Saturday, March 16, 2019

Know your history

My article Know your history appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

If we want to win the battle of information or perception like China, then we need to restore the Historical Division in the MEA or let MOD set up a comparative cell

With the country approaching the General Elections, one rarely comes across good news. However, the “transformative” reforms, soon to be undertaken by the Ministry of Defence, are an encouraging sign that a few things in India are changing. According to PTI, the idea is “to make the 1.3 million-strong force leaner and meaner as well as  enhance its combat capabilities.”
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has approved the first batch of reforms, which include relocation of 229 officers from the Army headquarters to operational postings, reorganisation of the Army Headquarters and the setting up of new wings for vigilance and human rights issues. Particularly interesting is the creation of a post of Deputy Chief of the Army Staff (Strategy) or DCOAS, which will deal with military operations, military intelligence and operational logistics. Then there will be a new information warfare wing “in keeping with the needs of the future battlefield, hybrid warfare and social media reality.”
The Modi sarkar finally realised that the war of tomorrow will be “hybrid”— “unrestricted warfare” in Chinese terminology — and primarily needs a change of mindset. The Chinese understood this long back. In 2003, China’s Central Military Commission approved the concept of “Three Warfares” — one, the coordinated use of strategic psychological operations; two, overt and covert media manipulation; and three, legal warfare designed to manipulate strategies, defence policies and perceptions of the target audience abroad.
Further, on November 23, 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a new plan to completely change the face of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Apart from the three traditional Services (Ground Forces, Air Force and Navy), a Rocket Force and more importantly a Strategic Support Force were set up.
Remember the Doklam incident of 2017, where India won a battle on the ridge in western Bhutan by not allowing China to change the status quo and build a strategic road near the trijunction between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan? But Delhi lost another battle. That of the legitimacy of its claim. While everyone in India applauded the forces, which prevented the construction of the road, Delhi was unable to articulate the background of the standoff although it had strong legal and historical arguments. At the same time, the Chinese repeatedly quoted a 1890 Convention between Great Britain and the Manchus. The spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing vociferously managed to convince the Indian media posted in Beijing that it was a valid basis for the Chinese action at the trijunction.
The fact that in 1890, the main stakeholders, Tibet and Sikkim and Bhutan, were not even consulted, made it an “unequal” treaty without validity (in any case, the survey of the trijunction was done only several decades after the agreement was signed).
The Convention of 1890 proved to be of no use to the British as Tibet never recognised it; this eventually led London to directly “deal” with Lhasa, send the Younghusband expedition there in 1904 and open the doors to the tripartite Simla Convention between British India, Tibet and China sitting on an equal footing in 1914. Since India did not object to the argument behind the 1890 Convention, it meant that the subsequent treaties signed with the Tibetans, particularly the Simla Convention and the border agreement (defining the McMahon Line) in 1914 would have no validity; as a result India would lose its defined border in the Northeast.
The main factor which has led to losing the battle of information is the lack of a Historical Division in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). While the Ministry of Defence gets ready to undertake bold reforms, the MEA seems lethargic (at least for an external eye). It is difficult indeed to imagine today the MEA looking at its failure and taking initiative to reform its functioning; it seems beyond the capacity of the mandarins of South Block.
In May 2016, a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs had suggested expanding the manpower in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), providing lateral entry into the IFS and organising a separate exam for the service. All this is fine, but what about reviving the defunct Historical Division?
How can a modern State,  which wants to be a “Great Power,” function without a Historical Division to which these types of issues (such as the historical background of the trijunction) can be referred for clarifications and advice, is beyond comprehension.
In the early years after Independence, the Nehru government established a Historical Division with S. Gopal (President Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan’s son) as its first head. Shivshankar Menon, a former foreign secretary and national security advisor, in a book review of Gopal’s Collected Essays explained: “For reasons I find incredible and incomprehensible, the Historical Division was wound up by the MEA in the nineties … some of our present difficulties may indeed be due to a lack of memory.” Today, the MEA has just a Boundary Cell headed by a Lieutenant Colonel, while it should be looked by a Joint Secretary-rank officer (or may be a Major General with intimate ground knowledge of the boundary).
Why was the Historical Division closed in the first place? It seems that in the 1990s, an all-knowing diplomat believed that it was not necessary. Is there a resource base  today with the will and the capacity to tackle such a thorny issue today?
For the Ministry of Defence, the best would be to forget about the MEA and reorganise itself to bring together all historical records in a well-organised manner (a place where documents would be available when required for operations, public information or other purposes), while keeping a strict classification process.
To keep these records, the Ministry would have to employ a team of professional historians, recruited through lateral entry and who would be given the necessary security clearance (with the punishment it entails if the rules are bent …for illicit photocopies for journalists “seeking the truth”). This move would allow a centralisation of all the historical records kept in different MOD departments. The Directorate of History and Records (or whatever name the Office is given) would make historical documents or notes available to the DCOAS (Strategy) or any other officer requiring them.
It would have an added advantage, the MEA may be able to wake up and decide to recreate its Historical Division.  This “reform” could greatly enhance the capacity of the defence forces to fight the hybrid war of tomorrow.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Popular Revolt Suppressed in Blood

My article A Popular Revolt Suppressed in Blood appeared in Strategic News International

Here is the link...

