(p.283) APPENDIX 10
India Rejects the Ardagh Line*
The Right Hon’ble Lord George F. Hamilton
Her Majesty’s Secretary for India
Fort William, the 23rd December 1897
Your Lordship’s Secret despatch No. 5, dated the 12th February 1897, transmitted for our consideration a letter from the Foreign Office, enclosing a memorandum by the Director of Military Intelligence on the northern frontier of India, contiguous to the Chinese dominons. We understand that Her Majesty’s Government remain of opinion that it would not be polite to bring before the Chinese Government the question of the settlement of their boundaries with Kashmir, Hunza and Afghanistan. The matter for examination is therefore whether it is advisable to take any other steps in the direction of consolidating the boundaries of India in the region under notice.
2. Sir John Ardagh considers a frontier following the highest watershed defective for military purposes, and suggests that we should aim at keeping our enemy from any possibility of establishing himself on the glacis, occupying the longitudinal valleys, and there preparing to surprise (p.284) the passes; he proposes that, if it is inadvisable to communicate with China on the subject, our frontier officers might arrange to procure the recognition of our supremacy and protection by the chiefs of the local tribes, and to assert it by acts of sovereignty, annually exercised within the limits decided upon, and in this manner acquire a title by prescription. He thinks it unlikely that China, in her present state, would offer much objection. Our experience leads to an opposite conclusion.
3. The Chinese have, on more than one occasion, evinced a determination to assert their territorial rights in the direction of the Indian frontier. Your Lordship will remember the pertinacity with which they insisted on what they consider their suzerain rights over Hunza, as demonstrated by the ‘tribute’ of gold which Hunza still pays to Kashgar. They have erected boundary pillars on the Karakoram. In October last year the Taotai of Kashgar, purporting to act under instructions from the Governor of the New Dominion, made a verbal representation to Mr Macartney to the effect that, in a certain copy of a Johnson’s Atlas, Aksai Chin had been marked as within British territory, while the tract belonged entirely to China. Still more recently, in replying to an application for a passport for one of the officers of the Gilgit Agency to cross the Kilik to shoot, the Taotai evinced his interest in China’s rights to the Taghdumbash up to the very borders of Hunza, by conceding the request subject to the condition that the British officer should not stay more than ten days in Chinese territory. Again, during the month of October 1897, a report reached us from our Political Agent at Gilgit that the Chinese authorities have arrested some Kanjutis who were cultivating a small piece of land in Raskam, and have written to the Mir of Hunza that he must not allow his subjects to come there again. We believe that any attempt to incorporate within our frontier either of the zones mentioned by Sir John Ardagh would involve real risk of strained relations with China, and might tend to precipitate the active interposition of Russia in Kashgaria, which it should be our aim to postpone as long as possible.
4. We are unable to concur altogether in Sir John Ardagh’s suggestions on military grounds. He advocates an advance beyond the great mountain ranges which we regard as our natural frontier, on the ground that it is impossible to watch the actual watershed. Sir John Ardagh is no doubt right in theory, and the crest of a mountain range does not ordinarily form a good military frontier. In the present instance, however, we see no strategic advantage in going beyond mountains over which no hostile advance is ever likely to be attempted. Moreover, the alternative frontiers which Sir John Ardagh proposes practically coincide with (p.285) the watersheds of other ranges. Our objection is mainly based on the opinion of officers who have visited this region. They unanimously represent the present mountain frontier as perhaps the most difficult and inaccessible country in the world. The country beyond is barren, rugged, and sparsely populated. An advance would interpose between ourselves and our outposts a belt of the most difficult and impracticable country, it would unduly extend and weaken our military position without, in our opinion, securing any corresponding advantage. No invader has ever approached India from this direction where nature has placed such formidable barriers.
We have the honour to be,
Your Lordship’s most obedient, humble servants,
(*) India to Secretary of State, 23 December 1897, Foreign Department, Sec. F, January 1898, Procs. 160–9.