Tuesday, October 27, 2020

About the Land Dispute with Nepal

Survey of India map (1943)
On May 8, 2020, an argument erupted between India and Nepal; the immediate reason which triggered the debate was an 80 km road between Darchula to Lipulekh, the border pass near the trijunction with Tibet and Nepal, inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The road is to be used by the Indian pilgrims visiting Kailash-Mansarovar, located some 90km from the pass, as well as the local traders; Lipulekh being one of the three landports between India and China. Strategically, this road is also crucial for India.
PTI then explained: “The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory.”
Kathmandu handed over a diplomatic note protesting against the construction of the road to Vinaya Mohan Kwatra, the Indian Ambassador to Nepal; Kwatra was subsequently called by Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Nepal’s Foreign Minister, who lodged a protest.
It is only very late that the Nepali realize that there was a dispute. 

In 1998, the CPN-ML faction led by Bam Dev Gautam started claiming some Indian territory in the vicinity of Kalapani as Nepalese; one of the main actors was Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, the former Director General of the Land Survey Department. According to him, the ‘Kali River’ is in fact the Kuthi Yankti river that arises below the Limpiyadhura range and not the one earlier accepted by India, China and Nepal.
It is how Nepal began claiming an entire area of Kumaon up to the Kuthi Valley, some 400 km2 in total.
But up to 2000, the Nepalese government kept quiet and did not push for these demands.
In a statement to the Indian Parliament in 2000, the Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh suggested that Nepal had questioned the source of the Kalapani river, while denying that it was a dispute.
Unfortunately, on May 20, 2020, Nepal for the first time released a map incorporating the Maoist claims; it showed the entire area to the east of Kuthi Yankti river as part of their territory. To make it worse, on June 13, a bill seeking to give legal status to the new map was unanimously approved by the lower house in the Nepal Parliament.

The Road to Kailash
In May 2020, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) denied that the road was crossing Nepal’s territory: “The recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra,” said South Block.
Already in November last year, Kathmandu had protested, “unilateral decisions on border issues won’t be accepted,” it was in reference to the new Political Map of India published by Delhi after two new Union Territories - Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh - came into existence on October 31.
Kathmandu formally protested over the inclusion of the Kalapani area in the new map.
What is strange is that the new Indian map is exactly the same than the one published in 1954 in the Atlas of the Northern Frontiers of India, which is the official reference till today for India’s boundaries. Kathmandu did not protest against the old map and apart from the new UTs, there was nothing new in the 2019 maps.
The case is complicated by different factors; amongst them the political struggle within the ruling party in Nepal and also the fact that there has been no historical consistency in Kathmandu’s position.
Let us look at the history.

Tracing the History
After a War between British India and Nepal in 1814, the Nepalis were sent back across the Kali River in May 1815 and subsequently the Segowli Treaty was signed on March 4, 1816. Article 5 of the Treaty stated: “The Rajah of Nepaul renounces for himself, his heirs and successors, all claim to or connexion with the countries lying to the West of the River Kali, and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants thereof.”
Unfortunately, there was no map attached which could have authoritatively shown the exact alignment and the source of the Kali River.
In any case, at that time, no scientific survey worth the name could be carried out; it was only by mid-19th century that the Himalayan border was first surveyed by the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (a precursor of the Survey of India), in a more scientific manner.

General Conwan’s Take
General Sam Cowan, a retired British general, studied Nepal through his British Gurkha connections and his extensive trekking in the country, wrote in 2015 a well-researched article. There is no doubt that due to his long service with the Gurkhas, Conwan’s sympathies lies with Nepal; his arguments are interesting nevertheless.
Long before the issue of Kalapani erupted, he observes: “A further major complication for Nepal is that India rejects the claim that the river from Lipu Lekh is the renamed Kali River. It asserts, and claims that it has maps and diagrams to prove it, presumably based on the 1879 map, that the river Kali begins from the junction of the river that flows from Lipu Lekh and a stream that flows from springs in Kalapani. Hence, the earlier quote from the Indian pilgrim that “Kalapani …is supposed to be the origin of River Kali.”
According to Conwan: “The date on which this Kalapani stream first appeared on maps is disputed, but, whatever the maps show or do not show, the ground reality is that Indian security forces occupy the area of Kalapani to the east of the river, which traditionally has been regarded as the Nepali side.
We shall come back to this.

The 1879 Survey of India Map

The general says: “What is the value of doing so? There is evidence that the Indians first used Kalapani simply because it was the only piece of flat land in the area to establish a rudimentary camp to cover the approach to Lipu Lekh. At a later stage they must have come to realize that under the complexities of riparian water rights their claim to control the headwaters of the Mahakali River would be strengthened by their occupation of Kalapani. At the military and security level, answers can only be speculative, but presumably the thinking is that an Indian security presence there helps to balance the Chinese security force presence in Taklakot just a short distance away over Lipu Lekh. There may also be an intelligence advantage.”
The British ‘Gurkha’ general brings another issue; the realignment of the border with the watershed; he points out: “There is one other significant consequence of India’s occupation of Kalapani. As the map shows, India has used its argument on the origin of the Kali river, and its occupation of the site, to claim a frontier line which corresponds to the 1879 map, in following a ridge line (‘Kali river watershed’ on map) that runs from just south of Kalapani to a point slightly to the west of Tinker Pass, which is about 5 kilometers east, southeast of Lipu Lekh. Tinker Pass is the location of Pillar Number 1 of 79 marking the Sino-Nepal Border. Nepal maintains that the tri-junction should be at Lipu Lekh, where Pillar Number 0 should be placed. However, for the present, the reality is that the India-Nepal-China tri-junction is de facto just to the west of Border Pillar Number 1.”

The Watershed at Kalapani

He comments on a Google map: “the top red line, which follows the river up from Kalapani to Nabhidhang toward Lipu Lekh, shows the border that appeared in maps after the 1860s and in the Panchayat era. The lower red line, which follows a watershed from Kalapani to a tri-junction on the main ridge to the north, indicates India’s view of where the border runs. An 1879 map shows this border, as does a map produced by the Government of Nepal in 1960. This shows in more detail where India considers the India-Nepal-China tri-junction should be, just to the west of the Tinker Pass. Lipu Lekh is 5 kilometers further west along the ridge.”
However Conwan can only admit: “Nepal’s case for Kalapani has been badly undermined by long years of silence on the issue by the country’s leaders. Some key related questions make that clear. When did India first occupy Kalapani? Who in Kathmandu knew what, and when? What did they do about it?”
The British general also mentioned the historic trading pass of Urai Lekh “with Nepal and the Seti gorge on the right and the trail into Tibet on the left. It is the site of Border Pillar Number 2.” He said that Sydney Wignall (see my article on Sydney Wignall) used this pass when illegally entering Tibet in the late autumn of 1955. They were forced to return by the same route in winter.”

The Border in the 1950s
Interestingly, in the early 1950s, the Indian police already manned a check-post at Kalapani. In his diary, Lakshman Singh Jangpangi, the Indian Trade Agent in Gartok wrote: “July 10, 1955. I could not start on 9th, as my clerk suddenly ran a very high temperature and was unable to leave his bed. I called local Ayurvedic doctor who gave him some medicine. The Compounder was sent with the advance party on 6th. This clerk was today better and fit to travel, I started and camped at Kalapani near Police Post. A section of P.A.C. [Provincial Armed Constabulary] under Subedar Sher Singh has been stationed here since 28th June 1955. This post is about 8 miles below the pass and a patrol party occasionally goes up to the pass. There is plentiful supply of firewood and water here. They are living in two single-fly tents and Subdear has constructed a small mud but for himself which leaks very badly in rainy weather. The Garbyang villagers have cultivated land close to the post. Besides passing caravans they have no other company or activities. I saw them keeping busy in collecting firewood and making Subedar’s hut livable.”
Due to heavy rainfall “which continued more than 14 hours starting from 2 am to 5 pm,” Jangpangi stayed one more day at the check-post.
The police post had probably been set in 1952 by the Uttar Pradesh’s government.
There was then no question of dispute, especially after the "Agreement on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India", was signed on April 28, 1954 in Beijing: “Pilgrims customarily visiting Lhasa may continue to do so in accordance with custom. Article IV Traders and Pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and route : (1) Shipki La pass, (2) Mana pass, (3) Niti pass, (4) Kungri Bingri pass, (5) Darma pass and (6) Lipu Lekh pass.”
There was no doubt about it.