The origin of the Tibetan luni-solar calendar, composed of either 12 or 13 lunar months, each beginning and ending with a new moon, is not clear. However, many scholars attribute the 60-year cycle to India; it would have been introduced into Tibet by Chandranath and Tsilu Pandit in 1025 CE. The calendar’s main characteristic is that, like the Chinese zodiac, twelve animals are associated with the five elements, making it a cycle of six decades.
Recently we entered the Earth/Boar Year; it is worth remembering the momentous events which took place during the previous Earth/Boar Year when the Roof of the World witnessed a popular revolt.
Early March 1959, the Dalai Lama had been invited to a theatrical performance in the Chinese Army camp in Lhasa; in his memoirs the Tibetan leader recalled that on March 8, 1959, some Chinese officers called on his Bodyguard Regiment’s Commander to brief him about the function: “the Chinese authorities wanted us to dispense with the usual formality and ceremony of my visits.” No Tibetan soldiers were to accompany the Dalai Lama: “only two or three unarmed bodyguards if absolutely necessary;” the Chinese wanted “the whole affair to be conducted in absolute secrecy.”
Though the Dalai Lama accepted to go “with a minimum of fuss and to take along only a handful of staff,” it was not acceptable to the population of Lhasa. On March 10, while walking in his Summer Palace (Norbulinka or Jewel Park) the Dalai Lama heard loud noises at a distance, people “were pouring out of Lhasa and heading in our direction. They had decided to come and protect me from the Chinese. All morning their numbers grew. …By noon an estimated thirty thousand people had gathered” …it was the entire population of the Tibetan capital.
Apart from the Dalai Lama’s version, we have the first-hand account written by Major SL Chhibber, the Indian Consul General in Lhasa.
Sixty years later, reading these accounts, one is struck by the fact that March 10 ‘Uprising’ (as the Tibetans call it), was primarily a people’s movement like the Bastille Day in 1789 in France. It was an entirely spontaneous revolt with its origin in the resentment of the ‘masses’ against the occupiers.
In his report to the Ministry of External Affairs, Chhibber wrote: “In the history of movement for free Tibet the month of March 1959, will be most historic, as during this month Tibetans high and low, in Lhasa openly challenged the Chinese rule in Tibet. They set up an organisation called Pho Mimang Ranchen Chi Chog, meaning, ‘Tibetan Peoples Independent Organisation’; [they] renounced the Sino-Tibetan Agreement of 1951; staged demonstrations to give vent to their anti-Chinese feelings and demanded withdrawal of the Chinese from Tibet.”
Unfortunately on March 20, the PLA started “an all-out offensive against the ill-organised, ill-equipped, untrained-Tibetans with artillery, mortars, machine guns and all types of automatic weapons, [it] was short lived.”
A few thousand Tibetans lost their lives during the next few days.
Chhibber continued his description of the events: “His Holiness the Dalai Lama, smelling danger, left Lhasa secretly on the night of the March 17, 1959, with important members of his personal staff, three Cabinet Ministers and members of his family for Lhoka area (south of Lhasa), where at that time Khampas had full sway and from where it was easier for him to escape to India if need arose.”
The rest is history. The Dalai Lama crossed the Indian border, north of Tawang on March 31 and was received by Indian officials who gave him a letter from Prime Minister Nehru, welcoming him …as a refugee.
The popular movement had started in 1955 in Kham province of Eastern Tibet and had spread to the North in Amdo and Golok regions: “In 1955 and 1957 it took shape of an open revolt against the Chinese regime in these areas. These people, though did not succeed, but they were a constant headache to the Chinese who had to resort to aerial bombing and deploy large number of forces to subjugate the local inhabitants. During operations numbers of monasteries were destroyed and the local people suffered heavy losses,” explained Chhibber.
In March 1959, the Tibetan ‘masses’ (a term so dear to Mao Zedong), “thought it was high time for a general uprising. The Chinese did not sit quiet. …They started preparing themselves for the show down; fortified their offices and residences with sand bags, dug trenches and prepared fire positions, all cadres were issued arms and ammunition …stored rations and dig wells on their promises and increased the strength of their troops considerably in and around Lhasa.”
Chhibber commented: “The feelings were running very high against the Chinese and the public was restless and any excuse would have served to mobilize them.”
In conclusion of his March Report, the Indian Consul wrote: “The future of Tibet is dark and only a miracle can save Tibet from the clutches of the Chinese Communist Colonialists.”
Sixty years later, no miracle has taken place, though the Dalai Lama’s escape triggered the first clashes with China on the Indian border a few months later.
There is another twist to the story; since 2009, China celebrates March 28, the bloody end of the revolt in Lhasa, as the Serfs Emancipation Day; on that day, the Communist 'reforms' could finally be implemented on the Roof of the World. The Tibetan government was declared 'illegal' by Communist China as the so-called serfs had been liberated from feudalism and theocracy guns.
It is sadly ironic as the March 1959 revolt was only the Tibetan masses' reaction against the occupiers.
Unfortunately, sixty years later, the 1959 ‘uprising’ has been forgotten and politically, the Dalai Lama is more isolated than ever; no nation being ready to antagonize China, which has become the second most-powerful nation of the world …and is dreaming to become the most powerful.
It is worth quoting from another Indian officer, RS Kapoor posted as the Trade Agent in Gyantse in 1959; he told Delhi: “While the heart of Tibet was bleeding the free world only made speeches. With the end of the debate on Tibet in the United Nations, Tibetans lost all hopes of their survival, stare at the sky with blank eyes and ask, where is the Buddha? How can the world witness such brutal acts on a race that has always wanted to live in peace?”
Interestingly, in January 1957, while on a visit to India, Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier had pointed a finger at non-existing foreigners in Lhasa: “those bent on trouble are preparing for an incident in Lhasa. These people have some armed forces. Some three temples in Lhasa have also armed forces and they want to create an incident with the People's Liberation Army there. If it happened, then there would be bloodshed.”
And bloodshed there was, but it firmly consolidated the position of the Communist regime which still controls the restive nation with an iron hand.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Playbook for the New Great Game?

