Tuesday, October 20, 2020

We were told that the Chinese will come in waves

2ns Lt A J S Behl, second from right, at Tsangdhar in early October 1962
The first part of my interview with Brig Amar Jit Singh Behl is posted in Rediff.com

'I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight... not even one of my men deserted.'
'We had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.'



Brigadier Amar Jit Singh Behl (retd) speaks to Claude Arpi in an exclusive interview, continuing our new series on the India-China War, 50 years later.
Fifty years after the debacle of the Namkha chu river, very few survivors remain to tell their side of the story of the 1962 India-China war.
Claude Arpi met one of them, Amar Jit Singh Behl, then a young and 'carefree' second lieutenant from the 17 Parachute Field Regiment.
After retiring as a brigadier, Behl lives with his wife in Chandigarh, where he is an avid golfer.
He spoke to Rediff.com about the most harrowing three weeks of his life on a plateau in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), dominating a small, but now famous rivulet, the Namkha chu.
Behl and his men fought well, but were ultimately taken as prisoners of war to Tibet, where for seven months they ate boiled radish.
This is the story of a brave para gunner in a war which inflicted lasting scars on the country.


I joined the elite 17 Parachute Field Regiment on July 2, 1962 at the end of an officer's course at Agra cantonment. I was put through my probation tests, which included very high standards of physical efficiency tests, tactical and technical tests.
I was then allowed to wear the paratrooper's prestigious maroon turban. I also completed my parachute basic course which consisted of six day jumps and one night jump. By September 6, 1962, I was a full-fledged paratrooper with a wing on my right sleeve.
I reported to Captain (later Major General) H S Talwar for orders. He commanded the troop called 'E' troop, from 52 Parachute Field Battery. I was feeling very proud to be given a chance to go to NEFA with my troops.
On September 24, 1962, we were ordered to join the 7 Infantry Brigade with guns for fire support in the Operation Zone.
Captain Talwar was the troop commander and I was the GPO (Gun Position Officer), looking after the firing of the guns and the overall administration of the guns.
The troops with the equipment and 4 guns were loaded in five C 119 Fairchild Packet aircraft and one AN 12 aircraft. Captain Talwar travelled in the latter.
The rest of us moved to NEFA via Lucknow, Barrackpore and Jalpaiguri.
On October 3, we reached Tezpur where Captain Talwar received us.
We were given a briefing by Major Narender Singh, the General Staff Officer (GSO 2, OPS) of the 4 Infantry Division. We were told that the Chinese will come in waves, but there was nothing to worry about, because they were not well equipped.

You mean it was known that the Chinese will come in waves?

It was the normal doctrinal tactics of the Chinese in Korea and elsewhere, it is how they proceeded. After the briefing, I was given a sketch of the area.

Not a proper map?

No a blueprint only, a sketch of the Thagla ridge, Dhola Post, Namkha chu (river), etc. We were told that we will go to Tawang by road and later we will be airlifted.
The plans were changed and when we reached Bompu, we were told to come back to be airlifted.

Continue to read...

PoW in Tibet

PoWs in Tibet: Lt Col Ratan Singh, Lt Col Balwant Singh Aluwallia, Brig John Dalvi,
Lt Col Maha Singh Rikh, Lt Col KK Tewari in front of the Potala (April 1963)

Fifty eight years ago, China started an uncalled-for war against India.
On the occasion, I repost an old article which appeared
on this blog in 2012; it is about a painful episode in the life of a soldier: on October 20, 1962, he was taken PoW in Tibet by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

I have added at the end some rare pictures of the area (courtesy: Michael Dalvi)

Here is my 2012 post:

Continuing with the 1962 War with China: 50 Years Later, here is the story of  Gen Tewari. 
He was commissioned in the British Indian Army in 1942. 
In 1962, he was Commander Signals of the 4 Infantry Division based in Tezpur, Assam. 
On October 20, 1962, as he was visiting his forward troops, the Chinese attacked India. He was taken prisoner and sent to Tibet where he stayed for nearly 7 months. 

In his book, Himalayan Blunder Brig. John Dalvi wrote: “Col. Tewari was a gentle, God-fearing man in addition to being a first rate signaler. He had worked against tremendous odds through the operations and had overcome difficulties which would have taxed an Army Signals Regiment. He is due much credit for providing communications with obsolete equipment and the distances involved. Instead of praise they came in for criticism for not being able to work miracles with out-dated sets and distances which were beyond the range of divisional signals”.
Brig. Dalvi added: “There was a sad sequel to Tewari’s visit [on the Namkha chu]. …When the Gorkhas were attacked, Tewari found himself in the midst of an infantry battle. He was taken prisoner after the Chinese had over run the position. Who has ever heard of a Commander Signals being sent to an infantry battalion on the night before a massive attack, if there was any anticipation of a battle? He would have been at Divisional HQ attending to the Division’s communications.” 
Maj. Gen. K.K. Tewari's story: 
As a result of the Chinese threat on our northern borders, sometime in 1959 the Headquarters of Eastern Command at Lucknow was given the operational responsibility for the defense of Sikkim and NEFA. I was at that time, the Commander Signals of the 4th (Red Eagle) Division Infantry Division located at Ambala. We were immediately ordered to move to Tezpur in Assam.
This Division, trained and equipped for fighting in the plains, had suddenly to be deployed to guard these high mountain regions. While a normal division occupies an area frontage of 30 to 40 km in the plains, we were assigned a front spreading on more than 1800 kilometers of mountainous terrain!
But worse! Before the Division could take its operational responsibilities to defend the border with Tibet, orders for the execution of an Operation Amar 2 were received from Lt Gen BM Kaul, then Quarter Master General in the Army HQ. We were suddenly supposed to build temporary basha (house with straw) accommodations for the Division.
Besides the fact that my regiment had to provide communications for the Division in an entirely new and undeveloped area, we had now to become engineers and builders! You have to understand that a Signal Regiment is a functional unit in war or peace which is supposed to cater 24 hours a day to the various types of communications for its formation.
So, immediately after arrival in Tezpur, the Regiment got involved in the mad rush of building: the Prime Minister was to inaugurate the newly built bashas.
My first four months in command were a real nightmare. We would certainly have preferred to rough it out in tents and spend the time developing a reasonable communications set-up, getting our equipment properly checked and maintained and getting the men used to working with the available equipment in the mountains.
It was a personal relief when, on 14 April 1960, the inauguration was over. Only then did we turn any serious attention and effort towards our operational responsibilities. Even our equipment was antiquated and unsuitable for mountainous terrain and the excessive ranges.
At that time, there were hardly any roads existing in any of the five frontier divisions (FD) of Arunachal Pradesh. The road into Kameng FD, the most vulnerable, finished at the Foothills just beyond Misamari [4 days walk from Tawang]
We were faced with shortages of every kind. It was during these early days in NEFA that one of the COs of an infantry battalion sent a note written on a chapatti. When asked for an explanation, he gave a classic reply: "Regret unorthodox stationary but atta (wheat flour) is the only commodity available for fighting, for feeding and for futile correspondence."
Sometime in 1962, orders came from Army HQ for Operation Onkar (the famous “Forward Policy”), which directed all Assam Rifles posts to move forward, right up to the border. Of course, we were to back them. The idea was to establish the right of possession on our territory and to deter the Chinese from moving forward and occupying it, as was claimed by them. This order was certainly not supported by resources.
At that time, our Division had done almost three years non-family station service and some of the units were already on their way out on turnover. Suddenly all moves out of the area were cancelled and orders reversed.
Brig John Dalvi, the Commander Infantry Brigade who was in Tawang was ordered to move his HQ on a man/mule pack basis to Namkha Chu River area. An ad hoc Brigade HQ was created for Tawang sector overnight with hardly any Signal resources.
At that time, I was the only field officer of Lt Col or higher rank who had the longest tenure at not only the divisional HQ but among all the divisional troops. I should have been posted out after a two-year tenure in a non-family station. But I had also a sort of premonition, and I recorded it in my diary, that a severe test was in the offing for me to assess my faith in the Divine. I certainly had no idea that I would be taken a prisoner of war.
On September 8, 1962, the Dhola post manned by the Assam Rifles on the McMahon line, was encircled by the Chinese. A few days later, we had a meeting of the senior commanders from the Army Commander downwards at Tezpur. A relief party had been ordered to relieve the besieged Dhola post. This linkup was expected by nightfall on the 14th of September: Everyone was tensely waiting for the news of the link-up. Naturally all eyes were on me; as the communications `chief’, to bring them the message. But there was no news until late in the evening.
After this incident, a new Corps HQ was created to take charge of operations in NEFA. Lt Gen B.M. Kaul was appointed as the Corps Commander. He arrived from Army HQ in a special aircraft at Tezpur in the late afternoon of 4 October. At about 10 pm, Lt Gen Kaul announced in his typical flamboyant style that he had taken over command of all troops in NEFA. It was all so dramatic!
Here was a new situation, normally a Corps HQ in those days would be served by a corps signal regiment and another communication zone signal regiment. These had yet to be raised.
To compound these difficulties, Lt Gen Kaul had his own way to send messages.
Normally, a signal message is supposed to be written in an abbreviated telegraphic language. But all messages from the new Corps Commander ran into a couple of typed sheets in prose language and were all marked Top Secret and Flash. They were not addressed to the next higher HQ but directly to Army HQ. You should understand that it required to stop all other traffic to clear FLASH messages.
In September 1962, the higher authorities had obviously assumed that it would be easy to beat the Chinese. Otherwise, one cannot imagine how such an order to engage the enemy could have been issued by Delhi to the ill-equipped, ill-clothed, ill-prepared, fatigued, disillusioned troops.
Do you realize that when Dalvi’s brigade arrived near the Namkha Chu river after forced marches, he was ordered to throw the Chinese out of the Thagla ridge.
I have to tell you a telling incident: arriving near the river, after an exhausting journey, the brigade signal officer discovered that the generating engine to charge the wireless batteries was not here. A porter had dropped the charging engine in a deep khud on the way. It could not be retrieved. I believe it was dropped deliberately, because some of these civilian porters were in the pay of the Chinese.
But I was in for a still bigger shock when it was discovered that almost all the secondary batteries had arrived without any acid. I presume that what had happened is that the porters must have found it lighter without liquid and they probably decided to lighten their loads by emptying out the acid from all the batteries.
How to establish communications when the batteries are dead and could not be recharged? Despite of our good relations with them, the Air Force helicopter boys refused to carry acid. There was no question, of course, of dropping sulphuric acid by air. What was I to do? Fate was also pushing me to my inevitable destiny.
We filled up a jar of acid and marked prominently it: `Rum for Troops' and on October 18, I flew from Tezpur to Zimithang where I met with the GOC, Maj. Gen. Niranjan Prasad. Later, I went to Tsangdhar near the Namkha chu in a two-seater Bell helicopter with just the pilot and with the `Rum' jar strapped onto my lap. I landed there in the late afternoon and I marched down to Brig Dalvi's brigade HQ.
As I arrived there, I could quite clearly see the massing of the Chinese troops on the forward slopes of Thagla ridge.
When I discovered that every unit on the front had numerous signals problems, I decided to extend my stay by a day. It is where fate caught up with me!

