Monday, July 29, 2019

Reopening the Old Borders

Indus river in the vicinity of Dumchele
We are often hearing questions about what could be suggested as possible Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between India and China.
I give here a few suggestions for the border in East Ladakh.
One could add joint patrolling in 'semi' disputed areas; by 'semi' disputed, I mean areas where both parties agree on the area disputed (which is often not the case).  

Reopening Demchok
A way forward could be to do what was not done in 1954 during the negotiations for the so-called Panchsheel Agreement: open the Demchok route for the pilgrims visiting Kailash-Manasarovar.
Of course, that would be a first step; the next one being to reopen the border for trade; it could also be done the other way round (first trade, then yatra), if both countries find it more acceptable.
Remember the skirmishes in Sikkim at the end of the 1960s !
When the Nathu-la pass was officially reopened to trade in July 2006, it had the effect of ‘fixing’ the border, drastically reducing the tensions in the area.
Considering the ‘Nathu-la’ effect; reopening Demchok route could be an excellent CBM between India and China in Ladakh.
For years, the people of Ladakh have asked for the reopening of the ancient route.
Why is Beijing, constantly speaking of Old Silk Roads, so reluctant to let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya? 
Why can’t China allow trade and the devotees keen to go to Kailash-Manasarovar to use the easiest route via Demchok?

An alternative to Demchok
If China refuses to open Demchok, for whatever reasons, an alternative would be Dumchele.
Very few in India have heard of Dumchele, a place located east of the Indus river, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China; it used to be marked as a ‘grazing ground’ on old maps of the British Raj.
A couple of months after the 1962 border war, Dumchele appeared for the first time in the correspondence between India and China. On January 4, 1963, Delhi complained that China had an “intemperate and blatantly aggressive attitude”.
One of the examples given was that on October 22, 1962, the Chinese forces had attacked Indian posts at Chang-la, Jera-la and Demchok and occupied “fresh Indian territory upto Dumchele, east of Fukche.” Fukche was then an advanced Landing Ground (ALG) then used by India, West of the Indus.
Since then, the situation has stabilized and the Indus river has become a more or less agreed LAC till Demchok, located some 50 km South of Dumchele.
Though Dumchele is one of the 12 places where India and China have a difference of perception on the location of the LAC, this is not an insurmountable difficulty; The Hindustan Times recently mentioned the opening of a trading post which “could open as soon as the end of the year”.

From Smuggling to Trading
If the political leadership decides so, Dumchele could also become a new Border Personnel Meeting (BPM); presently the meeting points between the Indian and Chinese armies in Ladakh are located at Chushul and Daulat Beg Oldi (known as DBO).
Though Demchok, the historical landport would temporarily be set aside in favour of Dumchele which was the main smuggling center between India and China in Ladakh till 2016, when it was stopped for security reason.
The opening of Demchok or Dumchele would boost the local economy (both sides) and satisfy the local Indian sarpanches …and one day, one can dream of a new route (without crossing a single pass) to Mt Kailash. It would then become the fastest and easiest access to the holy mountain.
It could be an important step on the path of peace and would show China’s sincerity to open its frontiers with its neighbours.
Practically, it would mean, building a bridge over the Indus and build a tar road from Dungti to Dumchele. Technically, it is not a very difficult proposition.

Another possibility
Another feasible alternative would be to give Indian pilgrims access to Gunsa Ngari (Ali) airport.
Recently a two-day meeting between the representatives of the aeronautical authorities of Nepal and China was held to discuss issues pertaining to bilateral air transportation under an Air Services Agreement signed by the two countries.
According The Global Times: “As per the MoU signed between the two sides today, the Chinese side has agreed to designate eight more destinations in China for flights operated by Nepali Airlines, in addition to the existing seven destinations viz., Beijing, Shanghai, Lhasa, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu and Xi’an.”
But more interesting for our purpose, the Chinese tabloid notes: “The two sides also reached a common understanding that after the development of adequate technical facilities at Gunsa Airport in Tibet, flights of Nepalese airlines would be allowed to land at that airport while circumnavigating Mt. Kailash as part of mountain flight.”
Then only a few hours will be necessary for the yatris to reach the base camp of the pilgrimage (via the beautiful G219 highway).
Opening Gunsa airport to Indian flights could be a serious alternative for the Kailash-Manasarowar yatris (especially old ones); the Indian pilgrims could fly from Dehra Dun (Uttarakhand) or Leh (Ladakh) airports after proper acclimatization in the lines of the ones, organized by the Government of India in Pittoragarh district for the Lipulekh-la route or near Gangtok for the Nathu-la one.
This would give a boost to the economy on both sides of the frontier, and show China’s goodwill.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The succession challenge

The Chinese Panchen Lama (here near Mt Kailash)
is used by Beijing's propaganda
My article The succession challenge appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

The Lama had made it clear in 2011 that he shall leave clear instructions about who should succeed him. This should clear doubts and cut out the Chinese propaganda

