Wednesday, March 19, 2014




India has been having troubled relations with Pakistan since the very day of its emergence as an independent state over issues that are ostensibly territorial in nature.  The Indo – Pakistan border and the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir are results of formal awards and agreements, and are clearly defined and delineated.  Despite the reality being so, both countries have not been able to establish friendly relations.  Acrimonious rhetoric, charges and counter charges, and frequent skirmishes along the lines that separate them are common among these two South Asian neighbours.  On the other hand, the Sino – Indian border has not been formally agreed upon and consequently is not defined and delineated on land.  Still both countries have not gone to war ever since the de-facto Line of Actual Control (LAC) was established as a result of the war of 1962.  There has been relative peace all along the LAC and New Delhi and Beijing have entered into significant level of cooperation in various fields including science, technology and trade.

In this context, this study makes an attempt to present a new hypothesis called the “Three Frontiers Theory” that emphasizes the nature of the frontier and projects the same as the fundamental reason for, troubled relations between India and Pakistan on one hand, and gracious ties between India and China on the other.  This paper contains four parts.  The “The Three Frontiers Theory” and the author’s own classification of frontiers are explained in the first part.  The second part makes an analysis of the historical background of the frontier between India and Pakistan.  The third part contains the application of the “Three Frontiers Theory” to analyse the Indo-Pakistan relations and the same is done in the case of Sino – Indian relations in the subsequent part.    Conclusion forms the final part.

During the past six decades of their existence as independent states India and Pakistan have fought three major wars and innumerable number of minor skirmishes all along their long border.  Mutual distrust, deep animosity and rivalry in various fields ranging from nuclear science to sports have marred the bilateral relations between these two South Asian nations. Several scholarly attempts have been made to explain the possible causes for the failure of these two nations to establish lasting friendship.  The issue of religious divide has been accepted as the fundamental cause for deep-seated hostility between the two nations.  The roles played by political parties and their leaders, men in uniforms, business houses, and prevailing regional and international political scenarios also have been cited as potential causes for the persisting problem between New Delhi and Islamabad.

The Sino – Indian frontier erupted almost suddenly in mid–50s, led to acrimonious charges and counter-charges, eventually culminating into the war of October – November 1960 that wounded India’s pride.  With this war China asserted its military supremacy in the Himalayan region and established firm control over Aksai Chin.  Bilateral negotiations to end the border row began in 1980 and, during the past two decades, New Delhi and Beijing have concluded, apart from the significant “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity Along the Line of Actual Control in the India - China Border” signed during the official visit of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao to the Chinese capital in September 1993, several agreements to maintain peace along this Line of Actual Control (LAC) and establish friendly relations.  All though the border issue remains unresolved till date and raises its ugly head like a hydra once in a while as it is happening these days following alleged Chinese incursions into areas adjacent to the Kongka Pass in Ladakh and Beijing’s protests against Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang monastery, it has not led these two Asian giants into war since the end of the war of October – November 1962 and any future war is also remote.  Instead, these two Asian giants have taken their bilateral cooperation to significant level in many fields, and interestingly, China has emerged as India’s biggest trading partner.

In this context, this study makes an attempt to present a new hypothesis called the “Three Frontiers Theory” that emphasizes the nature of the frontier and projects the same as the fundamental reason for, troubled relations between India and Pakistan on one hand, and gracious ties between India and China on the other.  This paper contains four parts.  The “The Three Frontiers Theory” and the author’s own classification of frontiers are explained in the first part.  The second part makes an analysis of the historical background of the frontier between India and Pakistan.  The third part contains the application of the “Three Frontiers Theory” to analyse the Indo-Pakistan relations and the same is done in the case of Sino – Indian relations in the subsequent part.    Conclusion forms the final part.


 The Three Frontiers Theory classifies the frontiers between the states of the world into three categories– i. Single-edged frontiers, ii. Double-edged frontiers, and iii. Dull frontiers.  Single-edged frontier is the one that gives strategic advantage to one of the two states say State A.  Double-edged frontier provides strategic advantage to both State A and State B.  The Dull frontier does not give any strategic advantage to either.

The frontier that existed between and the boundary line that separated Germany and France during 1871 to 1919 was a very good example of single-edged frontiers.  It provided considerable amount of strategic advantage to the newly unified Germany vis-à-vis France thereby acting as a single-edged frontier in Germany’s favour.  There are innumerable examples for double-edged frontiers and perhaps the most striking one is the Radcliffe Line that separates India and Pakistan.  This Line provides strategic advantage to both countries thereby forcing the two to maintain constant vigil on each other’s motives and moves.  The present Line of Actual Control or the de-facto boundary between India and China is the best example of dull frontiers.  It doesn’t provide any kind of strategic advantage to either and has eliminated the usefulness of an armed conflict between the two neighbours ever since it was created as a result of the border war of 1962.

For the sake of convenience the state that enjoys strategic advantage in case of a single-edged frontier is referred to as Ridge State, and the one that is deprived of that advantage as Valley State.  This nomenclature has been coined on the basis of the general assumption that one who positions himself on a ridge tends to possess advantage vis a vis the one in the valley below.  In the case of a double-edged frontier, the two states on its either side can be called Plain States since both of them are on equal footing just like two contenders standing on an even surface enjoy relatively equal amount of advantage among themselves.  Similarly, in the case of dull frontiers, the states that lie on either side of that can be called as Canyon States since a canyon hardly allows the two adversaries on its either side to gain any advantage against one another.  These nomenclatures will be used throughout this essay.

Let us now examine the possible impact of these frontiers on the bilateral relations between State A and State B.  In the case of single-edged frontier in favour of State A, the latter being the Ridge State enjoys strategic advantage and its attempts are usually directed at maintaining the statusquo as Germany did during 1871 to 1914. On the other hand, state B, the Valley State, possesses a sense of insecurity and nurtures a desire to convert the frontier advantages to it or in other words single-edged in its favour.  French attitude towards Germany during 1871 to 1914 is a good example for this scenario.  The magnitude of State B’s sense of insecurity depends upon the linguistic, religious, cultural, ethnic, and economic closeness or remoteness that exists between itself and State A.  The intensity of its desire to convert the frontier is determined by its recent history, national power, pressure groups and the level of their capability to influence state policies, and mindset of leadership.  The economic clout, diplomatic influence and the military might of its allies, if it has any, do also play significant roles in shaping State B’s attitude towards the frontier and State A that lies beyond.  The level of its sense of insecurity and intensity of its desire to convert the frontier together generate hostilities between the two states.  State A’s effort to retain the strategic advantage it enjoys or in other words keeping the frontier single-edged in its own favour and remain as a Ridge State then shapes the further course of hostilities, and determines the pause with which the hostilities lead to war.  Depending upon the outcome of the war four different courses can be visualized in the bilateral relations between the two states.  First, if state B fails in its attempt it will go back to square one, plans and prepares for one more attempt.  In that case one more round of military showdown becomes a certainty.  Second, if State B succeeds in converting the frontier single edged in its favour and becomes a Ridge State then State A will initiate its own preparations for annulling this outcome of the war.  In this case also a show of strength will become the logical outcome.  Third, if the outcome of the war converts the frontier into a double-edged one providing advantages to both the states and making them Plain States, then begins an era of mutual distrust, suspicion of each other’s motives, constant watchfulness and preparedness for war.  War will break out as and when either of the two finds it convenient to beat the drum and the other responds with action.  Fourth, if the war results in the creation of a dull frontier that provides advantages to neither of the states making them Canyon States then gradually begins an era of mutual trust, friendship, and cooperation.  This may bring the two closer to each other and they may establish some sort of an economic union.  If the success of that economic union is supported by ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural closeness, it may even encourage them to consider the idea of a political union as well.

History is replete with countless examples of Valley States trying to become first Ridge States; and if it is not possible, then one of the Canyon States.  Let’s now study some of such attempts that have taken place in recent times.