On the 19th, Brig Dalvi informed over the telephone the GOC at Zimithang. He pleaded with his boss to let him move out of the `death trap', up to a tactically sound defensive position. Brig. Dalvi was told not to flap but to obey orders and stay put. He was extremely upset and passed the telephone to me saying, "You won't believe me, Sir, but talk to your `bloody' Commander Signals and he will tell you what all he can see with his naked eyes in front."
I spoke to the GOC equally strongly saying that one could see the Chinese moving down the Thagla Ridge like ants and also see at least half a dozen mortars which were not even camouflaged. I added that the Chinese could not be there for a picnic. I was also told to concentrate on my work and not to worry.
I stayed on with the 1/9 Gorkhas during the night of 19th October. Early on the 20th morning, I was woken up from a deep sleep by the noise of an intense bombardment. There was utter confusion in the pre-dawn darkness, shouting and yelling and running around in the midst of these exploding shells. I came out of the bunker and somehow found my way to the Signals bunker with two of my signalmen.
I looked out of the bunker. It was mystifying to see no visible movement outside. There was no one in sight. I peeped out of the bunker again. I saw a line of khaki clad soldiers with a prominent red star on their uniforms advancing towards our bunker. I had never seen a Chinese soldier till then at such close range.
I used to carry a 9 mm Browning automatic pistol in those days with one loaded clip.
The thought immediately was that one's dead body should not be found with an unfired pistol; it must be used, however hopeless our situation. So, when a couple of Chinese soldiers approached our bunker, I let go the full clip at them. And suddenly hell was let loose with the Chinese yelling and firing and a number of them converging onto our bunker. My two assistants were killed and I was alive, but a PoW.


