Use the Tibet card

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Zorawar Daulet Singh

The net result—a potential Indian advantage vis-à-vis Tibet has been converted into a liability that no policy-maker in New Delhi has been able or willing to adjust since India’s fatal concession to China in the 1954 Panchsheel Treaty. It is this absurd situation that some contrarian voices in New Delhi’s strategic community are seeking to adjust—that while New Delhi has been consistent in its reiteration of Beijing’s ownership of Tibet, it has received no reciprocal gains from China.

And this brings to the fore perhaps the most vital question. What does India propose to use its so-called Tibetan leverage for? Surely not for moral posturing, which some among the civil-political elite seem to relish.

India can link a final and unequivocal legitimisation of China’s sovereignty over Tibet to a settlement of border dispute. The logic of Chinese claims to some of the disputed pockets of territory south of the 1914 line stem entirely from historical Tibetan claims. Thus, the centrality of Tibet in the border dispute cannot be wished away.

Even more specifically, India could use the Tibet ‘card’ to the Tawang tract in Arunachal Pradesh, arguably the most contentious pocket in the eastern sector of the overall border dispute, and a strategically vital location from an Indian security perspective.