Pillar No 1 corresponds to the India stand

The 1961 Sino-Nepal Treaty
Interestingly, the “Boundary Treaty between the People's Republic of China and the Kingdom of Nepal” signed by President Liu Shaoqi of China and King Mahendra of Nepal on October 5, 1961 shows the Kali river as per the Indian stand: “The Chairman of the People's Republic of China and His Majesty the King of Nepal, being of the agreed opinion that a formal settlement of the question of the boundary between China and Nepal is of fundamental interest to the peoples of the two countries,” said the preamble.
Article I (1) defined the China-Nepal boundary line which “starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meets the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand…”
Even more telling are the precise maps attached to the Treaty and signed by both parties; Kathmandu seems to have forgotten that the location of river on the maps of the Sino-Nepali treaty matches with the Indian one, which implies that the road is on Indian territory.
What is however disputed and needs to be negotiated is the area south of the river, where the British (and later Indian) cartographers have taken into account, like everywhere else on the frontiers, the watershed principle as well as the land revenues of Gunji village on the Indian side.
More of such examples of Kathmandu’s inconstancy could be cited.
What presently compounds the issue is the rift within the ruling party’s leadership in Nepal and the role played by China through Hou Yanqi, Beijing’s Ambassador to Kathmandu, the new ‘Queen’ of Nepal, who is credited to have arranged a rapprochement at the top level of the ruling Nepal Communist Party.

The Sino-Nepal Treaty reinforcing India's Stand

Mao’s Blessings
A Nepali author, Birat Anupam cites historical documents in an article entitled “Nepal-China Boundary Treaty: An example of peaceful Himalayan frontiers;” he quotes a discussion between Mao Zedong and King Mahendra of Nepal. Here is the exchange:
The author notes that it was “a snippet of the candid conversation between founding father of People’s Republic of China and Nepal’s the then king Mahendra on the historic Nepal-China Border Treaty day of 5 October 1961.”
The conversation on the Treaty goes like this:

Mao and King Mahendra in 1961

Chairman Mao: How is everything with Your Excellency? Have all the problems been solved?
King Mahendra: Everything is settled.
Chairman Mao: Fair and reasonable?
King Mahendra: Yes. We all agree.
Chairman Mao: It is good that we agree. There is goodwill on both sides. We hope that will get along well, and you hope we shall get along well too. We do not want to harm you, nor do you want to harm us.
King Mahendra: We fully understand.
Chairman Mao: We are equals; we cannot say one country is superior or inferior to the other.
King Mahendra: We very much appreciate the way of speaking.
This conversation was published in a book titled ‘Mao Zedung On Diplomacy’.
It was a propaganda work compiled by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and published by Foreign Languages Press in Beijing in 1998; it however shows that the 1961 Treaty had the blessings of the Great Helmsman.
The Nepali author, forgetting that the 1961 Treaty coincides with India’s stand on the dispute, writes: “This conversation, from the verbatim records, speaks volumes about the level of trust and the height of friendship between two neighbors Nepal and China.”

King Birendra’s visit to China in 1978
King Birendra, Mahendra’s son visited China in 1978.
On May 14, 1978, at the State banquet, the King asserted: “I recall with particular satisfaction, Your Excellency, the wide and cordial exchange of views with you at Chengtu in 1976 and the recent discussions and exchanges with His Excellency Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-ping [Deng Xiaoping] when he paid a visit to Nepal, earlier this year: I believe these exchanges have gone a long way to deepen friendship between our two countries, a friendship which has its roots in history as well as-in the great efforts that the late Chairman Mao, the late Premier Chou En-lai and, my august father, the late King Mahendra made with far-sighted statesmanship…”
At that time, both countries were working to demarcate the border with 76 pillars.
On September 27, 1978, Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping gave a speech in honour of the vaster Nepalese Prime Minister KN Bista. His words were probably directed at the US: “Anybody who attempts to disrupt the peace and stability of this region will only end up by crushing his own toes with the rock he picks up to throw at others. So long as the people of all countries heighten their vigilance, strengthen their unity and persevere in struggle, they will certainly frustrate the aggressive and expansionist schemes of the superpowers.”
Nepal was then trying to promote the Zone of Peace, dear to the Nepalese King; Bista answered Deng: “His Majesty King Birendra who is firmly committed to development has realised the vital connection between development and peace for a small country like Nepal. For this reason, we have supported the idea of peace zones in critical areas and have ourselves suggested that Nepal be declared a zone of peace. We appreciate your understanding and support of this basic policy of ours.”
There was no question about the border.
In August 1979, King Birendra visited again China. A People's Daily editorial said: “China and Nepal have long been good friends and neighbours. The friendly and good neighbourly relations between China and Nepal set an example for what may be achieved in the relations between countries. His Majesty King Birendra himself has visited China on many occasions…”
The editorial praised the government and people of Nepal for their adherence to the principle of maintaining independence and state sovereignty and for the successes they have achieved under the leadership of King Birendra in developing agriculture and small and medium scale industry.
During the same visit, the border agreed and demarcated in 1961 was ratified and therefore the Indian stand was confirmed.
At the banquet given in honour of King Birendra on August 27, the Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng praised Nepal “for the positive contribution she had made to the non-aligned movement as a founding member of the movement. He said: "We are happy to note that persisting in opposing imperialism, colonialism, racism and all forms of foreign domination and hegemony and supporting the efforts of the small and weak nations to take their destiny into their own hands, the non-aligned movement has played an important role in international affairs and its ranks have kept expanding.”
Hua added: “Sino-Nepalese friendly relations and cooperation have become a model of good-neighbourly relations based on the five .principles of peaceful coexistence.
He then mentioned the border: "We are most appreciative to His Majesty King Birendra for the important contributions he has made to promote Sino-Nepalese friendship. Over the past year or so, our two countries have completed the joint inspection and have thus further consolidated our common boundary of peace and friendship. The border inhabitants on both sides of the boundary line have lived in amity for generations with frequent contacts between them. We are sure that through the joint efforts of our two sides, Sino-Nepalese friendship will grow stronger and develop steadily…”
The 1961 Line agreed by China and Nepal
The border as shown in 1961 map was officially confirmed.
On November 21, 1979, the China-Nepal border protocol was signed.
In reply to a question whether the Nepal-China boundary had been settled finally, Huang Hua said that "in fact the boundary question was settled long ago. But now the joint boundary inspection committee had perfected the understanding of the line so that it is the more accurate basis."
The signing of the boundary protocol further proves that there existed peace on the boundary and friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
Hua described the border protocol as "adding something new to the annals of Sino-Nepalese friendship and setting once again a good example of how bilateral ties could be developed through friendly consultations on the basis of equality and cooperation. Protocol is a significant document achieving accurate demarcation of the boundary line between Nepal and China."
He said China would support just causes of the people of all countries in safeguarding their national independence and sovereignty, in opposing foreign interference, domination and hegemonism and in defending world peace. China appreciated and supported all efforts of the government of Nepal in up-holding the cause of peace."
Does China deny today that these exchanges took place?
The border has been the traditional frontier for decades and it has never been objected by China or Nepal.

