ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tawang: Every Beginning Has an End

The government must spell out its strategic vision transparently to arrive at a national consensus.


Mukul Sanwal writes:

The government must spell out its strategic vision transparently to arrive at a national consensus.


Mukul Sanwal writes:

Tawang is once again in the news as the country grapples with the ghosts of the past and as different current perspectives compete for national attention. The sober assessment of the event of 9 De­cember 2022 by defence minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament contrasts sharply with the jingoism of television anchors stressing that Indian soldiers prevented Chinese aggression by repeatedly showing a video of 2021. The turn of events has also led to Rahul Gandhi questioning the strategic thinking of the government.

The policy problem is that there is no national consensus on the situation in Tawang. There are various studies on histo­rical, military and political aspects of its situation. One of these is the narrative elevated into national political opinion, and the time has come to review this basic stand that there is nothing to discuss.

This narrative glosses over the facts on the ground highlighted by military commanders. According to Major General Niranjan Prasad, who was responsible for the defence of Tawang in 1962 argues in his book, The Fall of Towang, 1962, that the McMahon Line was drawn with a thick pen on an unsurveyed map and the western corner of Tawang, the Thagla Ridge, where it all began in 1962, was north of that line. Brigadier J P Dalvi, commanding the troops that first came into contact with the Chinese, in his book, Himalayan Blunder: The Curtain-Raiser to the Sino-
Indian War of 1962
, also questioned how Dhola post on the Namka Chu at the base of the Thagla Ridge came into existence. Brigadier D K Palit, director of military operations at that time, in his book, War in High Himalaya: The Indian Army in Crisis, 1962, writes that he referred the “Thagla dilemma” to the director of military survey who found the map coordinates of the new post at Dhola quoted by the patrol leader were of doubtful accuracy. The Ministry of External Affairs confirmed the ambiguities on the boundary.

We have let the national interest on the border in Tawang, as well as in Arunachal Pradesh, to be defined by a thick line on a small-scale map of an unsurveyed Himalayan tract in 1914 and Dhola post set up north of that line by a patrol with inaccurate coordinates in 1962. It is essential to release a redacted version of the Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report that looked into the military events of 1962. A leaked version is already on the internet. This exercise should be seen by all political parties as an essential step in building a national consensus on our most important foreign policy problem. No country has become a great power without settled borders.

After the scuffle of 9 December 2022, the foreign ministers of both countries have made public statements that could open the door for a settlement of the north-eastern border. China’s former foreign minister, Wang Yi, has stated that “both countries are committed to upholding stability in the border areas.” This sentiment has been reiterated by Qin Gang, the current foreign minister of China. India’s foreign minister has said that “we will not agree to any attempt to change the Line of Actual Control unilaterally,” suggesting a willingness to “give and take.”

A nuanced agenda is needed as the un-demarcated northern border has very different dimensions in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. It has been a strategic mistake to have treated them together implying some sort of quid pro quo. There is none. There is a published map only in the North East, which China has accepted in settling the boundary with Myanmar in 1960. In Ladakh, there are no published maps of a territory over which no one historically ever exercised sovereignty. In the north-eastern sector, the seven odd pockets where there are different perceptions on the alignment are a matter of joint surveys and diplomatic discussion.

The boundary of eastern Ladakh can then be settled along the Karakoram watershed, suggested by former commanders of the XIV Corps, Leh, leaving out Aksai Chin. Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the all-party meet in June 2020 to discuss the Galwan incident along the Line of Actual Control in the Karakoram Range region to the west of Aksai Chin had pointed out that the Chinese had not entered our territoryThe implication being, India is no longer insisting on a line drawn unilaterally on our maps by Nehru claiming Aksai Chin. If indeed this is the case, it needs to be spelt out more transparently.

The status of the Dalai Lama also needs to be reviewed. The initial condition of giving him refuge to pursue his religious activities but not participate in political programmes in India needs to be reinforced in line with India’s recognition that Tibet is very much a part of China and India’s well-known concerns with subversive cross-border activities in the region.

The settlement of the border should not be seen through the prism of military deployment, but as a part of the rise of India having the confidence to chart its own course, making hard choices that are an essential condition of such a transformation. The global geopolitical situation provides a unique opportunity to bury the ghosts left over by colonialism.





Updated On : 9th Jan, 2023
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