    The South American state of Chile’s expansion into the north in the second half of the 19th Century is a classic example of a state’s attempt to convert its frontiers into single-edged in its favour (Chile – Peruvian frontier) and also dull (Chile – Bolivian frontier).  Before the Pacific War of 1879-81 the northern frontier of Chile was lying far below the Atacama Desert.  Iquique and Arica that are now located in northern Chile were then parts of Peru.  Bolivia, which is now a land-locked country, then enjoyed a strip of coastline with Antofagasta as its main harbour.  Bolivia’s presence in the north of Chile was a cause of concern for the rulers in Santiago because the former could threaten the northern plains of Chile anytime.  Chile’s woes would greatly increase if Bolivia and Peru joined hands.  Such a development would not only put the security of northern Chile in jeopardy but also pose a serious challenge to Santiago’s position in the Southern Pacific Ocean.  In order to remove all these threats and make its northern areas safe Chile initiated a successful campaign against its northern neighbours and when the war ended two years later Bolivia had been pushed beyond the Andes[i] and Peru the Atacama.  The frontier that was established between Chile and Bolivia then has been a dull one.  The high Andes became natural frontier between the two countries and took away from Bolivia the strategic advantage it enjoyed earlier.   As far as Peru was concerned, the dry and inhospitable Atacama Desert that became the newly accepted frontier made any future Peruvian campaign against Chile an impossible task.  While providing Chile immunity from any Peruvian adventure the Atacama would permit Chile to threaten its northern neighbour at will.  Thus Chile successfully converted its frontier with Bolivia from single-edged one against itself into dull one and also created a single-edged frontier with Peru in its own favour.  These changes denied Bolivia any opportunity to threaten northern Chile either singly or jointly with Peru.

The expansion of the United States of America in all directions except in the east, during the first century of its existence as an independent republic, is another interesting example for a nation’s desire to establish dull frontiers.  The thirteen states that formed the Union following the successful War of Independence didn’t have natural frontiers except the Atlantic Ocean in the east.  The new nation was surrounded by three of the great powers- British in the north, French in the west, and Spanish in the south.   The Americans had plenty of reasons to be concerned about the security of their young republic.  The British apathy towards the US was of common knowledge.  Though Washington didn’t have any problems with Spain and France, the continuation of such trouble-free relationship for an indefinite period was not ensured because of the unpredictable nature of European power politics during that period of uncertainty.  Any conflict in Europe involving Britain, France and Spain was likely to spill over into their North American possessions, and the danger of the US getting dragged into was always lurking in the minds of the American policy makers.  This threat was reduced to a considerable extent when Napoleon’s France was compelled to sell Louisiana to the US in order to meet its war expenditure in 1800.  Washington also purchased Florida from Spain a couple of years later.  These two purchases increased the geographical size of the US manifold and also opened up the possibilities of further expansions into the west.  Within the next fifty years Washington annexed all the Indian territories through various means.[ii]  Following the merger of Texas into the Union and the Mexican War of 1846-48 the US frontiers extended up to two natural limits- the Pacific Ocean in the west, river Rio Grande[iii] and the Nevada as well as Arizona deserts in the south and the southwest.  Thus the US succeeded in adding two more dull frontiers in the west and the south to the one already existed in the east.

Still Britain remained as a source of concern.  The British capability to undermine the security of the US and hurt the national pride of the American nation was amply demonstrated during the war of 1812 when the invading English army entered the American capital and set the presidential palace on fire.  However, no more hostilities were witnessed in US-British relations after the Treaty of Ghent of 1816, and the border has remained quiet since.  The frontier between the US and Canada is indeed a double-edged one potent enough to be explosive.  However, the linguistic, cultural and economic closeness between the people of the two countries and the resulting spirit of “Anglo-America” have given it the colour of a dull frontier.  Thus the US has successfully established dull frontiers on three sides and converted the double-edged frontier in the north into a dull one.  As a result the US has not faced any threat from any of its neighbours since 1816 and enjoyed freedom to concentrate on economic development, economic as well as geographical expansion outside the North American continent; and also to develop political and military power to meet threats that may emanate from extra-regional powers.

The expansionist attitude the US demonstrated during the first hundred years of its existence encourages one to assume that the British presence in Canada discouraged the Americans from expanding towards the north.  They would certainly have extended their northern frontiers up to the Arctic if Canada had been inhabited and controlled only by the Indians and Eskimos.  The American leaders as well people were forced to be content with the existence of double-edged turned dull frontier in the north.  Although we don’t have a crystal ball to look through, it can be safely assumed that it is highly unlikely that the people of the US and Canada would convert the present dull frontier into a double-edged one and initiate hostility.  On the contrary, if the present economic closeness between the people of the two countries continues for some more time, they may take it to further heights and establish a stronger economic union among themselves.  In that case, the economic union coupled with the existing linguistic and cultural closeness among the people of the two North American giants (probably excluding the French speaking Quebec) may pave the way for political union as well sometimes in future.

Though the present frontier between India and Pakistan was created in 1947 its historical roots can be traced back to early 13th Century when the Delhi Sultanate, the first ever Muslim kingdom in India was established by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak in 1206 A. D.  The western frontier of the newly established Delhi Sultanate in the Punjab region ran along Lahore, Dipalpur, Uch, Samana and Multan (referred to as Lahore-Multan Line hereafter) due to the repeated raids of the Mongols that left trans-Indus regions politically chaotic and outside Delhi’s effective control most of the time.  In other words, the political frontier of India in the northwest receded from the Hindukush to the banks of river Ravi in the north and to the lower course of river Indus in the south.  This Lahore - Multan Line was not a defensible frontier at all since it ran almost in the middle of the Indus plain.  The scientific boundary for the proper defence of north-western India was Kabul-Ghazni-Kandahar Line (referred to as Hindukush Line hereafter) that ran along the eastern slopes of the Hindukush Mountains.[iv]  Indian history bears testimony to the fact that any invader from the Central Asian region who succeeded in crossing this Hindukush Line and entered the Khyber Pass found it relatively easy to establish his control over the Punjab plains. The Mauryans especially Emperor Ashoka realized this and extended his authority beyond Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in order to enable his army to effectively counter and prevent any invading army from crossing the Khyber Pass which acted as a gateway to the Punjab plains in particular and northern India in general.  The Punjab was subjected to repeated raids by the Central Asian tribes and the Mongols whenever the narrow strip of land lying between the Hindukush Mountains and the Khyber Pass (referred to as Hindukush–Khyber Corridor hereafter) fell out of the control of any North Indian empire.  Thus for millennia the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor played significant role in the defence of the Punjab plains.  It is equally interesting to note that any power that controlled this piece of land extended its sway over the Punjab with considerable ease; and the power that controlled the Punjab extended its domination over Northern India – Rajputana {present Rajasthan State} and the vast Gangetic plain sooner of later.[v]  Hence the successive rulers of northern India saw to it that the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor remained in their hand, and if that was not possible, they preferred it to be controlled by friendly powers that would act as buffers between themselves and their potential adversaries from Central Asia.

The importance of the Hindukush–Khyber Corridor was first realized, as mentioned earlier, by the Imperial Mauryas in the Third Century B.C.  Emperor Ashoka had understood the danger the Empire would face in case this Corridor was to slip into the hands of the enemies when he was the governor of Taxila (located in the northern part of present Pakistan).   He further strengthened his mastery over this area when he became the emperor in 269 B. C., and the town of Jalalabad situated in present eastern Afghanistan served as an important frontier outpost during his reign.  Following the decline and fall of the Mauryan Empire during the Second Century B. C., however, this Hindukush-Khyber Corridor fell into and remained in the hands of local chieftains for almost a century.  Under the early Kushans this Corridor was located right in the middle of the empire.[vi]  The post-Kushan empires of northern India somehow failed to realize the significance of this Corridor and consequently paid dearly for this gross negligence.  The Mongols repeatedly raided north-western India and their menace became a regular feature till the advent of the Imperial Guptas.  The Mongol continued to remain as a potential source of threat to the security of Northwest India until the Gupta emperor Chandragupta Vikramaditya repelled them in 6th Century A. D.

