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.

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.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Claude Arpi's Latest On India-Tibet Is An Important Work Coming At An Important Time

An Indian official on his way Gartok, Western Tibet
(courtesy Ipshita Rawat)
Another book review: this time by Prof Mayank Singh from Benares Hindu University. It is entitled "Claude Arpi's Latest On India-Tibet Is An Important Work Coming At An Important Time."

Here is the link...

'The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet' is as extensive a work as any scholar would find on the subject. Arpi’s strength, apart from his vast knowledge, is his love for the subject which makes the book racy, almost fiction-like.

In 1948, John King Fairbank, considered the godfather of American Sinology, noted, that to understand the policies and actions of Chinese leaders, historical perspective is “not a luxury, but a necessity.”
One of the reasons Indian policy makers fail to decipher Chinese actions lies in the comparatively scarce historical work about Chinese strategic thinking and actions, which in turn ensures that India falls for the same traps ad nauseam.
That the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report on the reasons behind the 1962 debacle still remains officially classified, despite portions of it being available on the internet, epitomizes India’s failure to what Fairbank referred to as getting a “historical perspective.”
Perhaps it is this lack of historical and strategic understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’s psyche which has resulted in India having a trade deficit of $48.66 billion in FY 2019-20 with China.
The belief that strong commercial and economic engagements with China would compel them to desist from military coercion in the fear of losing out on the Indian market, should now be buried in the vast cold terrain of Eastern Ladakh where a strong sense of déjà vu of the events preceding the 1962 war prevails.
Claude Arpi’s book, The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet, is an attempt to fill out on this void. This is the fourth volume of Arpi’s work on the relations between India and Tibet (1947-1962). It retraces the steps between 1958-1962 which witnessed the consolidation of China’s military presence in Tibet, the failed Tibetan uprising of 1959, the Dalai Lama’s escape to India and how political, bureaucratic and military leadership in India failed to grasp Chinese intentions in Tibet with serious ramifications for India.
The 1962 military drubbing was the culmination of the failure to understand that allowing PLA to ride roughshod over Tibet would resulted in the conversion of the peaceful India-Tibet border into a hostile India-China border.
As Maj SL Chibber, the Consul General in Lhasa, would point out in his ‘Annual Political Report’ of 1957: India’s relations with the Tibetans were rather cordial which came to a sudden end with the arrival of the Chinese.
Apa Pant, who was the Political Officer in Gangtok made his third visit to Tibet in 1957. His report elaborated how with each visit his first impression was confirmed that Tibet was a “country forcibly, with the might of military strength, ‘occupied’ by the Chinese.”
Pant reported the presence of 15,000 PLA troops in Lhasa itself and noticed the rapid construction of roads in Tibet. During the visit, Pant observed multiple PLA establishments and reported the presence of at least 30,000 troops within “a hundred miles of Lhasa.”
Any strategic observer would have been alarmed at this massive infrastructure and military build-up in the neighbourhood. Yet, New Delhi continued to live in delusion about peaceful Chinese intentions.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s idealism as a tool of statecraft was to soon unravel disastrously before Mao Zedong’s hard core pragmatism combined with Sun Tzu’s ‘deception’ as means of war.
Pant presciently warned that Chinese regime’s failure to assimilate the Tibetans into their way of life and “emotional and spiritual contacts” between them being non-existent, had the danger of China pushing in millions of Hans into Tibet, converting the Tibetans into a minority in their own land.
The warning, unfortunately, has come true.
While Nehru and defence minister VK Krishna Menon obfuscated over reports of PLA build-up in Tibet, China had a specific purpose behind introducing a disproportionate number of troops to combat Tibetan resistance.
Arpi cites from Jiangling Li’s book Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet and the China-India Border War, edited by Matthew Akester, that the PLA directly inducted seven of the twelve military commands for military operations and two for logistical support in Tibet.
The Central Military Commission sent nearly all military branches to fight in Tibet, including the chemical warfare unit. This massive mobilisation of troops to combat an enemy which was disorganised, scattered into groups, and what Li calls “a force with practically no military training,” should have raised eyebrows in New Delhi.
Arpi is convinced that PLA was indeed rehearsing for a “forthcoming conflict with India.” India was however playing the ostrich and refusing to read the writing on the wall.
This strategic blindfolding was however not a fresh development.
The ‘Pannikar doctrine’, as Arpi refers to Ambassador KM Pannikar’s thoughts of not speaking “of a border which is settled, if it were not settled China would have brought the issue to the negotiating table,” despite Premier Chou En-lai’s ominous sounding statement of “we are prepared to settle all such problems as are ripe for settlement,” was a harbinger of a dispute which started with Barahoti in 1954 and continues till date.
Indian shortsightedness in failing to mention specifically the passes mentioned in the 1954 ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse with Tibet Region,’ as border passes, led to Chinese repudiation of the principle of watershed as marking of international boundary and the disputes which followed in its trail.