Other proofs in favour of India’s Stand
Shyam Saran, who was the Indian Ambassador to Nepal from 2000 to 2004, cited the case of the then Prime Minister of Nepal Kirti Nidhi Bisht, who in 1969, demanded that India military personnel manning 17 villages along the Nepal-Tibet border since the early 1950s should be withdrawn. According to the National Panchayat record, Bisht said: “The Minister informed that the check posts manned by the Indian nationals exist in seventeen villages — Gumsha, Mustang, Namche Bazar, Lamabagar, Kodari, Thula, Thumshe, Thulo, Olanchung Dola, Mugu,Simikot, Tin Kar, Chepuwa, Jhumshung, Pushu, Basuwa and Selubash.” Saran rightly pointed out: “If Lipu Lekh and Kalapani were on Nepali territory then why were they omitted from the list?”
The former Foreign Secretary added: “I have pointed out earlier that the argument that the omission was due to Nepali ‘magnanimity’ taking into account India’s security concerns vis-à-vis China is laughable. The withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the Nepal-Tibet border was precisely to win brownie points with China.”
The Memorandum between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Resumption of Border Trade signed on 13 December 1991, and Protocol on Entry and Exit Procedures for Border Trade, signed on July 1, 1992 are other example; it confirms that China agreed to the border in this area.
The Trade Protocol between the two countries provided for expansion and diversification of trade between the two countries. “...Both sides have agreed to encourage direct trade between the two countries. They have also agreed to promote the exchange of delegations in specific areas and to encourage their respective trade organisations and traders to explore possibilities of promoting bilateral trade through various forms of trade and cooperation.” It was the first time that a pass reopened after the 1962 Indo-China war and the subsequent shutting down of the Himalayan borders.
For China, the border pass was (and still is today) Lipulekh.

New Map of Nepal rejected by India
Some other evidences
Why was the 'dispute' not solved earlier with India and Nepal having a joint commission to sort out the issue?
Many feel that Nepal is not confident enough about the veracity of its claim. Shyam Saran noted: “While I was in Nepal as ambassador, a request was made to put the issue on the agenda of the foreign secretary level talks held in 2003 but without any expectation of actual discussion. When we conveyed our readiness to have a substantive discussion on the treaty revision, the agenda item was dropped by the Nepali side. The purpose was to merely show that the Nepali side was taking up the issue seriously with India.”
Maj Gen Vinaya Chandran, who is doing a PhD on Nepal and earlier served in Military Operation Directorate, further commented for stratnewsglobal: “Historical and geographical facts are inconclusive, as is the case in many international boundaries, that are colonial legacies. Only way out appears to be an adjudication by the ICJ [International Court of Justice] and that can happen only if both India and Nepal agree to take the matter to the ICJ and also accept the verdict even if it doesn’t conform to their respective claims. An analysis of legal standing of the issue, puts the Indian claim on a stronger ground.”
Some of India’s strong arguments have been listed.

What is the Issue?

The river Kali does not seem the real issue, but the area south of the river. General Chandran wrote: “Even if both sides accepts Lipulekh as the origin of Kali River, they need to resolve the issue of the start point of the boundary, which now is on the highest point of the Eastern shoulder of Lipulekh Pass. This is also the point from where the China – Nepal boundary starts. The India – Nepal boundary marked on Indian maps, run South from this point along the watershed and Joins the Kali River, South of Kalapani. The boundary in effect is running along the watershed and not along Kali River. This is an issue that need to be resolved bilaterally by India and Nepal.”
There is no doubt about the location of the river and the fact that the new road is inside Indian territory; it is however in Delhi’s interests to find an amicable solution with Nepal for the areas for which there is no agreement; it could avoid China poking its nose into the bilateral affairs between Delhi and Kathmandu in the future.
CIA Map of 1965

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Step up pressure on Xi; bring France into Quad

My article Step up pressure on Xi; bring France into Quad appeared in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

The world is becoming aware of the double standards in Chinese propaganda, and for the first time it is taking steps to counter its moves

An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. The Indian military said it apprehended a Chinese soldier Monday, Oct. 19, in the remote Ladakh region, where the two countries are locked in a monthslong military standoff along their disputed border. (AP)
  An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. The Indian military said it apprehended a Chinese soldier Monday, Oct. 19, in the remote Ladakh region, where the two countries are locked in a monthslong military standoff along their disputed border. (AP)
Since five months now, Indian and Chinese troops have stood face-to-face in the high Himalayas; in all probability, the standoff will continue during the cold winter months ahead in Ladakh.
It has consequences at many levels, not just militarily.
The first: what has President Xi Jinping achieved by trying to advance a few hundred meters in Galwan, Gogra or Pangong Tso?
Different motives have been attributed to the Chinese chess moves.
To cite a few, Beijing wanted to stop the Darbuk-Shyok-DBO Road, protect China’s projects in Gilgit Baltistan (and Shaksgam valley occupied by China); gain strategic advantages on the ground; enhance Chairman Xi’s prestige; boost the standing of the People’s Liberation Army; humiliate an arrogant competitor (India) in a period of weakness; it was even rumoured that Gen. Zhao Zongqi, the Western Theatre Command chief, thought he would get a seat in the powerful Central Military Commission after Ladakh.
China is today the loser: infrastructure development will continue, India will not renounce its legitimate claims on Gilgit-Baktistan, and so on.
Further, Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Xinjiang may come up for discussion in the not-too-far future and the “One-China” policy may be questioned in many quarters.
This didn’t stop Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry’s “wolf warrior” spokesman, to continue with his anti-India tirades: “China does not recognize the so-called ‘Ladakh Central Territory’ and ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ illegally established by India, and opposes development of infrastructure construction in border dispute areas for the purpose of military control.”
This diplomat had the cheek to add: “Neither party should take any actions in the border area that would complicate the situation in order to avoid affecting the efforts of both parties to ease the situation.” This was the day Beijing announced a new strategic road leading up to Metok, north of the McMahon Line.
A Chinese TV report said the Pai-Metok Highway will be completed by the end of September 2022: “After completion, the length of the road from Nyingchi City to Metok County [North of Upper Siang of Arunachal Pradesh] through Bomi County will be shortened from 346 km to 180 km, and the driving time will be shortened from 11 hours to 4.5 hours.”
At the same time, the world is fast becoming aware of the constant double standards in Chinese propaganda, and for the first time it is taking steps to counter Beijing’s moves.
Take France for example. In the past, Paris was often reluctant to offend China as it was “doing business” with Beijing. But things are changing; realising the danger of Chinese hegemony for the planet, French President Emmanuel Macron recently appointed Christophe Penot, his ambassador to Australia, to the new post of ambassador for the Indo-Pacific.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported: “The coronavirus has catalysed European concern over Chinese government actions in Hong Kong, the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, military incursions into the South China Sea and political interference.” In June, Mr Penot had already warned that international standards were increasingly called into question, adding that the current Covid crisis was likely accelerate the process: “France and Australia have a particular responsibility here to ensure that the post-Covid world does not get worse and, if possible, that it becomes better than the world before.”
The Australian newspaper commented: “France is the last European power to change its vision of China and the region. In September, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, which has long enjoyed close ties with Beijing, released its first Indo-Pacific strategy focused on increasing diplomatic pressure on China.”

France in the Quad?
A couple of years ago, I had asked an Indian observer why France was not included as a participant in the Quad. “Nobody thought of it”, he had told me. This has changed after President Macron’s visit to India in March 2018. Addressing a French gathering in New Delhi, the young President reminded his countrymen: “France is a power of the Indian and Pacific Oceans; we are present at Reunion, we are also there in French Polynesia and New Caledonia. And we are a maritime power, it is often forgotten but France is the second maritime power in the world. We have a strong navy, we have nuclear submarines equipped like few other powers in the world; a maritime surveillance capability through our own satellites and technologies; it is obvious we are a military and intelligence power ranking us among the first nations in the world.”
France is ready to work with India on the oceans.
A few months earlier, C. Raja Mohan and Darshana Baruah had written for Carnagie India about Deepening the India-France Maritime Partnership: “As maritime security acquires greater salience in India’s foreign policy, New Delhi is increasingly looking to leverage its strategic partnerships, particularly with Paris. Although India and France have joined forces on a number of issues since 1998, regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific has never risen to the top of the agenda. However, this may be about to change.”
After the Quad’s last meeting in Tokyo last week, US spokesperson Cale Brown said the foreign ministers of the US, Japan, Australia and India had reaffirmed their collective efforts towards a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific: “they pledged to continue regular consultations to implement their vision of a peaceful, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.
US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun more recently explained: “The Quad is a partnership driven by shared interests, not binding obligations, and is not intended to be an exclusive grouping. Any country that seeks a free and open Indo-Pacific and is willing to take steps to ensure that should be welcome to work with us.”
It seems that Paris’ vision could perfectly fit into this scheme. So why can’t France join the four founding nations?
Emmanuel Lenain, French ambassador to India, answered the question in an interview with India Today: “Indo-Pacific is a priority. Both the leaders [Modi and Macron] have been working on that at least for the past four or five years. It is about values. We want an open, transparent Indo-Pacific. Now, what would be the framework. I don’t think anything is exclusive… All like-minded countries should join efforts towards an open, transparent Indo-Pacific.”
It sounds like the US secretary of state’s definition.
Whether France joins or not, there is no doubt all these new collaborative efforts should be credited to President Xi and his reckless foreign policies. One more “loss” in his balance sheet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

We were told that the Chinese will come in waves

2ns Lt A J S Behl, second from right, at Tsangdhar in early October 1962

The first part of my interview with Brig Amar Jit Singh Behl is posted in Rediff.com

'I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight... not even one of my men deserted.'
'We had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.'