Another review of my Volume 2 entitled A Playbook for the New Great Game? by Thubten Samphel, an independent researcher and former director of the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI), appeared on the  and TPI website .

Here is the link...

The brilliance of new China’s leaders in pursuing their hard-nosed strategic objectives in Tibet was to weave a plausible narrative of ‘liberation’ around what was an outright invasion of the country. The other twist in the narrative was to force Lhasa to sign the 17-Point Agreement in 1951 in which Tibet promised to “return voluntarily to the lap of the motherland.” Half the world, largely the socialist camp, bought China’s story on Tibet.The process of dealing with China’s fait accompli on the Roof of the World was particularly painful in the corridors of power in New Delhi. Should close cultural, commercial bonds and an open, unguarded border between India and Tibet blindside New Delhi to the changed new geopolitical reality in which the balance of power between independent India and new China had shifted in Beijing’s favour?In dealing with the issue of Tibet, the two Asian giants brought two different mindsets. India had hoped, as articulated by Nehru, de-colonizing Asia and Africa would come together as one big family to work for common prosperity and peace. China on the other hand was there for itself, in whatever form that enduring Chinese imperial impulse was dressed up in the reigning ideology of the day.The clash of views of men on the ground who figured out China’s true intentions in Tibet and beyond and those who took Beijing’s comforting words at their face value is weaved together in one fascinating piece of jigsaw puzzle after another in Will Tibet Ever Find Her Soul Again?  The value of Claude Arpi’s contribution to scholarship on the subject is that it is based on documents of the Nehru Papers housed in the Nehru Memorial Library and Museum and the National Archives of India. As Arpi says, “It is the first time such documents have been used (or even seen).”
At the time these events unfolded in Tibet, New Delhi’s man in Lhasa was Sumul Sinha, the pugnacious head of the Indian mission in the Tibetan capital. In his briefing to New Delhi about Chinese intentions, Sinha wrote, “It seems to me that we are not facing fairly and squarely the realities of the situation here, inclined as we are to gloss over Chinese dislike and distrust for insignificant aliens like us, for no better reason than to keep Delhi in good humour and to keep alive the illusions of our policy-makers who still believe that much maligned Chinese are just as good today as they were in the past.”
In his briefing note to Major SM Krishnatry, the Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, Sinha was brutally honest. He accused the People’s Liberation Army of doing a Robert Clive act on Tibet. “I hardly think that Chinese officials in Tibet can help being adventurous nor do I blame them for dreaming of conquest far beyond the confines of Tibet. They are physically placed at the outskirt of an empire  and has happened in so much of history, think and behave like modern Clives and Hastings, always anxious to out-do their own achievements.”
The critique to this assessment came from Nehru himself. In 1953, India’s first and charismatic prime minister wrote that Sinha “looks with certain nostalgia to the past when the British exercised a good deal of control over Tibet and he would like India to take the place of the British of those days. As a matter of fact, the weakness of our position in Tibet has been that we are successors, to some extent, of an imperial power which has pushed its way into Tibet. When that imperial power has ceased to have any strength to function in the old way, it is patent that we cannot do so, even if we so wished.”
In this Great Game played out between independent India and re-united China, Arpi’s ability to piece together all the confidential memos and exchange of notes in high places serve as a fly on the wall. Arpi’s contribution on the subject will serve as a guide for new players not to repeat the mistakes of the past. With China rolling out the almost globe-girdling Belt and Road Initiative to improve sea and land connectivity to purportedly facilitate international trade but also to assert its political influence on the countries strung along the new Silk Road, the Great Game is being played with new vigour. Arpi’s contribution constitutes a playbook for the participants in the new Great Game, now re-branded and re-sold as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

What if Nehru had used the IAF in 1962

Canberra plane
My interview with Wing Commander 'Jaggi' Nath What if Nehru had used the IAF in 1962, appeared in

Here is the link

'If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out.'
'And everything could have been different in the 1962 War.'
'They did not believe me there was no Chinese air force.'
'Can you imagine what would have happened if we had used the IAF at that time?'
'The Chinese would have never dared do anything down the line.'

Wing Commander Jag Mohan (‘Jaggi’) Nath, MVC (Bar)

Wing Commander Jag Mohan (‘Jaggi’) Nath is the first of the six officers to have been twice decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), India's second highest war time military decoration. He was awarded the MVC for his contributions in the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
‘Jaggi’ Nath was born in Layyah in undivided Punjab in 1930 into a family of doctors; he studied in the prestigious Government College in Lahore. Soon after Partition, he joined the Royal Indian Air Force as a trainee; he was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in October 1950 and served till 1969, when he took voluntary retirement to join Air India.
In a letter to Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha in 2014, Wing Commander Nath spoke of his mentor, Marshal of IAF Arjan Singh: “Like a father figure, he had always been concerned and caring. I owe my Bar to MVC [in 1965] strictly to him. His personal allocation of all reconnaissance tasks, code naming me ‘Professor’, kept me safe and alive on all my missions. I owe my happy times to him –of the 11 years on Canberras, 8 years in 106 [Squadron] without a break only on [the] Canberra, his consistent appreciation gave the squadron a sense of achievement and kept my spirits sky high.”
He received his first MVC for his role in reconnaissance missions over the Aksai Chin and Tibet, before and during the 1962 war; the citation says: “As Flight Commander of an Operational Squadron, Squadron Leader Jag Mohan Nath has fulfilled a number of hazardous operations tasks involving flying over difficult mountain terrain, both by day and by night, in adverse weather conditions and in complete disregard of his personal safety. He has displayed conspicuous gallantry, a very high sense of duty and a high degree of professional skill.”
His missions proved immensely useful to learn everything about the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately, the political leadership refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during of his sorties or use them.
His conclusions were: China had NO Air Force worth this name on the Tibetan plateau in 1962. The fate of the Sino-Indian War could have been totally different had India used its own Air Force, but the Government in Delhi chose to ignore to the findings of the brave airman.
The soon-nonagenarian meets Claude Arpi in his modest flat in Mumbai. He is still fired-up by the events of 1962.

Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath with Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh.
CA: Tell us about the years before the 1962 conflict with China? Tell us about 106 Squadron, using Canberra planes. Once you said that the planes are not just Air Force assets, but national assets!

JMN: I got to know exactly what was happening [in Tibet].
But let me tell you from the start. I joined 106 Squadron on January 1, 1960. My Squadron was involved in strategic Aerial Photographic Reconnaissance; Canberra airplanes were used all over the border to survey and update the maps. We covered the entire Indian territory three or four times; this could be done only with the Canberra and not with the Dakotas, which were used in the early years, as they flew at lower altitude. The Canberra, a bomber, was perfect for surveying.
I will give you one example, 106 Squadron was tasked to survey the Aksai Chin; one day, we were flying towards Xinjiang when we saw a white line, which was the Aksai Chin road; we spotted troops on the road, when we saw this happening, we passed on the information to the Air Force Headquarters. This was probably at the end of 1960 [in early 1961, 14 J&K Militia (Ladakhi) moved its Headquarters to Partapur; it was feared that the Chinese, who had already penetrated along the Chip Chap river, might occupy Daulat Beg Oldi or DBO].
We put on our reconnaissance cameras on; there was one single camera used for survey and four other cameras for taking pictures; the findings were later reported on maps; each time we saw something interesting, we switched on the photographic cameras.

CA: You were the only one do this?

JMN: I was not only one. That was the job of the Squadron to survey these areas. This information was passed on [to the Air Headquarters], but nobody said anything.
In late 1960 or early 1961, the Chinese had a confrontation with the Jammu & Kashmir Border Police at DBO; it was the first confrontation. The J&K Police had already realized that they Chinese were up to some tricks, but everything was kept at a low key because Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister, were totally switched off [from reality].
The first reconnaissance flight of Squadron 106 over this area was done by me. My Commanding Officer [later Air Marshal] Randhir Singh was on leave at that time, I was alone. I was briefed by Western Air Command to go, find out from where the Chinese have come and take photographs.

CA: In the White Papers on China, the Chinese government always complains of some Indian planes ‘intruding’ in Tibet air space. Was it you?

JMN: Yes, that was me.
I flew several times, in some cases up to three to four hours over Tibet, which was under Chinese occupation. My reconnaissance used to start from Gilgit area [Karakoram Pass] and I went westward; I would sometime do reconnaissance over the entire Himalaya, sometime till the trijunction with Burma [today’s Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh]. I photographed the entire route, following the Brahmaputra [Yarlung Tsangpo], not one time, but so many times.

Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath
with Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh
CA: Do you mean to say that before 1962, the Army and Air Force Headquarters had a clear picture of what was happening?

JMN: Sometime at the end of 1960, one day, Air Chief Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, [the Chief of Air Staff or CAS] was on leave; he may have been sick. Air Vice Marshal [AVM] Diwan Atma Ram Nanda, then Deputy Chief of the Air Force, was holding forth in Delhi, at that time.
I am talking of the job given to the Air Force by the Army to survey DBO. AVM Nanda told me: “You go and take pictures and I will send an escort with you.” Can you believe it, an escort, in case the Chinese would attack me [with an airplane]!
The whole thing was weird.” AVM Nanda told me: “Another Canberra will escort you while you take the picture of DBO.”
That day, the clouds were very low. I had to fly below the clouds to take the pictures. While the Canberra at the back was armed with guns; my plane had no provisions for such a thing, it was purely a reconnaissance aircraft, fitted with cameras.
It was my first flight [over the Aksai Chin] and I was keen to get results.
As I went, the clouds were very low. I could not take a picture. I went to the Shyok river [The Shyok River, a tributary of the Indus River, flows through northern Ladakh. The river widens at the confluence with the Nubra River].
The river made a U turn and DBO is on the top.
So, I went ahead while Squadron Leader [AIK] Suares of 5 Squadron was keeping an eye on me in case the Chinese come. I went down under the clouds and followed the Shyok river valley, then I came up and went down again following the River. When I went down again, I had to slow down, because the turning radius of the Canberra is low (if you fly slow, the turning radius in smaller). Suares asked me “Jaggi, are you still carrying on”.
I said: “Yes, I am on, the cameras are on”. He asked: “Are you still planning to continue?” I answered: “Yes, I am going”. That was the discussion between both of us.
I kept going down like this and suddenly, I saw the Chinese there. I took photographs of the Chinese soldiers all over the place. I could have taken their portrait. They were all around.

Front page of Times of India for his first Maha Vir Chakra in 1963.

CA: How many Chinese could you see?

JMN: I could not count them, but they were there in good number and I took photographs. That was enough [for my job]. Suares said: “It is enough, we have finished.” We had already taken the pictures. The job was done; later, all the photos were put in front of AVM Nanda, the acting Air Chief, and I explained to him how it had happened. I said that the pictures were taken from very low and all the details could be seen; the Chinese were clearly there. Then, messages came from Pandit Nehru, from Krishna Menon [the Defence Minister] and Lt Gen BM (Biji) Kaul; they would like to talk to the reconnaissance party.

CA: Gen Kaul was Chief of General Staff?