China has mastered the Art of Information Warfare.
We saw it during the Doklam episode, though caught on the wrong foot on the ridge at the border of Sikkim and Bhutan, the Chinese spokespersons managed to convince many Indian scribes of the validity of a defunct 1890 Convention between the Manchus and British India.
More recently, the Dalai Lama was the victim of the Chinese propaganda; for the purpose, Beijing used some Indian journalists ‘invited’ to Tibet for a trip, to ‘see the facts’ for themselves.
On their return, one of the correspondents, quoting the Chinese authorities, wrote: “The successor of the Dalai Lama has to be decided within China and any interference by India on the issue will impact bilateral ties.”
The message that Beijing wanted to pass was faithfully reported by the gullible Indian scribe who quoted one Wang Neng Sheng, Director General (of Propaganda) in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s administration: “The current Dalai Lama was recognized by Beijing and his successor must be found through the ‘draw of lots in golden urn process’ within China. The Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is not decided by his personal wish or by some group of people living in other countries.”
The ignorant Wang was probably unaware that no golden urn was used for the selection of the present Dalai Lama; but propaganda does not need to stick to facts.
Another official, Zha Luo, director of the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing confirmed that “any refusal by India to recognise the next Dalai Lama to be chosen within China will impact bilateral ties.”
In other words, if Delhi does not kowtow to Beijing’s choice, there will be ‘consequences’.
It was enough to provoke a flurry of reactions from Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration and from elsewhere India.
A Tibetan official, Tsewang Gyalpo Arya stated: “The Chinese officials pointed out two things as important historical criteria for the selection of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. First, the selection should be within China based on the 200-year old historical process. Second, it should have the approval of the Chinese Central government.”
Arya argued that the Golden Urn procedure and the approval of Chinese central government were not mandatory for the recognition of a Dalai Lama: “It is an aggressive and ignominious attempt on the part of the Chinese leadership to distort the ancient religious tradition of Tibet to serve its current political agenda.”
The problem is that the sometimes mischievous Dalai Lama has in the past given ‘controversial’ statements to the press. One, which recently made the headlines, was to Rajini Vaidynathan, a BBC journalist, who was obviously more interested by her audience rating than by a deeper understanding of a complicated question.
When Vaidyanathan asked the Tibetan leader about ‘returning’ as a female, the Dalai Lama said with his characteristic humour that his successor could be a woman, but she ought to be ‘attractive’.
Vaidyanathan used her Twitter account to spread excerpts of the ‘controversial’ video in the social media; the Tibetan leader had to sadly apologize for his ‘misogynist’ remarks.
I remember asking him this question about a female Dalai Lama more than 15 years ago; he had smiled and explained that it was possible, there was no bar on this in Tibetan Buddhism and he had added that if it was useful for the Buddha Dharma and the Tibetan cause, “why not?”
The issue remains that his Office should be aware that the world has changed, and today rogue journalists are only interested in sensationalism.
In any case, Chinese propaganda and ‘modern’ journalism do not help to clarify the complicate issue. The succession is indeed a serious affair, not only for China which has been working hard to prepare a post Dalai Lama scenario with a few pliable Tibetan Lamas presently living in Tibet, but it is also crucial for the Tibetans (in exile and in Tibet) and for India as well.
The succession process could go two-ways, first a ‘traditional’ reincarnation with the huge problem of having a child and later a teenager for two decades at the helm; the other solution would be an ‘emanation’; the latter system is favoured by many as it would bring some stability in the system (and disarm the Chinese ‘religious fervours’); it practically means that the Dalai Lama would ‘emanate’ in a young boy and groom him as his successor.
Though the Indian government would probably not interfere, it still has vital stakes in the outcome (particularly in relation to the Himalayan populations from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh).
After the BBC incident, the Dalai Lama declared: “One day you will hear that the Dalai Lama has passed away, but I will come back, even if the institution of Dalai Lama is no longer recognised. I will be back.”
That is the real question: will Tenzin Gyatso come back as a Dalai Lama?
In another statement to The Week, he said that the rule-by-reincarnation system is feudal and may be discontinued.
The result of all these declarations is that the Chinese are confused; but for them to bank on their own Dalai Lama may be risky.
They should also remember the case of the Tenth Panchen Lama, who in May 1951 was forced on a weak Tibetan government by China, against a candidate selected by Lhasa. From his early years, the boy was groomed by Communist China as a ‘model lama’. But slowly over the years, he became his own man. In 1964, a few years after the Dalai Lama had taken refuge in India, in a speech in Lhasa, the so-called puppet Panchen Lama told a large audience: “Long Live to His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. He was immediately arrested and only released in 1978 with the help of Xi Zhongxun …President Xi Jinping’s father.
Again in 1989, while visiting his monastery near Shigatse, he questioned the 30-year occupation of China; a few days later, he died of a heart attack.
The case of the Tenth Panchen Lama proves that China would be wrong to take a Tibetan for granted, even if he is chosen by the Party.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama had clearly stated: “I shall leave clear written instructions about this.”
It is perhaps time that he announces that instructions about his ‘succession’ have already been given, thus removing the doubt in everybody’s minds and cutting out the Chinese propaganda.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Chinese Trains are India's Bane

A Train to Yatung, near Sikkim?
My article Chinese Trains are India's Bane appeared in Mail Today on July 15.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) walked into Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in September 1951. Immediately, the generals leading the ‘Liberation of Tibet’ put their troops to work; they had to build motorable roads on two main axes, Lhasa-Sichuan and Lhasa-Qinghai, as well as on feeder roads towards India’s border, particularly the southern route, Lhasa-Gyantse-Yatung, near the Sikkim border. The PLA managed this feat in five years.

Challenge at Nyingchi
Since a few years, Beijing seems to be caught by a comparable frenzy, but this time, it is trains that China is planning to bring onto the Tibetan plateau; the Communist leadership noticed the success of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway which reached Lhasa in July 2006, for developing the plateau, as importantly, ‘stabilizing’ the restive Tibetan populations …and defending the borders against India.
On July 9, Xinhua announced: “The building of the Sichuan-Tibet railway is picking up steam, with construction work on nine new stations on the Lhasa-Nyingchi section in the Tibet autonomous region to begin soon.”
Let us not forget that Nyingchi prefecture faces Arunachal Pradesh.
The laying of track on the 435-kilometer line is the easiest part of the Sichuan-Tibet railway; Xinhua said that “trains travelling at 160 kilometres per hour are expected to begin running by 2021.
The news agency further explained that the Sichuan-Tibet railway was first proposed more than a century ago, “the idea was revived after the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, but various hurdles prevented it from progressing.”
Today trains are already running on the section between Chengdu and Ya'an in Sichuan province.
The toughest and most strategic section (and worrying for India as it can bring troop reinforcement in a short time to any Himalayan front) is from Ya'an to Nyingchi, “one of the world's most challenging railway projects because it winds through the Sichuan Basin, Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, climbing from 600 meters above sea level to nearly 4,500 meters.”
Zhao Jian, a professor of rail transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University, told Xinhua: “It will go through complicated geological conditions fraught with avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, heat, karst caves and underground streams.”
According to Peng Qinghua, Sichuan’s Communist Party Secretary, “Bridges and tunnels will cover over 90 percent of the line, which means there will be nearly 800 km of tunnels and more than 100 km of bridges."  It is hard to believe. Can China succeed is another question.
In the meantime, China is building a railway line to Nepal which will reach Kathmandu in a few years.
The think tank The Third Pole questioned: “China-Nepal railway: fantasy or reality?” The reporter noted: “The world’s toughest rail route, from Kerung (or Kyirong) in Tibet to Kathmandu, is struggling to get off the ground amid growing fears of debt, earthquakes and benefits bypassing local communities