The 1954 agreement proved critical for China as India, for the first time, agreed to Tibet as the ‘Tibet Region of China’ and gave up the right to military escorts in Yatung and Gyantse which it had inherited from the British. India also handed over postal, telegraph and public telephone services operated by them in Tibet to China. In short, India had decided to become blind in China which would prove tragic, as subsequent events showed.
Acharya JB Kriplani would later refer to the 1954 agreement as “born in sin” and rightfully so, as India did not even raise the border issues with the Chinese and abandoned Tibet to its fate.
The building of the road connecting Xinjiang to Lhasa about which Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt said: "little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200 kilometre road passes through Aksai Chin," which was till then Indian territory, without any Indian effort to stop the construction, was a manifestation of India’s apathetic approach towards its national security.
Dutt’s official response expressing regret about China neither taking permission nor informing the Indian government about the road while appearing surreal, represented the spineless Indian response to this perfidy.
Ironically, while China was preparing for war, Nehru was busy promoting PRC’s cause at various international forums.
BN Mullik, Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), claimed that he had reported the building of Chinese road in the area in November 1952 and that the Indian trade Agent in Gartok had reported about it in 1955 and 1957. Arpi also cites SS Khera, the Cabinet Secretary, accepting that information about Chinese activity in Aksai Chin had “begun to come in by 1952 or earlier.”
The Indian Military Attaché in Beijing, Brig SS Malik, had passed on the information about the road in Aksai Chin to the Military HQ in 1956. The formal road opening on 6 October 1957 was reported by a Chinese newspaper Kuang-ming Jih-pao, but the Indian leadership was busy promoting the utopia called ‘Panchsheel’ rather than realising the importance of loss of a strategically vital territory.
Arpi narrates an interesting incident when in 1955, Sidney Wignall, a British mountaineer was asked by the Army Chief Gen KS Thimayya to get proof of the Aksai Chin road. Like a spy thriller, Wignall was arrested and interrogated by the Chinese and finally released in the hope that he would never make it back to India amidst the heavy blizzards.
Wignall, however, reached India with his report which was trashed by Krishna Menon in Nehru’s presence as “lapping up American CIA agent-provocateur propaganda.”
Lt Col RS Basera’s equally daring mission in 1957 resulted in the Director of Military Intelligence being “more or less rebuked” by Nehru for sending the patrol. Nehru officially acknowledged the construction of the Sinkiang-Tibet highway through Aksai Chin in Parliament only in August 1959. It was this laissez faire which perhaps compelled General Thimayya to tell his officers that “I hope that I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese Communists.” The foreboding would come true three years later.
Arpi brings out excruciating details about the failed Tibetan uprising of March 1959 which led to the Dalai Lama’s escape under extremely arduous conditions. By the end of it all, Consul General Chibber concluded; “The Chinese have entrenched themselves so firmly that they will not care about anything, even world opinion, and will go ahead with their policy of annihilating the Tibetan race.” The decisions arrived at the Seventh Tibet Forum in August 2020 under President Xi Jinping shows that ‘Sinicisation’ of Tibet is not far off.
Non-utilisation of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in combat mode during the 1962 conflict remains one of the biggest mysteries of the war. The IB is said to have cautioned the government that the use of offensive air power could result in the PLAAF attacking Indian cities like Calcutta.
Arpi mobilises facts to demolish the myth of superiority of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). India had airfields in the vicinity of the conflict zone which would have allowed them to fly shorter distances and carry higher payloads than PLAAF which had only one airfield in Tibet. And PLAAF had no fuel to fly its aircrafts.
The amount of gasoline reaching Tibet from China was not sufficient enough to maintain both the occupation force and PLAAF.
While in 1960, 2,220 tons of gasoline was imported into Tibet, in 1962, this figure had dropped to 30 tons. Further PLAAF’s planes were engaged on the Korean front and the Soviet Union had stopped supply of spare parts for MIG fighter planes. Squadron 106 of the IAF with Wing Commander Jag Mohan ‘Jaggi’ Nath had been flying extensively over Tibet between 1959-1962 on reconnaissance missions. Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath was categorical; “If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out. They did not believe me that there was no Chinese air force.”
The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet is as extensive a work as any scholar would find on the subject. Arpi’s strength, apart from his vast knowledge, is his love for the subject which makes the book racy, almost fiction-like, which stands apart from the pedantic style writings generally available on such subjects.
He brings out the Dalai Lama’s escape, the harassment of the Indian Trade Agencies and Indian pilgrims, and a rarely touched subject—the treatment of Indian PoW’s in China in a manner where the reader can almost visualise the incidents.
This is a must read for all those who ponder on the reason behind the recent developments in Eastern Ladakh. As George Orwell said: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Arpi goes a long way in helping understand the past to understand the present and the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Putting Tibet Back in Focus

