that China had an interest, though not a stake, in Kashmir because of the Pakistan-China boundary agreement of March 3, 1963.

Some years ago the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Amanullah Khan alleged that Pakistan ceded land to China. Every authority on the subject abroad holds that Pakistan did not cede any land; on the contrary it was China which ceded to Pakistan 750 square miles of administered territory.

Of course, there is an issue as to Pakistan's legal competence to compute such an agreement by virtue of the authority conferred on it by the UNCIP resolution as the power administering Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan). Article 6 of the agreement envisages its revision after the conclusion of the Kashmir settlement. However, this is arid legality for India has repeatedly offered a settlement of Kashmir on the basis of the status quo. We must deal with the merits of the Sino-Pak agreement.

Under the Treaty of Amritsar of March 16, 1846 the British created the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Every edition of Aitchison's authoritative Treaties, Engagements and Sanadsasserted, “Thenorthern as well as the eastern boundary is still undefined.”

In 1846 and 1847 the British invited China to negotiate a boundary agreement China refused. In internal debates in India two lines were suggested; one was the Karakoram boundary and the other was the Kuen Lun boundary to the north.

The viceroy Lord Elgin sent a dispatch to the secretary of state for India, Lord Hamilton, on Oct 27, 1898 defining the line to be offered to China. The line included two tracts beyond the watershed. One was the western end of Taghdumbash, the other was a “small deviation from the main crest of the Mustagh near the Shimshal Pass to Darwaza. This is in accordance with actual possession”. On March 14, 1899 Britain's ambassador Sir Claude MacDonald gave a note to China's foreign office, offering a precise boundary line to China as a basis for a settlement. Matters were brought to a head by the viceroy, Lord Curzon, in a dispatch to the secretary of state for India John Brodrick on March 24, 1904. Curzon reminded him that the March 14, 1899 note on the boundary proposal had not been answered to China.

The people of Shimshal depended for their grazing almost entirely on the valley between the Shimshal Pass and Darwaza. Curzon also sent to Brodrick, on Aug 10, 1905, a map indicating both the 1899 and the 1905 lines. He recommended and ex

plained the difference between the two. In 1907 when the question of which line to show on the maps arose, the secretary of state for India's cable of Aug 1, 1907 to the viceroy gave clear orders.

The map “should indicate the frontier as following the line described in notification of 1899 to China with addition of the deviation in neighbourhood of Shimshal which was proposed in your secret dispatch No. 153 of Aug 10, 1905”.

The agreement of 1963 is based on this deviation from the MacDonald Line of 1899, which gained areas for Pakistan.

It was not China which pressed Pakistan for a settlement. On the contrary, it preferred to settle with India first. It was Pakistan that pressed for an accord, not to forge an alliance with China — and thus wreck its alliance with the United States — but to profit by India's experience and secure peace and tranquillity in the area.

W.F. Van Eekelan, a Dutch diplomat who served in New Delhi and London and delved into the archives in both places to write an excellent study, Indian Foreign Policy and the Border Dispute with China, concurs with the view that while Pakistan waived claims on old antiquated maps, China withdrew from 750 square miles.

Dr. B.N. Goswami of the University of Calcutta and North Burdwan opined, against the “patriotic” consensus that “to a limited but knowledgeable section of the people, the agreement appears to be just and fair to both sides. ... Neutral observers do not find much substance in the Indian allegations of Pakistan concessions to China”.

The distinguished diplomat Abdul Sattar, who served as foreign minister records “Pakistan remembers with gratitude an extraordinary gesture by Premier Zhou Enlai after the alignment was agreed, the Pakistan government belatedly realised that some grazing lands along the Mustagh River in the Shimshal Pass on the other side of the watershed were historically used by inhabitants of Hunza. It then appealed for an exception to the watershed principle to save hardship to the poor people. Zhou generously agreed to the amendment of the boundary so that an area of 750 square miles remained on the Pakistan side.” It was done at midnight.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.