Track to Kathmandu
In Rasuwa Gadhi, the small village located at the Nepal-China border, 170 kilometres north of Kathmandu, Chinese workers are already busy building a bridge that will link the two countries. The article observed: “The border only opened after the devastating Nepal earthquake in 2015 led to China closing the badly damaged Kodari route. It is also where the new railway will enter Nepal from Tibet;” it further commented: “locals have dubbed the project kagat ko rail (paper railway) and sapana ko rail (dream railway).”
But as it is part of the Chinese Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, dear to President Xi Jinping, it is bound to be implemented!
The Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, asserted: “Most importantly, China's development has made it impossible for any force to make Nepal a pawn in strategic arrangements to counterbalance China's influence.” The tabloid points a finger at the US influence in the land-locked country: “China's development has provided Nepal with the potential of benefit sharing. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative has brought the country unprecedented opportunities by linking it to its surrounding areas and the world. Nepal will no longer be closed and poor, but will be an essential hub to connect East, South and Central Asia.”
This remains to be seen, but the train to Kathmandu is undoubtedly a tool to realize this dream-program.

After Tibet, Sikkim?
On the eastern front, a rail route linking Lijiang to Shangri-La, the tourist spot in Tibet (both are located in Yunnan Province), should start operating at the end of next year; the 139-kilometer Lijiang-Shangri-La line will link Kunming, capital of the province and Chengdu in Sichuan Province, via the Kunming-Dali rail line, allowing passengers to make round trips between Kunming and Shangri-La within one day.
An even-more worrying project for India is the railway line to Yatung, near the Sikkim border.
In 2017, a 'Tibet-South Asia' promotion meeting for travel agents was held in Lhasa; the theme was ‘crossing Himalaya, rambling paradise in the clouds’. What was the objective of the gathering?
Travel agencies made some recommendations for outbound ('out of Tibet') tourism products for Nepal …and other South Asian countries.
According to Qiao Zhifeng, director general of Yatung Tourism, the County has rich touristic resources. The train planned between Lhasa and Yatung would drastically increase this potential …and help India, said Qiao!
In July 2015, Ananth Krishnan wrote in The Daily Mail: “Local officials in Yatung say a line running to the India border could transform the currently paltry $15million border trade, which relies on a small border market in Yatung.”
The problem is that India has not been consulted.
In 2018, Yatung already received 1.2 lakh Chinese tourists, an increase of 43% over the previous year. Once the train comes, several lakhs of visitors will come within a short distance of the Indian border and let us not forget that the infrastructure in China is dual use, military and civilian.
What would happen in the case of a new Doklam incident?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Son, roll down this nalla

On the occasion of the Kargil Vijay Day, I re-post my  interview with Param Vir Chakra, Jogender Singh Yadav entitled, Independence Day Special: The Hero of Tiger Hill is posted on

Click here to read...

Yogender Singh Yadav survived 15 bullets while capturing Tiger Hill in the Kargil War and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest award for gallantry.
On the eve of Independence Day, the 32-year-old soldier relives that night when he and his fellow commandos won one of India's most historic military victories.
Yogender Singh Yadav of the 18 Grenadiers believes that every deadly bullet has a name engraved on it. Yadav knows what he speaks about; after all he survived some 15 bullets while capturing Tiger Hill during the Kargil conflict and was awarded the highest award for gallantry: The Param Vir Chakra.
Yadav was a member of the 'ghatak' (assault) commando platoon which captured three strategic bunkers on Tiger Hill overlooking the Drass-Kargil road on the night of July 3-4, 1999.
Twenty-two highly-trained men approached the Pakistan-occupied peak via a vertical cliff at an altitude of 16,500 feet.
The Param Vir Chakra citation said Yadav 'Unmindful of the danger involved, volunteered to lead and fix the rope for his team to climb up. On seeing the team, the enemy opened intense automatic, grenade, rocket and artillery fire, killing the commander and two of his colleagues and the platoon was stalled. Realising the gravity of the situation, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav crawled up to the enemy position to silence it and in the process sustained multiple bullet injuries. Unmindful of his injuries and in the hail of enemy bullets, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav continued climbing towards the enemy positions, lobbed grenades, continued firing from his weapons and killed four enemy soldiers in close combat and silenced the automatic fire.'
Claude Arpi met the hero recently. Interestingly, the long list of prepared questions was soon set aside as the commando, now 32 years old, started to 're-live' his experience. It is only towards the end of the encounter that Claude could ask him a few clarifications.

Claude Arpi (CA): Some thirteen years ago, on July 3, you and your team was given the task of capturing Tiger Hill. What do you remember of these difficult days?
What were your feelings then? How do you recall the events today?