The Mongol menace once again became serious in early 13th Century.  Chengiz Khan crossed the Khyber and entered the Punjab plains in pursuit of the prince of Khwarizmian Empire, Jalal-ud-din Mangbarni[vii] who had fled to India following the annihilation of his Empire by the Great Mongol.  Chengiz Khan’s army entered the city of Lahore in 1221 A.D.   This was the most serious threat the young Sultanate of Delhi could ever face.  The Sultanate, which was just fifteen years old, was still weak and surrounded by enemies on all sides except perhaps the North-west.  In this situation had Chengiz Khan chose to march towards Delhi, he would have sacked the infant Sultanate and that would have been the end of the first ever Muslim empire in India.  Iltutmish, the Sultan of Delhi, however, was realistic and demonstrated exemplary diplomatic skill by declining to support to the Khwarizmian king, and thereby avoided the Great Mongol’s wrath  (Habibullah 1961: 95).  Chengiz Khan left India having satisfied with the plunder of Lahore.  Though the Mongols continued to raid the north-western frontier regions of the country for another century, they ceased to be a serious threat to the foundation of the Delhi Sultanate that acquired tremendous political and military strength under the Khaljis.  The Mongol menace ceased completely by early 14th Century A. D. when an invading Mongol army under Iqbalmand was decisively defeated in A. D. 1308.  This was due to the rational measures undertaken by the rulers of Delhi especially Emperor Ala-ud-din Khalji, not only to fortify the trans-Indus region but also to extend Delhi’s effective military control up to the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor thereby not allowing the enemy to set foot into the Khyber Pass.  In fact, the new frontier army, created by Ala-ud-din Khalji, under the leadership of Ghazi Malik took the war to Mongol territory in Afghanistan.

The Mughal rulers kept this area firmly under their control for nearly two centuries.  Following the decline of the Mughals, however, Delhi lost its control over the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor to the Afghans resulting in the latter becoming capable of threatening the Punjab.  Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali successfully raided the Punjab and even defeated the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat in 1761 A.D.

The British who turned India into their colony during the later half of 18th and early half of 19th centuries realized the extent of danger from the northwest and took adequate measures to minimize the same.  They did something no Indian ruler had done earlier.   They demarcated the Indo-Afghan boundary and formalized the same with a written treaty in 1893.  Though the British failed to extend India’s north-western frontier up to the Hindukush Line, the scientific boundary line for the defence of northern India, they succeeded in delineating the India–Afghanistan border (the Durand Line) that firmly placed in their control the Khyber Pass that, for millennia, had been the gateway to the Indus plains from the northwest.  The Durand Line followed the eastern limits of the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor.  It was the activities of the Imperial Russian Army that prompted the British to go for delineating Indo-Afghan border and to strengthen their positions there.  The defence of the Punjab plains assumed importance in 1888 when the Imperial Russian army under the leadership of Captain Grombechevsky reached Hunza in northern Kashmir.  The British apprehension and their threat perception vis-à-vis Imperial Russia were demonstrated by Durand, the experienced frontier expert, when he said, “the game had begun.” (Woodman 1969: 72)  The Russians were, if allowed, capable of threatening the security of the densely populated Punjab.  The British administration overcame this menace by formally delineating Afghanistan’s border first with India in 1893 and with Russia in the Pamirs two years later.  The two European powers who were involved in the “Great Game” in the northwest of India made significant moves towards ‘peace’ by signing a treaty on 11 March 1995.  Accordingly, a narrow corridor called “Wakhan” was created between the Russian controlled Tazhik territories and the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir of the British Indian Empire, and the same was placed under the control of Kabul.  Further, with the Anglo–Russian Convention of 1907, London succeeded in getting Moscow accept Afghanistan as a buffer between Russia and India and never to cross it.  Not fully convinced of Russian sincerity, the British rulers took from the State of Jammu & Kashmir the Gilgit region[viii] that shared common boundary with the Wakhan Corridor, and placed an Army unit there in order to monitor the movement of the Russian army across the Corridor and deter any possible Russian adventure.

Thus right from the Imperial Mouryas to the British colonial rulers every major ruler of northern India realized the importance of the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor in the defence of north-western India.  They took adequate measures to keep the enemies beyond the Hindukush Mountains or, if it was not possible, the Khyber Pass.   Indian history bears testimony to the fact that those who neglected this golden rule paid heavy price, and alas, it happened again and again.

Though the Mongol threat disappeared by the early 14th Century A. D., it did irreparable damage to the cultural and religious unity of India.  Repeated Mongol invasions limited the north-western frontier of the Delhi Sultanate to Lahore-Multan Line.  All the territories west of this line came under effective control of successive Muslim rulers that facilitated large scale religious conversion under state patronage.  North-western India’s socio-religious features changed permanently with it adopting Islam and most of the social values it stood for, and the rest of the country remaining predominantly Hindu both in religious and societal sense.  Thus Northwest India developed a socio-religious character that differed distinctly from that of the rest of the country and, whereas, closer to that of Central and West Asia.  It was in this part of India the Islamic state of Pakistan was established in 1947.

Despite the religious divide between the two parts of India that were separated by the Lahore-Multan Line, people on both sides of this Line remained united economically and culturally, and evolved common literature, music, dance, art and architecture.  Military conflicts that occurred here were just campaigns of one contending political master against the other in the region and their respective armies.  General populace was hardly a party in these conflicts.  The protagonists of Pakistan movement, however, ignored the cultural closeness and economic interdependence among the people on both sides of the Lahore-Multan Line and highlighted only the religious divide.  The demand for a separate Muslim homeland got theoretical foundation when poet Mohammad Iqbal floated a radical assumption called the “Two Nations Theory”.  This assumption maintained that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations; consequently they shouldn’t be under one state.  Some of them even maintained that there existed identical socio-religious character in north-western India and its western and northern neighbours.  Choudhury Rahmat Ali recognized the closeness among the people of north-western India, Afghanistan and Iran, and stressed upon the need for unity among them so that they could together “survive and thrive in the world.”  He emphasized this as the most important justification for creation of a separate homeland for Indian Muslims.  In his famous monograph Now or Never[ix] published in 1933, Ali argued for the separation of north-western India from the rest of the country and its merger with Iran, Afghanistan and Tokharistan to create PAKISTAN. (Pirzada 1963: 28-32).  Though the word “Pakistan” literally means “Land of the Pure,”[x] it originally appeared in Ali’s thinking as an acronym with each letter denoting a unit of the proposed state- P- Punjab, A- Afghania (NWFP or North-West Frontier Province)[xi], K- Kashmir, I- Iran, S- Sindh, T- for Tukharistan or Tokharistan, A- Afghanistan and, finally, N- Baluchistan.[xii]   Though his idea of a union of Iran, Afghanistan, Tukharistan, and the Muslim areas of north-western India was far-fetched and politically untenable, he was the first protagonist of the Muslim homeland who underscored the socio-religious similarities among the Muslim population of these lands despite their astounding ethnic diversity.  Moreover, Ali was the one who coined the name “Pakistan” ending Muslim League’s hitherto unsuccessful search for a suitable name for the Muslim homeland it was campaigning for.[xiii]  Aitzaz Ahsan, noted legal personality and politician of Pakistan today calls these lands together as “Indus” and maintains that despite geographers and historians alike treating the Indian subcontinent as one single unit, “Indus and India have always been distinct and separate” (2000: 259).

The Indian National Congress, which was in the forefront of India’s freedom struggle, rejected the Two Nations Theory.  On the other hand, the Muslim League accepted it and used it to strengthen its demand for creation of a separate Muslim homeland.  What the League failed to recognize was that the division of India on religious lines would create a double-edged frontier in the middle of the Indus plains; and the two nations would become Plain States living in the state of mutual distrust and constant angst.

The League, however, succeeded, with the active support from the British colonial masters, in getting Pakistan created on 15 August 1947.[xiv]  The partition was carried out in such a hurry that it led to unprecedented human tragedy in Mankind’s history (Wolpert 2006)[xv] and the irony was that the Radcliffe Line that divided the Punjab between India and Pakistan did run almost in the middle of the Indus plain just like the centuries old Lahore-Multan Line.  This Line, and the Line of Control in Kashmir (created as a consequence of the Kashmir War of 1947-48) together, according to the “Three Frontiers Theory”, is a “double-edged frontier” and the reason for the continued animosity between India and Pakistan.