On the road to Tibet
On October 20, 1962, the Indian prisoners were marched along a narrow track across the Namkha chu (river); later we went up to the Thagla pass (about 15,000 feet). On our way, we passed huge stocks of unfired mortar shells by the sides of our mortar positions, while on the northern side of the ridge, Chinese parties were still bringing up 120 mm mortars on a man pack basis.
After 3 days walk, we reached a place called Marmang in Tibet. From there we were taken in covered vehicles at night. During the journey, the Chinese tried to demoralize us; they would make fun of our army: "You do not even have cutting tools for felling trees. You use shovels to cut down trees." It was true; they had seen our troops preparing their defensive positions near the Namkha chu. There were other remarks such as, "You people have strange tactics. You sit right at the bottom of the valley to defend your territory instead of sitting on a high ground."
We arrived at the PoW camp located at Chongye [in Central Tibet] on 26 October and were accommodated in Lama houses which were all deserted although we could see some activity in the monastery above these houses on the side of a hill. 
We were to spend over five months in this camp, located south west of Tsetang, off the main highway to Lhasa. The prisoners were segregated into four companies: No. 1 Company was all officers, JCOs and NCOs. Majors and Lt Colonels were also separated from the JCOs and men. No. 2 and 3 Companies were jawans of various units. No. 4 Company, consisted only of Gorkhas and was given special privileges, for obvious political reasons. Each company had its own cookhouse where the Indian soldiers selected by the Chinese were made to cook.
In our house, we were four Lt Colonels (Maha Singh Rikh of the 2 Rajputs, Balwant Singh Ahluwalia of the Gorkhas, Rattan Singh of 5 Assam Rifles and myself), while John Dalvi was kept in confinement in Tsetang, a few km away from Chongye.
When we made representations to the Chinese that under the Geneva Convention on PoWs, officers had the right to be with their men, we were told quite bluntly that all these were nothing but imperialist conventions.
I shivered through the first couple of nights but then had a brain wave. I had noticed a pile of husk outside. We asked the Chinese if we could use it. Luckily, they accepted, and we could use the stuff as a mattress as well as a quilt.
For almost a month after our arrival, we were not let out of the room. Each of these lama houses had its own latrine in one corner with an open but very effective system of soil disposal. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the `disposal squad' of pigs had itself been disposed off by the Chinese.
There was an English speaking Chinese officer, Lt. Tong who was with us almost throughout our stay in the POW camp. He would come daily and talk to us individually or together. The theme of his talk with the POWs was monotonously the same: the Chinese wanted to be friends and it was only the reactionary government of Nehru, who was a lackey of American imperialism that wanted to break this friendship. "Then why did you attack us on 20 October?" They would try to explain that India attacked first and the Chinese attacked only in self-defense.
On 5 December, we were given for the first time some books and magazines to read. This consisted of Mao's Red Book, some literature on the India-China boundary question and a few Red Army journals. But whatever they were, they were most welcome for me at least. There was something to do at last to occupy the mind. I took notes from the Red Book. It is a pity that our government did not read some of the Mao’s thoughts. I noted them down at that time: "Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning" or "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy halts, we harass, the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."
Towards the end of December 1962, the Red Cross sent us one parcel each with two packets in it. One packet had warm clothes, a German battle dress, a pair of long johns, warm vest, muffler, cap, jersey, warm shirt, boots and a towel. The second packet contained foodstuff including a bar of Sathe chocolate, tins of milk, jam, butter, fish, packets of sugar, atta (wheat flour), dal (pulses), dried peas, salt, tea, biscuits, condiments, cigarettes and vitamin pills. It certainly was a very well thought-out list of items.
Perhaps to demoralize us, the Chinese would often play Indian music on the public address system in the camp. One of the songs which was played repeatedly was Lata Mangeshkar's "Aa Ja Re-Main to kab se Khari Is par...." [Come, I have been waiting for so long] This would make us feel homesick.
With my habit of writing a diary, I kept notes as a POW also. In the first week or so, the only available paper to write on, were some sheets of toilet paper in my para jacket pocket. The question was how to keep these papers from being discovered by the Chinese. What I had done was to open the stitching on the ‘belt’ part of the trousers and then slide the folded papers inside. This was how my diary notes on toilet paper could be brought out to India.
One other episode of our stay in the camp is worth recording. One day, towards the end of our stay, at our request we were taken to see the palace and the monastery. It was a shock to see the palace with all the beautiful Buddha statues of all sizes and fabulous scrolls (tankhas) lying broken, defiled and torn and trampled on the ground.
On 25 December, we, the seven field officers were taken in one of the captured Indian Nissan trucks to spend the Christmas morning with Brig. John Dalvi at Tsetang. He was kept all alone and was comfortably accommodated. We had breakfast and lunch with him and were shown a movie. Dalvi had suffered a great deal mentally — being all by himself. He was now better.
The first letters we received from home came only in the third week of February 1963. Some of us, including myself, received parcels of sweets too.
On March 26, we were informed that we would soon be released and taken for a conducted tour of the mainland China. Suddenly we became VIPs, though still held as prisoners. We were given various comforts and given new clothes and shoes.
Before leaving the PoW camp, we asked the Chinese to take us to the graves of our soldiers who had died in our camp. There were seven of them including Subedar Joginder Singh, who had been awarded a PVC. We were told by the Chinese that he had refused to have his toes, which were affected by frost-bite, amputated. According to the Chinese, he had told them that his chances of promotion to Subedar Major would be adversely effected if his toes were amputated. We were told that he died of gangrene.
On 28 March, we left the camp, ironically in an Indian captured vehicle and were driven to Tsetang to pick up Brig John Dalvi and three other Lt. Colonels and five Majors. On 29th March, we were all driven in a bus to Lhasa. On 5 April, we were flown in two IL 14 aircrafts to Xining [Qinghai Province]. After a long tour of China, during which we were shown China’s ‘progress’ after the Communist revolution, we were informed on 27 April that we shall be handed over to India at Kunming on 4 May.
At the handing over ceremony, we witnessed a last surprise performance by the Chinese. Throughout our tour of China, an immaculately dressed Chinese had accompanied us. He was not dressed in cotton padded clothes like all the others. He commanded a lot of respect from the other Chinese. We used to refer to him as the ‘General’. He had a chap trailing around behind him always, helping him with things, offering a chair, a cup of tea, etc. We used to refer to that fellow as the orderly to the General. At the handing over ceremony, however, the person who sat down and signed on behalf of China was the ‘orderly’ and the one who stood behind to pass him the pen to sign was the ‘general’! Such are the Chinese ways!
On May 5, we took off at 9.10 a.m. from Kunming and were scheduled to land at Calcutta at 1.20 p.m. Before reaching Calcutta, the pilot announced that there was some problem with the under carriage not opening and that we might have to crash land, finally we landed ultimately at 2.30 p.m. at Dum Dum with all the fire tenders lined up. It would have been such an irony of fate if we had been killed in a crash landing in India!
In my opinion, the Chinese had prepared their attack for at least 2 or 3 years. I can give you few examples: one day a Chinese woman came and recited some of Bahadur Shah Zafar's poems, much to our delight. The Chinese had certainly prepared for this war most diligently because they had interpreters for every Indian language right in the front line. This Urdu-speaking woman must have lived in Lucknow for a long time. Same thing for one of our guards, though he had not said a single word for 5 months (we used to call him Poker Face), we discovered that he could speak perfect Punjabi when he left us in Kunming.
Their constant brainwashing was to make us accept that we had attacked them.

Bunker near Namkha chu

Bunker Bunker near Namkha chu
Bunker near Namkha chu
Namjiang chu with Thagla ridge in the background

Namkha chu (river). Thagla ridge was held by the Chinese.
Tsangdhar dropping zone
Radio set found on the battle field  near the Namkha chu

Monday, October 19, 2020

Gigit-Baltistan, a bit of history

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was recently in the news; according to Pakistani media, it will soon become the fifth province of the country. The announcement was made by Ali Amin Gandapur, the federal minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs: “After consultation with all stakeholders, the federal government has decided in principle to give constitutional rights to Gilgit-Baltistan,” the minister said.
It would be elevated to the status of a ‘provisional’ province.
Two commentators wrote in the Karachi newspaper, The Tribune: “With this single move, Pakistan secures vital geostrategic, economic, and energy interests, and at the same time fulfills GB’s most enduring demand for constitutional recognition.”
This just shows that the analysts have probably never read the UN Resolutions of 1948 and 1949 and are obviously proxies for Beijing.

The Scrapping of Article 370
One year ago, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution triggered a lot of typing on the keyboards of Indian as well as foreign journalists. Most of the scribes were ill-informed about the legality of the issue, but generally the Indian press dealt with the subject more decently; it was not so with the foreign press.
Why this perennial misinformation or disinformation?
The Government of India is definitively to be blamed; the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should have ‘educated’ the press by giving a full historical briefing on all facets of the issue.
One problem is that the MEA functions today without a Historical Division, (in the 1990s, some smart mandarins thought they knew everything and that this division was not required); South Block should have prepared a “background note on the Kashmir issue and the history of the temporary Article 370 of Indian Constitution”, but probably nobody had time for such niceties. The same applies to GB today.

What are the facts?

A few years ago, I came across a Top Secret note written (probably written by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the secretary-general of the ministry) in the early 1950s. Entitled “Background to the Kashmir Issue: Facts of the case”, it makes fascinating reading. It starts by a historical dateline: “Invasion of the State by tribesmen and Pakistan nationals through or from Pakistan territory on October 20, 1947; ruler’s offer of accession of the State to India supported by the National Conference, a predominantly Muslim though non-communal political organization, on October 26, 1947; acceptance of accession by the British Governor-General of India on October 27, 1947, under this accession, the State became an integral part of India; expression of a wish by Lord Mountbatten in a separate letter to the Ruler the fulfillment of which was to take place at a future date when law and order had been restored and the soil of the State cleared of the invader, the people of the State were given the right to decide whether they should remain in India or not.”
Then the note mentioned the invasion of the State by Pakistan Regular Forces on May 8, 1948. As J&K was part of India, the note said that it was “in contravention of international law. One of the grounds for this military operation, as disclosed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister himself, was a recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan that an easy victory for the Indian Army was almost certain to arouse the anger of the invading tribesmen against Pakistan.”
Pakistan was not interested in the plebiscite, further they wanted to grab Buddhist Ladakh for the wealth of its monasteries. The note observed “Pakistan, not content with assisting the invader, has itself become an invader and its army is still occupying a large part of the soil of Kashmir, thus committing a continuing breach of international law.”
Pakistani politicians (and others) often quote the UN Resolutions; very few have read them.

The Cease-Fire: a telling event
Following the ceasefire of January 1, 1949, the military representatives of India and Pakistan met in Karachi between July 18 and 27, 1949, under the auspices of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. Before leaving for Karachi, the delegates had a briefing from Bajpai who explained the legal position in detail to the delegates. He told them that the resolution of August 13, 1948 "had conceded the legality of Kashmir's accession to India and as such no man's land, if any, should be controlled by India during the period of ceasefire and truce.” Thus, the Line of Cease Fire (now LOC) was drawn and accepted by Pakistan on this very principle. Islamabad has conveniently forgotten this.