The Indian Prime Minister in Yatung, Tibet (1958)
Another book review of my Volume 4, by Maj Gen M. Vinaya Chandran (Redt). 

It is entitled Putting Tibet Back in Focus

Historian Claude Arpi goes beyond the British and Chinese narratives to examine older ties between India and the region

Here is the link...

Relations that India and China have with Tibet form the foundation of India – China relations. Even though the current narratives of these relations begin by quoting centuries of friendly relations between these ancient civilisations, actually it began from 1950, when Chinese occupation of Tibet began, and India and China came to be neighbours. Official records of interaction between India and China from 1950 to 1962 and India’s Tibet policy during this period have remained concealed from not only the Indian public, but also policy makers, since then.

Claude Arpi has done a yeoman’s work in ferreting out documents and interviewing experts to bring out four volumes on India – Tibet relations from 1947 to 1962, which brings a lot of clarity in understanding India – China relation, which is firmly rooted on their relations with Tibet. The fourth volume of ‘The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet’, brings out how India lost a friendly Tibet and gained a hostile China on her northern borders, during the years 1958 to 1962. Arpi has cited a large number of primary sources to clearly show how the Indian Government did not pay heed to the situation in Tibet, thereby leading to the India – China war of 1962 and closure of the Indian Consulate in Lhasa. Many books have been written on the subject but Arpi brings in greater clarity by analyzing the correspondence and activities of the Indian Consul Generals in Lhasa and how Indian establishment chose to disregard those, thereby getting surprised by the PLA in 1962. Details of the talks between the Indian Charge d’ Affaires in Beijing and a senior Chinese diplomat in 1962 corroborates the fact.
It is widely known that up to the start of 1962 war, BN Mullick assured Nehru that China would never attack India and Menon assured the armed forces that even if there is a war, he will win it diplomatically. Arpi has thrown light on these fallacies using documents, which are currently in public domain. Few surprising facts are as follows:

