India-Nepal Border dispute

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, India and Nepal are having border disputes over the areas namely – Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh (trijunction between India, Nepal and China).

The first big dispute is about the Mahakali River (or Kali River) that runs through Kalapani region which marks the border between India and Nepal according to the Treaty of Sugauli which was signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India in 1816 after Anglo-Nepalese War. It located the Mahakali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India.

Nepal claims that the river west of the disputed territory is the main river and so Kalapani falls in its territory. While, India claims Kalapani, a valley situated on the Kailash Mansarovar route, as a part of the Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. The administrative and revenue records show that this (Kalapani) region was on the Indian side.

The dissimilarity or discrepancy in locating the source of the Mahakali River led to the boundary disputes between India and Nepal and each country produced their own map supporting their own claims.

The other dispute is about the Lipulekh area which is located in the far west point of Nepal near the Kalapani region. This dispute took place when India and China both decided to open the Lipulekh pass for travelling to Mansarovar. But, Nepal raised objections against this. Nepal thinks that it has the equal right over Lipulekh area and was upset with India for not taking the permission from Nepal.

How did it start?

Nepal had expressed displeasure on the 2015 agreement between India and China for using the Lipulekh pass for trade, without consulting Nepal. Lipulekh sits atop the Kalapani valley and forms a tri-junction between India, Nepal and China. This was the event which actually triggered the dispute between India and Nepal for the first time. Nepal claimed that it has equal right over Lipulekh area and India did not even consult with Nepal.

This (Lipulekh) dispute dates back to 1997 when India and China both decided to open the Lipulekh to facilitate a travel route to Mansoravar. But, Nepal raised objections against this. Nepal thinks that it has the equal right over Lipulekh area and was upset with India for not taking the permission.

Officially, Nepal came up with the issue of Kalapani before India in 1998. Both the sides agreed to demarcate the outstanding areas (including Kalpani) by 2002 at the prime ministerial level talk which was supposed to be held in 2000. But that has not happened yet.

The dispute worsened between India and Nepal when India released its new political map in the month of November, 2019 just after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. The map showed the region of Kalapani is under the control of India as a part of the Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand.

Nepal was upset about the Kalapani region which was shown under the control of India as per the new map released by India. Nepali Government claimed that the Mahakali River which is on the west of Kalapani is under its territory.

Nepal’s claim has a historical reason i.e. the Treaty of Sugauli which was signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India in 1816 after Anglo-Nepalese War. It located the Mahakali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India.

But then in the 1860s Britishers released a new map and excluded the western boundary from Nepal’s territory as it was useful for trading with China. From that time till years after independence of India, western side of Kalapani was under India’s control.

At the time of Indo-China war in 1962 India took Nepal’s permission to place Indian army on that disputed border and since then it is under the control of Indian Government.

Significant Developments

Recently, in the month of May 2020, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh, inaugurated a motorable link road that connects India and China, significantly reducing the time of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. This road passes through the territory at the Lipulekh pass that Nepal claims as its own territory.

Nepal claimed that if India wanted to build a road passing through Lipulekh then it should have consulted Nepal. In response, India said that there was no need for such consultation as the Lipulekh area is under its control.

Then the protests for the road built on the Lipulekh pass worsened in Nepal. The Indian Army Chief then stated that he sees the hand of third party (i.e. China) as the protest fired up in Nepal. Then in the same month, Nepal, as a protest against India, has released a new political map that claims Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh of Uttarakhand as part of Nepal’s territory.

Days after publishing the map showing Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas in Uttarakhand as its own, Nepal sensed that separate cartographical publications would not resolve the border disputes with India. Nepal then believed in settling the dispute through mutual treaties and agreements irrespective of what they have published for showing the actual control of the territory.

Nepal stated that it has to change the map on its Emblem and has to amend the Constitution as well so the best way to solve the dispute is through mutual treaties and agreements. Nepal even tried to reach out to India and talk about the issue. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu, Nepal’s embassy in Delhi tried to contact the Indian side. But New Delhi is yet to send a response.

Legal Provisions/Agreements involved

The Treaty of Sugauli is directly involved in the dispute between India and Nepal. It was signed on 2 December 1815 and ratified by 4 March 1816 between Kingdom of Nepal and British East India Company following the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814 – 1816). It demarcated the borders of Nepal and British India.

According to the Treaty of Sugauli the Mahakali river located in the western area of Nepal was designated as the western border of Nepal. Then in the 1860s Britishers excluded the area consisting Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh for the purpose of trading with China and since then even after the independence of India (1947) it is still under India’s control.

