While India’s claims over Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin stem from Dogra conquest of 1840, the Chinese incursion came as late as during the 1950s and 60s
As things stand today, India claims that the entire Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin, are its integral part by the virtue of legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu & Kashmir in 1947. India asserts her legal authority over the 2,22,236 sq. km land that was held by the Maharaja, and this has been reiterated time and again on the floor of the house — from Nehru to Amit Shah. The effective LoC with Pakistan and the LAC with China leaves 78,114 sq. km with Pakistan and 42,735 sq. km with China. This includes the 5,180 sq. km of the Gilgit Baltistan territory ceded by Pakistan to China illegally under the March 1963 Sino-Pak boundary agreement.
India's claims over Gilgit, Baltistan, Ladakh and Aksai Chin stem from the conquests by the Dogra General, Zorawar Singh, who expanded the frontiers of the Khalsa Raj towards Ladakh and Tibet. Gilgit came under the control of the Dogra in 1840. The treaty of Chushul in 1842 read: 'We have agreed that we have no ill-feelings because of the past War. The two kings will henceforth remain friends forever. The relationship between Maharaja Gulab Singh of J&K and the Lama Guru of Lhasa (Dalai Lama) is now established. The Maharaja Sahib, with God (Kunchok) as his witness, promises to recognize ancient boundaries which should be looked after
by each side without resorting to warfare. When the descendants of the early kings, who fled from Ladakh to Tibet, now return they will not be stopped by Shri Maharaja. Trade between Ladakh and Tibet will continue as usual. Tibetan traders coming into Ladakh will receive free transport and accommodations as before, and the Ladakhis envoy will, in turn, receive the same facilities in Lhasa. The Ladakhis take an oath before God that they will not intrigue or create new troubles in Tibetan territory. We have agreed, with God as witness, that Shri Maharaja Sahib and the Lama Guru of Lhasa will live together as members of the same household. We have written the above on the second of Asadha, Samvat 1899 (17 September 1842)."
As mentioned earlier, the British assumed paramountcy over the state, which meant that defence, external affairs, and communications came under the direct control of the British. Moreover, given the strategic location of this region, the Indian government created a Gilgit Agency in 1889 as a way for the British to secure the region as a buffer from the Russians. As a result of this Great Game, the British feared Russian activities in Chinese Sinkiang. In 1935, Maharaja Hari Singh was requested to lease the Gilgit Wazarat to the Government of India for a 60-year period for an annuity of Rs 75,000. This gave the British political agent complete control over Gilgit-Baltistan. However, one day before the independence, on August 14, the British cancelled the lease agreement and the region was reverted to the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir who sent Col. Ghansar Singh as the Governor.
By November that year, Gilgit Scouts, the force raised by the British to guard Gilgit, ostensibly on behalf of the Ruler of Kashmir, mutinied against the Maharaja under the leadership of its commander, Major William Alexander Brown. Major Brown was later decorated with MBE and the Sitara-e-Pakistan, which goes on to show that all his actions had the tacit approval of the British. Under 'Operation Datta Khel', the Gilgit Scouts surrounded the Gilgit Residency, took Col. Ghansar Singh and Wazir-i-wazarat Sehdev Singh Chib along with their families and staff into protective custody. Brown then requested for troops to be sent to the Gilgit Agency from Pakistan and established a de facto military administration and thwarted the plans of a large section of his contingent to set up an independent republic called Gilgit-Astor. On November 2, he hoisted the Pakistani flag over the capital residency and announced the accession of Gilgit Agency to Pakistan. Brown remained in command of the Gilgit Scouts until January 12, 1948, after which he was replaced by Major (later Brigadier) Aslam Khan.
After taking control of Gilgit, the Gilgit Scouts (a paramilitary force comprising trained locals but commanded by British officers) moved towards Baltistan and Ladakh and captured Skardu by May 1948. They blocked Indian reinforcements and subsequently captured Dras and Kargil as well, cutting off the Indian communication to Leh in Ladakh. However, India took back both Kargil and Dras in a fierce fight in 1948 itself. With the ceasefire between India and Pakistan coming into effect on January 1, 1949, a de facto boundary did come into existence.
With regards to the Ladakh-Tibet frontier, when Mao became the great helmsman, he took the view that Tibet was never 'a competent political entity insofar as its external boundaries were concerned' and made it clear that it neither accepted the Treaty of Chushul, or the MacMahon line. This is contested by Guha (2007) as he commented that prior to Mao's interpretation, no official Chinese maps showed Aksai Chin as part of China. In fact, the Sinkiang (Xinjiang) map of the 1930s showed the Kunlun (the mountains) rather than the Karakoram (range) as the customary boundary — which had been the Indian claim all along. Claude Arpi believes that the Chinese planned aggression beyond the western boundary of Tibet which had been taken over by the communist regime in 1950 through a network of three roads to be built under military supervision, passing through Aksai Chin including one which connected Holtan in Xinjiang to Lhasa in Tibet.
Chinese military first made its appearance in north-western Tibet — that is, east of Ladakh-Aksai Chin — in 1951 and even as Nehru was chanting Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai, deep incisions were being made in Aksai Chin. In 1958, then Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt gave the official confirmation that there was 'little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200-kilometre road passes through Aksai Chin. In 1962, Chinese troops were stopped by the Indian soldiers near the present-day LAC in Ladakh, and in 1963, Pakistan gifted another 5000 sq. km of territory to China, thereby laying the foundations of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Views expressed are personal