JMN: No, he had not yet taken over, but he was the main advisor of Pandit Nehru; he was the bloody favorite. So, with Air Marshal Nanda, I went to South Block to see Krishna Menon. We were waiting outside when Biji Kaul came. He started talking away: “I know, I know, these fellows [the Chinese] are there. They asked me to throw them back. I can throw them back, not a problem! But they will be back the next day. It has to be planned out properly.”
I was surprised that he would speak like this in front of a squadron leader. I was a junior officer, a low level officer. He continued shouting: “You saw the Chinese soldiers.” I said “Yes, Sir, I saw them. You can blow up the pictures.”
“OK, go to the Defence Minister,” he finally said.
So AVM Nanda and I landed up in the office of Krishna Menon. He did not ask anything, he just said “Did you see the Chinese soldiers?” I answered “Yes Sir, I saw them”. “That’s alright, you can go”, he said. He must have passed the information to Pandit Nehru, but a similar reaction.
There was a total breakdown; I still have such a poor impression of Biji Kaul shooting his mouth without knowing anything.
Krishna Menon also, I told him there were Chinese soldiers and that was it all. It was amazing.
They did not know how to handle the situation.
They knew for more than a year about the Aksai Chin [cutting across Indian territory].
When the 1962 War started, [the Air and Army Headquarters] had all the information. You probably know that the confrontation had started earlier than October 20, [this probably refers to the Dhola Post incident in Tawang sector of the NEFA, when some 600 Chinese soldiers surrounded the Indian troops on September 8, 1962].
On October 20, it started in DBO, and the Galwan River [a tributary of the Chipshap River, which in turn drains into the Shyok River. The main stream of this river rises near the Depsang plain near DBO].
I am still getting worked up when I think of these things.
I remember the Aksin Chin, at that time. I went, the clouds were again low, the war had actually started. In one sortie, I flew over the Aksai Chin, I had to find out where exactly where the Chinese were, what were their positions, their backups, etc. It was well after October 20.

With Defence Minister YB Chavan showing pictures of the recces

CA: Was it at the time of the battle of Rezang-la?

JMN: Yes, exactly.
I took pictures of the Northern borders; it was a three hour flight. I flew up and down [showing gesture of sweeping trajectory]. I could see the concentration of the Chinese; I would go around and take pictures. The Chinese could see me and started shooting with their rifles. How could they shoot down an airplane with a rifle? It was just not possible.
The point is that they did not have anything; NO weapon to shoot down an aircraft, No Air Force!
I went down all the way to Kailash and Taklakot [trijunction Tibet-Nepal-India]; the flight lasted three to four hours.
I got the full picture of how many Chinese soldiers were there; I got everything. The Government had full information at that time.
I had already surveyed the Galwan river area; there too Delhi had the complete picture.
I was getting a full view seating in the front row and could tell how the war was progressing, what was happening. Without reconnaissance, you can’t do anything. Of course today, we are out of business, because of the drones and the quality of the cameras.
The SR-71 was still used for a long time, because it would fly at high altitude and nobody could shoot it down. [The Lockheed SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ was a long-range, strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by the United States Air Force.]
For a long time, planes like that were still required to collect intelligence, because the results were immediate. But the SR-71 are today totally out of the game. For a long time, the images shot by the satellite were not immediate as it took time to analyze them.
[In 1962], I spent hours doing reconnaissance flights.
After October 20, 1962, I used to go with Air Marshal Elric Pinto, the Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command, to meet the Chief of Air Force [CAS], Aspi Engineer. I used to go for a briefing of what needed to be done, but also about what I had done; so many times, I went [to meet the CAS]. I can tell you, that if Elric Pinto had been the Chief, things would have been so very different. Aspi Engineer was too low key.
I told the Air Headquarters: “I am flying hours over Tibet, if they had radars, they [the Chinese] should have picked up the phone and said there is a bloody airplane flying [over our country]. They had radars [but nothing happened]. I could fly three to four hours, but nothing would happen. It is the proof that they had no Air Force in Tibet [near the border]. The best proof is that I was never shot down, except with their rifles.
In 1962, we had all the information about the Chinese [deployment].
I mentioned this to Elric Pinto.
If we had sent a few airplanes [in Tibet], we could have wiped them all out. I told AM Pinto: “we could wipe them out”. And everything could have been different in [the] 1962 [War].

CA: I was once told by Air Chief Marshal Anil Tipnis that when he was a young pilot in 1962, one day, he and his colleagues were ordered to board their aircrafts in Ambala …to support the operations in Ladakh. And suddenly they were asked to deplane. Orders had come from the ‘higher ups’ in Delhi, not to use the Air Force. Who gave this order?

JMN: Listen to this. When I went to Elric Pinto and told him: “We could finish them off in no time, do you know what he said?”. He told me that the Indian Government believed that the Chinese had bombers, they could bomb Delhi and other cities. This information was passed by the top, by Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon and [later] the information percolated down. [As a result] they decided not to commit the Air Force.
My feeling today is that question [of bombing big cities] may have come for discussion, but they did not believe me that there was no Chinese Air Force. They must have thought “will the IAF will be able to defend the cities!”
There was no [air] confrontation with the Chinese, but if we had had it, it would have been a different ball game; however there was Zero Possibility, as they had no Air Force. The person who should have put his foot down was Air Chief Aspi Engineer. Otherwise why was the Air Force not used to support the Army which was getting beatings everywhere. We could have [first] verified their positions [and then used the IAF].
Can you imagine what would have happened if we had used the IAF at that time? Chinese would have never dared do anything down the line.

What type of set-up India had?
We had the information at our end: the Chinese Air Force was grounded for lack of spares. They were mainly using Mig-17, but as China had problems with Russia, they did get the supply of spare parts; the planes were blocked; other planes were on the Korean front, from where they could not move.
Even a small airplane could not land in Tibet; they had no forward strip at all. Further for their fighter planes, it was a one-way trip [from Korea] as they had no fuel to go back.
All this information was available. What excuse did we have to not use the Air Force? Things could have been completely different, if the Air Force had been used.