Yogender Singh Yadav (YSY): Even though 13 years have passed, I still feel that the Kargil war happened just yesterday. I will never be able to forget through my whole life the memories of Kargil.
During this war, I do not know how many comrades I lost; comrades who were even dearer than my own brothers.
Inside me live their memories and it will thus continue to be.
I do not know how many hundreds of my comrades were injured; today some among them cannot even walk or move.
Those are 13 years of memories... it is still as if it all just happened to me yesterday.
I remember, 13 years ago, on the night of July 3-4, my battalion was ordered to capture Tiger Hill top.
Tiger Hill was the highest peak in the Drass sector. To take control of it was very difficult; a height of 16,500 feet, with sheer, precipitous sides of ice and snow.
Before that we had won mastery over many hills (particularly Tololing), but our success could turn into failure, if the dominating feature of Tiger Hill was not won, all other victories could be nullified.
The senior commanders concluded that only after Tiger Hill is captured would our other gains bring a complete success.
Our battalion was then ordered to capture the top of Tiger Hill; attack plans were made. A 'ghatak' (assault) platoon was formed, with Lieutenant Balwan Singh as commander.
This 'ghatak' platoon, under the battalion, was to attack the top of Tiger Hill first. The path that we decided to take was such that the Pakistani forces could not envisage that the Indian Army would be using this path to reach the top.
The path to the Pakistani positions had sheer, vertical peaks.
We made plans on how to accomplish our task and finally on July 2, we set out to accomplish our goal. The whole battalion moved together. The attack could only happen at night as the enemy, from their heights, could observe us from afar.
If we had attacked during the day, they would have shot down our jawans; hence we could only attack in the dead of night, that too, when the moon was hidden.
After an arduous climb for two days, during the night of July 3-4, we went through a tremendously difficult path, a very small path. But hearing the stones sliding under our feet, the enemy surmised that the Indian Army has reached this area. They opened fire on us.
When the firing started, there were only seven jawans who were ahead; the others were slowly reaching up from below in a line. A bit of path was blocked and only those seven jawans had been able to reach this higher spot.
We reached up to a 8 to 10 feet level with Pakistani bunkers; 4 to 5 soldiers opened fire at us. All seven of us went on firing and sent several Pakistani soldiers into the valley of death.
We obtained victory on that ledge. But the top of Tiger Hill was still 30 to 35 metres higher. From there the enemy could see where the Indian soldiers had reached. They started firing at us so heavily that neither were we able to move higher, nor could we could come out from behind the rocks.

For five hours, the exchange of fire continued, however they were unable to estimate how many jawans were present below them.
At about 10.30 am, the Pakistanis sent some 10, 12 soldiers to check. When the enemy came close to us, we fired at them and killed them all, excepting one or two.
But by then our positions had been marked by the Pakistanis and they knew how many we were; they returned to the top to report to their commanders that there were only 8, 10 Indian soldiers below.
Within 30 minutes of getting this information, the Pakistani troops launched a counter attack on us; such a powerful attack, using several supporting weapons, throwing big boulders down on us.
As they slowly came closer and closer, they managed to damage our LMG (Light Machine Gun), our supporting weapon.
Then they got still closer and launched a hand to hand battle, during which six of my companions were martyred.
I still remember that moment, those preceding instants when we seven mates were discussing and talking together about what to do next and what was going to happen, and the instant later when all my comrades had been martyred.
I was bereft by this loss, but also glad that before losing their lives they had killed 10, 12 enemy soldiers. I too was severely wounded and was taken for dead by the enemy.
Two, three times, they returned to shoot some bullets into all the dead bodies and checked that no one was alive.
The enemy also shot bullets into my body, I was shot in the arm and leg, but had firmly resolved that unless I got a bullet in my heart or head, I would remain alive, even if they cut off my arms and legs.
It is due to that resolve and will that I am alive today.
Some 500 metres below was our MMG (Medium Machine Gun) post, the enemy then made plans to destroy it. Next to Tiger Hill was the Mushkoh valley, where their base camp was located. It is from there that the orders to destroy the MMG post came.
I heard this order; I knew that some 10, 12 of my fellow soldiers were manning the MMG post.
In my heart, a voice spoke to me and said that I must save my companions. It is true that if one remembers Ishwar (the Lord) with full faith, then Ishwar-shakti (the Lord's power) aids you. It can even appear before you.I prayed to Ishwar to keep me alive long enough to save my comrades.
Perhaps He heard my prayer.

When the Pakistani soldiers again shot at us and tried to take our weapons, I attacked them with a grenade. One of their soldiers was killed.
Another turned his muzzle at me and fired at my chest. In my breast pocket was my purse which contained some five rupee coins. The bullet hit the coins and ricocheted away; I felt that I had died.
But the next instant, when he bent to take my weapon, my eyes opened and I realised that I was still alive. Within a moment, I turned and grabbing a rifle, opened fire on them.
During the firing, four Pakistani soldiers were killed. I fired from one boulder, then rolled behind another to fire again and then a third.
They thought that some Indian reinforcements had reached from below and they ran away. I returned to my companions to check if any of them were alive, but to my deep sorrow, no one was.
I tried to see how to descend, when Devi-shakti appeared before me and told me how to go down.
My broken arm was useless at my side, I tried to tie it, I even tried to break it off with a jerk, but I could not manage. Finally, I fixed it into my belt behind my back and rolled downhill towards my companions.
I gave my mates the warning about the impending attack and told my team commander, Lieutenant Balwan Sahib the entire story.
He, in turn reported to our battalion commander that our leading section had been entirely destroyed, only one jawan had returned (Yogender Singh Yadav) and he is giving this information.
Battalion Commanding Officer Colonel Khushal Chand Thakur told them to get this jawan down to him as quickly as possible so that he could hear the information first hand.
At that time it must have been 1:30, 2 in the afternoon (of July 4). Blood was flowing from my wounds like water. Though my comrades gave me first aid, the bleeding would not stop. They brought me back to the CO and by the time we reached, it was completely dark, and I was unable to see.
The CO asked, "Son, do you recognise me?" but I could see nothing. He had me laid in his personal tent, and had 2, 3 stoves lit around me. When my body gradually got warmer, the RMO (Regiment Medical Officer) Sahib came and gave me again some first aid and made me drink some glucose.
I got some sort of energy back in my body and then the CO asked again, "Tell me now, son, what happened with you all?"
I told him the whole story and concluded that "Now Sir, they are going to attack the MMG post. Sir, you see, beyond this helipad there are stones, behind which are the living tents of the enemy, they have support weapons deployed there, and ammunition has been dumped there."
After I gave this information, RMO Sahib gave me an injection to put me to sleep.

When I woke up three days later, I was at the Srinagar base hospital. I learned that the same night, our reserve company had attacked the top of Tiger Hill, and without any casualties, had succeeded in capturing the top.
I was then shifted to the army hospital, New Delhi, and after 16 months of treatment, I could serve the army again.
It is the dream of every soldier to fight for his country and with his own blood to anoint this motherland. To be able to do this is his great fortune.
I consider myself fortunate to have taken birth on Mother India's soil and to be part of this great Indian Army, which is today considered to be one of the best in the world.
I am proud of my country and of our army and I would tell the youth of this country that we can be devoted to our nation from anywhere, but the real progress, the inner and outer protection only comes when we all come together, when we try to progress in every realm and each one tries to grow in our own sphere.
I would appeal to our youth that no matter which area you chose, you should work with honesty, straightforwardness and work hard and you should keep their devotion to their country awake, alive. Jai Hind!
You said that the Devi Ma's Shakti came to you. You had earlier already had a vision, telling you that you would be injured, but would not die. Please can you elaborate?
When, with full faith, a man surrenders everything he has to accomplish a certain task, and this, without reserve, (ulterior) motive or calculation, certainly then, an inner strength, a shakti, arises in him.
He becomes conscious of what is going to happen to him today or tomorrow or whenever.
This happened to me, I was given the awareness that I would be injured; my arms and legs would become useless, but that I would remain alive.
It is a fact that in Kargil we had surrendered ourselves fully to our task (to recover Tiger Hill from the Pakistanis), we were fully aware that we could lose our lives, but we still surrendered ourselves to the task ahead with complete faith in the Lord... then there is no question of thinking that one could fail in one's work.
The task has to be completed -- the Lord himself tests man, He tests how much a person can take, how much pain he can bear; only when one can bear the most intolerable pain does the divine strength comes (to accomplish the task).

CA: You had the certitude that you would not die, tell us more about this vision of 'Devi Ma' who showed you the way down to the MMG post?

YSY: At that time, I knew that I had to reach my comrades; it was a selfless wish, to try to save the lives of my mates, my brothers.
I had no desire to try to save my own life, in fact having witnessed my six companions sacrifice their lives, I was proud that I was now being given another opportunity to serve my motherland and follow in their footsteps.
This is the dream of every soldier, his glorious journey to fulfil the prime duty of his life.
When he returns home wrapped in the national Tricolour, his family, his country and even the whole world rejoices with tears at his self-sacrifice.
I was given that strength and She showed me the way down.

CA: The 'vision' told you which way you must take?

YSY: Yes, absolutely, in front was a being in white who said, "Son, roll down this nalla (gully)."

CA: Have you seen LOC Kargil, the Hindi movie made about your action?
They did not interview me for that. But the movie, LOC Kargil has my role played by Manoj Bajpai.
Did you see the movie? How did you find it?

YSY: I liked it. They have highlighted the task that I and my companions performed; our sacrifice for the good. The world could see this. It made the general public aware of the difficulties a soldier has to endure to do his duty successfully. I liked it very much.

CA: Thirteen years later, would you do it again?

YSY: Yes. Many citizens wants to join the army, (not all are selected), but those who are, feel they are blessed that out of so many aspirants they are the chosen few who will serve to protect their country.
A soldier's ultimate wish is that he should be allowed to do this job of protecting his country, and even if he has to lay down his life to do it, that is not too big a sacrifice.
I have merely shed some of my blood for my motherland, only put a tilak with my blood on her land, but I am still alive. But if I were given the chance, I would put down this life for her.

CA: Since that time, there have been a lot of changes in the army?

YSY: The Army is the Army.
At that time, there were many shortages in the army, lack of equipment, ammunitions, adequate clothing, etc. Has the situation improved?
At that time (in 1999), the war was declared all of a sudden. In those areas (Kargil-Drass sectors), there was little army deployment. The units which had to be called in from other parts of India, from the plains and they did not have the right clothing.
But the main need of the hour (during the war(, was neither adequate clothing nor right equipment available, but to accomplish the task at hand, and this, with whatever means we had.
It is a matter of pride that the Indian Army jawan has a dedication, a patriotism not present in any other army of the world.
It is only because of this that we were able to vanquish the enemy at those impenetrable mountain heights.

CA: It is said that a soldier believes that every bullet carries someone's name on it. Do you believe that too?

YSY: Of course. See, I am a soldier, and so is the man fighting against me, we are not bothered by which bullet carries whose name.
Definitely each bullet carries a name, just as we say that every morsel of food bears the name of the person who must eat it.
Similarly, for a soldier, he has a bullet with his name on it, the one which will kill him; perhaps the bullet with my name was not made and as a result, I am still alive.

Though not mentioned in this interview, one of the motivations of the jawans and officers during the Kargil conflict was the barbarian behaviour of the Pakistanis.
On May 15, 1999, India sent a patrol to ascertain if some parts of her territory were occupied by intruders.
The patrol was ambushed on the Indian side of the LoC and the patrol leader, Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia and five of his jawans were captured and tortured.
Their mutilated bodies were returned on June 9. Yogender and his companions knew this. It motivated them further to recapture Tiger Hill.
Before the attack on Tiger Hill, Yogender Singh Yadav's battalion had been involved in the battle for Tololing, another peak occupied by Pakistan. They fought for 22 days.
Many Indian jawans and officers lost their lives in the battle. Yogender who was just married and could only reach his battalion a few days after the battle had started was given the task of supplying ammunition to the forward troops.
The 19-year-old Grenadier managed to climb the peak twice a day to supply his companions.
In a booklet on his life, he stated: 'It was gruelling and back-breaking work. My officers noted that I had tremendous stamina and could climb these treacherous steep and snow-covered slippery slopes almost constantly for 2 days carrying heavy loads. Please see: Our Heroes: Param Vir Chakra, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, Shyam Kumari, Vraja Trust, Pondicherry, 2011.
It is why he was selected to lead the final assault on Tiger Hill.