The India - Pakistan borders, both de jure and de facto, can be divided into two distinct segments- the southern segment and the northern segment (referred to as the Southern Line and the Northern Line respectively hereafter).  The Southern Line separates the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan from the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Punjab.  The Northern Line separates the two parts of the divided Punjab and Kashmir.  These two Lines have historical roots of marked different length and credibility.  The Southern Line is in fact not only centuries old but also runs along natural barriers though minor ones.  The Runn of Kutch[xvi] has been serving as a natural frontier between Sindh and the Kutch region of Gujarat from the dawn of history and forms the lower segment of the Southern Line.  Though the upper segment of the Southern Line, the line that separates the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Punjab on one hand and the Indian state of Rajasthan on the other is just a couple of centuries old, it is located almost in the western limits of the Thar Desert or the Great Indian Desert, a geographical barrier.  It also has gained credibility as it served as an accepted boundary during the Raj between the British provinces of Sindh and the native states of Khairpur and Bahwalpur that became part of Pakistan on one hand, and the native kingdoms of Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner that formed part of the Indian state of Rajasthan on the other.  Consequently these boundary lines didn’t cause any irritations or mutual suspicion on either side when they became international borders separating India and Pakistan in 1947.  Nor did any major military campaigns occur along this Line during any of the India – Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 and it has remained totally trouble free for almost four decades.  Islamabad’s claim over part of the Runn of Kutch and Pakistan Army’s subsequent incursions into the area in the spring of 1965 was nothing more than Ayub Khan administration’s attempt to test the strength of its recently modernized army and air force and also India’s retaliatory capabilities just before a major campaign in Kashmir (Chadha 2005: 89) which actually began clandestinely in July that year and assumed, during the last week of August, the proportion of an open attack on the Indian positions all along the Chicken’s Neck - Chhamb Jaurian sector with a clear aim to sever Jammu & Kashmir from India once and for all by destroying the Jammu – Akhoor road, the only road link between the Kashmir Valley and rest of India during those days.   Thus this Southern Line can be safely being termed as a dull frontier.

On the other hand, the Northern Line that separates the divided Punjab and Kashmir is a double-edged frontier and is the primary reason for deep mutual distrust and persisting animosity between India and Pakistan.  The Northern Line, like its southern counterpart, can also be divided into southern segment –Radcliffe Line between the two Punjabs and a short international border between the Pakistani Punjab and the Indian controlled Kashmir, and the northern segment– Line of Control (LOC) between the two Kashmirs.  Though their origins are markedly different, both, being double-edged frontiers, have been playing strikingly similar and significant roles in keeping India and Pakistan in the state of constant angst, and the defence forces of the two adversaries contested fiercely all along this Line during the wars of 1965 and 1971.  The double-edged nature of this Line along with the unprecedented violence that accompanied the partition[xvii] created from the very beginning mutual hatred and distrust between the people of the two states.

The impact of partition on the Punjab was devastating as the “operation was performed in Punjab… and it was performed without an unaesthetic. (Jha 2003: x)   The partition divided this huge province, which for centuries had remained as one linguistic, cultural and economic unit despite the religious difference.  Two of its great cities –Lahore and Amritsar- located in the middle of the province became frontier cities overnight.  On the irrationality of drawing an international border between these two cities, R. Coupland wrote way back in 1943 itself:

Between these two cities there is no natural dividing line of any kind.  Any boundary set between them would be wholly artificial, geographically, ethnographically and economically.  Inter alia it would cut in two the system of canals on which the productive capacity of the whole area largely depends.  It would also leave the capital city of each Province exposed and defenceless, right up to the frontier.  Such an artificial line, despite its obvious disadvantages, might serve, if it were to be the boundary between two Provinces in a single federal state…  But it is no mere inter-Provincial boundary that is being contemplated.  It is to be a regular international boundary between two separate independent National States.  (Coupland 1943: Pt III: 86)

      The large scale violence, abductions and rapes that accompanied the partition of the Punjab province affected the psyche of its people on both sides deeply and the resulting anger and hatred have become deep-seated.  In such a situation defending a border from the feverishly hostile enemy right in the middle of the Indus plain became a cause of constant apprehension and worry for the two Punjabs in particular and India and Pakistan in general.

Kashmir is another interesting case.  The leaders of Muslim League firmly believed in this mountainous state’s merger into and integration with Pakistan simply because of its overwhelming Muslim majority.  The attitude of the Hindu ruler of this princely state, however, prompted the new government in Karachi to adopt initially coercive and subsequently military means to achieve Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan and `complete’ the `unfinished agenda of Partition’ that in turn resulted in the former acceding to India and initiation of both military and diplomatic confrontations between New Delhi and Karachi over the issue of sovereignty over this state.  When the cease-fire came about after a fourteen month long fight, Kashmir lay divided between the two contenders and dividing line or the Line of Control didn’t follow any geographical barrier.  In fact, it had moved to the east, away from the erstwhile dividing line of river Jhelum, a geographical barrier though a minor one, and thus extended the double-edged frontier from Punjab to Kashmir leading to increased anxiety and hatred among the people and governments India and Pakistan.

Apart from religion, there is one more angle to the Kashmir question as for as Pakistan is concerned.  All major rivers of Pakistan either originate in or flow through Kashmir.  Thus Kashmir is the source of water for Pakistan and it’s anybody’s guess what will happen to that country if the whole of Kashmir falls into hostile hands.  It is not known whether the Muslim League leaders were aware of this fact or not when they went all out against, first, Kashmir’s independence and later, its merger with India.  The Leaguers’ futile attempt to get merged into East Pakistan the whole of Assam despite its overwhelming Hindu majority in all districts except Sylhet may be a case worth mentioning here.  Recognition of the future need for more land of the growing population of East Bengal was the only logical rationale they had in their designs for sparsely populated Assam.  If they could recognize the future land requirements of East Pakistan before Partition, they, it can be safely assumed, must certainly have recognized the water requirements of West Pakistan as well.  Though the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 allotted three western rivers of Indus river basin –Indus, Jhelum and Chenab- fully to Pakistan,[xviii] Islamabad’s worries did not disappear.  Pakistan has been visibly sensitive to any Indian plan to harness the waters of these three rivers for even the purpose of electricity generation which will not hamper or reduce the flow of water into Pakistan in any manner.

So, religion is not the only factor that determines Pakistan’s Kashmir policy.  Like Bengal and Punjab, Kashmir too had clearly distinct and contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim majority areas.  The British would certainly have divided Kashmir too between India and Pakistan on religious basis if it were a British province instead of being a princely state in 1947.  The first Kashmir War of 1947-48 and the cease-fire of 1 January 1949 did give Muslim Pakistan control over almost all Muslim regions of Kashmir except the Valley.  Still, Islamabad has not given up its claim for the whole state despite the non-Muslim population in Jammu region and Ladakh as Kashmir as a whole is very vital for Pakistan’s economic viability and this very fact would have prompted the successive rulers of Islamabad to work for getting Kashmir into their Muslim Pakistan even if this hilly state had non-Muslim majority in all its regions.

Another interesting dimension of the Kashmir dispute is that Pakistan’s economic dependency on Kashmir has made the part of Kashmir under New Delhi’s control as an economic single-edged frontier in India’s favour.  Pakistan’s attempts to establish control over the whole of Kashmir is nothing but a Valley State’s effort to convert the frontier single-edged in its own favour.  India being the economic Ridge State in this case, has been working hard to keep the frontier as it is, or in other words, economically single-edged in its own favour.  Thus, Kashmir is the economic Alsace and Lorraine of South Asia and this explains the protracted Kashmir imbroglio and India – Pakistan animosity.  Given the economic and geopolitical issues involved, India and Pakistan would have demonstrated the same hatred towards each other even if their people followed common religion.

The present India – Pakistan crisis can also be viewed in a different but positive way.  This geographical landmass of South Asia is the home of ancient civilizations and it has witnessed the rise and fall of thousands of principalities, kingdoms and empires in its awfully long history.  These developments were accompanied by countless wars and armed conflicts.  Perhaps more armed conflicts have been fought in the Indian subcontinent than in any geographical area of similar size anywhere in the world.  Establishment of European rule brought about a steep decline in the number of political masters which in turn gradually reduced the frequency and diversity in the armed conflicts in South Asia.  Once the British became the undisputed masters of the subcontinent, armed conflicts in this land became a thing of the past.  Not even a single armed conflict occurred for more than a century.  Partition of the subcontinent and subsequent developments created two major political masters in the lands south of the Hindukush and the Himalayas.  In contrast to previous centuries when scores or hundreds existed, now there are only two major political contenders left in the fray, and consequently the intensity and ferocity of hostilities too are high which is obvious as both are striving hard to make the present arrangement, with minor modifications, permanent in a land where no arrangement lasted for a period of decent length in the past.

