The peculiar case of Ladakh’s eastern boundary

Context: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to meet External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval. This provides a chance to focus on Ladakh’s eastern boundary and ongoing conflict.

History of Ladakh’s boundary:

There has never been a defined boundary in this area because high watershed frameworks do not apply to parallel ranges in Ladakh.

By Treaty of Timosgang, 1684, Ladakh emerged as a distinct entity. This treaty established relations between Leh and Lhasa through trade exchanges.

Treaty of Chushul, 1842 – Ladakh and Tibet agreed to maintain the status quo.

Treaty of Amritsar, 1846  between the East India Company and the State of Kashmir included Ladakh with its eastern boundary undefined, and the focus remained pashmina trade.

During British rule, the focus shifted to the northern boundary of Ladakh because of the threat of Russian advance. In eastern Ladakh, however, the customary boundary was defined only for a very limited area under human occupation. This was also stated in the ‘Gazetteer of Kashmir and Ladak’ in 1890. In this unoccupied Aksai Chin was described as “neutral territory”.

New domestic consensus:

The year 1954, was a turning point in complicating the situation. Unilateral actions in ‘neutral territory’, establishing a strategic road, and defining the boundary converted a colonial ambiguity into a dispute. Instead of adopting the watershed principle as in the case of other Himalayan states.

In 1959 – Both nations hardened their positions relying on selective historical correspondence that would justify their stand.

In 1993  – Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control was signed, moving from history to principles.

In 2020 – Focus has shifted to the ground situation. The recent joint statement highlights continuing dialogue to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

What is the solution?

Solution lies in continuing dialogue. An agreement on the watershed boundary following a well-established principle could meet national security concerns of India and China without bringing in intractable issues of sovereignty.

Source: This post is created based on “ The peculiar case of Ladakh’s eastern boundary” published in The Hindu on 25th March 2022.

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