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India–China Boundary Problem 1846–1947$

A.G. Noorani

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780198070689

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198070689.001.0001

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(p.273) APPENDIX 8 Francis Younghusband’s Note on the Boundary between Hunza and Chinese Turkestan, 1898*

(p.273) APPENDIX 8 Francis Younghusband’s Note on the Boundary between Hunza and Chinese Turkestan, 1898*

India–China Boundary Problem 1846–1947
Oxford University Press

(p.273) APPENDIX 8

Francis Younghusband’s Note on the Boundary between Hunza and Chinese Turkestan, 1898*

A Note on the Boundary between Hunza and Chinese Turkestan by Captain Francis Younghusband, C.I.E.1

Though Hunza is naturally bounded by the great watershed which divides the basin of the Indus on the south from the basin of the Oxus and Yarkand Rivers on the north, and which is known in various parts as the Karakoram, the Mustagh or the Hindu Kush range, yet this natural boundary does not in fact represent the actual limits to which the Rulers of Hunza consider their rights of dominion to extend. Claims to tribute from the inhabitants of the Tagh-dum-bash Pamir have consistently been put forward by these Chiefs; a fortified post on the north side of the main range has been occupied for many years by their levies, and the right of occupying the district of Raskam (p.274) (lying along the upper valley of the Yarkand River) has even been put forward by them.

In the autumn of 1889 when deputed by the Government of India on a special mission to this then unknown region, I found the district of Raskam bore traces of former cultivation and habitation—the furrows could be clearly seen; old apricot trees were still standing; and in one or two places there were the remains of smelting furnaces where copper or iron ore had been extracted. The district had evidently at one time closely resembled such districts as Mastuj in Chitral, and the only reason it was unoccupied was that the inhabitants of Chinese Turkestan or of the Pamirs, who would have settled there, were afraid now to do so on account of the frequency of the raids which the Rulers of Hunza had directed against the valley during its former occupation.

It was in this district of Raskam that, just as I had completed my exploration of it I met the Russian traveller, Captain Gromchevsky, who had been deputed by his Government on a similar mission to my own.

From the Raskam District I proceeded towards the Shimshal Pass, and at a day’s march distance on the north side of the great watershed—at a place called Darwaza—I found a small fort or tower occupied by 20 men of Hunza.

The Tagh-dum-bash Pamir was then visited by me, and this I found occupied by Kirghiz who, as is usual among weak tribes and States in Central Asia, owned a sort of allegiance to two parties at the same time. At the time of my visit the Ruler of Hunza was levying the customary tax (or blackmail as it might more justly be called) from the Kirghiz in the same way as he had been levying a similar blackmail from the Kugiar and other districts indisputably under Chinese authority. Yet at the very same time that the Hunza Chief was levying this blackmail from the Kirghiz, an official deputed by the Chinese Governor of Kashgar was calling together the Kirghiz headmen and severally censuring them for allowing me to have entered Chinese territory without a passport from the Chinese Government!

These facts, recorded elsewhere, I here recapitulate to show the condition of affairs before frontier questions had been raised; before the Russians had advanced on to the Pamirs, and before we had invaded Hunza, or even established our present Agency at Gilgit.

Now, we have established our control over the wild raiders of Hunza. The inhabitants of the country round have no longer reason to fear attack while they are peacefully cultivating their fields; and according to Mr Macartney’s reports they are looking with jealous eyes upon the unoccupied but cultivable district of Raskam. The inhabitants of the Tagh-dum-bash Pamir have petitioned the Chinese authorities to be allowed to cultivate the land in (p.275) Raskam. Men from Hunza who had already proceeded there had been taken prisoner by the Chinese authorities; and the whole of the boundary between Hunza and Chinese Turkestan—that is between India and China—has been raised.

This question becomes of the more importance from the recent advance of the Russians across the Pamirs over territory in which they had not the Faintest shadow of a legitimate claim; and which brings them into direct contact with the debatable ground above referred to, between Hunza and Turkistan. When Colonel Yonoff showed me in my tent on the Little Pamir in 1891 a map with the Little Pamir and a large portion of Afghan territory coloured green as Russian territory, I expressed astonishment at the extent of the Russian claims. He laughed and remarked that what I saw was merely what they were then claiming. He said they had just as much right to the Tagh-dum-bash as to the other Pamirs. After the recent Pamir negotiations an insidious Russian advance on the Tagh-dum-bash might not be as easy of accomplishment as Colonel Yonoff contemplated. But in all considerations on our Northern Frontier we have to keep before us the probability of an eventual Russian occupation of Chinese Turkistan. China may remain in possession for many years yet, but her Turkistan Provinces are entirely at the mercy of Russia, so that what may to-day be the frontier between India and China, may twenty years hence be the frontier between India and Russia.

Should the frontier line between India and Russia be along the greater watershed dividing the rivers of India from the rivers of Central Asia; should it be allowed to meander about across indefinite valleys and ridges on the far side of the boundary formed by nature? This is the real question now to be considered, and the opinion I have formed after having crossed every single pass across this watershed from the Karakoram Pass on the east to the Baroghil Pass on the west is that for the boundary rampart of an Empire no stronger or better-defined a frontier could be found. The Passes are lofty and difficult of passage for any but small parties, and they are practically closed by snow for more than half the year. The defence of country south of this line is easy; the defence of country north of it against a European Power would be attended with the utmost difficulty.

I can see, therefore, no useful object which would be attained by saddling ourselves with the responsibility of upholding shadowy claims of Hunza over territory on the northern side of the Passes.

At the same time what slight claims Hunza possesses over Raskam or Tagh-dum-bash territory may be useful to us for present temporary purposes, and should not, in my opinion, be entirely overlooked. It will not be for many years yet that the Russians will occupy Chinese Turkistan. But, in the meanwhile, they may find opportunities, or as they may consider it, (p.276) necessities for nibbling away at Chinese territory and absorbing the remaining Pamir they have still left to the Chinese. By that time they would have become heartily tired of living at the high altitudes of the Pamirs and would crave for the more comfortable elevation of the Raskam District, which in its lower part is less than 8,000 feet above sea level. Here crops may be grown, and a more suitable spot for permanent military occupation be found than is to be met with anywhere south of Osh. The longer the Russians can be kept from occupying such a position, the more convenient will it be for our dealings with the frontier State which that position immediately touches; and if we are not prepared to occupy the district ourselves, our interest with be best served by seeing that the Chinese occupy it definitely and decisively, and the best method of ensuring that the sluggish Chinese occupy the district with anything like firmness of authority is to allow them to see that their right to it is not altogether free from dispute. They may then occupy Raskam as they occupied Shahidulla in 1890. In any case, the occupation is not likely to be of permanent value, but it may serve the temporary object of keeping the Russians for a few years longer from actual contact with the States of the Hindu Kush and this is a matter of no small importance to us during the present time while we are consolidating our position among them.


(*) See Parshottam Mehra, An ‘Agreed’ Frontier: Ladakh and India’s Northernmost Borders 1846–1947, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 210–13.

(1) Foreign Department, See F, KW No. 2, January 1898, Nos 160–9.