The Case of Gilgit

A few months ago, I came across an interesting announcement published in the 1948 London Gazette which mentioned that the King "has been graciously pleased… to give orders for… appointments to the Most Exalted Order of the British Empire…" The list included "Brown, Major (acting) William Alexander, Special List (ex-Indian Army)."
Who was this officer?
Brown is infamous for illegally 'offering' Gilgit to Pakistan in 1947.
The British Paramountcy had lapsed on August 1, 1947, and Gilgit reverted to the Maharaja's control. Lt Col Roger Bacon, the British political agent, handed his charge to Brig Ghansara Singh, the new governor appointed by the Maharaja. Maj Brown remained in-charge of the Gilgit Scouts.
Despite Hari Singh having signed the Instrument of Accession and joined India, Maj Brown refused to acknowledge the orders of the Maharaja, under the pretext that some leaders of the Frontier Districts Province (Gilgit-Baltistan) wanted to join Pakistan. On November 1, 1947, probably under order from London, he handed-over the entire area to Pakistan.
There is no doubt about the illegality of this mutiny, but was the British Headquarter informed? At the time, the entire Pakistani Army hierarchy was British. So, the answer can only be that Maj Brown's British bosses were aware of his 'gift' to Pakistan. The fact that he was appointed to the OBE is further proof. The King does not usually appoint 'deserters' or 'rebels' to the august Order.
Even today, this has serious implications for India. The UN resolutions of January 17, 1948, and August 13, 1948, and January 5, 1949, (UNCIP Resolutions) make it clear that "Pakistan cannot claim to exercise sovereignty in respect of J&K."
It also means that the agreement signed on March 2, 1963, between Pakistan and China about the Shaksgam Valley of the Gilgit Agency being transferred to China is legally invalid.
Amazingly, three years ago, the British Parliament passed a resolution confirming Gilgit-Baltistan was part of Jammu and Kashmir.
The motion was tabled on March 23, 2017, by Bob Blackman of the Conservative Party. It reads: "Gilgit-Baltistan is a legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, and where people are denied their fundamental rights including the right of freedom of expression."
Why doesn’t the MEA publish a White Paper on the background of GB’s accession to India and make it widely known?

Saturday, October 17, 2020

South Block’s mistakes will now be corrected by Army

My article  South Block’s mistakes will now be corrected by Army appeared in The Daily Guardian

Indian diplomats have committed several blunders while negotiating with the Chinese in
the past. It is thus heartening to have the Army commandeer border talks this time around.

The most vital concern today is not to lose the advantages gained on the ground at a negotiating table, as it has often happened in the past. So far, nothing has been lost during the seven rounds of border talks conducted in Ladakh, by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps.

After five months since the beginning of the standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, it is time to draw up a temporary balance sheet of the conflict. Militarily, India’s position changed for the better on the night of 29-30 August, when Tibetan commandos occupied the ridges south of Pangong Lake. It was an important strategic victory, but also a psychological one, showing that the Tibetans are with India in the battle against China’s hegemonic advances.

The most vital concern today is not to lose the advantages gained on the ground at a negotiating table, as it has often happened in the past. So far, nothing has been lost during the seven rounds of border talks conducted in Ladakh, by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps. However, to have transferred the ‘ground’ negotiation from the Ministry of External Affairs is a victory in itself. In the past, the MEA has often been the weak ‘diplomatic’ link, as the mandarins are often satisfied by simply ‘cutting the apple in two’. The ‘original sin’ of the present situation on the Indian border is due to this particular weakness. While it had been known for years that China was building a road across the Aksai Chin, South Block had kept quiet, probably to not offend Mao and his cohorts.

 On 18 October 1958, the then Foreign Secretary had politely written to the Chinese Ambassador that Delhi’s attention had been drawn to the fact that China had built a road “across the eastern part of the Ladakh region of the Jammu Kashmir state, which is part of India. This road seems to form part of the Chinese road known as YehchangGartok or Sinkiang Tibet highway, the completion of which was announced in September 1957.”

The Indian official had complained: “In view of [this], it is matter of surprise and regrets that the Chinese government should have constructed a road through indisputably Indian territory without first obtaining the permission of the Government of India and without even informing the Government of India.” With the danger of such a preposterous reaction looming large over Ladakh, one can only rejoice that the government has involved mainly the Army in the talks. As mentioned in a previous column, it was nevertheless positive that Naveen Srivastava, the MEA Joint Secretary dealing with China, was present in Moldo/Chushul.

 Lt Gen P.G. Kamath, a defence analyst (and a ‘thinking general’) recently wrote, “I have always been rubbing the point that the MEA is a relic of the Nehruvian era and is unable to respond to the extremely fluid and dynamic geostrategic imperatives. To make matters worse, we have put a career diplomat in charge of the MEA.” However, the presence of S. Jaishankar, with his ‘chromosomic’ antecedents (his father being one of the sharpest Indian strategists) and his long experience in the Ministry, has definitively brought improvements, though the minister has had to deal with the antiquated work culture and old mindset of an ‘elite’ corps, who has a tendency to think that they know everything.

The problem is compounded by a series of innumerable blunders committed by South Block over the decades — to give a few examples, the Nehru government remaining quiet when the Indian Consulate in Kashgar was closed by China in December 1949, (“we can do nothing about it, the times have changed”); the weak protests made when Tibet was invaded 70 years ago; and, in 1954, the Panchsheel Agreement not only giving away the Indian rights in Tibet to China, (which included military escorts), but worse, the border issue not even being brought to the table, with the consequences that we see today in Ladakh. The first three ‘principles’ promised “mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”, “mutual non-aggression”, and mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.” By accepting that Tibet belonged to China, India could no longer claim her genuine interests in Tibet. Today, what makes things more complicated is that the Indian diplomacy accepted the concept of a Line of Actual Control (LAC) which has never existed on a map or on the ground.

The recent blitzkrieg from Beijing about a November 1959 LAC is pure Information Warfare (IW) using some gullible Indian newspapers. Where is the Line that Zhou Enlai mentioned on 7 November 1959 to Nehru? Is there a map? On what is it based — on a clearly-defined watershed, on customary rights of the local grazers, on land or house taxations? No, it is pure Chinese bluff. But there is worse: the MEA has inked several agreements with China, forgetting to define the main object of the accords — the LAC. It is hard to believe that Delhi signed on the dotted line without any definition or map of the LAC, leaving sufficient space to Beijing to change the posts. On 7 September 1993, India and China entered into an agreement “in accordance with the Five Principles” which speak of the “Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC,” but nowhere is the LAC itself defined, though it says, “… pending an ultimate solution to the boundary question… the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the LAC between the two sides.” It is truly amazing, but there is no map of the LAC in the Western Sector even today.

 Then, on 29 November 1996, an agreement “on Confidences Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC” was negotiated, “believing that it serves the fundamental interests of the peoples of India and China to foster a long-term goodneighbourly relationship in accordance with the five principles.” Both parties were “convinced that the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the India-China border areas accords with the fundamental interests of the two peoples.” Yet again, the LAC was not defined or delineated. In 2000, both sides agreed that they would initiate a process for the clarification and determination of the LAC in all sectors of the boundary.

A meeting took place in March 2000, where maps of the middle sector were exchanged. On 17 June 2002, both sides met again and maps of the Western Sector were seen by both sides for about 20 minutes, before the Chinese withdrew their maps. Ten years later, in January 2012, there was still no map when both sides established “a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination” which mentioned a non-existent LAC: “Firmly believing that respecting and abiding by the LAC pending a resolution of the Boundary Question between the two countries.” Then, on 23 October 2013, an official accord acknowledged “the need to continue to maintain peace, stability and tranquility along the LAC in the India-China border areas and to continue implementing confidence building measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control.” It spoke in particular of “flag meetings or border personnel meetings at designated places along the LAC.” But where is this LAC? This time, the Indian Army will make sure that China does not escape without the proper definition of a line that the Indian jawans can defend. The nation has its fingers crossed.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Claude Arpi's Latest On India-Tibet Is An Important Work Coming At An Important Time

An Indian official on his way Gartok, Western Tibet
(courtesy Ipshita Rawat)
Another book review: this time by Prof Mayank Singh from Benares Hindu University. It is entitled "Claude Arpi's Latest On India-Tibet Is An Important Work Coming At An Important Time."
 

Here is the link...

'The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet' is as extensive a work as any scholar would find on the subject. Arpi’s strength, apart from his vast knowledge, is his love for the subject which makes the book racy, almost fiction-like.

