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Editorial of the Day: In the short term, stabilize the Line of Actual Control

Context: The article discusses the tense situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, highlighting the need for stability and the potential for a major conflict. It acknowledges the complexity of the border dispute, which precludes a permanent solution in the immediate term. The inadequacies of existing agreements and engagement mechanisms are pointed out, along with the lack of clarity in defining the LAC. The article proposes several steps to stabilize the situation, including converting the LAC into a Line of Control (LC), treating disputed areas as no-entry zones or allowing joint patrols, and strengthening existing confidence-building measures and engagement mechanisms. The overall aim is to minimize the risk of a full-fledged conflict and promote peace and stability along the border.

Stabilize the Line of Actual Control Background

What is the Line of Actual Control?

  • The LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory.
  • India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
  • It is divided into three sectors: the eastern sector which spans Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the middle sector in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the western sector in Ladakh.
Stabilize the Line of Actual Control
Stabilize the Line of Actual Control

What is the disagreement over LAC?

  • The disagreement over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) primarily stems from differing perceptions and interpretations of the boundary between India and China.
  • The main points of contention regarding the LAC are as follows:
Eastern Sector
  • In the eastern sector, the disagreement revolves around the alignment of the LAC with the 1914 McMahon Line.
  • The McMahon Line is a boundary line proposed by British colonial authorities that India considers as the international boundary in that region.
  • However, China has never accepted the McMahon Line and asserts its claims over the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, considering it as part of southern Tibet. Disputes also arise over specific areas, such as Longju and Asaphila.
Middle Sector
  • The middle sector of the LAC is generally considered the least controversial, with fewer disputes.
  • However, there can still be disagreements about the precise alignment, particularly in the Barahoti plains.
Western Sector
  • The major disagreements and complexities arise in the western sector.
  • The Chinese concept of the LAC in the western sector emerged from two letters written by Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959.
  • Zhou mentioned that the LAC consists of the “so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west.”
  • However, these letters did not provide a clear and detailed demarcation of the LAC. China’s interpretation of the LAC in the western sector is not based on a mutually agreed boundary, but rather on their own perception of “actual control” on the ground.
  • After the 1962 Sino-Indian War, the Chinese claimed to have withdrawn to a position 20 kilometers behind the LAC in November 1959.
  • Zhou clarified the LAC further in another letter to Nehru, mentioning that it coincides with the “so-called McMahon Line” in the eastern sector and with the “traditional customary line” in the western and middle sectors, as consistently pointed out by China.
  • However, the exact location of the LAC in the western sector remains ambiguous, leading to disputes and confrontations between Indian and Chinese troops.

What is India’s Stance over LAC?

  • Initially, India rejected the concept of the LAC put forward by China in 1959 and 1962, as it was seen as an attempt to legitimize Chinese aggression and expansionist actions.
  • However, in subsequent years, India engaged in discussions with China regarding the LAC.
  • In 1991, during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s visit to India, an understanding was reached to maintain peace and tranquility at the LAC.
  • In 1993, India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao visited Beijing, and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquility at the LAC.
  • The agreement clarified that the reference to the LAC was not to the LAC of 1959 or 1962, but to the LAC at the time of signing the agreement.

How does Loc with Pakistan differ from LAC with China?

  • The LoC (Line of Control) emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir War. It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Shimla Agreement between the two countries. It is delineated on a map signed by DGMOs of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement.
  • The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground.

Decoding the Editorial

Need for stability

  • Following the Galwan clashes, there has been a significant deployment of Chinese forces into Tibet.
  • Additionally, there has also been an increase in rhetoric and jingoism in both countries, calling for more aggression.
  • Recently, India’s External Affairs Minister has also expressed concerns that the situation along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh remains very fragile and quite dangerous in terms of military assessment.
  • The author expresses that this state of affairs is not sustainable and can trigger a major conflict, thereby destabilizing the entire region and adversely impacting the world, politically and economically.
  • Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to stabilize the LAC and promote peaceful relations between the two neighboring nations.

Inadequacies in Agreements

  • Since the visit by the Indian Prime Minister to China in December 1988, four agreements have been signed between the two countries (in 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2013) to maintain peace along the LAC.
  • For more than two decades, these arrangements have served their purpose well. However, the heightened tension on the LAC suggests that there are inadequacies in the agreements.
  • Lack of clarity: The agreements are based on the premise that the LAC is mostly defined and understood by both parties. However, this is not the case and there are large segments which lack clarity.
  • Ineffective WMCC: Article I of the 1993 Agreement stipulates the creation of joint mechanisms to verify and settle LAC-related disputes. After 19 years, the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was created in 2012. It meets twice in a year but has little to show in terms of results on the ground.
  • Paucity of BPM points: The 3,488-kilometer-long LAC has only four Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) points. The paucity of BPM points precludes constructive engagement between the troops on the ground resulting in the escalation of disputes.
  • Deployment of forces: A mutually agreed reduction and redeployment of forces along the LAC, as in Article II of the 1993 Agreement and Articles II and III of the 1996 Agreement, has not seen any progress.

Way forward: The author recommends the following measures to usher peace and stability on the LAC.

  • Line of Control: Convert the LAC into a Line of Control (LC) by delineating it on the map and on the ground without prejudice to border claims. This will reduce the urge among the forward troops to inch forward. This may seem difficult but can be implemented with a display of maturity by both sides and with the use of technology.
  • No entry zones: The disputed areas on the LAC can be treated as no entry zones; alternatively, both sides should be allowed to patrol these areas as per a mutually agreed frequency.
  • Joint patrolling: Joint patrolling of the disputed areas must also be explored as this can result in the maintenance of status quo and an increase in confidence.
  • Confidence building and engagement: Existing Confidence Building Measures and engagement mechanisms need to be strengthened by providing more teeth to the WMCC and establishing more BPM points so that local issues can be resolved quickly.

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