Extracts of a letter addressed by Wing Commander JM Nath to Air Chief Arup Raha, in September 10, 2014.

It was always a common knowledge that China was equipped with Migs-15s and 17s. Delhi was out of their range. The shortage of spares as a result of falling out with Russia in 1960 had almost grounded their Air force.
Hours were spent by me personally in broad day light over Tibet and Aksai Chin. Most prominent - a 3 hrs flight at 100 ft AGL [above ground level] covering whole of Aksai Chin-DBO to Chashul [Chushul] and Demchok continuing to Shipkila pass [Himachal Pradesh] and Taklakot near Manasarovar. Thereafter, in broad daylight, the long flights from the origin of Brahmaputra till Pasighat (Trijunction of India, Burma and China) for four hours, numerous milk-runs over the eastern battle front and the adjoining 50-70 nm [nautical miles] area north into Tibet. Thousands of Squadron’s Recce photographs then are a matter of record with IAF and the Army Hq [headquarters]. One may ask, where was the Lack of Intelligence and where was China’s Air Force and their Air defence set up? This account may be considered as from a front seat witness to the 1962 tragic show.”

(The second part of this interview will be on Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath role in the 1965 War against Pakistan and his second Maha Vir Chakra).

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Highly Strategic Corridor

A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post published an article titled: “In Central Asia’s forbidding highlands, a quiet newcomer: Chinese troops”; it reported : “Two miles above sea level in the inhospitable highlands of Central Asia, there’s a new power watching over an old passage into Afghanistan: China.”
According to interviews, satellite images, photographs, and firsthand observations by a Post journalist, it was found that Chinese troops have settled in one of the most strategic areas of central Asia, termed ‘a choke point in Tajikistan’.
The US newspaper said: “Tajikistan — awash in Chinese investment — joins the list of Chinese military sites that includes Djibouti in the strategic Horn of Africa and man-made islands in the South China Sea, in the heart of Southeast Asia,” adding “the modest facility in Tajikistan — which offers a springboard into Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor a few miles away — has not been publicly acknowledged by any government. But its presence is rich in significance and symbolism.”
The region has been (and is) still highly strategic.
Last year a publication The 1959 Tibetan Uprising Documents: The Chinese Army Documents was released on Kindle. It was a collection of top secret documents of the Military Intelligence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), dating from the end of the 1950s till the 1962 War with China.
At that crucial time, China had a serious problem; it did not have an Air Force in a position to take on the Indian Air Force. The compiler of above papers noted: “disadvantage of the Chinese Air Force is still a major problem in case of a conflict with India. Indian jets can start at a low altitude with a full load of bombs and plenty of fuel. Also, India has many airports only about a hundred kilometers from the highest peaks of the Himalaya. The short distance and the higher bomb load means each Indian jet is at least twice if not three times more effective than a Chinese aircraft.”
Apart from the fact that many airplanes had been sent to the Korean front and that the Soviet Union had stopped supplying spare parts for the MIG fighter planes, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) had a major hurdle, no fuel for its few planes.
The amount of gasoline reaching the plateau from China via the Qinghai-Tibet or the Sichuan-Tibet highways, was not enough to maintain a large occupation force on the Tibetan plateau (read the Indian borders) and at the same time, provide the necessary fuel for the PLAAF.
One of the published documents mentioned secret statistics for ‘border trade’ and the import of fuel, gasoline and other commodities between 1953 and 1967.
What do the statistics show? In 1958, 380 tons of gasoline was imported into Tibet; in 1959, nothing; in 1960, 2220 tons, in 1961, 96 tons and 1962, 30 tons. It means that in 1960 there was a huge surge in fuel import.
But import from where?
There was no possibility of any gallons passing unnoticed through Nathu-la or Jelep-la, the two main passes between Sikkim and Chumbi Valley (Tibet); ditto for the passes in Uttarakhand or NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh today), or even Demchok in Ladakh, which had been closed for trade by the Chinese.
The author of the publication presumed that ‘corrupt’ Indian officials had let the fuel be smuggled in. That too was not possible, first the officers of the Indian Frontier Administrative Service posted in these areas, were the most upright people and in any case, considering that a mule could only carry 40 kg per trip it would have meant thousands and thousands of mules, which did not exist on the plateau …and they would have to have been transparent.
After pondering the issue, my conclusion was that this amount of gasoline could not have crossed any Indian or Nepalese border post into Tibet. It left few other possibilities. One was the Soviet Union, though it had just split with China; the relations between Beijing and Moscow had reached a breaking point by 1959.
The only possibility was some under-the-table purchases through corrupt officials in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan; I got convinced that the gasoline had come from the same area in Tajikistan where China is today building a new base, at the edge of the Wakhan corridor and Xinjiang.
An interesting lead: Tursun Uljabayev, the Party Secretary of Tajikistan in 1960 was sacked and imprisoned for serious corruption, a year later. In all probability, gasoline from Tajikistan was transported to Kashgar (or Tashgurgan) in Xinjiang and then taken over the Aksai Chin to be used in Western Tibet. It could have been done at night via the road cutting across Indian territory, which was the best protected artery in China in the 1950s and early 60s as only the PLA was allowed to use it; the traffic could have gone unnoticed for several months.
It was probably why Uljabayev was caught and the import of gasoline into Tibet drastically fell in 1961 …and 1962 China had no fuel for its aircrafts.
The above findings have two important corollaries; one, it confirms that the Chinese had no Air Force in flying condition at the time of the 1962 conflict with India, having no spares and no fuel. This was recently confirmed to me by Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath, who extensively flew over Tibet in secret missions between 1960 and 1962; he was awarded his first Maha Vir Chakra medal for this (he got his second in 1965 for mapping the Pakistani defenses). The second upshot is that the area where the Chinese are today building their new base, is highly strategic, being a relatively easy link between the oil-rich Central Asia, Afghanistan (through the Wakhan corridor), the restive Xinjiang (the hub of Xi Jinping’s Road and Belt Initiative) and Tibet.
This raises another issue: why did the Indian government, which had all the information about the situation in Tibet, the deployments of the PLA on the plateau and the lack of Chinese Air Force (‘Jaggi’ Nath was never attacked or even followed during his regular sorties over Tibet), not use its jets to pound the PLA concentration near the Thagla ridge in the Tawang sector, in Walong area of Eastern NEFA or in Rezang-la in Ladakh?
The only answer is, a woeful lack of leadership.
Let us hope that the present bosses watch what is happening in this area.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Xi gets PLA war-ready, India must wake up