Brigadier Amar Jit Singh Behl (retd) speaks to Claude Arpi in an exclusive interview, continuing our new series on the India-China War, 50 years later.
Fifty years after the debacle of the Namkha chu river, very few survivors remain to tell their side of the story of the 1962 India-China war.
Claude Arpi met one of them, Amar Jit Singh Behl, then a young and 'carefree' second lieutenant from the 17 Parachute Field Regiment.
After retiring as a brigadier, Behl lives with his wife in Chandigarh, where he is an avid golfer.
He spoke to Rediff.com about the most harrowing three weeks of his life on a plateau in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), dominating a small, but now famous rivulet, the Namkha chu.
Behl and his men fought well, but were ultimately taken as prisoners of war to Tibet, where for seven months they ate boiled radish.
This is the story of a brave para gunner in a war which inflicted lasting scars on the country.

I joined the elite 17 Parachute Field Regiment on July 2, 1962 at the end of an officer's course at Agra cantonment. I was put through my probation tests, which included very high standards of physical efficiency tests, tactical and technical tests.
I was then allowed to wear the paratrooper's prestigious maroon turban. I also completed my parachute basic course which consisted of six day jumps and one night jump. By September 6, 1962, I was a full-fledged paratrooper with a wing on my right sleeve.
I reported to Captain (later Major General) H S Talwar for orders. He commanded the troop called 'E' troop, from 52 Parachute Field Battery. I was feeling very proud to be given a chance to go to NEFA with my troops.
On September 24, 1962, we were ordered to join the 7 Infantry Brigade with guns for fire support in the Operation Zone.
Captain Talwar was the troop commander and I was the GPO (Gun Position Officer), looking after the firing of the guns and the overall administration of the guns.
The troops with the equipment and 4 guns were loaded in five C 119 Fairchild Packet aircraft and one AN 12 aircraft. Captain Talwar travelled in the latter.
The rest of us moved to NEFA via Lucknow, Barrackpore and Jalpaiguri.
On October 3, we reached Tezpur where Captain Talwar received us.
We were given a briefing by Major Narender Singh, the General Staff Officer (GSO 2, OPS) of the 4 Infantry Division. We were told that the Chinese will come in waves, but there was nothing to worry about, because they were not well equipped.

You mean it was known that the Chinese will come in waves?

It was the normal doctrinal tactics of the Chinese in Korea and elsewhere, it is how they proceeded. After the briefing, I was given a sketch of the area.

Not a proper map?

No a blueprint only, a sketch of the Thagla ridge, Dhola Post, Namkha chu (river), etc. We were told that we will go to Tawang by road and later we will be airlifted.

The plans were changed and when we reached Bompu, we were told to come back to be airlifted.

It seems there were two beautiful girls, said to be locals, but later suspected to be Chinese spies, at this place.

Yes, I saw them. Everybody wanted to meet them and have a cup of tea in their teashop.

The next morning we were sent to Dirang near the Bhutan border in an Otter aircraft and the next day, we left for Ziminthang by MI 4 helicopters.

Ziminthang was the tactical headquarters of the 4 Infantry Division. I met Major General Niranjan Prasad, my old brigade commander of the 50 (1) Para Brigade, who was the GOC (General Commanding Officer) of the 4 Infantry Division.

Because he knew me, he called me though I was only a second lieutenant. He asked me to put up my best show. He expected very high standards from his para gunners.

The next morning, with my troops (43 men) we moved on towards our assigned positions, without acclimatisation and porters.

The first night we stayed at Karpola pass (16,000 feet). The next day, we reached Tsangdhar where I was to establish my gun position.

Tsangdhar is a flat plateau dominating the Namkha chu. The Dropping Zone (DZ) was a bit ahead; the idea was to bring the equipment as close as possible from the Namkha chu.

Unfortunately, some of the equipment went into Chinese hands and deep ravines.

It means the Chinese were only occupying the Thagla ridge, not places south of the Namkha chu.

Yes, though the 9 Punjab (regiment) was patrolling parts of the Thagla ridge. I established my gun position in two days; it was done by October 8.

Unfortunately, we had recovered only two guns out of four and 80 rounds out of 250 rounds.

It was because the terrain was very tough, there were many trees. But my men did well, they recovered the guns, assembled them, we were ready to launch an attack or defend the 7 Brigade, whatever the scenario would be.

Lieutenant General B M Kaul, the 4 Corps Commander, had planned to take back the Thagla ridge on October 10 (Operation Leghorn).

I don't know about October 10 or 8, but Pandit Nehru on his way to Sri Lanka made a statement: 'The Indian troops have been ordered to evict the Chinese; the time is left to the discretion of the Army.'

It is in this connection that General Kaul said that we will evict the Chinese on October 10. His plans eventually collapsed.

When did General Kaul visit Namkha chu?

Around October 8, when I was putting up my guns in Tsangdhar, 2 to 3 hours walking distance from the river. Later General Kaul went back to Delhi because he was not keeping well.

I believe he told the government that the operations should be called off and that Indian troops should only maintain a defensive posture.

But as a junior officer, I did not know about these things.

Did you meet General Kaul?

I met him on October 3 at Tezpur airport. He saw me, called me and ordered me to ensure that I should be in Tsangdhar before October 10. I said: "I will do it, Sir."

Had he any notion of the terrain and the respective positions?

I was too junior to question him (laughing), I had only nine months of service and he was a very senior officer.

But we completed everything on October 8, collecting the guns, assembling them, digging the gun pits, the ammunition pits, securing the area with machine guns, etc.

We were ready in time. We were 2, 3 hours walk above the Namkha chu.

On October 10 there was a clash in Tsangle (on the north of the river). Orders was that Tsangle should be held at all cost, we did know what it meant (as it was an isolated place).

After October 10, (presumably after General Kaul met with various people in Delhi), it was decided that we should go on a defensive posture.

He must have briefed Pandit Nehru and (then defence minister V K ] Krishna Menon who had selected him for the task (for evicting the Chinese). It was an impossible task.

What happened on October 20?

In fact, it started before October 20.

On October 19, with naked eyes, we could see troop movements in certain gaps between Chinese defences.

The Chinese were not trying to hide themselves; in fact they wanted to show: 'Look we are here in large numbers.'

At night, they lit up fires; their objectives were to prove their strength and show that they had come in the rear of our defence too.

All our telecommunication lines were cut. They had infiltrated through and gone to our rear.

You have to realise that the bridges on the Namkha chu were nothing else but a few logs of trees assembled together. They were not bridges in the real sense.

On the night of October, the message was clear, 'We are here.'

That day, my nursing assistant died of pulmonary oedema. Before that, in spite of treatment, my two JCOs and one havildar major were evacuated by helicopter due to high altitude sickness. I was left with 38 halvildars and my jawans.

The communications had been cut the night before, and we could not even use the wireless set due to very thick trees along the Namkha chu.

I had nobody senior to direct me. I could not get through to my commander, Captain Talwar, who was with Brigadier John Dalvi at the Brigade HQ. There was no communication with anybody.