            It is an irony of history that the frontier separating Asia’s two giants –China and India- was transformed from the one guarded by a few hundred club-wielding policemen into world’s highly militarized one in a surprisingly short period in the latter half of 1950s.  The frontier erupted almost suddenly, led to acrimonious charged and counter-charges eventually culminating into the border war of October – November 1962 that wounded India’s pride.  Although several attempts were initiated by both governments in the form of bilateral talks and confidence building measures in the 1980s that led to several agreements initiating an era of mutual economic and scientific cooperation, the border issue remains unresolved and raises its ugly head like a hydra time and again.
What all happened in the realm of Sino-Indian relations during 1949-62 has become an inseparable and unforgettable chapter in the history of modern India.  The plethora of material painstakingly researched and compiled by numerous scholars[xix] conclusively establishes that there were two broad sets of reasons for the war of 1962.  The Indian insistence on the legitimacy of one of the several lines that put the whole of Aksai Chin under its control and New Delhi’s undue haste in getting it accepted by Beijing either through negotiations or through low-key military operations during 1959-62 described as “Forward Policy” belong to the first set of reasons.  On the other hand, frequent changes and shifts in China’s claims and stances form the second set of reasons.

            The Sino – Indian frontier saw military activities in a major scale in its eastern flank during the beginning of the second decade of the previous century.  It was India that initiated those military activities and China did the same in the western flank forty years later.  These military moves, first by India and followed by China later, together are, according to the “Three Frontiers Theory”, attempts on the part of New Delhi and Beijing to convert “Single-edged Frontiers” against themselves into “Dull Frontiers.”

            There existed no linear boundary[xx] between India and China before an attempt for creating one for the first time in history was initiated by India during 1911-14.  In fact, no linear boundary existed between empires/kingdoms of Asia in the historical past.  What separated one from the other was a broad stretch of land of varying width usually being a geographical landmark like a mountain, or a desert and the like.  Interestingly, rivers which are closer to linear boundaries in nature hardly acted as lines that separated one empire from the other.  Usually these frontiers (between two empires) were uninhabitable areas or areas with sparse tribal or nomadic population which was numerically a minority and militarily insignificant and consequently played no role in the regional politics of the time thus posed no threat to or undermined the interests of the empires which they separated.  The reason for Asiatic states not attempting to establish linear boundaries was probably the frequent changes in the location of frontiers.  The constant warfare between the states never allowed a particular stretch of land to remain as a frontier for a time span adequately enough for it to secure acceptance and legitimacy.  Thus absence of permanent frontiers was the reason for absence of linear frontiers or at least attempts at establishing them.[xxi]  It was so in the case of India and China too.  Of course the mighty Himalayas were regarded as the traditional frontiers between the two civilizations.  But the fact is that it was not quiet most of the time.  Military activities involving the armies of Tibet, Nepal, Punjab (the Sikhs), Kangra, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Hunza, Baltistan and, occasionally, imperial China were common during the historical period causing constant shifts in frontiers.  As a result, when “the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China, after they came into existence had faced an unfinished task: How to convert their frontiers into legal boundaries (Swamy, 2001: 39).

Before 1911 Tibetan suzerainty extended to areas south of the Himalayas in the eastern sector.[xxii]  In other words the present north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh was not under the political and military control of British India.  The traditional frontier between Tibetan territories and British India ran roughly along the northern edges of the Brahmaputra plains far below the mighty Himalayas which were traditionally believed to be an impassable wall providing absolute protection to India from any invading army from the north.[xxiii]  The British Indian troops in the Assam would have been put under tremendous stress if Tibet became expansionist or it came under stricter Chinese control once again as was the case before the decline of the Beijing-based imperial authority.[xxiv]  In this way this line acted as a Single-edged Frontier in favour of Tibet of which China was the suzerain and thus India found itself in the unenviable position of a Valley State.

In order to eliminate any future threat from either Tibet or China or Russia a section of the British Indian authorities conceived a plan of pushing the Indo-Tibetan frontier to the higher reaches of the Himalayas and also delineate it.  Colonel Francis Younghusband led an expedition in 1911 into the Tibetan territories south of the Himalayas and successfully established Indian authority there.   These territories which British India established de-facto control over were christened “North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA).”[xxv]  An unsuccessful attempt to formalise Indian sovereignty over these newly acquired territories was made by the British Indian authorities during 1913-14.  When the tripartite negotiations involving India, China and Tibet held in Shimla in 1913 failed to produce the desired result, Sir Henry McMahon, the then Foreign Secretary of the Indian government arranged bilateral talks with Tibet in New Delhi in March 1914.  The boundary line he proposed and got accepted by the Tibetan representative in this meeting bore his name and ran almost right along the crest of the Himalayan Mountains thus establishing a natural boundary between India and Tibet.  The Tibetan authorities in Lhaas, however, soon repudiated their representative’s action of accepting the McMahon Line.  As a bigger blow to the Indian official’s plan the Chinese government too declared that any agreement between Tibet and India would be “illegitimate and null” (Ibid.: 42).

Sir Henry McMahon had a vision about the necessity of linear boundary for the security of India which, unfortunately, was not understood and shared by his superiors in New Delhi and London at that time.  His efforts which were aimed at converting the Single-edged Frontier against India in the eastern sector into a Dull Frontier were met with opposition not only from Chinese side but by the very government he represented.  The then Viceroy, in his report to London, disowned McMahon’s dealings with the Tibetan representative.  The British government too expressed it’s disapproval of McMahon’s moves by transferring him from India to Egypt (Ibid.).  Even the Survey of India did not include NEFA in India in its maps.  Thus Sir Henry McMahon became a tragic hero in the saga of India’s quest for converting Single-edged Frontier into Dull Frontier in the eastern sector.

The British authorities finally accepted the relevance of McMahon Line in the 1930s and maintained that it was India’s legal boundary with Tibet and the Survey of India too followed suit by publishing maps that showed NEFA as Indian territory for the first time in 1938.  After some initial hesitation the government of independent India too echoed this view when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asserted in the Parliament: “Our maps show McMahon Line is our boundary and that is our boundary-map or no map.  The fact remains that we stand by that boundary, and we will not allow anybody to come across that boundary.” (Maxwell, 1997: 75).  This assertion by Nehru is a clear indication that the government of independent India accepted the perception of the erstwhile British colonial regimes regarding the necessity of McMahon Line for India’s security.  It demonstrated its resolve to continue the policy of converting Single-edged Frontiers against India into Dull Frontiers when it annexed in February 1952 Tawang which the British had left with the Tibetans despite it being located south of the Himalayas as well as the McMahon Line.  China which had established politico-military control over Tibet an year ago did not react to the Indian move at all.  “This puzzling silence can be construed as China’s acquiescence in India’s filling out in the McMahon Line” (Maxwell, 1997: 73).  In the Sino-Indian war of October-November 1962 the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) violated the McMahon Line, crossed the Himalayan Mountains occupied Tawang and made significant gains further south.[xxvi]  The Chinese government, however, declared unilateral cease-fire after a month long campaign, vacated all the occupied areas including Tawang and withdrew its army to its own territory north of the McMahon Line.  Though this action of Beijing has all elements of a typical Chinese riddle, it is not difficult to decipher it.  Had the PLA remained in the areas south of the Himalayan Mountains for some more times it would have been cut off from China once the mountain passes got closed due to heavy snowing during winter which was about to set in.  In such an eventuality the Chinese soldiers would have become sitting ducks for Indian army and the impressive victory achieved by the PLA would have turned into a great fiasco for Beijing (Premashekhara, 2008: 17).  The Chinese realized the fact that it would be difficult or even impossible for them to keep NEFA (present Arunachal Pradesh) under their control during winter since the Indians enjoyed easy access to that territory throughout the year including winter months.  The peculiarity or uniqueness of this region is that a Chinese controlled Arunachal Pradesh would act as Single-edged Frontier in India’s favour during winter and in China’s favour during the rest of the year!  It would, in a way, act as a Double-edged Frontier.  It means this frontier would never be quiet.  In order to avoid such a situation Chinese authorities realized the fact that it would be wise to regard the McMahon Line as boundary line since it was a Dull Frontier and did not provide strategic advantage to either of the powers, did nothing to disturb it except issuing statements staking their claim on the territories south of the McMahon Line.  Thus the Sino-Indian frontier in the eastern sector was first converted by the British into a Dull Frontier during 1911-14 and was accepted by the Chinese as such later 1962.[xxvii]