Claude Arpi gratefully acknowledges the help of Mrs Shyam Kumari, Lieutenant Colonel Uma Tewari (AMC, Retd) and Abha. The interview was conducted in Hindi.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

How many Tibetans in the Liberation Army? A difficult guess!

Chairman Xi meeting a young Tibetan Officer at a NPC meet
In an interview to The Week, the Dalai Lama recently said that “the Tibetan issue is no longer a struggle for political independence”. He asserted that there is a need to focus on preservation of Tibet's cultural, religious and linguistic identity.
The Tibetan leader added that “Political independence is mainly meant for the happiness of the people, but does it alone guarantee happiness.”
This can’t be argued that Independence alone does not provide happiness.
The Dalai Lama also stated that “There is a growing feeling among the top leaders in China that their policies have not been able to solve the Tibet issue in the last 70 years. So they should follow a more realistic approach. Even though Tibet was an independent country, politically China occupies Tibet today.”
It is not certain that the top leadership in China believe that Beijing’s Tibet policies have not solved the Tibetan issue for good.
Looking at some current development, it seems the opposite.
The Dalai Lama concluded: “Under the given circumstances, I have been saying for some time now that there is a need to focus on preservation of Tibetan culture, religion and identity. It is no longer a struggle for political independence."
That is an aspect of the problem.

Tibetans in the Communist Party
Another issue should be worrying for India (if not the Tibetans): if the Tibetans become ‘Chinese nationals’ what will happen to the ‘Sino-Tibet’ border? Can we envisage Tibetans fighting Indians soldiers in the Himalaya one day?
A few days ago, The Tibet Daily in Lhasa published a Statistical Communiqué issued by the Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) branch of the Communist Party of China.
On December 31, 2018, the total number of party members in the Autonomous Region was 382,000, a net increase of 18,000 from the previous year.
Further the Party has 21,000 grassroots organizations, an increase of 6.2% compared to 2017. Among them, there are 2,200 grassroots Communist Party’s Committees.

About Party members
•    Out of 382,000, there are 111,000 female party members, accounting for 28.8% of the total number of party members.
•    There are 312,000 minority party members, meaning Tibetans, which make 81.7% of the Communist card holders are local Tibetans. This represents more than 10% of the entire population of the TAR. It is consequent amount of the population who, for whatever reasons, are ‘Communists’ and working for China’s present ethos.
Some 113,000 party members aged 30 and below
71,000 party members aged 31 to 35
51,000 party members aged 36 to 40
39,000 party members aged 41 to 45
34,000 party members aged 46 to 50
24,000 members are between 51 to 55
18,000 party members aged 56 to 60,
and 32,000 party members aged 61 and over.
It shows that a lot of young Tibetans have joined the Communist Party.

•    Job Repartition
There are 13,000 workers (and technicians)
189,000 farmers and herdsmen
47,000 professional and technical personnel in enterprises, institutions and social organizations,
15,000 enterprises and institutions, social organization management personnel,
and 77,000 working in government organs.
Few others are students, professional staff and retired people.
A lot more statistics are given which is not useful to repeat here.

By the end of 2018, there were 77,000 applicants for party membership.
• There are 81 local Communist Party Committees at all levels of the party. Among them, there are 1 Party Committee for the TAR, 6 Municipal Committees (prefecture/city level) and 74 County (dzong) Committees.
• Cities, townships, neighborhood committees and villages have also Party Committees.
• 12 cities, 685 townships, 217 neighborhoods and 5261 recognized villages are covered by Party’s Committees.
• All the 44,000 government agencies in the region have established a Party organization.
• Some 2 million of institutions in the TAR are covered at 99.3% by Party organs; so are the public enterprises at 99.7%.
All this, of course, does not automatically bring happiness.
How the Dalai Lama’s scheme of ‘genuine autonomy’ fits into this scenario is not clear.

More worrying
But the most worrying aspect is the large presence of ethnic Tibetans in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP).
There are no reliable figures, as the Party obviously does not want the people to know how successful the integration of the Tibetan population into the PLA/PAP has been.
This should however cause genuine concerns in India.

How to find out?
For the PLA/PAP, one way to guess is to look at the composition of the local institutions which is in China often based on representative percentages.
If one takes as an example the composition of the 11th TAR People's Congress and the size of the PLA & PAP delegation in it; The Congress has 53 defense delegates (mostly middle level officers with a few senior officers). There are 31 are Han Chinese, 20 Tibetans, one Manchu and one Hui.
Of course, the Tibetan representation in the PLA/PAP is very far from this percentage, but it could indicate, future projections for the Party.
Today, the ‘ethnic’ representation in the PLA/PAP could be at the most 10% of troops serving on the plateau. But the above figures of the Regional Congress’ representation could suggest that in the future the Chinese aim to have a have a pool of junior officers in the TAR reaching 25-30% of the total PLA/PAP personnel posted in Tibet.
It will of course take a long time, as trust of the ‘ethnic minority’ is still lacking today.
This is a serious matter, which needs to be looked into by the Tibetans and India as it has serious implications for the future of the borders.
Incidentally, it is worth looking at the PLA delegation at the National People’s Congress (NPC). There are 269 members in the PLA/PAP delegation, out of 2980 members (75% are new faces).
In the PLA/PAP delegation are represented:
•    The Commanders of the Five Services
•    The Directors of the 15 Departments and Commissions
•    The Commanders of the Five Theater Commands (including Gen Zhao Zongqi for the Western Theater Command)
•    The Commandants of Military academies like the PLA National Defence University
•    and ‘Unknown’ soldiers/officers
Before the NPC gathering in March, it was announced that the current structure of the PLA delegation “has been optimized and fully demonstrated the Universality, Advancement and Representation. All the deputies are outstanding members drawn from all fronts.”
There are three relatively junior Tibetan officers in the Delegation:
Name: Yuk Bak Chu (?)
Delegation: PLA & PAP (1st Lt)
Ethnicity: Tibetan from Kangding, Sichuan
Date of birth: March 1989
Current position: deputy to the NPC
Name:  Tsering Tashi (?)
Delegation: PLA & PAP (Lt)
Ethnicity: Tibetan from Shannan
Date of birth: June 1990
Current position: deputy to the NPC
Name: Yang Chu Geshe (?)
Delegation: PLA & PAP (Sergeant)
Ethnicity: Tibetan from Aba, Sichuan
Date of birth: July  1990
Current position: deputy to the NPC
It is a fact that the leadership in Beijing does not fully trust the Tibetans, but there is nevertheless a clear will to bring more junior and middle-level Tibetans on board. Once again, it will become a challenge for India in the future, especially in the context of a post-Dalai Lama scenario.
Happiness is still a far away dream for the Tibetans; the Indian population bordering Tibet/China too, may suffer about the 'ethnic' changes in China's defense forces.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Lambs before the dragon