In 1948, John King Fairbank, considered the godfather of American Sinology, noted, that to understand the policies and actions of Chinese leaders, historical perspective is “not a luxury, but a necessity.”
One of the reasons Indian policy makers fail to decipher Chinese actions lies in the comparatively scarce historical work about Chinese strategic thinking and actions, which in turn ensures that India falls for the same traps ad nauseam.
That the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report on the reasons behind the 1962 debacle still remains officially classified, despite portions of it being available on the internet, epitomizes India’s failure to what Fairbank referred to as getting a “historical perspective.”
Perhaps it is this lack of historical and strategic understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’s psyche which has resulted in India having a trade deficit of $48.66 billion in FY 2019-20 with China.
The belief that strong commercial and economic engagements with China would compel them to desist from military coercion in the fear of losing out on the Indian market, should now be buried in the vast cold terrain of Eastern Ladakh where a strong sense of déjà vu of the events preceding the 1962 war prevails.
Claude Arpi’s book, The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet, is an attempt to fill out on this void. This is the fourth volume of Arpi’s work on the relations between India and Tibet (1947-1962). It retraces the steps between 1958-1962 which witnessed the consolidation of China’s military presence in Tibet, the failed Tibetan uprising of 1959, the Dalai Lama’s escape to India and how political, bureaucratic and military leadership in India failed to grasp Chinese intentions in Tibet with serious ramifications for India.
The 1962 military drubbing was the culmination of the failure to understand that allowing PLA to ride roughshod over Tibet would resulted in the conversion of the peaceful India-Tibet border into a hostile India-China border.
As Maj SL Chibber, the Consul General in Lhasa, would point out in his ‘Annual Political Report’ of 1957: India’s relations with the Tibetans were rather cordial which came to a sudden end with the arrival of the Chinese.
Apa Pant, who was the Political Officer in Gangtok made his third visit to Tibet in 1957. His report elaborated how with each visit his first impression was confirmed that Tibet was a “country forcibly, with the might of military strength, ‘occupied’ by the Chinese.”
Pant reported the presence of 15,000 PLA troops in Lhasa itself and noticed the rapid construction of roads in Tibet. During the visit, Pant observed multiple PLA establishments and reported the presence of at least 30,000 troops within “a hundred miles of Lhasa.”
Any strategic observer would have been alarmed at this massive infrastructure and military build-up in the neighbourhood. Yet, New Delhi continued to live in delusion about peaceful Chinese intentions.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s idealism as a tool of statecraft was to soon unravel disastrously before Mao Zedong’s hard core pragmatism combined with Sun Tzu’s ‘deception’ as means of war.
Pant presciently warned that Chinese regime’s failure to assimilate the Tibetans into their way of life and “emotional and spiritual contacts” between them being non-existent, had the danger of China pushing in millions of Hans into Tibet, converting the Tibetans into a minority in their own land.
The warning, unfortunately, has come true.
While Nehru and defence minister VK Krishna Menon obfuscated over reports of PLA build-up in Tibet, China had a specific purpose behind introducing a disproportionate number of troops to combat Tibetan resistance.
Arpi cites from Jiangling Li’s book Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet and the China-India Border War, edited by Matthew Akester, that the PLA directly inducted seven of the twelve military commands for military operations and two for logistical support in Tibet.
The Central Military Commission sent nearly all military branches to fight in Tibet, including the chemical warfare unit. This massive mobilisation of troops to combat an enemy which was disorganised, scattered into groups, and what Li calls “a force with practically no military training,” should have raised eyebrows in New Delhi.
Arpi is convinced that PLA was indeed rehearsing for a “forthcoming conflict with India.” India was however playing the ostrich and refusing to read the writing on the wall.
This strategic blindfolding was however not a fresh development.
The ‘Pannikar doctrine’, as Arpi refers to Ambassador KM Pannikar’s thoughts of not speaking “of a border which is settled, if it were not settled China would have brought the issue to the negotiating table,” despite Premier Chou En-lai’s ominous sounding statement of “we are prepared to settle all such problems as are ripe for settlement,” was a harbinger of a dispute which started with Barahoti in 1954 and continues till date.
Indian shortsightedness in failing to mention specifically the passes mentioned in the 1954 ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse with Tibet Region,’ as border passes, led to Chinese repudiation of the principle of watershed as marking of international boundary and the disputes which followed in its trail.
The 1954 agreement proved critical for China as India, for the first time, agreed to Tibet as the ‘Tibet Region of China’ and gave up the right to military escorts in Yatung and Gyantse which it had inherited from the British. India also handed over postal, telegraph and public telephone services operated by them in Tibet to China. In short, India had decided to become blind in China which would prove tragic, as subsequent events showed.
Acharya JB Kriplani would later refer to the 1954 agreement as “born in sin” and rightfully so, as India did not even raise the border issues with the Chinese and abandoned Tibet to its fate.
The building of the road connecting Xinjiang to Lhasa about which Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt said: "little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200 kilometre road passes through Aksai Chin," which was till then Indian territory, without any Indian effort to stop the construction, was a manifestation of India’s apathetic approach towards its national security.
Dutt’s official response expressing regret about China neither taking permission nor informing the Indian government about the road while appearing surreal, represented the spineless Indian response to this perfidy.
Ironically, while China was preparing for war, Nehru was busy promoting PRC’s cause at various international forums.
BN Mullik, Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), claimed that he had reported the building of Chinese road in the area in November 1952 and that the Indian trade Agent in Gartok had reported about it in 1955 and 1957. Arpi also cites SS Khera, the Cabinet Secretary, accepting that information about Chinese activity in Aksai Chin had “begun to come in by 1952 or earlier.”
The Indian Military Attaché in Beijing, Brig SS Malik, had passed on the information about the road in Aksai Chin to the Military HQ in 1956. The formal road opening on 6 October 1957 was reported by a Chinese newspaper Kuang-ming Jih-pao, but the Indian leadership was busy promoting the utopia called ‘Panchsheel’ rather than realising the importance of loss of a strategically vital territory.
Arpi narrates an interesting incident when in 1955, Sidney Wignall, a British mountaineer was asked by the Army Chief Gen KS Thimayya to get proof of the Aksai Chin road. Like a spy thriller, Wignall was arrested and interrogated by the Chinese and finally released in the hope that he would never make it back to India amidst the heavy blizzards.
Wignall, however, reached India with his report which was trashed by Krishna Menon in Nehru’s presence as “lapping up American CIA agent-provocateur propaganda.”
Lt Col RS Basera’s equally daring mission in 1957 resulted in the Director of Military Intelligence being “more or less rebuked” by Nehru for sending the patrol. Nehru officially acknowledged the construction of the Sinkiang-Tibet highway through Aksai Chin in Parliament only in August 1959. It was this laissez faire which perhaps compelled General Thimayya to tell his officers that “I hope that I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese Communists.” The foreboding would come true three years later.
Arpi brings out excruciating details about the failed Tibetan uprising of March 1959 which led to the Dalai Lama’s escape under extremely arduous conditions. By the end of it all, Consul General Chibber concluded; “The Chinese have entrenched themselves so firmly that they will not care about anything, even world opinion, and will go ahead with their policy of annihilating the Tibetan race.” The decisions arrived at the Seventh Tibet Forum in August 2020 under President Xi Jinping shows that ‘Sinicisation’ of Tibet is not far off.
Non-utilisation of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in combat mode during the 1962 conflict remains one of the biggest mysteries of the war. The IB is said to have cautioned the government that the use of offensive air power could result in the PLAAF attacking Indian cities like Calcutta.
Arpi mobilises facts to demolish the myth of superiority of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). India had airfields in the vicinity of the conflict zone which would have allowed them to fly shorter distances and carry higher payloads than PLAAF which had only one airfield in Tibet. And PLAAF had no fuel to fly its aircrafts.
The amount of gasoline reaching Tibet from China was not sufficient enough to maintain both the occupation force and PLAAF.
While in 1960, 2,220 tons of gasoline was imported into Tibet, in 1962, this figure had dropped to 30 tons. Further PLAAF’s planes were engaged on the Korean front and the Soviet Union had stopped supply of spare parts for MIG fighter planes. Squadron 106 of the IAF with Wing Commander Jag Mohan ‘Jaggi’ Nath had been flying extensively over Tibet between 1959-1962 on reconnaissance missions. Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath was categorical; “If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out. They did not believe me that there was no Chinese air force.”
The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet is as extensive a work as any scholar would find on the subject. Arpi’s strength, apart from his vast knowledge, is his love for the subject which makes the book racy, almost fiction-like, which stands apart from the pedantic style writings generally available on such subjects.
He brings out the Dalai Lama’s escape, the harassment of the Indian Trade Agencies and Indian pilgrims, and a rarely touched subject—the treatment of Indian PoW’s in China in a manner where the reader can almost visualise the incidents.
This is a must read for all those who ponder on the reason behind the recent developments in Eastern Ladakh. As George Orwell said: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Arpi goes a long way in helping understand the past to understand the present and the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Putting Tibet Back in Focus

The Indian Prime Minister in Yatung, Tibet (1958)
Another book review of my Volume 4, by Maj Gen M. Vinaya Chandran (Redt). 

