Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Maxwell on the Henderson-Brooks Report: an ideological over-simplification

The arrival of the Dalai Lama in India was the turning point
To continue on the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat Report (HBBR) and the role of Neville Maxwell, I strongly disagree with the Australian journalist that India was the aggressor and Nehru was to blame for everything. 
It is clearly an over-simplification, though, there is no doubt that Nehru committed blunders after blunders.
Recently, an interview of Neville Maxwell appeared in The South China Morning Post (another appeared in The Times of India). Maxwell was asked by the Hong Kong newspaper: "What do you hope to achieve with this disclosure?"
Maxwell explained: "I hope to achieve what I have been trying to do for nearly 50 years! To rid Indian opinion of the induced delusion that in 1962 India was the victim of an unprovoked surprise Chinese aggression, to make people in India see that the truth was that it was mistakes by the Indian government, specifically Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, that forced the war on China."
Reading the HBBR, does not show that India forced a war on China, it just shows that India was not prepared to successfully sustain some new forward positions ordered by Krishna Menon (and Nehru) in NEFA and Ladakh.
It is undoubtedly a Himalayan Blunder in itself; it shows the foolishness of the Prime Minister (and his arrogant Defence Minister), but it is not the root-cause of the War.
The forward policy was nevertheless the ideal pretext for Mao to show India that nobody goes unpunished after insulting China (by giving refuge to the Dalai Lama and his followers) .
As I mentioned in previous postings, many other factors came into play, first and foremost the flight of the Dalai Lama in March/April 1959 and his subsequent asylum in India.
Where I agree with Maxwell is when he said: "My putting the report online now deprives the government of India the excuse they’ve used to keep it secret, the false claim that it was to preserve national security. It’s clear to anyone who reads the report that it has no current military or strategic significance. So there is no good reason for the government to persist in refusing to declassify the whole report, including Volume Two, which I never saw."
Apart from this, it is apparent that Maxwell sees only the Chinese side of the coin. That is why he is so lavishly praised by Zhou Enlai.
When asked why he hates Nehru so much, he admits: "I knew Nehru well and liked him immensely, he was a man of great charm. I was twice the head of the foreign correspondents association, and that brought me into personal contact with him, and as The Times man, I could sometimes get in to talk to him," but he adds: "That access and friendliness shows, to my shame, in my reporting of the dispute with China as that developed – throughout I took the Indian side, never seeing what should have been obvious, that China was not aggressive but was consistently trying for a settlement on mutually beneficial terms."
I will try in the next few days to show that this assessment is entirely wrong.
China has been aggressive from the day it entered Tibet in October 1950. 
Let us not forget that China had NO BORDER with India till that time.
For Nehru, to have agreed to the annexation of Tibet is a far more serious blunder than a so-called Forward Policy.
Another factor that Maxwell conveniently forgets is that Tibet was on the boil (particularly Eastern Tibet, north of the McMahon Line) at the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s.
The 70,000 character petition from the Panchen Lama to Zhou Enlai on the internal situation in Tibet demonstrates the suffering of the Tibetans during the period before the Sino-India war.
Another factor mentioned in Maxwell's simplistic approach is the internal power struggle in China; the War was a plank for Chairman Mao to return to power.
I would like today to post an interesting letter from Nehru to Subimal Dutt, his Foreign Secretary. It is dated September 13, 1959.
At that time, there was no question of 'forward policy'.
Nehru particularly says: "Our armed forces and others should keep clearly within our side of our frontier, that is, the MacMahon [McMahon] Line or elsewhere. If they happen to be on the other side in any particular place, they should withdraw to our side. They should not withdraw beyond that. In the event of any Chinese armed detachment coming over to our side, they should be told to go back. Only if they fire should our people fire at them."
One of the factors which cause the 'Himalayan Blunder' was the sycophancy around the Prime Minister; nobody would give him a clear picture of the situation on the border and where the border was (whether it is B.N. Mullick, the Director of Intelligence Bureau, the historical Department under Dr. S. Gopal or the Army with Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul, Nehru's blue-eyed boy in the control room).
This letter posted below shows that at the end of 1959, Nehru still had an extremely careful approach.
It is part of Volume 52 of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru published by the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (page 211).

From Prime Minster to Ministry of External Affairs: India-China Border Controversy 
September 13, 1959 

There has been a good deal of talk in Parliament and elsewhere about our controversies with China. In fact, so much has been said that there might well be some confusion in people's minds. That confusion was apparent in the course of the debate yesterday in the Lok Sabha, and many members were greatly excited about the situation.  I have no doubt that they represented the general excitement in the public. This morning a number of little children came to see me from the schools, and they appeared to be excited over this affair. I am, therefore, putting down some points which might help us to clear our own minds and guide us in the near future. In a changing situation one cannot lay down any fixed instructions. But the broad lines of our approach should be more or less clear.