On October 19, I went to Major Panicker who was with the OC (Office Commanding) of the brigade supply depot and asked him: "I don't know what is happening. I have no communication."

That night, I had my dinner, checked the sentries and went to sleep. The next morning (October 20) at around 4:30 am, even before I could check my trenches, the shelling started.

At around 9 am, while the shelling was going on, I saw a helicopter coming, but it did not take off. I sent a small patrol of two people to see what had happened. It was about 400 yards down to my gun position.

My patrol came back and said: "There is a Sikh officer with a maroon turban (Major Ram Singh of the Signals) and a non-Sikh pilot (Squadron Leader Vinod Sehgal)". They were dead.

After one-and-half or two hours, another helicopter came, the pilot went half way through and left.

I later learnt that it was Squadron Leader Arnold Williams; he must have gone back after seeing what was going on. He never landed; he went straight from Bridge II to Ziminthang.

Though we had no communication with anybody, I ordered my guns to start firing direct. There was a prominent area, the Black Rock, where we saw a number of Chinese, we kept firing there.

We fired 20, 30 rounds and kept quiet for a moment. There was one of our mortar batteries not far from us, the havildar major came to see me and ask what was happening. He was hit by an LMG (Light Machine Gun) burst and died.

By that time, troops had started withdrawing from Namkha chu and Tsangle area. These people were telling me, "Don't move, keep firing" (to protect their retreat). There were officers, JCOs, jawans running away. The brigade had altogether 3,000 people.

I was a young second lieutenant; I held my post, kept firing in direct roll, also using my LMGs and guns to control the situation.

I felt ashamed of those who were running away. I felt proud of my troops, everybody wanted to fight it out.

I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight, though three jawans had died by this time, they all obeyed me till the end.

They saw a large number of all ranks running past our gun position, but not even one of my men deserted.

At about 3:30 or 4 pm, we had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. A large number of them came by waves.

We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.

In this period of 10, 11 hours, I had lost three jawans, two were seriously wounded, 6 or 7 were more lightly wounded.

I saved two seriously wounded soldiers: Gunner Awtar Singh and Operator Chamkaur Singh had got serious splinter hits. I tried to take them to the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), but it was not possible due to shelling.

I told them, "I have a bottle of brandy, I will give you 2 to 3 large doses and pour one on your wounds. Then, keep your tongue between your teeth."

I cleaned my hands with brandy and pulled out the big shrapnel and tied up a dressing on the wounds. We kept this bandage for one month. Later, the Chinese medical officer treated them in the PoW's camp; today, they are perfectly alright.

I got a splinter in my leg, but I never bothered about it.

By 4:30 pm, the whole thing was over, before this I reluctantly gave order to dismantle the guns and throw important parts in the nullah, so that they couldn't be used again.

We were not free soldiers anymore. I was shocked to realise that I was a prisoner of war, but felt consoled that all my jawans had stood by my orders and fought to the last.

The entire picture in the area did not show any signs of organised action, but showed a state of ad hocism.

Click to read Part II...

PoW in Tibet

PoWs in Tibet: Lt Col Ratan Singh, Lt Col Balwant Singh Aluwallia, Brig John Dalvi,
Lt Col Maha Singh Rikh, Lt Col KK Tewari in front of the Potala (April 1963)

Fifty eight years ago, China started an uncalled-for war against India.
On the occasion, I repost an old article which appeared
on this blog in 2012; it is about a painful episode in the life of a soldier: on October 20, 1962, he was taken PoW in Tibet by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

I have added at the end some rare pictures of the area (courtesy: Michael Dalvi)

Here is my 2012 post:

Continuing with the 1962 War with China: 50 Years Later, here is the story of  Gen Tewari. 
He was commissioned in the British Indian Army in 1942. 
In 1962, he was Commander Signals of the 4 Infantry Division based in Tezpur, Assam. 
On October 20, 1962, as he was visiting his forward troops, the Chinese attacked India. He was taken prisoner and sent to Tibet where he stayed for nearly 7 months. 

In his book, Himalayan Blunder Brig. John Dalvi wrote: “Col. Tewari was a gentle, God-fearing man in addition to being a first rate signaler. He had worked against tremendous odds through the operations and had overcome difficulties which would have taxed an Army Signals Regiment. He is due much credit for providing communications with obsolete equipment and the distances involved. Instead of praise they came in for criticism for not being able to work miracles with out-dated sets and distances which were beyond the range of divisional signals”.
Brig. Dalvi added: “There was a sad sequel to Tewari’s visit [on the Namkha chu]. …When the Gorkhas were attacked, Tewari found himself in the midst of an infantry battle. He was taken prisoner after the Chinese had over run the position. Who has ever heard of a Commander Signals being sent to an infantry battalion on the night before a massive attack, if there was any anticipation of a battle? He would have been at Divisional HQ attending to the Division’s communications.” 
Maj. Gen. K.K. Tewari's story: 
As a result of the Chinese threat on our northern borders, sometime in 1959 the Headquarters of Eastern Command at Lucknow was given the operational responsibility for the defense of Sikkim and NEFA. I was at that time, the Commander Signals of the 4th (Red Eagle) Division Infantry Division located at Ambala. We were immediately ordered to move to Tezpur in Assam.
This Division, trained and equipped for fighting in the plains, had suddenly to be deployed to guard these high mountain regions. While a normal division occupies an area frontage of 30 to 40 km in the plains, we were assigned a front spreading on more than 1800 kilometers of mountainous terrain!
But worse! Before the Division could take its operational responsibilities to defend the border with Tibet, orders for the execution of an Operation Amar 2 were received from Lt Gen BM Kaul, then Quarter Master General in the Army HQ. We were suddenly supposed to build temporary basha (house with straw) accommodations for the Division.
Besides the fact that my regiment had to provide communications for the Division in an entirely new and undeveloped area, we had now to become engineers and builders! You have to understand that a Signal Regiment is a functional unit in war or peace which is supposed to cater 24 hours a day to the various types of communications for its formation.
So, immediately after arrival in Tezpur, the Regiment got involved in the mad rush of building: the Prime Minister was to inaugurate the newly built bashas.
My first four months in command were a real nightmare. We would certainly have preferred to rough it out in tents and spend the time developing a reasonable communications set-up, getting our equipment properly checked and maintained and getting the men used to working with the available equipment in the mountains.
It was a personal relief when, on 14 April 1960, the inauguration was over. Only then did we turn any serious attention and effort towards our operational responsibilities. Even our equipment was antiquated and unsuitable for mountainous terrain and the excessive ranges.
At that time, there were hardly any roads existing in any of the five frontier divisions (FD) of Arunachal Pradesh. The road into Kameng FD, the most vulnerable, finished at the Foothills just beyond Misamari [4 days walk from Tawang]
We were faced with shortages of every kind. It was during these early days in NEFA that one of the COs of an infantry battalion sent a note written on a chapatti. When asked for an explanation, he gave a classic reply: "Regret unorthodox stationary but atta (wheat flour) is the only commodity available for fighting, for feeding and for futile correspondence."
Sometime in 1962, orders came from Army HQ for Operation Onkar (the famous “Forward Policy”), which directed all Assam Rifles posts to move forward, right up to the border. Of course, we were to back them. The idea was to establish the right of possession on our territory and to deter the Chinese from moving forward and occupying it, as was claimed by them. This order was certainly not supported by resources.
At that time, our Division had done almost three years non-family station service and some of the units were already on their way out on turnover. Suddenly all moves out of the area were cancelled and orders reversed.
Brig John Dalvi, the Commander Infantry Brigade who was in Tawang was ordered to move his HQ on a man/mule pack basis to Namkha Chu River area. An ad hoc Brigade HQ was created for Tawang sector overnight with hardly any Signal resources.
At that time, I was the only field officer of Lt Col or higher rank who had the longest tenure at not only the divisional HQ but among all the divisional troops. I should have been posted out after a two-year tenure in a non-family station. But I had also a sort of premonition, and I recorded it in my diary, that a severe test was in the offing for me to assess my faith in the Divine. I certainly had no idea that I would be taken a prisoner of war.
On September 8, 1962, the Dhola post manned by the Assam Rifles on the McMahon line, was encircled by the Chinese. A few days later, we had a meeting of the senior commanders from the Army Commander downwards at Tezpur. A relief party had been ordered to relieve the besieged Dhola post. This linkup was expected by nightfall on the 14th of September: Everyone was tensely waiting for the news of the link-up. Naturally all eyes were on me; as the communications `chief’, to bring them the message. But there was no news until late in the evening.
After this incident, a new Corps HQ was created to take charge of operations in NEFA. Lt Gen B.M. Kaul was appointed as the Corps Commander. He arrived from Army HQ in a special aircraft at Tezpur in the late afternoon of 4 October. At about 10 pm, Lt Gen Kaul announced in his typical flamboyant style that he had taken over command of all troops in NEFA. It was all so dramatic!
Here was a new situation, normally a Corps HQ in those days would be served by a corps signal regiment and another communication zone signal regiment. These had yet to be raised.
To compound these difficulties, Lt Gen Kaul had his own way to send messages.
Normally, a signal message is supposed to be written in an abbreviated telegraphic language. But all messages from the new Corps Commander ran into a couple of typed sheets in prose language and were all marked Top Secret and Flash. They were not addressed to the next higher HQ but directly to Army HQ. You should understand that it required to stop all other traffic to clear FLASH messages.
In September 1962, the higher authorities had obviously assumed that it would be easy to beat the Chinese. Otherwise, one cannot imagine how such an order to engage the enemy could have been issued by Delhi to the ill-equipped, ill-clothed, ill-prepared, fatigued, disillusioned troops.
Do you realize that when Dalvi’s brigade arrived near the Namkha Chu river after forced marches, he was ordered to throw the Chinese out of the Thagla ridge.
I have to tell you a telling incident: arriving near the river, after an exhausting journey, the brigade signal officer discovered that the generating engine to charge the wireless batteries was not here. A porter had dropped the charging engine in a deep khud on the way. It could not be retrieved. I believe it was dropped deliberately, because some of these civilian porters were in the pay of the Chinese.
But I was in for a still bigger shock when it was discovered that almost all the secondary batteries had arrived without any acid. I presume that what had happened is that the porters must have found it lighter without liquid and they probably decided to lighten their loads by emptying out the acid from all the batteries.
How to establish communications when the batteries are dead and could not be recharged? Despite of our good relations with them, the Air Force helicopter boys refused to carry acid. There was no question, of course, of dropping sulphuric acid by air. What was I to do? Fate was also pushing me to my inevitable destiny.
We filled up a jar of acid and marked prominently it: `Rum for Troops' and on October 18, I flew from Tezpur to Zimithang where I met with the GOC, Maj. Gen. Niranjan Prasad. Later, I went to Tsangdhar near the Namkha chu in a two-seater Bell helicopter with just the pilot and with the `Rum' jar strapped onto my lap. I landed there in the late afternoon and I marched down to Brig Dalvi's brigade HQ.
As I arrived there, I could quite clearly see the massing of the Chinese troops on the forward slopes of Thagla ridge.
When I discovered that every unit on the front had numerous signals problems, I decided to extend my stay by a day. It is where fate caught up with me!

