Fifty three years have passed since the Indo-China War of 1962. Mistrust of the past is slowly paving way to a search for understanding and economic cooperation. Mature leadership of both India and China are leading their respective peoples away from the bitter memories of the war. Noted security expert of the North East and Indo-China boundary issue Jaideep Saikia speaks to ENe on the eve of the anniversary of that unfortunate border war that falls on 20th October.
Fifty three years have gone by. What are your thoughts at this hour?
JS: It is a good opportunity to take stock of both the unfortunate war of 1962 and the Indo-China border dispute. I call the war unfortunate because it could have been avoided, and the border dispute could have been solved in 1959-60 without a shot being fired.
How do you say that?
JS: This is a time for introspection and I am first and foremost an Indian, but I am also an independent observer of both the past and the present that have characterised the Indo-China border dispute. In 1959 (and again in 1960), the Chinese premier, Zhou-en-Lai had offered an “east-west” swap formula, which for some reason Jawaharlal Nehru did not accept. Underestimating Chinese military strength and the wrong advice that the Chinese would not retaliate, he embarked on a “Forward Policy” and attempted to occupy posts in the frontiers which China perceived as theirs.. By not accepting the offer, not only did Nehru embark on an unprepared for war, but paved way for a later day Chinese claim for the entire 90,000 Sq Km of Arunachal Pradesh.
But with new national leaderships on both sides having come to power, and one understands, with a special, personal relationship between the two, the atmosphere seems appropriate to explore a way out of the dispute.
What could be a way out according to you?
JS: I think the way to a solution must a) be taken in a sector wise manner, and to that end the most contentious of the three sectors, the eastern sector must be given precedence b) the “as-is-where-is” position should be the starting point for negotiation c) the name “Line of Actual Control” must be converted to “Line of Amity”, lessening thereby the rhetoric that a name like “Line of Actual Control” carries along with it. It would also allow psychological space for amiable negotiation (the word “Amity” having already brought in a sense of friendship), which would entail give-and-take and d) when both the leaderships and their respective populations have agreed with the “as-is-where-is” position convert the “Line of Amity” into a mutually accepted international boundary.
Are you suggesting that India gives away land in Arunachal Pradesh to China?
JS: Not at all. I am a patriotic Indian and I will never consent to the giving away of a single inch of Indian territory to the Chinese. But, I also know that the Chinese, too, would not part with territory they hold. So, let us resurrect Zhou en-Lai’s east-west swap proposal, west for whatever China holds and east for whatever India holds. The midway “Line of Amity” that I have suggested can then be converted to an International Boundary.