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Chagos Islands - Victim of British Skullduggery

September 19, 2018 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


There was the time when the ‘sun did never set on the British Empire’. But that state was achieved through treachery, deceit and deception, with fair amount of immorality. Post Independence of India, British conspired invasion of J&K through Mountbatten, Lockhart and Douglas Gracey, keeping Nehru in dark and Jinnah in picture, to ensure Pak Army got foothold in J&K, making it party to dispute when referred to UN on behest Mountbatten. Churchill instructed Douglas Gracey, C-in-C Pak Army, to let India-Pak fight but keep a piece of India, so that both keep fighting in perpetuity. Not only did British officers lead Pakistani infiltrators in Ladakh, Douglas Gracey, C-in-C in Pak Army organized fall and massacre of Skardu Garrison, which was holding on for eight months.

That deceit and forked tongue of the British continues to date. Just last month Britain refused India's request to stop ‘Referendum 2020’ by Pro-Khalistan groups in London seeking to separate Punjab from India - Britain-based Sikhs for justice (SFJ) holding ‘Referendum 2020’ at Trafalgar Square. However, Britain refused the India request citing excuse of freedom of expression. But at the same time, Britain has been threatening the population of Chagos Islands from holding demonstrations for their legitimate rights. Earlier, BBC interview by Kashmiri separatist Yasin Malik by Tim Sebastian wherein Malik boasted of killing four personnel of Indian Air Force was quietly taken off the air so that it cannot be traced on the net.

Chagos Islands are part of Mauritius. Mauritius was invaded by British in 1810. Post Constitutional conferences in London in 1955 and 1957, the ministerial system was introduced and general elections were held on 9th March 1959. In 1961, a Constitutional Review Conference was held in London and a program of further Constitutional advance was established. It was followed in 1965 by the last Constitutional Conference which paved the way for Mauritius to achieve independence in 1968. In 1965, Britain paid Mauritius £3 million for reassigning it as “British Indian Ocean Territory”. But in 1970, Britain forcefully evicted around 2000 plus local residents of Chagos Islands to make way for the US military airbase on the largest island, Diego Garcia; Brittan leased island to the US in 1971 for establishing an airbase. Naturally these 2000 native residents and their dependents have been campaigning for their rights to return home ever since, which they have not been allowed to-date.

Historical survey of the facts indicate that the Chagos Archipelago throughout the present and post colonial era has been part of Mauritian territory. This makes Britain reassigning Chagos Islands as “British Indian Ocean Territory” illegal. Forcibly evicting some 2000 natives from Chagos Islands amounted to act of atrocity, even more grave since they were citizens of the British Empire since 1810, yet forcibly deported. Mauritius recently approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for legal opinion on sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago on grounds they were “unlawfully” separated and incorporated into British Indian Ocean Territory ahead of independence. Anerood Jugnauth, former Mauritian President, told ICJ that British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had bullied Mauritian leaders into signing off on the "unlawful" sale just before independence, and said Mauritius' "decolonization is incomplete", saying, “The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment (of the Chagos archipelago) or no independence with detachment anyway.”

The Mauritius side also played a film featuring evicted Chagos islanders saying they wanted to return to the island of their birth to back up their case. Interestingly, of the 22 countries which were giving legal opinion to ICJ, UK was supported by the US, Australia and Israel while Mauritius was supported by 17 countries including India. EU naturally abstained on account of BREXIT. Confronted with these facts, Robert Buckland, UK Solicitor General, said London "fully accepts the manner in which Chagossians were removed from the Chagos Archipelago”, adding, The way they were treated thereafter was shameful and wrong and (Britain) deeply regrets that fact." But he was adamant that the question of sovereignty was "purely bilateral" and that the Court should not issue an opinion on it; it reminds one of China’s forcible claims to Island territories and reefs in Western Pacific saying these are ‘bilateral issues’, and defying the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favour of Philippines. In 2016, the British Foreign Office had said it would establish a £40 million resettlement fund for displaced islanders.

Most significantly, the Mauritian Government brought out that the separation of Chagos Islands by Britain and declaring them “British Indian Ocean Territory” was in breach of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence. The problem is the pusillanimous nature of the international system. ICJ may handover hand down a non-binding interim ‘advisory opinion’ hold it back as ‘reserved’. The final ruling may take months with the issue of sovereignty left ambiguous. Evicted Chagossians may be rehabilitated but US-British bases will continue in the Chagos Archipelago. Power flows from military muscle, whether China, US or UK - something India has yet to acknowledge. Meanwhile Britain can battle Brexit, host Sikh separatists, back Pakistani terrorism surreptitiously and play lapdog to the US.