It is entitled Putting Tibet Back in Focus

Historian Claude Arpi goes beyond the British and Chinese narratives to examine older ties between India and the region

Here is the link...

Relations that India and China have with Tibet form the foundation of India – China relations. Even though the current narratives of these relations begin by quoting centuries of friendly relations between these ancient civilisations, actually it began from 1950, when Chinese occupation of Tibet began, and India and China came to be neighbours. Official records of interaction between India and China from 1950 to 1962 and India’s Tibet policy during this period have remained concealed from not only the Indian public, but also policy makers, since then.

Claude Arpi has done a yeoman’s work in ferreting out documents and interviewing experts to bring out four volumes on India – Tibet relations from 1947 to 1962, which brings a lot of clarity in understanding India – China relation, which is firmly rooted on their relations with Tibet. The fourth volume of ‘The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet’, brings out how India lost a friendly Tibet and gained a hostile China on her northern borders, during the years 1958 to 1962. Arpi has cited a large number of primary sources to clearly show how the Indian Government did not pay heed to the situation in Tibet, thereby leading to the India – China war of 1962 and closure of the Indian Consulate in Lhasa. Many books have been written on the subject but Arpi brings in greater clarity by analyzing the correspondence and activities of the Indian Consul Generals in Lhasa and how Indian establishment chose to disregard those, thereby getting surprised by the PLA in 1962. Details of the talks between the Indian Charge d’ Affaires in Beijing and a senior Chinese diplomat in 1962 corroborates the fact.
It is widely known that up to the start of 1962 war, BN Mullick assured Nehru that China would never attack India and Menon assured the armed forces that even if there is a war, he will win it diplomatically. Arpi has thrown light on these fallacies using documents, which are currently in public domain. Few surprising facts are as follows:

  • There was intense militarization of Tibet from 1957. Indian Consul Generals at Lhasa had provided accurate details of these to Indian government, even to the extent of trenches being dug at Rutok and a big logistic hub being established at Nagchuka.
  • PLA Fourth Army commanded by Gen Su Chiang was located at Tsaidam and had sixty-seven Russian instructors attached to them.
  • From 1959 onwards, China commenced active survey and reconnaissance of Indian borders.
  • On 11 June 1962, a few months before the war, Tibet Military Command set up a special organization named ‘Tibet Military Command Advance Command Post for China – India Border Self-defence Counterattack’. By the end of June 1962 they started collection of intelligence, preparing battle plans and intensive military training.

Border negotiation with China is another area where our policy makers seem to have faltered. A boundary commission comprising Chinese and Tibetan officials, accompanied by PLA were visiting the border areas and collecting evidence from 1957 onwards, to prepare their claims. India apparently did not take it so seriously. While negotiations were on for Bara Hoti, in 1958, the Foreign Secretary said that India should ask China, “first to indicate more precisely where according to them the international border lies. Surely they should be able to do so if their claims are genuine.” Indian bureaucrats did not realise that there is nothing genuine regarding Chinese claims. Even now, Indian media’s insistence on defining the Chinese LAC and reluctance of the bureaucracy to clarify the issue, shows that the situation has not improved.
During the 1962 war, many Indian soldiers were taken prisoner by China. The plight of these prisoners and the steps taken or not taken by Indian government was not made known to the public, rendering their sacrifices to be forgotten. Arpi has worked hard to collect evidence by interviewing people with firsthand knowledge of the events and finding documents to substantiate the same. Our understanding of the 1962 war will be incomplete without knowing the facts, known only to these brave soldiers.
Experts on the India–China boundary question, generally refer to the lines drawn by the British and China. Centuries of trade and religious interactions between India and Tibet have a different story to tell. British made compromises to suit their commercial interests, China drew lines to suit their hegemonic interests and post 1947 Indian government signed treaties to exhibit statesmanship. All of them kept Tibet out of it. Very few scholars like Claude Arpi have delved into the history of India–China boundary, giving importance to the history and views of the people actually living along the boundary.
The book, published by Vij Books India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in knowing the facts regarding India–China boundary issue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

70 Years ago: War and 'Liberation' - The Battle of Chamdo

Robert Ford, the British Radio Operator captured by the PLA
On the occasion of the 70 years of the Battle of Chamdo (October 7, 1950), I republished this article War and Liberation which originally appeared in the USI Journal (April 2016 - June 2016 issue).

See the original article for proper references: here is the link...

A Liberation?
During the first weeks of October 1950, as Tibet was invaded by the People’s Liberation Army, Communist China stated that it was ‘liberating’ Tibet. It is not the place here to enter into this debate, but one can see that several decades later, the Tibetans, particularly the first ‘liberated’ in Eastern Tibet, still disagree with this interpretation.
The Battle of Chamdo, the first and only encounter between the Tibetan and Chinese forces, is however interesting to look at for several reasons.
Tibet, a Buddhist nation was not military and tactically ready to oppose the seasoned troops of Mao (and some of China’s brilliant commanders). From the start, The Land of Snows stood no chance, especially without outside support.
Many in Tibet still believed that increasing the number of japa (recitation) or parikramas (circumambulations) around the monasteries and stupas of Kham, would be sufficient to make the Truth Prevail. As Robert Ford, the British radio operator posted in Chamdo, remarked ‘The gods are on our side’ was the mantra most oft-repeated in the town, “but it seemed to me that something more Churchilian was needed.”
For the Chinese, it was a well-prepared operation (a ‘police operation’ would have said Marshal Peng Dehuai) in 2 stages: the fall of Chamdo, the capital town of Kham province during the Fall of 1950 and then the advance to Lhasa during the next season .
India was fooled into believing that Communist China wanted a ‘negotiated’ settlement with the Tibetans: it was never the case. Marshal Liu Bosheng in a message in August 1950 made it clear that he was going to ‘liberate’ Tibet.
Opposite the Chinese strategists was Ngabo Shape , the Tibetan Commissioner for the Kham province, a weak leader, ready to surrender; he was obviously not the military chef de guerre that Tibet need at this point in time to coordinate the defence of the different border posts.
It has to be noticed that Mao Zedong entered the Korean campaign on the same day (October 7) as the PLA crossed the Yangtze and started its Tibet operations. It shows the confidence the Communist leadership had in the local PLA commanders.
Finally, the PLA summary of the battle and recommendations distributed by the PLA after the Battle of Chamdo tends to show that it was a good preparation for the Chinese troops for another battle 12 years later on the Himalayan slopes. Against India this time.

Marshal Liu Bocheng Communique

On the first day of August, a message from Marshal Liu Bocheng, the Chairman of Southwest Military and Political Committee, was widely distributed by Xinhua: “[The] People Liberation Army will soon march towards Tibet with object of driving out the British and American aggressive forces so as to make Tibetans return to the Great Family of the Peoples Republic of China.”
The general lines of the ‘liberation’ were given: “As soon as the Liberation army enters into Tibet they will carry out the Programme of National Regional Autonomy, religious freedom, protection of Lama church and will respect the religious belief and customs of the Tibetans, develop their languages and characters as well as their educational and their agricultural, pastural, industrial and commercial enterprises and work for betterment of the Peoples living standard.”
Did the CCP’s Central Committee have the intention to seriously implement these policies? It is difficult to say.
Lui’s message continues: “The military and political systems prevailing in Tibet now will remain as they are and will NOT be changed.” However the present Tibetan Army will become a part of the National Defence Force of the Peoples Republic of China. It was ominous for the Tibetans.
Liu generously added: “All expenditure of the Peoples Liberation Army when they enter into Tibet [will be borne] by this Central Peoples Government so as to reduce the burden of the Tibetans.”
The dice was cast.

