The space between borders and lines of control

They may have proposed the Geospatial Bill, but is the government drawing the line consistently in its dealings?

WrittenBy:Lt Gen H S Panag
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‘Frontier’,’border’ and ‘international boundary’ are terms used to describe the in-between space between contiguous nation states in ascending order of legitimacy and international acceptance. Sir Henry McMahon, Foreign Secretary of British India and negotiator of the McMahon Line had once said:

“A frontier is a wide tract of border land which by virtue of its ruggedness or other difficulty, served as a buffer between two states. A boundary is a clearly defined line expressed either as verbal description (delimited), or as a series of physical marks on the ground.”

In between the terms ‘frontier’ and ‘international boundary’ rests the term ‘border’, which more often than not is created as an interim measure during the transition of a frontier into an international boundary. It can be defined as a mutually-accepted line or zone — more often the latter — established to maintain status quo, pending a final settlement of the erstwhile frontier region in form of delimited international boundary via negotiations or failing which, by conflict.

There is a tendency to use these terms synonymously without understanding their geostrategic implications, which can be traced back to the evolution of the nation states. Political and military control are intrinsically linked to each other and began with the heartland and extended outwards to the frontier regions where population was sparse, terrain difficult, communications poor and little or no economic activity. Competitive conflict among nations began over control of the frontier regions. With development, better communications, economic opportunities and at times for sheer prestige, contiguous nations jostle to seize control of the frontier regions. This competitive conflict — varying in intensity from flag marking to war — leads to the creation of a border.

In recent history, borders (barring minor adjustments) rarely change and eventually get converted into international boundaries through mutual agreements. Since the root cause is primordial in nature, this process takes a long time. Borders get established even when claims are very rigid for trade and passage. Along the borders, nations continue to jostle for a position of advantage to reinforce their claims or to cause embarrassment to each other as part of the omnipresent competitive conflict.

As a result, a border has to be defended at a phenomenal cost. The Line of Actual Control with Tibet and Line of Control with Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir are classic examples of borders. The difference in terminology is that the former came into being based upon the actual positions held by troops after the war in 1962, while the latter was settled along the United Nations-brokered Ceasefire Line of 1949, which was upheld after 1965 and was changed marginally post-1971, when status quo was maintained with respect to gains and losses. Subtle change in terminology from Ceasefire Line to Line of Control was the result of the Shimla Agreement of 1972.

With the passage of time, borders get de facto international sanctity as conflict is frowned upon by great powers. The American attitude, also accepted by all major powers including China, during the Kargil conflict is a case in point.

Recently the government has come out with a draft of the the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016, which will render illegal the misrepresentation of Indian territory. The bill lays down the formal mechanism for obtaining prior permission for publication/depiction of geospatial information and the punishment for violations of the act, which include fines upto Rs 100 crores and imprisonment upto seven years. On the face of it, the bill reiterates India’s formal position on its boundaries and is in consonance with Parliament resolutions of 1962 and 1994 regarding territories under illegal occupation of China and Pakistan.

The ground position is that the Line of Actual Control and Line of Control are de facto borders manned by armed forces of all three countries. Violations are confronted and diplomacy is used to maintain status quo. If these contradictions are not enough, we also continue to hold talks with Pakistan which “include Kashmir” and with China to delimit and map the Line of Actual Control as a prelude to settlement of the larger boundary dispute. Our political leaders vow to regain every inch of our territory under illegal occupation raising public expectations.

Keeping this in view there is a need for the government to unambiguously clarify its position on the parliament resolutions with respect to the territories under illegal occupation of China and Pakistan, de facto borders in the form of Line of Actual Control and Line of Control, the proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Act and the ongoing talks with China and Pakistan with respect to international boundaries of India. Failure to do so will not only lead to ambiguous use and likely abuse of the proposed act, and will also raise the expectations of the people with respect to territories under illegal occupation denying the government diplomatic freedom.


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