My article Lambs before the dragon appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

In other continents, too, nations have to kowtow to China in return for investment and debt funding, though they are slowly waking up to the fact that all is not rosy

China has managed to tame the wild Tibetans yaks, according to Xinhua: “Under the touch of the petite scientist Yan Ping, the tall and powerful black yak, weighing over 400 kg, is as obedient as a lamb.” And the news agency adds: “Unlike other yaks, this one has no horns.”
Yan, who works for the Lanzhou Institute of Husbandry and Pharmaceutical Sciences explained: "The Ashidan yak has no horns and has a mild temperament, easy to keep and feed.”
Beijing seems to have developed some expertise in taming humans and nations too.
The Taiwan News reported “Manila kowtows to Beijing, cedes Exclusive Economic Zone in South China Sea.”
The once-wild President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte is said to have ceded “ground in the South China Sea through an ‘informal’ and ‘undocumented’ [agreement] with President Xi Jinping.”
The Taiwanese newspaper noted that many citizens of the Philippines were “already concerned over the government’s unwillingness to safeguard the territory of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).” The article concluded that this makes the Duterte government appear even weaker on protecting the nation’s maritime territory.
But it is not only the Philippines which have been tamed and have accepted Beijing’s diktats. India’s Northern neighbour, Nepal, seems to have fallen in the trap.
Newsgram, an independent media agency, recently pointed out that it is the Nepal Government in Kathmandu which forces local journalists to avoid critical reporting on China, the largest investor of the Himalayan land-locked nation.
Anil Giri, the foreign affairs correspondent for The Kathmandu Post, told Voice of America that “journalists are discouraged from covering Tibetan affairs to mollify China and that government officials shy away from commenting on China-related issues. China sponsors junkets for Nepalese journalists and that’s why probably we don’t see lots of criticism about China’s growing investment in Nepal, Chinese doing business in Nepal and China’s growing political clout in Nepal.”
The lamb-lamb attitude in Kathmandu appeared in an incident which recently took place at the Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu; The Himalayan Times reported: “Man labelled Dalai Lama’s agent, deported to US”.
Apparently the Nepal immigration mistook a Tibetan called Penpa Tsering, holding a US passport and arriving from the US, with his homonym the former Dalai Lama’s Representative in the US; Nepali officials argued that the man was ‘on China’s most-wanted list’. In Dharamsala, the former Tibetan Representative observed: “It clearly shows that the Chinese government’s pressure on Nepal is working.”
Nepal’s Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa affirmed that the deportation was only an act “of honouring the ‘One-China’ policy.”
A few weeks earlier, two members of Nepal’s Parliament, Ekwal Miyan and Pradip Yadav had to apologize for having attended the 7th World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet, which was held in Latvia’s capital Riga between May 7 and 10, after Beijing pressurized Kathmandu.
In a joint press statement, the two MPs declared that they “happened to inadvertently attend the conference …due to wrong information …when they were on a private visit to Turkey, Switzerland and Latvia.”
They had even given speeches by mistake!
It shows how China can today dictate terms to ‘small’ countries like Nepal.
At the same time, Xinhua proudly reminded its readers that in the summer of 1921: “a dozen Communist Party of China (CPC) members were forced to leave a small building in the French concession area of Shanghai, and boarded a boat on Nanhu Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, concluding the first National Congress of the CPC. …Since then, the [Communist] Party has managed to lead a vulnerable country to move closer toward the world's center stage.”
The news agency asserted: “The Chinese nation has stood up, grown rich and is becoming strong. …Socialism with Chinese characteristics have maintained stability and vitality in the tide of global changes.”
The Tibetans, who have been tamed more than 60 years ago, are an easy prey. A couple of weeks ago, a Tibetan minister in the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala was denied a visa to attend a conference in Mongolia. Karma Gelek Yuthok, Minister of Religion and Culture was to attend the Asian Buddhist Conference in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. The minister could only say that it was “the clearest sign yet of China’s aggressive campaign of undermining core democratic freedoms across the world.”
On the Roof of the World, China has now all the cards in hand to nominate its own 15th Dalai Lama. Gyaltsen Norbu, the Panchen Lama selected and groomed by Beijing has been elected as the President of Tibet’s Branch of the Buddhist Association of China. Gyaltsen Norbu recently visited Thailand; on his return to Beijing, he affirmed “We are fortunate to be in the era of the development and rise of New China, and thank the Communist Party of China for leading the Chinese people in achieving the tremendous transformation of standing up, growing rich, and becoming strong.”
In other continents too, nations have to kowtow, though they are slowly waking to the fact that all is not rosy; the examples of Sri Lanka and the Maldives are often cited, but in Africa too.
The Ethiopian Business Review recently had a cover-story: “Africa falling into debt-trap” while The African Exponent, an online outlet for African news dared to write: “Horror Awaits African Leaders as China Withdraws Debt Funding”. It explained: “After an impressive run of a good relationship with China, scooping up at least $9.8bn between 2006 and 2017, making it Africa’s third-largest recipient of Chinese loans, the good ‘friendship’ between the two countries seems to have come to a snag,” commented the Review.
The reporter noted that in September, China promised another $60bn in aid and loans to the continent: “Xi Jinping promised the money would come with no political strings attached’.”
But all good things have an end. When Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan President visited to China in May “the atmosphere that greeted him was unfamiliar to the China of old. Questions were raised about corruption, as well as the figures and sums [that Kenya] had proposed.” Kenyatta did not like it.
The Chinese even wanted to know if he planned to stand for office again in 2022: “It was like talking to the World Bank,” observed an aide to the Kenyan leader.
All this, as well as the recent events in Hong Kong, show that the taming of humans or nations cannot be taken for granted; nobody remains a lamb forever.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Red Star over Tibet

Phagpala and Gyaltsen Norbu, Beijing places its pawns
My article Red Start over Tibet appeared in Mail Today.

Rumours recently circulated about the Dalai Lama restarting negotiations with China. Nine rounds of fruitless talks were held between 2002 and 2010 between Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy and Zhu Weiqun of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.
Since then China’s control over Tibet has hardened; countries which earlier had some sympathy for the Tibetans, are now hostile.
Take the strange incident which took place at the Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu; The Himalayan Times reported: “Man labelled Dalai Lama’s agent, deported to US”.
Apparently the Nepal immigration mistook a Tibetan holding a US passport called Penpa Tsering arriving from the US, with his homonym the former Dalai Lama’s Representative in the US; Nepali officials argued that the man was ‘on China’s most-wanted list’. In Dharamsala, the former Tibetan Representative observed: “It clearly shows that the Chinese government’s pressure on Nepal is working.”
Nepal’s Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa affirmed that the deportation was only an act “of honouring the ‘One-China’ policy.”
A few weeks earlier, two members of Nepal’s Parliament, Ekwal Miyan and Pradip Yadav had to apologize for having attended the 7th World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet, which was held in Latvia’s capital Riga between May 7 and 10, after Beijing pressurized Kathmandu.
In a joint press statement, the two MPs declared that they “happened to inadvertently attend the conference …due to wrong information …when they were on a private visit to Turkey, Switzerland and Latvia.”
They had even given speeches by mistake!
It shows how China can today dictate terms to ‘small’ countries like Nepal. This reminds me of what the 13th Dalai Lama, on his way to exile in India, writing to a British official in 1910: “Why do big insects always eat small insects?” More than 100 years later, the situation does not seem to have changed much.
In a similar incident with China, a Tibetan minister of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala was denied a visa to attend a conference in Mongolia. Karma Gelek Yuthok, Minister of Religion and Culture was to attend the Asian Buddhist Conference in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. For the minister, it was “the clearest sign yet of China’s aggressive campaign of undermining core democratic freedoms across the world, and even hampering the basic exercises of other countries through severe political intimidation.”
What could a Dalai Lama’s representative discuss with China in these circumstances? How could talks be meaningful?
Zhu Weiqun, recently came back from his supposedly retirement, reacted to Terry Branstad, the US ambassador’s visit to Tibet.
On June 9, he wrote in The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Party, strongly criticizing the ambassador, who dared, according to him, to encourage Beijing “to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama without preconditions.”
Not only was it blatant interference in China's internal affairs, said Zhu, but he also questioned the meaning of a ‘substantive dialogue’. Though time and again the Dalai Lama has said that he wanted an association, not a separation from China, Zhu still considers the Dalai Lama a splittist.
Already in 1981, Hu Yaobang, the CPC’s General Secretary had submitted to Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, a “Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama”. The ‘conditions’ were not related to Tibet, but only to the Dalai Lama’s future.
Zhu Weiqun reiterated that there was nothing to discuss about Tibet, the ‘negotiations’ could only be about the condition of the Dalai Lama's return to the Motherland and his status Beijing.
Beijing has other cards; it has taken a first step to nominate one day its own 15th Dalai Lama.
Gyaltsen Norbu, the Panchen Lama selected and groomed by Beijing has been elected as the President of the Tibet’s Branch of the Buddhist Association of China, replacing Drukhang Thubten Khedup, a Lama who had been officiating since 2003. Phagpalha Gelek Namgyal a stooge of the Communist Party since the 1950s was ‘invited’ to be the honorary president.
Interestingly, Gyaltsen Norbu recently visited Thailand; on his return to Beijing, he affirmed “that he was able to deeply appreciate the greatness of the motherland while he was in a foreign country.”
He was part of a Buddhist delegation led by Yanjue, the acting President of the Buddhist Association of China. It was Norbu’s first trip abroad, according to the Chinese media, which forgot that he had attended a conference in Hong Kong in 2012; of course, that was not counted as a foreign visit!
Norbu remarked: “We are fortunate to be in the era of the development and rise of New China, and thank the Communist Party of China for leading the Chinese people in achieving the tremendous transformation of standing up, growing rich, and becoming strong.”
In the meantime in Tibet, monks were invited to pass 'legal knowledge' examinations. Monks and nuns are supposed to specialize not only in the Teachings of the Buddha, but they need to grasp intricacies of mundane laws. The monks had to answer questions on the Chinese Constitution, the State Security Laws, Anti-Terrorism Laws, Anti-Spying Laws, Environmental Protection Laws, Internet Safety Laws and Regulations on Religious Affairs Matters. According to the statistics quoted by Xinhua, some 30,000 passed the examination.
Around the same time in Dharamsala, 45 regional chapters of the Tibetan Youth Congress elected new executive members and a new President, Tenzing Jigme who stated that economic and military development has no meaning unless matched by freedom for the people. He also declared: “Independence is our right. We are the rightful owners of Tibet. Irrespective of how strong China is we must continue to fight for our rights.”
If the Dalai Lama wants to negotiate a return to Tibet, he will have to take all this into consideration. The situation seems bleak today.