The military plans for the ‘liberation’
On August 23, Mao Zedong sent a telegram to the Southwest Bureau of the Central Committee; it is entitled: “Strive to Occupy Chamdo This Year and Advance to Lhasa Next Year”. This cable, repeated to the Northwest Bureau in Qinghai , lays down the Communists’ military plans for the year 1950 and 1951.
Answering a note that he had received 3 days earlier  Mao writes: “The plan to push for occupying Chamdo this year and to leave three thousand men to consolidate Chamdo is good. You can actively make preparations according to this plan, and when it is ascertained by the end of this month or the beginning of next month that the road has reached Ganzi  without obstruction, the advance can go ahead. It is expected that Chamdo will be occupied in October. That would be advantageous for pushing for political changes in Tibet, and marching into Lhasa the next year.”
A few days earlier, KM Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in China had met Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Foreign Minister. The Ambassador reported to Delhi: “I am satisfied that the representations we have made have had two important results; the Chinese will NOT now proceed to attack Tibet unless all efforts at peaceful settlement have been exhausted. …Short of giving Tibet its privileged position, China, I am convinced, would do everything to satisfy Tibetans, at least for the time, and will NOT proceed to military action.”
Such a foolish assessment!
On August 22, the Ambassador had handed over an aide-mémoire to the Chinese Government in which he stated that the Government of India “have no political or territorial ambitions in Tibet and no desire to seek any novel privileged position for themselves or their nationals in Tibet.”
The next day, the Great Helmsman could affirm: “Now India has issued a statement recognizing Tibet as China’s territory, only expressing hope that the issue can be settled peacefully, not by force. …If our army can occupy Chamdo in October, there is the possibility of pushing the Tibetan delegation to Beijing for negotiation, begging for a peaceful solution… Right now we are using the strategy of urging the Tibetan delegation to come to Beijing and reducing Nehru’s fear.”
The strategy was clear. The PLA had to occupy Chamdo before the winter; stop the advance for a while; get time to force ‘an agreement’ with the Tibetans and then complete the ‘liberation’ by advancing to Lhasa in 1951.
In his telegram to Chengdu, Mao explains: “When Tibetan representatives arrive in Beijing , we plan to use the Ten Points already decided as the basis for negotiation, urge the Tibetan representatives to sign it, and make the Ten Points an agreement accepted by both sides. If this can be done, it will make things easier for advancing into Tibet next year.”
In other words, it would be a ‘peaceful liberation’.
It is what happened in May 1951 when the Tibetan ‘negotiators’ were forced ‘under duress’ to sign the 17-Point Agreement; the road to Lhasa was open.
In August 1950, Mao’s rationalizes further: “Your plan to leave 3,000 men in Chamdo for the winter after occupying it, not to advance into Lhasa this year, and withdraw the main force back to Ganzi may be seen by the Tibetans as a gesture of good will. The matter of 30 airplanes is in process, but it takes time. You should not count on them in the short term. All the provisions for the 16,000 men marching from Ganzi to Chamdo have to be carried by manpower and yaks, and 3,000 men among them will need provisions for winter. …Part of the grain and meat (needed by troops) may be purchased in Chamdo etc., and have you prepared some gold, silver and goods that Tibetans need, such as silk, to take with you?”
That was it. The military operations could start.

 

The Battle of Chamdo
For the description of the Battle of Chamdo, our source is a Chinese text called Detailed Report on Battle of Chamdo by the 52nd Division of the 18th Army of the People’s Liberation Army.
It is part of a Chinese report, The Liberation of Chamdo, which was translated by two independent researchers, Jianglin Li and Matthew Akester.
While reflecting the views of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China, it shows that the Battle of Chamdo was a military operation conducted in a professional manner by the 18th Army of the Second Field Army, with the possibility to receive support from the North (Qinghai), the South (Yunnan) and even a few troops from Xinjiang.
While Nehru was banking on 'talks' to peacefully solve the issue, there was no question of ‘peace’ or ‘negotiations’ for Mao, and Chamdo was merely the first stage before an advance towards Lhasa during the next season.
What is surprising is the elaborate planning of this military operation. Comparatively, the leaderless Tibetans were novices and stood no chance in front of the calculated tactical moves of the PLA. We shall see that the Chinese learned a lot during the Chamdo operations; this is apparent in their ‘Summary’.
While Panikkar in Beijing was talking peace and dialogue, the PLA’s slogan in Eastern Tibet as: “Surround more, annihilate more; surround less, annihilate less” or “Cutting into the heart of the enemy position, penetrating, separating, surrounding and annihilating the enemy.”
It did not mean that some of the Tibetan troops did not fight well, particularly the Gadang regiment under Dapon Muja.
It is a tragedy that nobody in India thought of studying the Battle of Chamdo, it would have perhaps avoided a lot of suffering and the crushing defeat of 12 years later.

Chinese narrative of the Battle of Chamdo
The Chinese report tells us that after crossing the Jinsha river  from October 6 to 9, the troops reached “the vast plateau of a thousand li  in length and width and in coordination with brother troops, units of this division were divided into three wings, left, middle and right, forming the assault on Chamdo, a powerful pincer attack targetting the 1500-li-long position of the Tibetan army commanded by Chamdo Governor Lhalu. ”
It has to be noted that before the operations started, Governor Lhalu had been transferred to Lhasa. Robert Ford was not happy with Ngabo who ‘seemed too cool and confident’.
It was one could say, ‘a British understatement’.
The report continues: “During the fourteen days of rapid advance and fighting, all units were moving across the unfamiliar plateau without accurate maps. Soldiers carried loads of 60 or 70 jin , climbed more than 50 high mountains and crossed rivers over 60 times. On average, foot soldiers cover 72 li,  cavalry 80 li  a day, those who had to march day and night moved up to 34 hours continuously without enough food. However, all units answered the call by party committees of both the army and the division and endured extreme hardship, annihilated all the defending enemies in Chamdo on schedule, and successfully completed the capture of Chamdo.”
How such a quick success?
It is explained in detail: “[the PLA] annihilated five Dapons , the main force of the Tibetan army, and over 2,000 militia, liberated the region north to Qinghai , south to Yunnan , east to Jinsha river, west to Luolong  and Leiwuqi , a vast area more than one thousand square li. The success further strengthened our unity with Tibetans west of the Jinsha river, laid the foundation for advancing next year (1951), struck blows directly and indirectly at the British and American imperialist invaders, inspired people in the near east and repaid the people of the whole country who had warmly supported us.”
Of course, apart from the poor Robert Ford, who soon would be captured and kept five years in a Chinese gaol, there were no imperialist around.
But the Tibetans had to be ‘liberated’ from something or somebody. It was an easy alibi for the world at large, and particularly for the gullible Indian Ambassador in Beijing.
The military operation to ‘liberate’ Tibet also demonstrates how Mao’s concept of a ‘Liberation War’ was applied on the ground.
The Report says: “…Tibetans have warmly supported us (taking in and escorting individual stragglers, delivering information, guiding the way, providing transportation, building bridges, preparing firewood and fodder, etc.), all of this shows that we had good influence by carrying out the policies conscientiously before the attack and shows the tangible benefits brought to Tibetans during our westward march. This is a small accomplishment we achieved in the past, and it is also a major pointer for the future in the liberation and construction of Tibet.”
The ‘political’ instructions to the ground forces were: ‘Three Keep-in-Mind’  and ‘Eight Things-to-do’.  
The Political Department of Tibet Military Area Command in Chengdu later prepared “A Brief Report on Battle of Chamdo by Southwest Military Area Command”. One gets an idea of the role of the ‘liberated populations’  in the military operations: “Before the battle, troops had gone through comprehensive education on minority policy and conducted work aimed at uniting with the minority people in a planned way. This work contributed greatly to accomplishing the battle smoothly,” notes the Report.
Of course, the situation rapidly changed and by mid-1950s, the Khampa guerrilla started resisting the ‘liberation’.
To come back to the Report of the Battle, it notes: “In this battle, troops advanced rapidly for 15 days with heavy loads across the high plateau a thousand kilometers in length and width, wrapping up…entire enemy position 1500 li  in length and accomplished the task on schedule, completely annihilated the third (two Dapons), the seventh, the eighth, the fifth and the tenth Dapon, altogether five Dapons (averaging small regiments) under Tibetan Frontier Envoy Commissioner General , captured …over 3,000 men. This victory is fundamentally due to correct leadership by leading officers of the Military Area Command and the Army Party Committee, strong support from the people of the whole country, coordination from brother troops (particularly engineer corps), …and the eight-month long preparation.”
In some places, the Tibetans fought quite well. As noted by Melvyn Goldstein, already in August, the Tibetans fought a pitch battle in Denkok: “The battle of Dengo [Denkok] was technically a victory for the Tibetans, in that they had pushed the Chinese back and demonstrated they could contend with the People's Liberation Army. The battle boosted the morale of the Tibetan forces in Kham, but it did not alter the basic military situation of the Tibetans, who were woefully undermanned and under- armed.”
But at the time, Mao and his generals had not completed the preparations for the Battle of Chamdo.