My article Xi gets PLA war-ready, India must wake up appeared in Asia Age/Deccan Chronicle on Monday.

In May 2015, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a strategic plan for China, known as ‘Made in China 2025’; the Middle Kingdom wants to move away from being the World's factory and shift to higher value products and services; the idea is to upgrade the manufacturing capabilities of Chinese industries.
The China Briefing of Dezan Shira & Associates wrote: “This has required transitioning the country’s existing manufacturing infrastructure and labor market towards producing more specialized output – with targeted investments in research and development (R&D) and an emphasis on technological innovation.”
One of the tools to reach this objective is the program called ‘civil-military fusion’ (CMF) which would bring together the civil and defense R&D and developments; something unthinkable in India.
On March 2, 2018, during the third meeting of the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development (CCIMCD), President Xi Jinping emphasized the strategic importance of reducing barriers between the commercial economy and the defense industrial base. A few days later, Xi spoke of CMF as a ‘prerequisite’ for realizing the goal of building a strong military. The objective is to become the No 1 power of the planet, (in 2049, for the 100 years of the Communist Party?).
In its China Brief, the Jamestown Foundation explained: “China’s efforts to become a dominant ‘science and tech superpower’ in technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum communications, robotics and smart manufacturing are well documented. Less is known about how China plans to use CMF to convert its technological push into a long-term military advantage, in ways that, to a significant degree, are partly modeled on the US.”
For the Council on Foreign Relations, China is “on its way to becoming a science and technology power. Three of the five most valuable tech startups are Chinese. Companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei are increasingly narrowing the spending gap with American tech giants on research and development.”
All this translates directly into the military domain.
Recent developments in terms of new weaponry, some of them facing India, have to be seen in this background. For example, information has recently emerged that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had deployed a new Shenyang J-16 strike fighter in strategic locations in Tibet (probably in prevision of the arrival of the game-changer Rafales on the Himalayan scene).
The deployment of the J-16 could provide the PLAAF with an modern complement to the J-11B – the derivative of the Russian Su-27 Flanker.
Beijing today claims that the advanced fighter now possesses ‘near stealth’ capabilities; the paint covering the plane “is a kind of cloaking coating that gives the warplane a certain stealth capability, making it nearly invisible to the naked eye and electromagnetic devices," reported the Chinese media.
On January 8, the Chinese State-owned Global Times announced that some units of the PLA Ground Force (PLAGF) stationed in Tibet have been equipped with a new vehicle-mounted howitzer to boost their combat capability and improve border security.
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party referred to the new system as ‘PLC-181’, claiming that it had already been deployed by an artillery brigade in Tibet during a 72-day-long stand-off in 2017 between the PLAGF and the Indian Army at the Doklam tri-junction between Sikkim, Tibet, and Bhutan.
The Global Times posted a PLA photograph with units of the new howitzer system in a mountainous area. According to Jane's Intelligence Review, “the platforms are similar in appearance to the Norinco SH-15 155 mm self-propelled artillery system.”
It has to be seen in the larger context of the PLA’s preparedness for War.
On January 4, President Xi Jinping ordered the Chinese armed forces to enhance their combat readiness, he instructed the armed forces to resolutely safeguard the national sovereignty, China’s security and development interests and be ready to withstand complex situations and severe struggles: “The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century”, he asserted, while speaking of the various risks and challenges facing China.
The Chinese Armed Forces are expected to speed up their preparation in view of a series of landmark anniversaries in 2019, particularly the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
Last month, Xinhua reported that some 2 million personnel had been involved in more than 18,000, mostly small-scale exercises in 2018.
Apart from that, China has been active in boosting its border defence with India; for example, the rapid development of infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau (in particular three new airports in Lhuntse, Purang and Tingri) or new drones for better border control.
In November, The Global Times quoted a professor at the National Defense University who revealed details of China's new armed reconnaissance drone, which had been seen at the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai: “The GJ-2 is believed to enhance China's border patrol and counter-terrorism efforts,” said the professor. The military-industrial conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China had unveiled a new reconnaissance drone series. Reportedly, the GJ-2 prototype flew over the 8,848-meter Mount Everest during one trial flight. The drone has six weapon bays under its wings, capable of carrying more ordinance than its predecessors, including up to 12 air-to-surface missiles.
The new-generation Type 15 lightweight battle tank, which is much swifter and has better mobility than other armoured vehicles, could easily be deployed in Tibet in the event of a conflict with India. It was also recently handed over to the PLA.
Many more such examples could be cited.
All this shows that China is working hard to be ready for any contingency.
India needs to wake up, closely follow the developments on the plateau and take necessary counter-measures to boost the preparedness of the Indian Army and Air Force on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
However, there are small mercies as the real situation might not be as rosy as depicted by the Communist propaganda.
Dennis Blasko, a former US Army attaché in China wrote in War on the Rocks, that the PLA is today facing serious issues: “A large body of evidence in China’s official military and party media indicates the nation’s senior civilian and uniformed leaders recognize significant shortcomings in the warfighting and command capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army.”
He further elaborated: “the increasing scope and frequency of these self-critiques during the tenure of Xi Jinping as chairman of the Central Military Commission casts doubt over the senior party and military leadership’s confidence in the PLA’s ability to prevail in battle against a modern enemy.”
Let us not forget that some 200 officers of the rank of Major General and above have been ‘investigated’. What a huge gap in the hierarchy! A decade may be necessary to replace the ‘corrupt’ officers.
The PLA also suffers from the ‘Peace Disease’; the PLA hasn’t faced an actual combat since the War with Vietnam in 1979. It is a huge issue for China.
Despite the advances in technologies, the PLA might not be ready to face the US …or even India, at least for a few years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Map of aggression

