Today, it is 60 years since the Foundation of the Special Frontier Force.
Homage to the Vikasis!
I am reproducing an old post on the history of the First Months of the Establishment 22.
This post is dedicated to Company Leader Nyima Tenzin, who lost his life near Pangong tso, fighting for India.
The Song of Establishment 22
We are the Vikasi
The Chinese snatched Tibet from us
and kicked us out from our home
Even then, India
kept us like their own
One day, surely one day
we will teach the Chinese a lesson
Whenever opportunities arise
we will play with our lives
In the Siachen glacier
we got our second chance
Our young martyrs
have no sadness whatsoever
Whether it is Kargil or Bangladesh
we will not lose our strength
Whenever opportunities arise
we will play with our lives
Where there is our Potala Palace
and lovely Norbulingka
The throne of the Dalai Lama
was dear even then
Remember those martyrs of ours
who sacrificed with their lives
Let’s sing together
Hail to our Tibet!
Hail to our Tibet!
Hail to our Tibet!
The First Months of the Tibetan Army
Earlier articles on Establishment 22:
The History of the First Months of the Special Frontier Force
An aspect which has not often been researched but is the outcome of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, is the creation of a Special Frontier Force (SFF). It was to be ready to infiltrate into Tibet after six months following its creation. This did not happen, but it is worth looking at the first months of the Tibetan Army.
The Creation of the Establishment 22
For most Indians, November 14 means the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, but there is also another anniversary, albeit an ‘uncelebrated’ one, falling on the same day; the latter has for long been kept secret, as it marks the creation of the Special Frontier Force (SFF), the Tibetan Army (also known as Vikas Regiment or the ‘Two-Twos’). It was founded a week before China’s unilateral cease-fire in the 1962 conflict. There might have been an invisible link between the two ‘birthdays’, but we will possibly never know why the formation of the Tibetan Army was initiated on November 14.
Did BN Mullik, the then Director of the Intelligence Bureau or DIB (and one of the main culprits of the 1962 fiasco) want to please Nehru on his birthday by telling him that he ‘had found a solution’ to China’s military superiority? The Tibetans would themselves ‘liberate’ Tibet!
Mullik immediately realised he would need outside help for his project; he obviously looked towards the United States.
On November 19, the day Nehru sent two panicky letters to the US President asking for help for India, a crucial meeting to respond to Nehru’s requests was held in the White House. The then Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, the Secretary of State Dean Rusk, as well as his Assistant for Far Eastern Affairs, Averell Harriman, a respected diplomat and politician, were present. The CIA bosses were also in attendance.
The declassified US archives tell us: “McNamara urged that the first move be to find out what the real situation was. If we were to put our prestige and resources at risk, we must find out the score. He proposed sending a small high-level military mission immediately to Delhi. …McNamara again urged getting a high level mission out to Delhi, including State and Intelligence people in order to concert a plan of action with the Indians.”
This is what happened.
The American Version
Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison in their book The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet recounted: “Also mentioned (during the meeting) was the possibility of using the CIA’s Tibetan guerrillas. John McCone, a wealthy and opinionated Republican chosen by Kennedy to replace CIA Director Dulles after the Bay of Pigs, was on hand to brief the President on such covert matters. Joining McCone was Des FitzGerald, the [CIA’s] Far East chief.”
McNamara’s delegation arrived in India three days later; during their stay, the CIA officials held lengthy discussions with BN Mullik. According to Conboy, who quoted from David Blee, the CIA station chief in India: “The Indians were interested in the Tibet program because of its intelligence collection value …Mullik was particularly interested in paramilitary operations.” The DIB and his deputy ML Hooja made a special request during a session with FitzGerald and Blee. “They made us promise that our involvement would remain secret forever.”
By the end of the Harriman mission, the CIA and IB had agreed to a division of tasks; the IB with CIA support would train a 5,000-strong tactical guerrilla force; the CIA’s Far East Division would create a strategic long-range resistance movement inside Tibet and the Tibetan freedom fighters in Mustang would remain under the CIA’s control.
The honeymoon with the CIA did not last long and the Tibetan Force would eventually be built with purely Indian inputs under the supervision of Maj Gen Sujan Singh Uban .
Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison have written a romanticized version of these events; reading their account, it is as if it was the CIA which was entirely running the show. They explained that it was Krishna Menon and Lt Gen BM Kaul who decided “to create a guerrilla force that could strike deep behind Chinese lines. Because the Chinese were coming from Tibet, members of that ethnic group were the logical guerrillas of choice. Finding volunteers would not be a problem; both knew that there was no shortage of Tibetans on Indian soil, and virtually all were vehemently anti-Chinese and would not hesitate to take up arms for their own patriotic reasons.”
Putting the CIA always on the center stage, the US Spy agency wondered who could lead such a force: “They needed a senior Indian officer who could win the confidence of the Tibetans, embracing their independent nature and promoting a semblance of discipline without resort to a rigid army code. And he would need to have a bent (of mind) for the unconventional-something that was in short supply in the Indian military.”