The Sino-Indian frontier in the western sector is more complex in nature than its eastern counterpart.  Here, it was China that converted a Single-edged Frontier in India’s favour into a Dull Frontier.  There existed no clearly delineated boundary between Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir and Uyghur Xinjiang (formerly Sinkiang) and the British exhibited least interest in having one ever since they came to possess Kashmir following their victory over Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Fourth Sikh War in 1839.  The governments in both London and Kolkata,[xxviii] however, were alarmed when an Imperial Russian army led by Capt. Grombechevsky reached Hunza in northern Kashmir in 1888 after his successful campaigns in Central Asia.  The Russians, if allowed, were capable of threatening the densely populated Punjab which also had the distinction of being the bread basket of British India.
A careful study of British India’s frontier policy in the north shows that London and Kolkata always wanted “friendly buffers” lying between densely populated regions of northern India on one hand and imperial Russia and China on the other.  Their attitudes towards and dealings with Afghanistan, Swat and Tibet were all demonstrative of this policy.  Capt. Grombechevsky’s entry into northern Kashmir evidently disturbed British India’s “friendly buffers” policy, exposed densely populated northern India to potential dangers unless London did something drastic against the Russians.  The British apprehension and their threat perception vis a vis the Russians were demonstrated by Capt. Algermon Durand, the well known frontier expert when he said “the game had begun” (Woodman, 1969: 72).  Northern Kashmir suddenly assumed strategic importance and led to the British efforts at defining Kashmir’s boundaries with Afghanistan in the north-west and China in the north-east.  They did conclude an agreement with Kabul formally delineating Afghanistan’s border with India in 1893.  The Russian threat in the north-west was considerably reduced when the British signed a treaty with Moscow on 11 March 1995 according to which a narrow corridor called “Wakhan” was created between the Russian controlled Tazhik territories on the one hand and Swat Valley of the newly created North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Gilgit region of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir of the British Indian Empire on the other, and the same was placed under the control of Kabul (Premashekhara, 2008: 22).

With regard to the issue of delineating Kashmir’s boundary with China in the Aksai Chin region,[xxix] the British contemplated three lines –Ardagh-Johnson Line, Macartney-MacDonald Line, and Trelawney Saunders Line.[xxx]  While the Ardagh-Johnson Line,[xxxi] running along the Kuen Lun Range in the north and northeast, placed the whole of Aksai Chin within the territory of Kashmir, the Macartney-MacDonald Line,[xxxii] on the other hand, put much of Aksai Chin in Sinkiang.  The earlier Trelawney Saunders Line[xxxiii] ran along the Karakoram Range and thus placed the whole of Aksai Chin in Sinkiang (Lamb, 1964: 86).

The British, however, did nothing serious to get any one of these lines accepted by Beijing as there appeared to be no consensus among various officials and bodies dealing with Indian affairs in London and Kolkata.  Initially John Ardagh’s views of placing the entire Aksai Chin in India gained acceptance in London when he argued that China’s weakness made it useless as a buffer between northern frontiers of British Indian Empire and the Russian Empire.  Highlighting the eagerness with which Russia annexed the whole of Central Asia in less than forty years and advanced its borders towards India, Ardagh predicted that Moscow would eventually annex western part of Sinkiang and pose serious threat to India’s security in the Kashmir region and argued for extending Indian sovereignty right up to the Kuen Lun Range with the whole of Aksai Chin within Indian territory (Maxwell, 1997: 32).  Although he conceded that in general sense the Karakoram mountains formed a natural boundary, “easy to define, difficult to pass and fairly dividing the people on either side”, he rejected this mountain range as proper border as it’s very “physical condition” would deny Indian army of proper information regarding the movement of the enemy on the other side (Ibid.).  The officials in India, however, rejected Ardagh’s views as “impractical theorising of an armchair general” (Ibid.).  The Viceroy Lord Elgin “warned” London that any attempt to implement the Ardagh-Johnson Line and bring Aksai Chin under Indian control would “entail a real risk of strained relations with China and furthermore might precipitate the very Russian advance which Ardagh wished to forestall”.[xxxiv]  London accepted the Indian officials’ point of view and approved the Macartney-MacDonald Line and the same was proposed to the Chinese on 14 March 1899 (Ibid.: 33).  Thus, this Macartney-MacDonald Line was the only border line British India officially ever proposed to China.  The Chinese, however, never replied to this proposal.
The British lost their interest in the issue once the Russian threat disappeared following the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 and China ceased to be a source of threat as it plunged into political instability following the revolution of 1911.  These developments, and several other similar ones which the history of the British Empire, in Asia in particular and the world in general, is replete with, amply demonstrate that London’s attitude towards India’s borders with its neighbours was determined not by India’s interests and it was the empire’s interests vis a vis other empires that guided the British in this regard.  It was the two variables of Russia and China that shaped London’s policy towards India’s borders.   In the words of Stephen A. Hoffmann:

They [the British] had to be concerned with the political and strategic implications for the empire of any boundary agreement concluded with other powers bordering India.  Such powers included Russia and China, and relations with them were seen from London as set by such matters as Anglo-Russian dealings in Europe and the Middle East and British interests on the mainland of China.  Thus, London tended toward avoidance of forward claims and lines.
(1990: 14).
Thus, the “British approach towards the border was that of an imperial power and not one of defending Indian nation state.” (Swamy, 2001: 42).  Despite these historical ambiguities and absence of any formal treaties the government of independent India unilaterally accepted a slightly modified Ardagh-Johnson Line as the international boundary between India and China insisting on New Delhi’s sovereignty over the whole of Aksai Chin.  This stand was not effectively challenged as long as civil war raged on in China and Chinese frontier remained receded far away from India as Tibet enjoyed independence and Sinkiang experienced Russian influence.  Once China achieved political stability under the communists following their victory in the civil war in 1949 Tibet lost its independence to the new central government in Beijing and Sinkiang reverted to Chinese rule and, consequently, China’s frontier once again came closer to that of India.  History repeated itself then and Aksai Chin once again became a disputed territory.

The British maps had shown no marked boundary at all in the Sino-Indian frontiers from Nepal to Afghanistan.  The Survey of India continued to reproduce the same maps for several years after independence.  It, however, published maps in 1954 marking a definitive boundary between India and China in the western sector which placed the whole of Aksai Chin in India.  India did insist time and again that Aksai Chin belonged to it but did nothing to establish its authority there.  New Delhi became aware of Chinese presence in that region only when the Chinese media announced in 1957 that their frontier guards and about three thousand civilian builders had completed the construction of a road there.  Although the Indian ambassador in Peking reported this matter to New Delhi in September 1957, the latter took ten full months to send a patrol team in Aksai Chin to find out whether the Chinese claim on road construction was true.[xxxv]

Then onwards began a series of allegations, accusations, counter-accusations and failed negotiations with China firmly holding on to its claim.  Beijing on its part changed its claims lines frequently pushing the same westward every time thus arousing Indian anxiety greatly (Woodman, 1969: 245-78).  All these finally led to the border war of October-November 1962 which resulted in the Chinese occupation of all the areas right up to the Karakoram Mountains.  Beijing’s attitude here was markedly different from its policy in the eastern sector.  Here, the PLA didn’t withdraw from the region as it did in the east; instead, maintained that the Karakoram Mountains were the traditional frontier between Kashmir and Sinkiang and the same must be accepted as international boundary between the two countries.  Beijing was reasonable in thinking that the extension of Indian sway over areas beyond the Karakoram Mountains would make Aksai Chin a Single-edged Frontier in India’s favour throughout the year except during the winter months and seriously undermine Chinese security in and control over Tibet.  Hence, they wanted to limit Indian control up to the Karakoram Mountains only thus creating a natural and Dull Frontier between the two countries.[xxxvi]

Neither any government in London nor any British Administrator in India had ever attempted to extend India’s control beyond the Karakoram Mountains although such an idea was contemplated whenever Russian, and Chinese to a lesser extent, threat came closer to India’s northern frontiers.  At the same time they never accepted any hostile element being present on this side of the Mountains.  In other words, they wanted mighty mountains ranges to form India’s northern frontiers in both eastern and western sectors.  They extended Indian authority up to the Himalayas in the east during 1911-14 and maintained that Macartney-MacDonald Line which ran almost along the eastern slopes of the Karakoram Range was India’s limit in the western sector.  They were well aware of the danger the empire was to face should it crossed the Karakoram as the areas beyond that mountain range were indefensible from Indian side.  The government of independent India, however, lacked such wisdom and followed an ill-conceived and audacious policy and challenged Beijing’s authority over Aksai Chin when China emerged, with a fiercely nationalist government under the communists, stronger out of decades of chaos and re-united all the regions under strong central authority.  The British had avoided such a daring policy during their heydays as global power and when China offered little resistance.  The policy independent India followed towards China with regard to the border issue was geographically unscientific, strategically illogical, politically irresponsible and militarily suicidal.  It was doomed to end in disaster and humiliation, and that is what happened finally.  The war of 1962 resulted in China successfully converting the border in the western sector into a Dull Frontier.  Thus, the Sino-Indian frontier which was Single-edged in India’s favour in the western sector and in China’s favour in the east was converted into a Dull Frontier during the period between 1911 and 1962 and this is the reason for relative peace that prevails in the Himalayan region since then.