On the 19th, Brig Dalvi informed over the telephone the GOC at Zimithang. He pleaded with his boss to let him move out of the `death trap', up to a tactically sound defensive position. Brig. Dalvi was told not to flap but to obey orders and stay put. He was extremely upset and passed the telephone to me saying, "You won't believe me, Sir, but talk to your `bloody' Commander Signals and he will tell you what all he can see with his naked eyes in front."
I spoke to the GOC equally strongly saying that one could see the Chinese moving down the Thagla Ridge like ants and also see at least half a dozen mortars which were not even camouflaged. I added that the Chinese could not be there for a picnic. I was also told to concentrate on my work and not to worry.
I stayed on with the 1/9 Gorkhas during the night of 19th October. Early on the 20th morning, I was woken up from a deep sleep by the noise of an intense bombardment. There was utter confusion in the pre-dawn darkness, shouting and yelling and running around in the midst of these exploding shells. I came out of the bunker and somehow found my way to the Signals bunker with two of my signalmen.
I looked out of the bunker. It was mystifying to see no visible movement outside. There was no one in sight. I peeped out of the bunker again. I saw a line of khaki clad soldiers with a prominent red star on their uniforms advancing towards our bunker. I had never seen a Chinese soldier till then at such close range.
I used to carry a 9 mm Browning automatic pistol in those days with one loaded clip.
The thought immediately was that one's dead body should not be found with an unfired pistol; it must be used, however hopeless our situation. So, when a couple of Chinese soldiers approached our bunker, I let go the full clip at them. And suddenly hell was let loose with the Chinese yelling and firing and a number of them converging onto our bunker. My two assistants were killed and I was alive, but a PoW.

