Haksar doctrine set tone for better ties with Beijing, says book by Jairam Ramesh

A new book by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh credits diplomat with opening talks beyond border issue.

It was former diplomat and civil servant P.N. Haksar who “invented” the formula in 1987 that India and China could cooperate in other areas even as they addressed their differences on the boundary question, says a new book by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.

Haksar, who was sent to China as special envoy by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1987, said he spent 10 days persuading the Chinese to accept his formula that, despite differences on the boundary question, the two countries should “endeavor to reconstruct the totality of Sino-Indian relations in the field of trade, industry, technology…”

This remains the guiding mantra of India-China relations, says Mr. Ramesh in Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi.

Tactically speaking, Haksar wrote in October 1996, it was “necessary to give the message to the chanceries of the world that they should not rely on Sino-Indian animosities”.

Set up historic visit

Rajiv Gandhi sent Haksar, one-time principal secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the wake of border tensions with China in 1986, to Beijing in 1987, and he managed to open the doors to a highly successful visit by Rajiv to China in December 1988, Mr. Ramesh writes.

In fact, the joint communiqué issued after Rajiv’s 1988 visit validates Haksar’s comments: “The leaders of the two countries held earnest, in-depth discussions on the Sino-Indian boundary question and agreed to settle this question through peaceful and friendly consultations. They also agreed to develop their relations actively in other fields…”

In April 1987, Haksar wrote to Rajiv Gandhi: “It is a perfectly sound idea to carry on unadvertised and confidential negotiations with the Chinese. There are far too many complex issues to be sorted out in our mutual relationship.”

Far-sighted focus

Much earlier, even as India completed negotiations on the Simla Agreement with Pakistan in 1972, peace with China was in Haksar’s mind, notes Mr. Ramesh.

The author reproduces a conversation between senior advisers to Indira Gandhi. “I [H.Y, Sharda Prasad, media adviser to Indira Gandhi] remarked to Haksar…that it was, all in all, a day India could be satisfied with.”

“I recall what Haksar said in reply: ‘Ah, not until there is an agreement also with China’,” Sharda Prasad is quoted as saying.

Mr. Ramesh writes that what Haksar mentioned in July 1972 happened more than a decade later when Rajiv met Deng Xiapoing in 1988 in Beijing.

“Credit is given to Deng Xiaoping for being pragmatic and creating an opening. In reality, this is exactly what Haksar had been advocating for years — keep the border issues aside and start cooperating in other areas,” the author says.

Before Rajiv Gandhi left for China in 1988, the former diplomat wrote to the Prime Minister, “On the border question, it has been my view that frontiers between India and China need to be demarcated on the ground in terms of objective criteria e.g., Watershed Principles, River valleys, administrative control, etc.”

“I am still hoping that some day China and India could agree to announce that neither side has any claims on the territory of the other side and that they could determine their frontiers in terms of the principles commonly accepted,” Haksar added.

Twenty years after Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing, the two countries are still engaged in addressing their border dispute but trade and contacts between the two countries have multiplied manifold since 1988.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 7:00:14 PM |

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