19 February 2023

Gilgit Baltistan and How India gets the Length of its Border with China Wrong

What is the length of India’s border with China?

You may think that it is easy to answer this question, but unfortunately, it is not.

The Ministry of Home Affairs states: “India has 15,106.7 Km of land border and a coastline of 7,516.6 Km, including island territories.” It then gives the length of India’s land borders with neighbouring countries; Bangladesh has the longest border (4,096 km), then China (3,488 km), and Pakistan (3,323 km). This is wrong.

India’s International Border (IB) with China is 4,056 km.

Let me explain why.

The length given by the MHA (3,488 km) is the length of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), not the IB.

The concept of LAC was introduced by the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during a press conference in Delhi in April 1960 (he had earlier vaguely mentioned it at the end of 1959 in a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru earlier).

Zhou proposed six points to solve the border issue; the first two points were:

  • There exist disputes concerning the boundary between the two sides.
  • There exists between the two countries a line of actual control (LAC) up to which each side exercises administrative jurisdiction.

The fact that the Indian government then rejected the Premier’s proposal is irrelevant to the present argument.

Zhou had come to Delhi to set up talks with India on the boundary dispute. Subsequently, Indian and Chinese officials met for several months, during which Delhi made its position clear: “The India-China boundary starts from the tri-junction of the boundaries of India, China and Afghanistan and runs eastward through the Kilik Pass, Mintaka Pass, Kharchanai Pass, Parpik Pass, and the Khunjerab Pass. These passes lie on the watershed between the Hunza River flowing into the Indus system in India and the Qara Chukar River flowing into the Yarkand system in Sinkiang. From the Khunjerab Pass, the boundary lies along a spur down to the north-western bend of the Shaksgam or Muztagh River, which it crosses at that point and ascends the crest line of the Aghil mountains. It then runs along the crest of the Aghil watershed through the Aghil Pass, the Marpo Pass and the Shaksgam Pass to the Karakoram Pass.” The coordinates for each of these places were given.

Historically, there is no doubt that Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was part of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir’s territory. The IB presently starts at the trijunction with Afghanistan, while the LAC begins at the Karakoram Pass.

Rajnath Singh’s Declaration

On 28 October 2022, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while addressing a function in Srinagar to mark the 75th year of induction of the Indian Army in Kashmir, reiterated that GB was part of India, though presently under occupation. “India’s development march towards the North will be complete after reaching GB,” he stated.

The minister also referred to the 1994 Resolution passed in the Indian Parliament to recover the territories under illegal occupation of the ‘neighbouring country’. “We have only started our northward journey. Our journey will be complete when we fully implement the unanimous resolution passed by the Parliament on 22 February 1994, and we reach our remaining areas like GB,” said Singh.

A Little History

In 1935, the viceroy prevailed upon Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir, ‘in the interests of the security of the British empire’ to lease the Gilgit Agency as well as the hill-states Hunza, Nagar, Yasin and Ishkoman for 60 years to the British. Thereafter, Gilgit was administered by the Political Department, with a Political Officer reporting to the viceroy.

The British Paramountcy lapsed on 1 August 1947, and Gilgit reverted to the Maharaja’s control. Lt Col Roger Bacon, the British Political Agent, handed his charge to Brig Ghansara Singh, the new governor appointed by the Maharaja. A British officer, Maj Brown, remained in charge of the Gilgit Scouts.

On 26 October 1947, after the brutal tribal invasion of Jammu and Kashmir organised by Pakistan, Maharaja Hari Singh signed an Instrument of Accession and joined the Union of India. However, Maj Brown refused to acknowledge the orders of the Maharaja under the pretext that some leaders of the Frontier Districts Province (in GB) wanted to join Pakistan. He took it upon himself to hand over the entire area to Pakistan on 1 November 1947.

An interesting announcement was published in the 1948 London Gazette, which mentioned that the King “has been graciously pleased… to give orders for… appointments to the Most Exalted Order of the British Empire…” The list included “Brown, Major (acting) William Alexander, Special List (ex-Indian Army).”

Why award Brown? Simply because Brown had just ‘offered’ to Pakistan this strategically important area for London.

A British Article

In 2019, an IANS articleWhen the British poured scorn over Gilgit, explained the background of the 1947 rebellion in Gilgit: “A carefully chosen force capable of rapid movement in the mountainous territory controlled by British officers, the Gilgit Scouts, provided the muscle to the administration.”

The article continued: “The bloodless coup d’etat was planned by Brown to the last detail under the code name ‘Datta Khel’, which was also joined by a rebellious section of the J&K 6th Infantry under Mirza Hassan Khan.”

In his memoirs, Gilgit Rebellion: The Major who Mutinied over the Partition of India, Brown described his encounter with Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in November 1947: “Colonel Bacon, Colonel Iskander Mirza, and I were called into the ante-room. The Pakistan Premier was seated at a desk, poring over a large-scale map of Kashmir and Central Asia. …Mr Liaquat Ali Khan started by congratulating me and thanking me for all I had done in preserving peace in the Gilgit Agency.”

Liaquat then said: “Brown, give me your ideas [for Gilgit] from a military point of view.” The major explained in detail his plans to defend the area by reorganising the Scouts. “Right,” said the Premier: “That disposes of the military angle.”

Though there is no doubt about the illegality of the mutiny, one paramount question remains: was the British Headquarters informed?

At the time, the entire Pakistani Army hierarchy was British. So, the answer can only be that Maj. Brown’s British bosses were aware of his ‘gift’ to Pakistan. The fact that he was nominated to the OBE is further proof. The King usually does not appoint ‘deserters’ or ‘rebels’ to the august Order.

UN Resolutions

The UN Resolutions of 17 January 1948, 13 August 1948, and 5 January 1949, (UNCIP Resolutions) made it clear that “Pakistan cannot claim to exercise sovereignty in respect of J&K.” In 1963, a secret note from the MEA clarified further that according to the terms of the UN Resolutions, “Pakistan cannot purport to exercise even ‘actual control’ over the defence of these areas.”

Practically, it also means that the agreement signed on 2 March 1963 between Pakistan and China about the Shaksgam Valley of the Gilgit Agency being transferred to China is legally invalid. Another logical conclusion is that inhabitants of the area if they want to move to India, should be entitled to Indian citizenship.

A British Resolution

Amazingly, in 2017, the British Parliament passed a resolution confirming GB was part of Jammu and Kashmir. The motion was tabled on 23 March 2017 by Bob Blackman of the Conservative Party. It reads: “GB is a legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, and where people are denied their fundamental rights, including the right of freedom of expression.”

Two years later, the new maps released by the Government of India showing the Leh district of Ladakh, including the districts of Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory of 1947, made this clear. 

Let us hope that the correct length of India’s border with China will soon be obvious to all.

This is a modified version of the article, originally published as Claude Arpi. 2023. ‘LAC vs IB: Why India's assessment of the length of border along China is misleading’. FirstPost. 15 February