Although Beijing and New Delhi have not officially accepted the change, they have not done anything significant to disturb the statuesquo and alter the so-called “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) since the end of the war of 1962 giving the indications they feel that there exists no border dispute between India and China.  Of course, there have been minor incursions into each other’s territories, the Somdorong Chu incident of June 1986 and the Kongka Pass incident of July-August 2009 being the major ones.  Such incidents are bound to occur when borders are not defined in written agreements and delineated on land.  Both countries handled these incidents in positive manner and never allowed the situation on ground to deteriorate.  The Indian government’s handling of the situation in the present case is particularly remarkable.  It has not given in to media outrage and remained calm maintaining that there were inbuilt mechanisms to handle these kinds of situations effectively.  This is markedly different from New Delhi’s attitudes during similar situations before the war of 1962.  Reality being so, it is unlikely that India and China will go to war over the boundary issue again.  Such a war will alter the Dull Frontier created over a period of half a century of military moves and push India and China to situations similar to the one existed before 1962 which is not going to serve the interest of either country.

During the past two decades New Delhi and Beijing have concluded, apart from the significant “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity Along the Line of Actual Control in the India - China Border” signed during the official visit of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao to the Chinese capital in September 1993,[xxxvii] several agreements to maintain peace along this LAC.  Therefore, it can be safely assumed that both New Delhi and Beijing have realized the fact that the present LAC is the scientific boundary between the two countries.  Their hesitation to officially convert the LAC into official international border is understandable.  Such a move will, especially in India, create strong public resentment.  Such resentment is actually the result of lack of understanding of history on the part of the Indian people.  A careful analysis of the historical documents and proper understanding of events in the past 120 years demonstrate clearly enough that India has been the gainer in its border row with China.  India now possesses Arunachal Pradesh, which was in fact not part of its territory before 1911. On the other hand Aksai Chin, which is under Chinese control now was part of Indian territory only in maps as results of British India’s ambiguous policies and independent India’s cartographic expansion in 1954.  In reality India never controlled that region.[xxxviii]  If the Indian public is properly educated on historical facts they may not oppose any move by their government to convert the Line of Actual Control into international boundary.

In fact, the Chinese offered to convert the Line of Actual Control with minor modifications into international border between the two countries in the fifth round of border talks held during 1983-84.  This meant China was ready to recognize Indian sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh provided India accepted Chinese sovereignty over Aksai Chin.  The Indian government, however, rejected it (Sali, 1998: 113, Ganguly, 2009: 14).  The Chinese offer was wise in more than one respect and Indian acceptance of the same would have solved the vexed border row, freed Indian armed forces from the tremendous burden it has been shouldering and radically overhauled Sino-Indian relations.  It is difficult to gauge whether China still favours such a solution to the border problem.  However, it is in the interest of the Indian people and government to probe the matter and work for legitimizing the Line of Actual Control as international border and formally establish “Dull Frontiers” which will remove the threat of any armed conflict between the two Asian giants permanently.  A Dull Frontier with China is very much in India’s interest.  It will free India from the tremendous tension along its northern borders and help New Delhi to deal with challenges and threats emanating from other sources and directions more effectively and decisively.

On the other hand, the Indo – Pakistan borders have remained double-edged since the days of their creation.  Sadly, it is virtually impossible for a dull frontier to appear in South Asia unless India pushes its western borders up to the Hindukush – Khyber corridor and Pakistan becomes the undisputed master of all areas lying between the great mountains in the north and the great seas in the south.  Either of these solutions can never be achieved without seeing one of the two countries permanently disappearing from world map which is unacceptable to either people.  So, whatever both countries, mainly Pakistan, have been doing to alter the present arrangements, will never result in the creation of dull frontiers between the two.

In this regard, the question that arises is –how long will it take for the two present political masters of South Asia to accept the prevailing politico-military arrangements as they are and create permanent borders, recognize and respect them, and co-exist peacefully?  The economic single-edged frontier in India’s favour in Kashmir, and Pakistan’s attempts to rise from the position of Valley State to the position of Ridge State there, and the double-edged frontier in the Punjab region that makes them Plain States, and the resulting distrust, hatred and animosity are all the realities of the past six decades.  All these negative aspects collectively make the possibility of peaceful co-existence remote.  Positive changes depend largely on the mindsets of the people and leadership.  In this regard, there is a lot for them to learn from European experience.  Almost all the borders in Europe are either double-edged or single-edged in favour of one or the other.  The European states, however, have now accepted these frontiers as fait accompli and learnt to live with them.  It is true that this has happened after nearly two millennia of mutual distrust, animosity and countless armed conflicts including the horrendous two world wars.  The fact is that it has happened finally.  It is for the people and leaderships of India and Pakistan to decide how many more decades or centuries they need to accept the present frontiers and arrangements as they are and live with them peacefully, develop and prosper together, and stand proudly among the family of nations in this era of globalization.


[i] Bolivia thus became a land-locked country.  It has made several unsuccessful attempts during the past 125 years to have a coastline once again initially through force and later through negotiations.

[ii] The “moral aspect” of these means is not elaborated here since it lies outside the subject matter of this study.

[iii] Though the river Rio Grande shifts its course once in while and causes some confusion among the two nations that lie on its either side, Washington and Mexico City have never allowed the same to assume crisis proportion.

[iv]  Presently the Hindukush Mountains run from northeast to southwest in eastern Afghanistan.  Pushthu speaking Pakthuns or Pathans who have been separated by the Durand Line from their fellow Pakthuns in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in the erstwhile British Indian Empire and in present Pakistan since the end of the Anglo-Afghan hostilities during the last quarter of the 19th Century populate the land on either side of the Mountain predominantly.   Tazhiks are majority in northeast and Uzbeks in the west.  Both Tajiks and Uzbeks have people of their ethnicity in neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan respectively.  The ethnic closeness of the three major ethnic groups of Afghanistan to the people of neighbouring states prompted both the Moscow and London to ponder over the idea of dividing the country between the then Soviet Union and Pakistan in early 1950s.  This plan was dropped later because it was thought that a neutral buffer of Afghanistan would serve the interests of both superpowers better during the heydays of Cold War.

[v]  Prior to the War of 1965 the then President of Pakistan Field Martial Ayub Khan declared that history was on his side.  He also boasted of hoisting Pakistani flag atop the Red Fort in New Delhi within fifteen days.  He said that it was a historical fact that one who controlled Punjab would control Delhi one day: and he was the one who controlled Punjab in 1965.

[vi]  Though the Kushans were originally from Tibet, the empire they established in the First Century B. C. was actually had the distinction of being the first ever-Afghan empire worth naming.  The three Kushan emperors viz. Kuzala Kadafissus, Vima Kadafissus and Kanishka controlled vast areas on both sides of the Hindukush-Khyber Corridor.  The imperial capital of Purushapura (modern Peshawar) was actually located on the eastern side of the Corridor.

[vii] Following the annihilation of the Khwarizmian Empire by Chengiz Khan, its ruler Allauddin Mangbarni fled to the Caspian region.  His son Jalaluddin Mangbarni crossed over to India via Iran.  He was closely followed on his heals by the Mongol army.  Jalaluddin Mangbarni forged an alliance with the Khokars by marrying the daughter of their chief and disappeared into the deserts of Sind.

[viii] It was called “Gilgit Agency” during the British period and as “Northern Territories” under Pakistani rule and was under the direct rule of Islamabad till recently. However, these regions have been rechristened as “Gilgit – Baltistan” and political processes to create a legislative body with members elected by the people of the region are underway these days.  Interestingly, this region was and is not a part of Azad Kashmir or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or POK as it’s known in India.