Map of Xikang. First the first time in the 1940s, Nationalist China started claiming new areas in India's North-East
My article Map of aggression appeared last week in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

Before making any outrageous claims on border issues, Chinese officials are better advised to do their homework well about history and geography

Hua Chunying, the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has a poor knowledge of history and even geography. Once again, she claimed recently that Arunachal Pradesh is a part of Chinese territory. Soon after the Indian Prime Minister visited Arunachal Pradesh, she affirmed: “The Chinese Government has never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary.”
As usual, South Block issued a weak rebuttal. One wonders why can’t New Delhi speak of the “so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region” or lodge a strong protest each time China does repair work on the road cutting across the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh? Indian diplomats are probably too shy for this. But we should learn from China to defend our interests more vociferously.  Hua’s sharp tongue expressed hopes that “India will cherish the momentum of warming bilateral ties and not take any provocative action.” What provocative action? Just the Prime Minister’s visit to an Indian state? Hua may not be aware but China’s refusal to acknowledge the McMahon Line is a relatively new phenomenon.
Let us go back to 1956. As India prepared to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha, communist China was extremely nervous; eastern Tibet was on fire with the Khampa rebellion, while central Tibet was slowly getting contaminated by the revolt. After months of prevarication, Beijing finally allowed the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to visit India for the celebrations. But Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was really febrile, he was aware that many Tibetans wanted the Dalai Lama to stay on in India; as a result, he visited Delhi thrice in a period of two months.
During one of his numerous encounters with Zhou, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked him: “But I do not quite understand what you meant when you said that Tibet in the past had not become a province of China?” The premier answered: “That Tibet is part of China is a fact but it has never [been] an administrative province of China and has kept an autonomous character.” For Beijing, the autonomous character would remain on paper only. Zhou even admitted that India knew more about Tibet’s past history: “For example, I knew nothing about McMahon Line until recently when we came to study the border problem after the liberation of China.”
Hua would be surprised to learn that China’s premier did not know about the line delineating the border between Indian and Tibet till the early 1950s. Nehru unnecessarily asserted that historical knowledge was not important: “History is gone.” He, however, added: “My impression was that whatever it may be in theory, for all practical purposes, Tibet has all along been autonomous.”
The clever Zhou repeated that though people like him never knew about the McMahon Line till recently, the Kuomintang regime knew about it. Referring to the McMahon Line, he spoke of a “secret” pact between British India and Tibet at the time of the Simla conference.
The Chinese do not like to remember that the Tibetans sat on an equal footing with them during the Simla conference between October 1913 and July 1914. To give an example, the proceedings of the third meeting of the Tibet conference held on January 12, 1914, mentioned the presence of Sir Henry McMahon, GOVO, KCIE, CSI, British Plenipotentiary and staff; Monsieur Ivan Chen, Chinese Plenipotentiary and staff and Kusho Lonchen Shatra, Tibetan Plenipotentiary and staff. They officially sat together for nine months; China suffers from selective amnesia today.
To come back to the Nehru-Zhou meeting, the Premier continued on the McMahon Line: “And now that it is an accomplished fact, we should accept it. But we have not consulted Tibet so far. In the last agreement, which we signed about Tibet [in 1954], the Tibetans wanted us to reject this Line but we told them that the question should be temporarily put aside.”
The Chinese Premier bluffed: “But now we think that we should try to persuade and convince Tibetans to accept it.”
Then, Nehru went on his favorite argument: “The border is a high mountain and sparsely populated.” He further asserted: “Apart from the major question, there are also small queries about two miles here and two miles there. But if we agree on some principle, namely, the principle of previous normal practice or the principle of watershed, we can also settle these other small points.”
It is a fact that it is the nationalist government which made the communists realise the extent of the Chinese territory in the area. It is Ren Naiqiang, an influential scholar during the Republican era, who first included parts of the north-eastern borders of India into the Chinese territory. In 1926, long before the beginning of the Japanese war, Ren had started wandering through Kham. In 1936, as the Nationalist Government formally established the new province Xikang (corresponding to Kham province of Tibet), Ren Naiqiang was encouraged by Liu Wenhui, the Governor of the new province, to produce a map of the area. Though the Chinese had never set a foot in the area, the new map included the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in China.
At the end of 1949, Ren Naiqiang met Marshal He Long, one of the seniormost generals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and explained why his map was dependable; the Marshal was convinced and ordered the distribution of copies. On January 10, 1950, He Long sent his report to Mao Zedong strongly recommending that Ren’s map should be accepted and circulated amongst the PLA. It is after this encounter that China started “claiming” India’s NEFA (today Arunachal Pradesh).
Before making outrageous claims, Hua should do her homework and know her country’s history. China has not always claimed NEFA.