Critical Analysis

In this difficult situation of COVID-19 when every country in the world needs to be together to fight this pandemic, sadly, India and Nepal are having border disputes. The dispute is about the region namely – Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh (trijunction between India, Nepal and China).

Nepal claims the disputed region to be in its territory according to the Treaty of Sugauli which was ratified by 4 March 1816 between Kingdom of Nepal and British East India Company following the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814 – 1816).

At the same time India claims that it has been controlling the disputed region since the 1860s when it took permission from Nepal to place its army on that region for its own protection during the Indo-China War. The region was under control of India even after its independence and Nepal did not have any problem with that.

In 2015 when India and China made an agreement on constructing a motorable road through Lipulekh pass Nepal raised objection against this. Nepal also claimed that India should have consulted with it and should have formed an agreement or a treaty as it also has an equal right over the disputed region.

Nepal again protested in the month of May 2020 by releasing its political map including the disputed region in its own territory. And as a result the situation got worse than before.

Conclusion

India and Nepal both are trying to solve the dispute peacefully. In fact, Nepal had already tried to contact India but there is no response from the Indian side yet. And Nepal seems to be more interested in a peaceful solution to the dispute. Both sides are making legit claims over the inclusion of disputed areas in their own territory. India and Nepal should try to resolve the boundary dispute by taking into account all shared environmental characteristics. Since the free movement of people is permitted across the border India can’t afford to overlook stable and friendly relations with Nepal.

Author: Lakshya Kothari from United World School of Law.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India

India-China Border Dispute

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Since early May 2020, India and China have again engaged in a military standoff. This time, the centre of the army tension is in Pangong Tso, Ladakh. The Chinese government has objected to the improvement of infrastructure by India in the Galwan River valley area. India has been building roads in this region, and the Chinese military thinks this to be a step in India attacking China. Both countries have deployed extra military force on the Indio-China border to tackle if the situation gets worse.

Military-level talks were held at the Chushul-Moldo region on June 10. The meeting was to discuss a plan to reduce the number of troops deployed on the border by both nations. The Indian defence minister, Rajnath Singh, has stated that these military-level talks with china were ‘positive,’ and both countries have discussed plans to withdraw their troops from the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Background

Both the Asian nations have engaged in a border dispute from the Twentieth century over the sovereign control of Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim. The boundary between India and China is ambiguous in many places, causing the dispute.  British India and China agreed upon the Johnson line in 1865. This line puts the Aksai Chin area under Jammu and Kashmir, India. The Chinese denied following this line after Xinjiang became a part of China. China claimed the Aksai Chin area as its own. India continued to follow the Johnson line till its independence. In 1954, Nehru decided to establish a well-marked border between India and China.

  For the border on the east, a conference was held in 1913-14 between British India, China, and Tibet called the Shimla conference. Henry McMohan drew a boundary between Tibet and India, which is known as the McMohan Line. China disagreed on the more-detailed boundary line, and India and Tibet signed the border without China. China argued that Tibet is not an independent state and thus lacks powers to enter into a treaty. India justified this line based on the position of Himalayas, and these regions were heavily influenced by India. China wanted to acquire Indian areas in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tibet because the dynasty that ruled China once had control over these areas.

Facts of the issue

The 1050s

China builds roads connecting Tibet to its Xinjiang province in the 1950s, and part of the road went through Aksai Chin, which was Indian territory. India came to know about this issue in 1957. Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, argued that the Aksai Chin is a part of India as per the Johnson Line, and he explained that it had remained with India for a long time, thus giving China no right to build anything in the area. The Chinese side argued that Aksai Chin was a part of China under the Macartney-MacDonald Line. Officials from both sides met and held talks to resolve the issue. The two countries failed to reach a unanimous conclusion.

1962 war

China won the 1662 Indo-China war held at Aksai Chin and Assam frontiers. China had more strength and weapons than India, then. The major causes of the war included disputes about the border between the two nations and the fact that conflicts between India and China when India gave refuge to Tibetan Dalai Lama in 1959.

1967

Chinese forces launched a dual attack on India in 1967. The first attack at Nathu La pass in September 1967, and the second one at Cho La pass in October of the same year. India fought the opponent’s forces and emerged victorious and managed to protect its territory from falling into the hands of the enemy.