(2) It should be clearly understood by our civil and military officers and others that we must avoid actual conflict unless it is practically forced down upon us. That is to say, we must avoid armed conflict not only in a big way, but even in a small way. On no account should our forces fire unless they are actually fired at.

(3) Our armed forces and others should keep clearly within our side of our frontier, that is, the MacMahon [McMahon] Line or elsewhere. If they happen to be on the other side in any particular place, they should withdraw to our side. They should not withdraw beyond that. In the event of any Chinese anned detachment coming over to our side, they should be told to go back. Only if they fire should our people fire at them.

(4) Our frontier with Tibet-China can be divided up broadly into three parts:
    (i) the MacMahon Line from Burma to Bhutan,
    (ii) the frontier between Tibet and Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab, and
    (iii) the Ladakh frontier.
These three involve a slightly different approach. So far as the MacMahon Line frontier is concerned, I have referred to it above.

(5) In regard to (ii), that is, UP, Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab, our check-posts should be vigilant and, where necessary, might be reinforced. About Hoti area, we have some understandings which are not always kept. We should adhere to these understandings. This particular frontier is largely conditioned by the reference to various clauses in the 1954 Agreement. We should adhere to that frontier.

(6) So far as the Ladakh frontier is concerned, this may be divided up into two parts: (a) Chushul and round about area and (b) the Aksai Chin area. In the Chushul area we should have strong detachments at our check-posts and more especially guard the Chushul airfield. We should avoid actual conflict as far as possible. The Chinese have put up some kind of a check-post within our boundary and not far from Chushul. We should not take any aggressive armed action against this check-post, but we should prevent any advance towards the Chusul airfield or indeed any other part nearby.

(7) The Aksai Chin area has to be left more or less as it is. We have no
check-post there and practically little means of access. Any questions relating to it can only be considered, when the time arises, in the context of the larger question of the entire border. For the present, we have to put up with the Chinese occupation of this North-East sector and their road across it.

(8) Broadly speaking, we should be prepared for talks in regard to any minor deviation from the border as accepted by us throughout the three areas mentioned above. That is, we can discuss these matters if the time arises. But any question relating to major changes such as are envisaged in the Chinese maps cannot be considered by us in this way.

(9) Thus, on the whole, the status quo that has existed for some time should be maintained throughout the frontier. It has been disturbed at Longju and Tamadem and perhaps one or two other minor places. We have already made a proposal about Longju that both sides should retire from this place and discuss the exact border there, through proper representatives. That proposal stands.
At Tamadem we have issued instructions already for withdrawal of our detachment because, in our opinion, this area is on the other side of the MacMahon Line frontier. This instruction should hold.

(10) Our general instructions to our people on the border should be that they should avoid any provocative action, but should remain firmly on our side of the line and not allow themselves to be pushed away easily. I think it is unlikely that the Chinese forces will take up any aggressive line on this frontier, that is, try to enter into our territory any further. If they should do so, they will have to be stopped and the matter reported to us immediately for instructions.

(11) A carefully drafted reply to Premier Chou En-lai's last letter should be prepared. On my return from Tehran, we shall consider this and then send it.

(12) As for the other points in controversy, chiefly about the behavior of the Chinese authorities towards our missions inside Tibet, wherever any answers are necessary, they can be sent without waiting for any return.

(13) Papers relating to our relations with China, subsequent to those published in the White Paper, should be got ready. We should aim at publishing this collection early in October.

(14) When General Thimayya comes back from Shillong, FS might have a talk with him and find out what the position is and what arrangements have been made. I had a talk with him two days ago on the lines of this note. Nevertheless, a copy of this note might be given to him.

(15) So far as possible, general indications of our attitude in these matters might be informally and privately given by Foreign Secretary to some of our important newspapers. While the situation is undoubtedly serious in the long run, there is no need to exaggerate it or to speak or write in an alarmist manner. Criticisms of general policy are always permissible, but attacks on China should be avoided.

(16) Our Ambassador in Moscow as well as our Heads of Missions in the East European countries might be kept informed of our general policy and developments. Also some of our other important Missions abroad. They are likely to be constantly approached by the Governments to which they are accredited as well as by the press, and they should, therefore, know what to say in reply.

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