Analysing the Tibetan opposition
We shall not go into the details of the operations, but it is worth stopping for a moment at the Chinese analysis of their opponents, the Tibetan troops:

  • The enemy had no focus, no depth and attached no importance to flanks.
  • Enemy lacks systematic strategic planning and command, they fought wherever they were attacked and were easily misled by us. After we crossed the river from Dengke , it was quite possible that the enemy might mistakenly believe, based on historical experience, that the Chinese could be stopped.
  • The enemy had never experienced large scale battle
  • The Tibetans had no knowledge of modern military science and were equipped with few heavy weapons.
  • Their combat capability was not strong.
  • The Chinese estimated that there were 3 possibilities:
  • The Tibetans would retreat without fighting and escape without hesitation (“if this happened, it would definitely make it more difficult for us to annihilate them”)
  • The Tibetans would scatter at the first contact, everywhere in the mountains and wilderness to entangle us also existed (“this would make it more difficult for us to annihilate them”).
  • The Tibetans would concentrate forces and put up strong resistance in strategic locations (“this was exactly what we were hoping for, for we were absolutely sure that we would annihilate them thoroughly, straightforwardly and completely”).

After a first encounter in Denkok in August, the Chinese report comments: “we did not seize the moment of strength to strike the enemy a fatal blow. The enemy might mistakenly have thought that our combat capability was not strong”.
But this was not the real Battle of Chamdo. Mao wanted to complete the logistic preparations before the fatal blow to the Tibetans.

A first step well-accomplished
The Report gives insight on the strategy; the Battle of Chamdo was the first step towards Lhasa: “Liberating Chamdo, annihilating the main force of the Tibetan army in the area east of Upper Mekong, Enda  and Riwoche lays the foundation for advance into Lhasa next year 1951 and liberate the entire Tibet.”
The report describes the battle: “We decided to deploy a powerful right-flank encircling force composed of infantry and cavalry, providing strong points to offset each other’s weaknesses, making a detour via Batang and Nangchen and pushing forward vigorously and precipitately. Troops should not be blocked by small numbers of enemy, doing everything possible to clear away obstacles and circle bravely…the entire field, cutting off the enemy’s retreats from Enda to Gyamda Dzong in Kongpo  and from Riwoche to Nagchu, the two main escape routes, making it impossible for enemies to escape even if they intended to slip away without fighting.
Performance of troops in this wing is the key to success or failure in annihilating more than three Dapons of the enemy force. The middle wing cut into the heart of the enemy position by way of …cutting into the heart of the enemy position, penetrating, separating, surrounding and annihilating the enemy within the entire enemy position and advancing straight to Chamdo.”
If the enemy did not rest, we wouldn’t rest; when the enemy took rest, we annihilate them. The left wing force crossed the river at Kamtok, marching slowly by way of Dongpu, Jomda and Jueyong to draw in the enemy. They seized the Damala Pass  and controlled Sichuan bridge.
The Chinese also wrote down the lessons of the battle and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the Tibetan Army. It makes interesting reading:

  • All Tibetan troops were organized in a comparatively primitive way. Troops have neither commanding offices (headquarters?) nor maps.
  • Everything was handled by one single officer-in-charge.
  • Special reconnaissance troops and communication tools were very outdated.
  • They did not fight aggressively and lacked counter attack ability. In several battles we did not find the enemy launching strong counter attacks.
  • Lack of systematic strategic thinking
  • No attention paid to protect flank and rear while deploying the forces. No knowledge of using the terrain to block our advance.
  • No night combat experience.
  • No guards posted at encampments.
  • Enemies were slow in climbing mountains: the 156th regiment’s speed was nearly one third faster than the speed of the enemy.
  • In terms of tactics: the Tibetans were good at riding horses, highly skillful at shooting and utilizing terrain and landforms, but not good at operation. There is certainly some exaggeration in this account, but the lack of larger strategic thinking cannot be discounted.
    One should also not forget that the Tibetan troops were less than 5,000 (perhaps 7,000 if one includes the local militia) and the PLA numbered around 20,000.
 
The tactics used against Tibetan army are also mentioned in the Report:
  • To deal with the weak Tibetan army with our current equipment, the key is to encircle the enemy
  • No need to worry about breaking through Tibetan army’s positions, the only worry is not being able to encircle them.
  • Once the supply line is cut, enemy will retreat in disorder without fighting.
  • Based on special conditions of the plateau cavalry is the key to annihilate the enemy, and the guarantee of success.

A good coordination between the Infantry and Artillery is required: “Due to weather conditions on the plateau and our equipment, vigorous activities and rapid charge are not favourable to the troops. Therefore, during combat firepower must be well organized so as to coordinate with foot soldiers continuously and effectively.”
About the reconnaissance, as no accurate map was available and rivers, forests and mountain ranges are serious obstacles: “knowledge of enemy situation and terrain through reconnaissance prior to battle is highly important. The method is to inquire from Tibetans familiar with the area …as long as we are nice to him, he would give us such information honestly.”
About the Artillery, to combat on the plateau, distance should be well measured: “Observation is not easy since too many objects block the view, and as a result, distances are often misjudged as closer.”
Perhaps more interesting for India are the suggestions on the PLA structure and equipment required for future operations.

The Summary recommends:

  • A division should have a cavalry regiment to fulfill the task of circling and surrounding the enemy.
  • A regiment should have a mounted reconnaissance company to facilitate communication and reconnaissance.
  • Mounted reconnaissance company can perform tasks of circling and surrounding in small actions.
  • One engineers platoon should be allocated for building bridges, handling boats, and clearing away obstacles to increase advancing speed.
  • Reduce mountain artillery, increase recoilless guns, high-angle guns, dynamite, detonator, fuse and explosive.
  • Quality and style of current field tools needs to be improved.
  • The current style of uniform must be changed and quality must be improved, otherwise it will not be able to last the season
  • It is better to make the uniform with strong and durable cloth, shoulders, backsides and knees should be reinforced.
  • Weight of coat should be reduced. Comforter should be changed into soft, warm, damp-resistant, lightweight, larger size wool blanket which can be used as mattress pad as well as comforter.
  • Raincoat and damp-resistant canvas should be combined into one, based on current raincoat size and shape, adding more rubber to make it thicker so it can be used to wear and to spread as bedding. Quality of shoes should be improved, soles should be softer and the upper should be higher, water-proof and damp-resistant.
  • Headgear should better be helmet with goggles fixed on.
  • Regiment and above level should be equipped with larger radio of 50 watt or more.
  • All food should be high quality, low quantity, long-lasting and easy to carry, otherwise it increases soldiers’ burden, reduces their physical strength, slows down marching speed and has negative impact on accomplishing tasks.

These lessons were certainly useful for a far more difficult campaign; i.e. against India in 1962. The battle of Chamdo can hence also be considered, logistically at least, as a rehearsal of the 1962 ‘Indian’ War.