On the road to Tibet
On October 20, 1962, the Indian prisoners were marched along a narrow track across the Namkha chu (river); later we went up to the Thagla pass (about 15,000 feet). On our way, we passed huge stocks of unfired mortar shells by the sides of our mortar positions, while on the northern side of the ridge, Chinese parties were still bringing up 120 mm mortars on a man pack basis.
After 3 days walk, we reached a place called Marmang in Tibet. From there we were taken in covered vehicles at night. During the journey, the Chinese tried to demoralize us; they would make fun of our army: "You do not even have cutting tools for felling trees. You use shovels to cut down trees." It was true; they had seen our troops preparing their defensive positions near the Namkha chu. There were other remarks such as, "You people have strange tactics. You sit right at the bottom of the valley to defend your territory instead of sitting on a high ground."
We arrived at the PoW camp located at Chongye [in Central Tibet] on 26 October and were accommodated in Lama houses which were all deserted although we could see some activity in the monastery above these houses on the side of a hill. 
We were to spend over five months in this camp, located south west of Tsetang, off the main highway to Lhasa. The prisoners were segregated into four companies: No. 1 Company was all officers, JCOs and NCOs. Majors and Lt Colonels were also separated from the JCOs and men. No. 2 and 3 Companies were jawans of various units. No. 4 Company, consisted only of Gorkhas and was given special privileges, for obvious political reasons. Each company had its own cookhouse where the Indian soldiers selected by the Chinese were made to cook.
In our house, we were four Lt Colonels (Maha Singh Rikh of the 2 Rajputs, Balwant Singh Ahluwalia of the Gorkhas, Rattan Singh of 5 Assam Rifles and myself), while John Dalvi was kept in confinement in Tsetang, a few km away from Chongye.
When we made representations to the Chinese that under the Geneva Convention on PoWs, officers had the right to be with their men, we were told quite bluntly that all these were nothing but imperialist conventions.
I shivered through the first couple of nights but then had a brain wave. I had noticed a pile of husk outside. We asked the Chinese if we could use it. Luckily, they accepted, and we could use the stuff as a mattress as well as a quilt.
For almost a month after our arrival, we were not let out of the room. Each of these lama houses had its own latrine in one corner with an open but very effective system of soil disposal. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the `disposal squad' of pigs had itself been disposed off by the Chinese.
There was an English speaking Chinese officer, Lt. Tong who was with us almost throughout our stay in the POW camp. He would come daily and talk to us individually or together. The theme of his talk with the POWs was monotonously the same: the Chinese wanted to be friends and it was only the reactionary government of Nehru, who was a lackey of American imperialism that wanted to break this friendship. "Then why did you attack us on 20 October?" They would try to explain that India attacked first and the Chinese attacked only in self-defense.
On 5 December, we were given for the first time some books and magazines to read. This consisted of Mao's Red Book, some literature on the India-China boundary question and a few Red Army journals. But whatever they were, they were most welcome for me at least. There was something to do at last to occupy the mind. I took notes from the Red Book. It is a pity that our government did not read some of the Mao’s thoughts. I noted them down at that time: "Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning" or "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy halts, we harass, the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."
Towards the end of December 1962, the Red Cross sent us one parcel each with two packets in it. One packet had warm clothes, a German battle dress, a pair of long johns, warm vest, muffler, cap, jersey, warm shirt, boots and a towel. The second packet contained foodstuff including a bar of Sathe chocolate, tins of milk, jam, butter, fish, packets of sugar, atta (wheat flour), dal (pulses), dried peas, salt, tea, biscuits, condiments, cigarettes and vitamin pills. It certainly was a very well thought-out list of items.
Perhaps to demoralize us, the Chinese would often play Indian music on the public address system in the camp. One of the songs which was played repeatedly was Lata Mangeshkar's "Aa Ja Re-Main to kab se Khari Is par...." [Come, I have been waiting for so long] This would make us feel homesick.
With my habit of writing a diary, I kept notes as a POW also. In the first week or so, the only available paper to write on, were some sheets of toilet paper in my para jacket pocket. The question was how to keep these papers from being discovered by the Chinese. What I had done was to open the stitching on the ‘belt’ part of the trousers and then slide the folded papers inside. This was how my diary notes on toilet paper could be brought out to India.
One other episode of our stay in the camp is worth recording. One day, towards the end of our stay, at our request we were taken to see the palace and the monastery. It was a shock to see the palace with all the beautiful Buddha statues of all sizes and fabulous scrolls (tankhas) lying broken, defiled and torn and trampled on the ground.
On 25 December, we, the seven field officers were taken in one of the captured Indian Nissan trucks to spend the Christmas morning with Brig. John Dalvi at Tsetang. He was kept all alone and was comfortably accommodated. We had breakfast and lunch with him and were shown a movie. Dalvi had suffered a great deal mentally — being all by himself. He was now better.
The first letters we received from home came only in the third week of February 1963. Some of us, including myself, received parcels of sweets too.
On March 26, we were informed that we would soon be released and taken for a conducted tour of the mainland China. Suddenly we became VIPs, though still held as prisoners. We were given various comforts and given new clothes and shoes.
Before leaving the PoW camp, we asked the Chinese to take us to the graves of our soldiers who had died in our camp. There were seven of them including Subedar Joginder Singh, who had been awarded a PVC. We were told by the Chinese that he had refused to have his toes, which were affected by frost-bite, amputated. According to the Chinese, he had told them that his chances of promotion to Subedar Major would be adversely effected if his toes were amputated. We were told that he died of gangrene.
On 28 March, we left the camp, ironically in an Indian captured vehicle and were driven to Tsetang to pick up Brig John Dalvi and three other Lt. Colonels and five Majors. On 29th March, we were all driven in a bus to Lhasa. On 5 April, we were flown in two IL 14 aircrafts to Xining [Qinghai Province]. After a long tour of China, during which we were shown China’s ‘progress’ after the Communist revolution, we were informed on 27 April that we shall be handed over to India at Kunming on 4 May.
At the handing over ceremony, we witnessed a last surprise performance by the Chinese. Throughout our tour of China, an immaculately dressed Chinese had accompanied us. He was not dressed in cotton padded clothes like all the others. He commanded a lot of respect from the other Chinese. We used to refer to him as the ‘General’. He had a chap trailing around behind him always, helping him with things, offering a chair, a cup of tea, etc. We used to refer to that fellow as the orderly to the General. At the handing over ceremony, however, the person who sat down and signed on behalf of China was the ‘orderly’ and the one who stood behind to pass him the pen to sign was the ‘general’! Such are the Chinese ways!
On May 5, we took off at 9.10 a.m. from Kunming and were scheduled to land at Calcutta at 1.20 p.m. Before reaching Calcutta, the pilot announced that there was some problem with the under carriage not opening and that we might have to crash land, finally we landed ultimately at 2.30 p.m. at Dum Dum with all the fire tenders lined up. It would have been such an irony of fate if we had been killed in a crash landing in India!
In my opinion, the Chinese had prepared their attack for at least 2 or 3 years. I can give you few examples: one day a Chinese woman came and recited some of Bahadur Shah Zafar's poems, much to our delight. The Chinese had certainly prepared for this war most diligently because they had interpreters for every Indian language right in the front line. This Urdu-speaking woman must have lived in Lucknow for a long time. Same thing for one of our guards, though he had not said a single word for 5 months (we used to call him Poker Face), we discovered that he could speak perfect Punjabi when he left us in Kunming.
Their constant brainwashing was to make us accept that we had attacked them.

Bunker near Namkha chu

Bunker Bunker near Namkha chu
Bunker near Namkha chu
Namjiang chu with Thagla ridge in the background

Namkha chu (river). Thagla ridge was held by the Chinese.
Tsangdhar dropping zone
Radio set found on the battle field  near the Namkha chu

Monday, October 19, 2020

Gigit-Baltistan, a bit of history

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was recently in the news; according to Pakistani media, it will soon become the fifth province of the country. The announcement was made by Ali Amin Gandapur, the federal minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs: “After consultation with all stakeholders, the federal government has decided in principle to give constitutional rights to Gilgit-Baltistan,” the minister said.
It would be elevated to the status of a ‘provisional’ province.
Two commentators wrote in the Karachi newspaper, The Tribune: “With this single move, Pakistan secures vital geostrategic, economic, and energy interests, and at the same time fulfills GB’s most enduring demand for constitutional recognition.”
This just shows that the analysts have probably never read the UN Resolutions of 1948 and 1949 and are obviously proxies for Beijing.

The Scrapping of Article 370
One year ago, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution triggered a lot of typing on the keyboards of Indian as well as foreign journalists. Most of the scribes were ill-informed about the legality of the issue, but generally the Indian press dealt with the subject more decently; it was not so with the foreign press.
Why this perennial misinformation or disinformation?
The Government of India is definitively to be blamed; the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should have ‘educated’ the press by giving a full historical briefing on all facets of the issue.
One problem is that the MEA functions today without a Historical Division, (in the 1990s, some smart mandarins thought they knew everything and that this division was not required); South Block should have prepared a “background note on the Kashmir issue and the history of the temporary Article 370 of Indian Constitution”, but probably nobody had time for such niceties. The same applies to GB today.

What are the facts?

A few years ago, I came across a Top Secret note written (probably written by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the secretary-general of the ministry) in the early 1950s. Entitled “Background to the Kashmir Issue: Facts of the case”, it makes fascinating reading. It starts by a historical dateline: “Invasion of the State by tribesmen and Pakistan nationals through or from Pakistan territory on October 20, 1947; ruler’s offer of accession of the State to India supported by the National Conference, a predominantly Muslim though non-communal political organization, on October 26, 1947; acceptance of accession by the British Governor-General of India on October 27, 1947, under this accession, the State became an integral part of India; expression of a wish by Lord Mountbatten in a separate letter to the Ruler the fulfillment of which was to take place at a future date when law and order had been restored and the soil of the State cleared of the invader, the people of the State were given the right to decide whether they should remain in India or not.”
Then the note mentioned the invasion of the State by Pakistan Regular Forces on May 8, 1948. As J&K was part of India, the note said that it was “in contravention of international law. One of the grounds for this military operation, as disclosed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister himself, was a recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan that an easy victory for the Indian Army was almost certain to arouse the anger of the invading tribesmen against Pakistan.”
Pakistan was not interested in the plebiscite, further they wanted to grab Buddhist Ladakh for the wealth of its monasteries. The note observed “Pakistan, not content with assisting the invader, has itself become an invader and its army is still occupying a large part of the soil of Kashmir, thus committing a continuing breach of international law.”
Pakistani politicians (and others) often quote the UN Resolutions; very few have read them.

The Cease-Fire: a telling event
Following the ceasefire of January 1, 1949, the military representatives of India and Pakistan met in Karachi between July 18 and 27, 1949, under the auspices of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. Before leaving for Karachi, the delegates had a briefing from Bajpai who explained the legal position in detail to the delegates. He told them that the resolution of August 13, 1948 "had conceded the legality of Kashmir's accession to India and as such no man's land, if any, should be controlled by India during the period of ceasefire and truce.” Thus, the Line of Cease Fire (now LOC) was drawn and accepted by Pakistan on this very principle. Islamabad has conveniently forgotten this.