Line of Actual Control (LAC)

In 1993, India adopted the LAC. It is a line which roughly demarcates the area controlled by the Indian government and Indian are under the Chinese control. China extended its power during the 1962 war to the Aksai Chin and Gilgit Baltic regions of Jammu and Kashmir, India. In 2015, during his visit to China, PM Narendra Modi urged the Chinese government to clarify the LAC. The proposal was rejected by China.

2013-15

Both countries continued to engage in military standoffs during this period. China kept invading India beyond LAC. This led to tensions between the militaries of both countries, but troops of both nations always withdrew back before anything escalated. China also opposed the development of Indian territory close to LAC.

Doklam Standoff of 2017

This standoff close to the Doka La pass has been the most prolonged standoff between both the nations. The dispute emerged as China started building a road in Doklam, a region considered to be disputed by India and Bhutan. Under an agreement between China and Bhutan, both countries were required to maintain the status quo in the area. The Chinese authorities claimed that India had obstructed a road being built on the Chinese territory. India defended itself, stating that both countries have to maintain the status quo as per the agreement. This dispute continued from June 16 to August 28, when both the countries decided to call back their troops.

Legal provisions:

The international law in border disputes sates that countries involved in the conflict should maintain a status quo. While this status quo for Chinese authorities refers maintain the Line of Actual Control (LAC), keeping their troops in the Chinese occupied Indian regions, for India, status quo means observing the traditional boundary between the states, thus pushing back the Chinese forces back to the Johnson line. International law also requires an in-depth study of the maps issued by both the countries involved in a border dispute. There is no precise official map available from both sides, which can be considered to resolve the issue.

To take maps as evidence for resolving border disputes, it must be proved that the cartographer of the maps did a detailed study of the geography and border between states, and the maps should be accurate even on a larger scale. This favours India. The Indian claims on the boundary between the two nations rest on the natural border, i.e., the Himalayas. The concept of the natural barrier also supports Indian claims to the boundary between India and China. However, only these rationales cannot decide the international border between any countries. Surveys should be carried out, the information should be gathered from the local inhabitants, and cultural and administrative facts should be combined before reaching any conclusion.

India-China relations:

Both India and China have a history of relationships with each other, which is as old as 2000 years. Both countries are among the first civilizations of the world. Being neighbouring countries, the relation between India and China has been diplomatic, economical, and cordial. Both countries are part of the Asian continent, thus share some common culture. Also, both were part of the ancient silk-route, therefore, connecting their ties even more. China and India are both very populous countries and both gain independence at the same time. India was among the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations with it.

India and China are the fastest-growing economies of the world, have trade relations with most of the world. Both have a strong manufacturing sector and are both big markets also. China has made repetitive attempts to invade and occupy Indian territory and managed to be successful some of the time. China is slowly emerging as a world power, dominating the world. It is trying to defeat the USA. India is a threat to Chinese power because of the rapid economic developments and its significant population. Also, India’s popularity, power, and relations with other countries have increased manifold, threatening China. Most of the world supports India now.

Critical analysis:

China seems to be quite desperate to expand its territory and take away from India important areas like Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. It cites that these areas were part of the Chinese empire before being a part of British India. China has support from Pakistan and recently, Nepal. The Jammu and Kashmir area is critical for India to retain as it has been part of the Indian culture for centuries, and the Himalayas in the region serve as a defensive line, protecting India from attacks by China. This recent military standoff of 2020 can be a sign of China to show the world that it still stands strong after the Covid-19 pandemic, as the Coronavirus emerged from China, and now, many countries have filed legal and compensation claims against the state. The world is against China right now. The pandemic has hindered the Chinese economy and has had a brutal impact on its relations with other countries. The removal of article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, which provided the state with its unique powers, may have also angered the Chinese authorities. The Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, also said in a parliamentary meeting that Aksai Chin remains to be a part of the Indian territory. This declaration may have bothered China. These border disputes can also be seen as a part of China’s ambition of world domination because of the way it is invading and occupying India and the way it is asserting control on the South China Sea.

Conclusion:

There exists no clearly-marked border between China and India. While India follows the Johnson Line and the McMohan Line, China is inclined towards the Macartney-MacDonald line. Both countries do not want to let go of the disputed areas, but the Chinese dream of acquiring every piece of land that may have been a part of the Chinese empire once is not practical. This border issue should be resolved with diplomatic and military level talks, and a clear boundary between the nations is a must. War or the involvement of the army between these two very populous and powerful countries is not a viable solution to resolve the issue. Both the countries should sit and hold meetings and should come to a solution to end this dispute forever, without the use of force.

Author: Yashvi Aggarwal from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.