[ix] Rahmat Ali released Now or Never, as a monograph on 28 January 1933 in Cambridge.  Interestingly Rahmat Ali felt disenchanted with not only the geography of Pakistan but also the politico-bureaucratic system the Muslim state came under when it was established and started a campaign against it.  Consequently he earned the wrath of the establishment and was deported to England and died there in 1951.  He lies buried in a cemetery in Cambridge, England, not in the country to which he gave its name.

[x] The word “Pak” literally means “pure” in Arabic.

[xi] Ali called it Afghania because this region is inhabited mainly by the Pushtu speaking Pathans who were separated from Afghanistan by the Durand Line in the later part of 19th Century.

[xii] Interestingly, he chose the last letter of the name Baluchistan, not the first.

[xiii] At one stage the leaders of Muslim League had even insisted on naming the proposed Muslim homeland as India.

[xiv] It had been British policy to keep a smaller part of their possessions under their own control and give independence to the larger part.  Northern Ireland and Kuwait are the best examples of this policy.  Such a move, however, was not possible in the Indian subcontinent as the Indian freedom movement was firmly opposed to any British plan of retaining a small part of India in London’s control and giving independence to the larger part.  This opposition might have prompted the British to think of a different plan- divide India on religious ground, and support the smaller one so that it would remain indebted to London for a long time even after independence.  This would enable London to maintain its presence and continue to influence the developments in this part of the world even after the end of its colonial empire.

[xv] The latest in the series of scholarly investigations into the British “role” in the partition of India and how they did it is: Wolpert, Stanley (2006) Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Rule in India, Oxford University Press, London.

[xvi] The Great Runn of Kutch and the Little Runn of Kutch are filled with the waters of the Arabian sea during the rainy season and remain as arid salty desert during the rest of the year.  Pakistan staked its claim on half of this area on the ground that it was an arm of Arabian Sea and the international border should run along the middle of it.  After some minor skirmishes in the summer of 1965 the issue was referred to a Tribunal which awarded to Pakistan three years later an area covering about 780 sq. km. much less than what Islamabad had claimed.  Both parties accepted the verdict and accordingly India transferred that territory to Pakistan.

[xvii]The violence that accompanied the partition of the Indian Subcontinent was unprecedented in human history.  Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred and more than ten million people crossed borders in what has been described as the largest migration in the history of Mankind.  There is hardly any family on both sides of the Radcliffe Line in Punjab, which was not a victim of violence.   Thus the birth of the independent states of India and Pakistan was accompanied by religion-triggered bloodshed that left deep scars on the minds of their people.
[xviii] India got full utilization rights on the three “eastern rivers” –Ravi, Beas and Sutlej.

[xix] Some of them are: Hoffmann, Steven (1990), India and the China Crisis, Oxford University Press, Delhi; Lamb, Alastair (1964), The China – India Border: The Origin of the Disputed Boundaries, Oxford University Press, London; ……….. (1966), The McMahon Line, 2 Vols., Routledge and Kegan Paul, London; ………. (1975), The Sino Indian Border in Ladakh, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia;   Maxwell, Neville (1970), India’ China War, London; Swamy, Subramanian (2001), India’s China Perspective, Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Woodman, Dorothy (1969), Himalayan Frontier, Barrie and Rockliff; London.

[xx] A Boundary is a geographic line agreed to in diplomatic negotiations (delineation), jointly marked out on the ground (demarcation), thereafter visualized on a map (cartography), and accurately formalized between two sovereign governments (treaty), in which each thus recognised the limits of its own and that of its neighbour’s territory.  See: Swamy, Subramanian, (2001), India’s China Perspective, Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, p. 39.

[xxi] Perhaps the first ever linear boundaries in continental Asia were established by the Russians to separate their newly conquered Central and Northeast Asian territories from Sinkiang and Manchuria of imperial China in the second half of the 19th century.  British and French colonizers followed suit in Southeast Asia at the end of that century

[xxii] The areas lying south of the Himalayas and north of the Assam plains were not parts of Tibet in strict sense.   Arunachal Pradesh, as that region is known today was fragmented and was under the control of several tribal chieftains.  These chieftains in turn owed their allegiance to the Tibetan rulers in Lhasa.

[xxiii] In other words the boundary line that now separates India’s two northeastern states of Assam and Arunacal Pradesh was roughly the boundary between British India and Tibetan territories.

[xxiv] The threat the British rulers were apprehensive of at that time was in fact not coming from either the Chinese or the Tibetans.  The Imperial Russian advance into Central Asia had begun in the middle of the 19th Century.   The Russian campaign was swift and decisive and by late 1880s the Russians annexed what are now called Central Asian Republics and their armies were knocking at the doors of Kashmir and Chinese Turkestan.  A Russian army led by Captain Grombechevsky actually landed in Hunza in Northern Kashmir in 1888.  At the same time Peking’s authority over the remote western province of Sinkiang was gradually weakening because of various politico-social, ethnic and religious reasons.  There was a danger of Russians extending their sway over that region and then entering into the adjoining Tibet.  Had they succeeded in that adventure then they would have posed serious threat to both Northern and Northeastern regions of India. 

[xxv] NEFA was a part of the stare of Assam for some times.  In 1972 it was accorded the status of a Union Territory with a new name of Arunachal Pradesh.  Full statehood followed suit fifteen years later in 1987.

[xxvi]  The Chinese army came right up to Bomdila, just 80 kilometer north of Tezpur and 40 kilometers away from oil fields at Dig Boi and thus threatening to enter the Assam plains.

[xxvii] Though the Chinese have not given up their official claim over Arunachal Pradesh yet, the fact remains that they have not done anything significant to disturb the McMahon Line since 1962 despite their overwhelming superiority against the Indians as far as military strength is concerned.  Though the Somdorong Chu incident of 1986 created some resentment in New Delhi it was amicably settled by the end of the year and was soon forgotten.

[xxviii]  Kolkata, or Calcutta as it was know till recently, was the capital of the British Indian empire during the 19th Century and it enjoyed that position until the capital was shifted to the newly built city of New Delhi in 1911.

[xxix] Aksai Chin is a triangular elevated tableland lying between the Karakoram Mountains in the west, Tibetan Plateau in the east, and Kuen Lun mountain range and low lying Uyghur Xinjiang (Sinkiang) beyond in the north.  Geographically it is an extension of the great Tibetan plateau.  It is easily accessible from the Chinese side whereas the high-rise Karakoram Mountains deny India similar easy access.

[xxx]  These names were coined by Alastair Lamb in his book: The China – India Border: The Origin of the Disputed Boundaries, Oxford University Press, London, 1964.

[xxxi]  This line is called “Ardagh-Johnson Line” as it was prepared way back in 1863 by Survey of India explorer W. H. Johnson and later proposed to the government of India in 1897 by the chief of British military intelligence in London, Major General Sir John Ardagh. See: Woodman, Dorothy (1969), Himalayan Frontier, Barrie and Rockliff; London, pp. 360-65.

[xxxii] This line was suggested to the Viceroy Lord Elgin by George Macartney, the British representative in Kashgar and proposed to the Chinese, on behalf of the viceroy, by Claude MacDonald, the British minister in Peking.

[xxxiii]  This line was drawn by the India Office cartographer Trelawney Saunders for the Foreign Office in 1973.

[xxxiv]  The full text of Viceroy Elgin’s official communication to London can be found in Dorothy Woodman, (1969), Himalayan Frontier, Barrie and Rockliff; London, pp.364-65.

[xxxv]  One of the two patrols that went towards the southern section of Aksai Chin reported in October that the Chinese had indeed built a road there.  The other patrol that went to the north disappeared.  It was later learnt that they had been detained and later `deported back’ to Indian territory by the Chinese.  The unfortunate patrol team was lucky to be discovered and rescued after being dumped by the Chinese at the Karakoram Pass far away from any nearby Indian post.

[xxxvi] Karakoram Mountains are the second highest mountain ranges in the world next only to the Himalayas.

[xxxvii]  For the full text of this Agreement, see: Sali, M. L., (1998). India-China Border Dispute- A Case Study of the Eastern Sector, (A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, pp.288-92.

[xxxviii]  It’s interesting to note that Indians learned of Chinese presence in Aksai Chin only when Beijing officially announced in mid-50s that it had completed the construction of a road in that region.


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