The Case of Gilgit

A few months ago, I came across an interesting announcement published in the 1948 London Gazette which mentioned that the King "has been graciously pleased… to give orders for… appointments to the Most Exalted Order of the British Empire…" The list included "Brown, Major (acting) William Alexander, Special List (ex-Indian Army)."
Who was this officer?
Brown is infamous for illegally 'offering' Gilgit to Pakistan in 1947.
The British Paramountcy had lapsed on August 1, 1947, and Gilgit reverted to the Maharaja's control. Lt Col Roger Bacon, the British political agent, handed his charge to Brig Ghansara Singh, the new governor appointed by the Maharaja. Maj Brown remained in-charge of the Gilgit Scouts.
Despite Hari Singh having signed the Instrument of Accession and joined India, Maj Brown refused to acknowledge the orders of the Maharaja, under the pretext that some leaders of the Frontier Districts Province (Gilgit-Baltistan) wanted to join Pakistan. On November 1, 1947, probably under order from London, he handed-over the entire area to Pakistan.
There is no doubt about the illegality of this mutiny, but was the British Headquarter informed? At the time, the entire Pakistani Army hierarchy was British. So, the answer can only be that Maj Brown's British bosses were aware of his 'gift' to Pakistan. The fact that he was appointed to the OBE is further proof. The King does not usually appoint 'deserters' or 'rebels' to the august Order.
Even today, this has serious implications for India. The UN resolutions of January 17, 1948, and August 13, 1948, and January 5, 1949, (UNCIP Resolutions) make it clear that "Pakistan cannot claim to exercise sovereignty in respect of J&K."
It also means that the agreement signed on March 2, 1963, between Pakistan and China about the Shaksgam Valley of the Gilgit Agency being transferred to China is legally invalid.
Amazingly, three years ago, the British Parliament passed a resolution confirming Gilgit-Baltistan was part of Jammu and Kashmir.
The motion was tabled on March 23, 2017, by Bob Blackman of the Conservative Party. It reads: "Gilgit-Baltistan is a legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, and where people are denied their fundamental rights including the right of freedom of expression."
Why doesn’t the MEA publish a White Paper on the background of GB’s accession to India and make it widely known?

Saturday, October 17, 2020

South Block’s mistakes will now be corrected by Army

My article  South Block’s mistakes will now be corrected by Army appeared in The Daily Guardian

Indian diplomats have committed several blunders while negotiating with the Chinese in
the past. It is thus heartening to have the Army commandeer border talks this time around.

The most vital concern today is not to lose the advantages gained on the ground at a negotiating table, as it has often happened in the past. So far, nothing has been lost during the seven rounds of border talks conducted in Ladakh, by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps.

After five months since the beginning of the standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, it is time to draw up a temporary balance sheet of the conflict. Militarily, India’s position changed for the better on the night of 29-30 August, when Tibetan commandos occupied the ridges south of Pangong Lake. It was an important strategic victory, but also a psychological one, showing that the Tibetans are with India in the battle against China’s hegemonic advances.

The most vital concern today is not to lose the advantages gained on the ground at a negotiating table, as it has often happened in the past. So far, nothing has been lost during the seven rounds of border talks conducted in Ladakh, by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps. However, to have transferred the ‘ground’ negotiation from the Ministry of External Affairs is a victory in itself. In the past, the MEA has often been the weak ‘diplomatic’ link, as the mandarins are often satisfied by simply ‘cutting the apple in two’. The ‘original sin’ of the present situation on the Indian border is due to this particular weakness. While it had been known for years that China was building a road across the Aksai Chin, South Block had kept quiet, probably to not offend Mao and his cohorts.

 On 18 October 1958, the then Foreign Secretary had politely written to the Chinese Ambassador that Delhi’s attention had been drawn to the fact that China had built a road “across the eastern part of the Ladakh region of the Jammu Kashmir state, which is part of India. This road seems to form part of the Chinese road known as YehchangGartok or Sinkiang Tibet highway, the completion of which was announced in September 1957.”

The Indian official had complained: “In view of [this], it is matter of surprise and regrets that the Chinese government should have constructed a road through indisputably Indian territory without first obtaining the permission of the Government of India and without even informing the Government of India.” With the danger of such a preposterous reaction looming large over Ladakh, one can only rejoice that the government has involved mainly the Army in the talks. As mentioned in a previous column, it was nevertheless positive that Naveen Srivastava, the MEA Joint Secretary dealing with China, was present in Moldo/Chushul.

 Lt Gen P.G. Kamath, a defence analyst (and a ‘thinking general’) recently wrote, “I have always been rubbing the point that the MEA is a relic of the Nehruvian era and is unable to respond to the extremely fluid and dynamic geostrategic imperatives. To make matters worse, we have put a career diplomat in charge of the MEA.” However, the presence of S. Jaishankar, with his ‘chromosomic’ antecedents (his father being one of the sharpest Indian strategists) and his long experience in the Ministry, has definitively brought improvements, though the minister has had to deal with the antiquated work culture and old mindset of an ‘elite’ corps, who has a tendency to think that they know everything.

The problem is compounded by a series of innumerable blunders committed by South Block over the decades — to give a few examples, the Nehru government remaining quiet when the Indian Consulate in Kashgar was closed by China in December 1949, (“we can do nothing about it, the times have changed”); the weak protests made when Tibet was invaded 70 years ago; and, in 1954, the Panchsheel Agreement not only giving away the Indian rights in Tibet to China, (which included military escorts), but worse, the border issue not even being brought to the table, with the consequences that we see today in Ladakh. The first three ‘principles’ promised “mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”, “mutual non-aggression”, and mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.” By accepting that Tibet belonged to China, India could no longer claim her genuine interests in Tibet. Today, what makes things more complicated is that the Indian diplomacy accepted the concept of a Line of Actual Control (LAC) which has never existed on a map or on the ground.

The recent blitzkrieg from Beijing about a November 1959 LAC is pure Information Warfare (IW) using some gullible Indian newspapers. Where is the Line that Zhou Enlai mentioned on 7 November 1959 to Nehru? Is there a map? On what is it based — on a clearly-defined watershed, on customary rights of the local grazers, on land or house taxations? No, it is pure Chinese bluff. But there is worse: the MEA has inked several agreements with China, forgetting to define the main object of the accords — the LAC. It is hard to believe that Delhi signed on the dotted line without any definition or map of the LAC, leaving sufficient space to Beijing to change the posts. On 7 September 1993, India and China entered into an agreement “in accordance with the Five Principles” which speak of the “Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC,” but nowhere is the LAC itself defined, though it says, “… pending an ultimate solution to the boundary question… the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the LAC between the two sides.” It is truly amazing, but there is no map of the LAC in the Western Sector even today.

 Then, on 29 November 1996, an agreement “on Confidences Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC” was negotiated, “believing that it serves the fundamental interests of the peoples of India and China to foster a long-term goodneighbourly relationship in accordance with the five principles.” Both parties were “convinced that the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the India-China border areas accords with the fundamental interests of the two peoples.” Yet again, the LAC was not defined or delineated. In 2000, both sides agreed that they would initiate a process for the clarification and determination of the LAC in all sectors of the boundary.

A meeting took place in March 2000, where maps of the middle sector were exchanged. On 17 June 2002, both sides met again and maps of the Western Sector were seen by both sides for about 20 minutes, before the Chinese withdrew their maps. Ten years later, in January 2012, there was still no map when both sides established “a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination” which mentioned a non-existent LAC: “Firmly believing that respecting and abiding by the LAC pending a resolution of the Boundary Question between the two countries.” Then, on 23 October 2013, an official accord acknowledged “the need to continue to maintain peace, stability and tranquility along the LAC in the India-China border areas and to continue implementing confidence building measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control.” It spoke in particular of “flag meetings or border personnel meetings at designated places along the LAC.” But where is this LAC? This time, the Indian Army will make sure that China does not escape without the proper definition of a line that the Indian jawans can defend. The nation has its fingers crossed.