Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When British India planned to defend Tibet

British Map of Tibet in 1946
In the Report quoted yesterday on this blog, the border dispute between India and China is analyzed. The eventuality of the PLA 'grabbing' some pieces of Indian territory in Ladakh or Arunachal is studied.
The question is: what should India do in such circumstances.
The conclusions of the group of experts are:
The better way of responding to limited land-grabs by China is for us to undertake similar action across the LAC: a strategy of quid pro quo. There are several areas where the local tactical and operational advantage rests with us. These areas should be identified and earmarked for limited offensive operations on our part. More importantly, such a strategy will need the creation of infrastructure for mobility and housing troops. It would also entail building up our existing defensive formations. But this could be done as part of a larger rationalization of force structure by transferring forces that are currently deployed for operations against Pakistan. Though border infrastructure is under development, its progress has been slack and requires a major boost to speed up its implementation. Such a strategy will not only wrest the initiative from the Chinese, but will also be useful for our diplomatic efforts to restore status quo ante. 
Interestingly, in 1945/46, the War Office, the Foreign Office, the India Office and the Government of India went into the details of the possibilities of Tibet being attacked either by Russia (Soviet Union) or China.
A lengthy report was prepared taking into account all the contingencies. It was later approved by the Army Headquarters.
One feature of this report is the extensive use of the Royal Air Force and the para commandos. 
According to British archives: "The object of military aid is to prevent a hostile power establishing itself in areas from which it can threaten INDIA. In practice this means preventing the enemy from occupying those parts of TIBET from which air attack or rocket missiles can be launched on INDIA."
Eventually, a section of the Air Headquarters did not agree with the plan because they did not have the 7 required squadrons available.
Moreover, by mid-1946, the British had started packing and Nehru's new Interim Government was coming at the helm.
To defend Tibet was not Nehru's first priority.
Four years later, Tibet was be invaded, without the government moving a finger. 
Strategists realize today the blunder of the bhai-bhai (at any cost) policy.

Can India defend Tibet?
(from British Archives) 
A Letter from the Foreign Office, London

1. In his D.O. [Demi Official]  letter of 2nd November 1945 (WS. 17041 page 21) the D.M.O. [Directorate of Military Operations ] (I) referred to a new G.S.[General Staff ] appreciation that was being prepared on the military assistance that India would give to TIBET if the latter was attacked by either Russia or China.

2. A draft copy of this, which I bought home, is put up for information. This is a draft only at present and has NOT yet been approved by the C-in-C [Commander in Chief] or C.O.S. [Chief of Staff] India.

3.    An outline of the paper is as follows:

(a)    Military Object.
To prevent the enemy establishing himself south of a general line CHAMDO (MANE KHORCHEN) - GARYARSA (GARTOK) – LEH

(b)    Conclusions
•    That Tibetan Government should be approached to arrange for a nucleus of officers and NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] for a M.I. Group (3,000 men) to be raised in India. This Bde [Brigade ] Group is for purpose of imposing delay on enemy operation on main approaches to LHASA.
  • Suitable equipment should be provided free or at a nominal cost.
  • A resident Military Mission should reside in TIBET.
  • The maximum aid that can be given is one air supplied and air transported division with offensive air support.

(c)    Outline Plan includes
  • Construction of certain airfields by arrangement with TIBET
  • Detailed plans to be drawn up when Russian intentions against SINKIANG [Xinjiang], CHINGHAI [Qinghai] OR KANSU [Gansu province] are obviously hostile.
  • A meteorological appreciation of the whole area to be put in hand early.
  • Plan envisages employment of two bde gps in event of either Russian or Chinese aggression singly, or of one div. less one bde gp in event of attack by both, together with seven transport squadrons initially.

4.    This paper is prepared on the assumption that TIBET remains autonomous. I discussed with DMO who agreed that, if CHINA regained control of TIBET and entered into agreement with RUSSIA, our task would be much more difficult owing to the feet that we should not get prior information of Russian/Chinese intentions.

5.    I will pass this to Donaldson [British India Office] for information, DMO War Office already has a copy.

Sd: Kitson [Foreign Office]

[Then follow the Secret Report, only the Introduction is published here]


1.    The domination of TIBET by a potentially hostile major power would constitute a direct threat to the security of INDIA. The Government of INDIA are, therefore, vitally interested in maintaining friendly relations, with TIBET and in preserving for TIBET at least that measure of autonomy which she now enjoys.

2.    The basis of Tibetan autonomy must rest in strong diplomatic support by HMG [His Majesty Government] and by INDIA so that the Tibetans will not be subjected to pressure by any potential hostile power.
In particular TIBET must be supported against the methods of “peaceful penetration” subversion which have been employed so successfully by RUSSIA in Northern PERSIA and which CHINA is very likely to employ against her.

3.    Neither RUSSIA nor CHINA must be allowed to violate Tibetan autonomy by such methods, since it would then be possible for them to build roads and airfields to their own advantage, which would vitally affect INDIA’s strategic position.

4.    Should it prove impossible to preserve Tibetan autonomy by diplomatic methods alone or should RUSSIA or CHINA attack TIBET, it might to necessary for the Govt of INDIA to provide direct military aid to TIBET which would involve war. The purpose of this paper is to study the extent and manner of direct military aid that could be given to TIBET in pursuance of the political object.

5.     The object of military aid is to prevent a hostile power establishing itself in areas from which it can threaten INDIA. In practice this means preventing the enemy from occupying those parts of TIBET from which air attack or rocket missiles can be launched on INDIA.

6.     Military aid must depend upon the goodwill of the Tibetans, and confidence in us both now and when direct military assistance is sent to them. It will therefore be essential to protect the capital and the wealthier provinces of the country.

No comments: