In India (at least), the British authorities demarcated its borders in a very poor way. For example:

  • Siachen was neither given to Pakistan nor to India.
  • Aksai Chin was not demarcated; they considered the natural elements to be a good boundary between India and China.
  • They took Sikkim from China and put it into India.
  • They didn't demarcate the Indian-Nepalese border.
  • They ended the Indian-Pakistani border at wrong place, (Sir Creek). As this place changes everyday, it was a poor choice to end the border.

Was this simply because demarcating the large territory was a job the British failed to do properly and effectively? Or did the British authorities intentionally create problematic borders in order to obtain some kind of advantage?

Is there any historical evidence like letters between officials that clarify this point? Also, was this done with other countries too?

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    Or is establishing borders difficult?
    – MCW
    Mar 12, 2014 at 13:15
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    -1 "So was this all because the British are poor in geometry" this is no place for rants, the question could have been interesting, but definitely needs a rewording.
    – o0'.
    Mar 12, 2014 at 14:44
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    – Apoorv
    Mar 12, 2014 at 15:17
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    @MonsterTruck: Now; how to come up with a question that the video is the answer to? ;-) Mar 13, 2014 at 0:15
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    Totally not a rant, sure...
    – o0'.
    Mar 13, 2014 at 9:52

2 Answers 2


It is difficult to prove a negative (that Britain did not intentionally create problematic borders), but there are good reasons to believe that there was no conspiracy to create problematic borders. To support my claim, I mainly draw upon an excellent summary given by Chester, and the "Problems in the process" section of the Wikipedia article on the Radcliffe line. Notably, Chester has since written a book on this subject, which I have not read.

The border demarcation was done by two commissions, each chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, and each commission contained two representatives from Indian National Congress and two from the Muslim League. Since Congress and the Muslim League had generally hostile relations and were typically deadlocked, the decision-making power rested with Radcliffe. If the British government conspired to create problematic borders, then either 1) Radcliffe would have known and implemented the plan, or 2) the British government would have intentionally created a situation in which the commissions would fail to properly demarcate the borders. Radcliffe destroyed all his papers relating to the commissions, but we have information from other sources on how they were carried out.

If Radcliffe was in on the conspiracy, he could have made things worse. Few would argue that the borders were not problematic. However, if Radcliffe wanted to sow discord, he could have easily drawn borders with no regard to current boundaries, but he generally adhered to current administrative boundaries.

The borders were drawn far too hastily, causing many problems, but all parties insisted on this. Soon after Radcliffe arrived in India on July 8, 1947 to setup the commission, he learned that the commission had to be complete by August 15. He protested, but the British Government, Congress, and the League all insisted that the work be complete by that date. All three parties had their own political motivations: both Congress and the Muslim League wanted to take power as fast as possible, while a war-weary British government wanted to divest themselves as quickly as possible. If the British did desire to hamper the work of the commission by imposing an unrealistic deadline, they certainly would not have had to work hard to convince Congress or the Muslim League.

The evidence suggests a lack of a coherent plan, inconsistent with a conspiracy. Neither Radcliffe, Congress, or the Muslim League had any advisers specialized in the establishment of boundaries, despite the fact that they existed at the time. Radcliffe had never visited India before, but had to make all the decisions himself. As Chester notes:

The commission’s membership, composed entirely of legal experts, hampered its boundary-making effort but added a valuable veneer of justice and legitimacy to what was, in reality, a chaotic jumble of events.

The British government did not have much to gain from sowing discord through hastily demarcated borders. Both countries were to be members of the Commonwealth after independence: presumably, Britain was interested in the stability of Commonwealth countries. Chester notes that Radcliffe assumed that Pakistan and India would have good relations after the division. Indeed, Radcliffe notes that the use of some of the infrastructure which was now located on both sides of the border would have to be negotiated between the two parties.

Lastly, there were many causes of the postcolonial disorder. I liked this quote by Mishra:

Many of the seeds of postcolonial disorder in South Asia were sown much earlier, in two centuries of direct and indirect British rule, but, as book after book has demonstrated, nothing in the complex tragedy of partition was inevitable.

Perhaps the British decided to "push the disorder along" by conspiring to setup a commission bound to fail. But the alternative is at least plausible: the British wanted to find the most politically expedient way of quickly divesting themselves from India, and found that Congress and the Muslim League were happy to see them go as quickly as possible. The only obstacle to independence was the drawing of the borders, which was then done as quickly as possible, creating turmoil that would last decades.

I realize that I have not answered the second part of your question, "Was this done with other countries?". I feel that the scope of the question is too broad to be answered properly. The difficulty in answering this question for even Pakistan and India makes it clear how difficult it would be to answer for all other countries.

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    This is my first answer to a question on this site, I welcome any comments on improving the style and quality. This answer is not comprehensive, and the question is controversial. Answering historical questions is certainly more difficult than answering Stack Overflow questions.
    – nograpes
    Mar 13, 2014 at 0:01
  • Good answer.But I don't think britain intended to keep good relations with India.If they had, they would not have send there warships along with US warships to attack Indian military bases during 1971 indo-pak war(also known as bangladesh freedom war). Mar 13, 2014 at 7:49
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    Thank you. As I mentioned in my answer, Radcliffe believed (and implicitly assumed in several statements) that not only would Britain have good relations with India and Pakistan, but that the two countries would have good relations with each other, much like other Commonwealth countries. By 1971, Pakistan and India had become firmly entrenched in the geopolitics of the Cold War, and the relationship between Britain and India had changed significantly. This does not preclude the assumption of good relations in 1947.
    – nograpes
    Mar 13, 2014 at 11:38
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    Also, it is worth noting that it is far from well-established that the British had sent the HMS Eagle to the Bay of Bengal in 1971. The main claim for this comes from a Russian documentary. The main argument against it is that the HMS Eagle was decommissioned at the time.
    – nograpes
    Mar 13, 2014 at 11:40
  • Splendid answer. Clear, concise and sourced. May 18, 2021 at 1:26

No conspiracy. The British were looking to get out. India/Congress Party was power hungry and trying to restore the chaos they helped create.

At that time, the border didn't really matter. There was plenty of land and people.

Look at the Border of the US-Canada. It's not straight either.

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    Could you provide a source for this answer? Thanks! Nov 17, 2014 at 3:19

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