The CIA ‘historians’ wrote: “As they scoured the roster of available officers, one name caught their eye. Brigadier Sujan Singh Uban, until recently the commander of the 22 Field Regiment in Kashmir, was in New Delhi after having just processed his retirement papers;” by their version, the CIA could pick up any officer in the Indian Army, for a particular job.
The authors argued that Uban had spent much time with mountain units and was familiar with fighting at high altitudes. Furthermore, during a stint as an artillery instructor for jungle warfare units, he had earned the nickname ‘Mad Sikh’, “this small detail was enough for Menon and Kaul” to summon the brigadier.
According to the US writers, on 26 October, 1962, Uban was given sketchy details of the proposed behind-the-lines guerrilla mission : “Working with the Tibetans would not be easy, warned Kaul. Disciplining them, he said, would be like taming wild tigers. As a sweetener, the brigadier was promised a second star in due course. Uban was hooked; he grabbed the assignment without hesitation.”
Later an emissary was sent from the Intelligence Bureau to Darjeeling to fetch the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Thondup: “After years of attempting to court the Indians - who were often sympathetic but never committal - Gyalo relished the moment as he sat in front of a select group of senior intelligence and military officials in the capital.”
Thondup Gyalo told the meeting that he needed 5,000 volunteers.
The following exchange is ludicrous: “Would Gyalo prefer that the Intelligence Bureau or the Ministry of Defense be involved?”
"Not Defense," he would have said.
The story continued “The very next day , Prime Minister Nehru made an unequivocal request for US military assistance. For the tired, beaten leader, it was a humbling overture. It was an admission not only that his central belief in peaceful coexistence with the PRC was irrevocably shattered but also that his cordial relationship with the Soviet Union had proved hollow.”
This is when, according to Conboy and Morrison, the US President called the meeting already mentioned; it decided to increase US military assistance to India; also mentioned was the possibility of using the CIA's Tibetan guerrillas: “By meeting's end, it was decided that Harriman would lead a high-powered delegation to New Delhi to more fully assess India's needs. General Paul Adams, chief of the US Strike Command, was to head the military component. From the CIA, Des FitzGerald won a seat on the mission, as did the head of the Tibet Task Force, Ken Knaus.”
According to the US version: “without pause, Ambassador Galbraith ushered Harriman into the first of four meetings with Nehru. The end results of these discussions were plans for a major three-phase military aid package encompassing material support, help with domestic defense production, and possible assistance with air defenses.”
During their visit to Delhi, the CIA representatives held sessions with BN Mullik: “Both the CIA and the Intelligence Bureau were quick to seize the opportunity.” They came up with some schemes to counter China and despite the opposition from several quarters in the US Administration, on December 13, the Kennedy administration approved some training assistance to Uban's tactical guerrilla force.
A First Meeting
Ratuk Ngawang, one of the commanders of the Tibetan force, consecrated one chapter of his memoirs to the first days of the SFF, we shall quote from his book in Tibetan. He recalled: “One day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s brother Gyalo Thondup had asked Andruk Zasak Gonpo Tashi to visit him at his residence in Darjeeling.” Ratuk accompanied him: “In one of his messages, Gyalo Thondup mentioned that we should not believe that the military base in Lo Manthang has strong foundation.”
Thondup explained that in a place where there were plenty of bamboos, the leaves which fall from the bamboo will move upwards when the wind blows upwards and downwards if the wind blows downwards: “there is no guarantee which side the leaves will go. His conclusion was that it was better to establish a large military academy in India.”
He then asked Gonpo Tashi’s opinion, the latter told Thondup that it would be an important military initiative which could make the Tibetan people more powerful.
When Gyalo Thondup asked the Khampa leader about his recruitment plans, Gompo Tashi said that a thousand or two thousand soldiers would not be of much benefit and that the objective should be to have as many soldiers as possible. The Dalai Lama’s brother answered that he would go ahead and speak with the IB (Intelligence Bureau) people to check if there was any possibility of finding support. Thondup told Gonpo Tashi that strict confidentiality should be maintained about the meeting.
It was suggested to go ahead and coordinate with Indian authorities; there would not be an issue with the recruitment from the Tibetan side. As the meeting ended with a mutual agreement, it was decided to proceed with the project.
Meeting the Chushi Gangdruk
It is then that Adruk and Ratuk called for a meeting of the Chushi Gangdruk to ask the opinion of the military commanders living in Kalimpong: would the Tibetans be interested to participate and how many were likely to join if a large military training academy was established somewhere in India.
Jagoe Namgyal Dorjee and Sadu Lobsang Nyandak, two Khampa leaders agreed; they had no objection to establish a military training institution; they readily supported the idea.
It was decided to divide the Chushi Gangdruk leaders and depute them to go across India to the different Tibetans settlements to collect the names of perspective soldiers: “Every participant agreed to this suggestion and started electing their representatives”.
Ratuk Ngawang, Dhargon Taso Choezoe and Amdo Kathok were selected to collect the lists of possible recruits. Gonpo Tashi told Ratuk to first go to Dharamsala to seek an audience with the Dalai Lama and update the Tibetan leader about of the new situation. During the next few days, this was done: “We informed His Holiness about our travel plans to cover Dalhousie, Chamba area, Kullu, Upper and lower Shimla, Janakpur, Jalirung and Mussoorie to find candidates to start the new Tibetan military establishment. …His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised us to include names of young men and women from all three regions and not to restrict amongst Chushi Gandruk and then filter and select those whom you feel are qualified.”
He also said to the three representatives of the Chushi Gangdruk that their work would be smoother and easier, if they travelled with a recommendation letter from Kashag : “We followed His guidelines and approached the Kashag and received an official letter from Palha Dronye Chenmo and travelled to the above places to collect names,” said Ratuk Ngawang.
When they reached Mussoorie, Gyalo Thondup had already sent a message for Ratuk to Jigme Taring, the Principal of the Tibetan school: “Ratuk Ngawang should immediately proceed to Darjeeling. The work of collecting names should be left in the hands of two remaining members and they should join later.”
Ratuk obeyed and immediately left; when he arrived in Darjeeling, he met Gyalo Thondup and Gonpo Tashi who asked for a report on the places visited so far: “I informed them about our visit to Dharamsala, the audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Kashag’s support letter,” recalled Ratuk, who also brought a first list of volunteers’ names.
Gyalo Thondup was happy with the work done and told the Khampa chieftain that he should go again to the places already visited to recruit soldiers.
Kundeling Thupten Gyaltsen, Kalsang, student of General Yeshi and elder son of Trengdong were to assist him: “You should go to Pathankot and make a phone call to Security Department in Dharamsala and inform them about your arrival and ask Security Commanding Officer to come to Pathankot. He will meet you there, you will discuss with them and you guide them where to start the recruitment.”
The travel and daily allowance of the new recruits were to be paid according to the norms decided by Ratuk’s team: “A small metal box full of hundred-rupee Indian notes, exact amount I don’t recollect, was handed over to me with instruction to keep proper records of income and expenditure,” noted Ratuk.
The officers did as ordered and went to Pathankot; the Commanding Officer of the Dharamsala Security Office was not available, but his deputy, Lobsang Yeshi came to meet them; he was keen to get guidance on how to collect the names of the required soldiers. He was told that there were about 1,000 monks from monasteries working on two separate road construction sites in Chamba Valley, some 800 of them should be able to join the force; then they could get about 400 out of about 600 Chushi Gangdruk’s members living in Dalhousie.
On the Chamba road construction, many got suspicious and two of the leaders went to Dharamsala to meet the Minister of Home, Phalha Donyer Chemo and asked his advice about joining the military force. Phala said that he had no knowledge about the recruitment, but “it is up to individuals, we can’t prevent anyone from joining or push anyone to go against his wish.”
Fearing a misadventure like it had happened to the recruits to Mustang, only 72 volunteers signed up. The recruiters did not go to Dalhousie, but asked some of the leaders to send all the volunteers from Dalhousie to Pathankot. The officer in-charge of the Tibetan Handicraft Center and the settlement officer were told that no instructions had been received from the exiled Tibetan Government and it was an individual’s decision. The recruiters informed those wanting to enroll that they should report to Ratuk Ngawang at Pathankot. Their travel fare and food expenses were to be fully covered: “everyone left saying, we had been waiting for such an opportunity when we can receive military training.” Ultimately, they recruited more than 500 soldiers.
Incidentally, one of the buses had an accident and five or six recruits suffered minor injuries, but there was no loss of life.
Suddenly, the Dalhousie settlement officer informed the Kashag that the handicraft center was empty “because Ratuk Ngawang recruited everyone into military”; he wanted to know what should he do. Kashag insisted that the handicraft center should not be closed. Pathankot’s branch of the Security Department then asked Ratuk to report immediately to Dharamsala.
None of the new recruits were interested to go back to Dalhousie, though Ratuk and his colleagues tried to explain that it was an order from the government that they should return to the handicraft center.
The Security Office in Dharamsala deputed Chamdo Jampa Kalden to Pathankot to tell Ratuk to send at least half of them back to the handicraft center: “We requested and appealed to them, but not a single soul changed their mind. …Finding no resolution, we drafted a letter saying everyone should decide on their own [to join the Army] and Chamdo Jampa Kalden returned to Dharamsala.”
Then, Ratuk send them off after disbursing their travel allowances.
The recruiters then moved to Kullu and Simla area to see if there were volunteers interested to join the force: “in total there were little more than 3,800 volunteers.” Later, they visited Musoorie, Herbertpur, Jalirung , Chhorpur and gathered some 200 recruits more before returning to Darjeeling to present the accounts of all their expenditures: “When we reached, we were informed of the arrival of about 200 guerilla fighters in Darjeeling and 700 from Kalimpong, Gangtok and Darjeeling area.”
With the other representatives who visited other areas, there were already 6,000 recruits at the military camp.
The above lines are part of a longer paper, available on my webiste (proper references are provided in the paper).