  • There was intense militarization of Tibet from 1957. Indian Consul Generals at Lhasa had provided accurate details of these to Indian government, even to the extent of trenches being dug at Rutok and a big logistic hub being established at Nagchuka.
  • PLA Fourth Army commanded by Gen Su Chiang was located at Tsaidam and had sixty-seven Russian instructors attached to them.
  • From 1959 onwards, China commenced active survey and reconnaissance of Indian borders.
  • On 11 June 1962, a few months before the war, Tibet Military Command set up a special organization named ‘Tibet Military Command Advance Command Post for China – India Border Self-defence Counterattack’. By the end of June 1962 they started collection of intelligence, preparing battle plans and intensive military training.

Border negotiation with China is another area where our policy makers seem to have faltered. A boundary commission comprising Chinese and Tibetan officials, accompanied by PLA were visiting the border areas and collecting evidence from 1957 onwards, to prepare their claims. India apparently did not take it so seriously. While negotiations were on for Bara Hoti, in 1958, the Foreign Secretary said that India should ask China, “first to indicate more precisely where according to them the international border lies. Surely they should be able to do so if their claims are genuine.” Indian bureaucrats did not realise that there is nothing genuine regarding Chinese claims. Even now, Indian media’s insistence on defining the Chinese LAC and reluctance of the bureaucracy to clarify the issue, shows that the situation has not improved.
During the 1962 war, many Indian soldiers were taken prisoner by China. The plight of these prisoners and the steps taken or not taken by Indian government was not made known to the public, rendering their sacrifices to be forgotten. Arpi has worked hard to collect evidence by interviewing people with firsthand knowledge of the events and finding documents to substantiate the same. Our understanding of the 1962 war will be incomplete without knowing the facts, known only to these brave soldiers.
Experts on the India–China boundary question, generally refer to the lines drawn by the British and China. Centuries of trade and religious interactions between India and Tibet have a different story to tell. British made compromises to suit their commercial interests, China drew lines to suit their hegemonic interests and post 1947 Indian government signed treaties to exhibit statesmanship. All of them kept Tibet out of it. Very few scholars like Claude Arpi have delved into the history of India–China boundary, giving importance to the history and views of the people actually living along the boundary.
The book, published by Vij Books India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in knowing the facts regarding India–China boundary issue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

70 Years ago: War and 'Liberation' - The Battle of Chamdo

Robert Ford, the British Radio Operator captured by the PLA
On the occasion of the 70 years of the Battle of Chamdo (October 7, 1950), I republished this article War and Liberation which originally appeared in the USI Journal (April 2016 - June 2016 issue).

See the original article for proper references: here is the link...

A Liberation?
During the first weeks of October 1950, as Tibet was invaded by the People’s Liberation Army, Communist China stated that it was ‘liberating’ Tibet. It is not the place here to enter into this debate, but one can see that several decades later, the Tibetans, particularly the first ‘liberated’ in Eastern Tibet, still disagree with this interpretation.
The Battle of Chamdo, the first and only encounter between the Tibetan and Chinese forces, is however interesting to look at for several reasons.
Tibet, a Buddhist nation was not military and tactically ready to oppose the seasoned troops of Mao (and some of China’s brilliant commanders). From the start, The Land of Snows stood no chance, especially without outside support.
Many in Tibet still believed that increasing the number of japa (recitation) or parikramas (circumambulations) around the monasteries and stupas of Kham, would be sufficient to make the Truth Prevail. As Robert Ford, the British radio operator posted in Chamdo, remarked ‘The gods are on our side’ was the mantra most oft-repeated in the town, “but it seemed to me that something more Churchilian was needed.”
For the Chinese, it was a well-prepared operation (a ‘police operation’ would have said Marshal Peng Dehuai) in 2 stages: the fall of Chamdo, the capital town of Kham province during the Fall of 1950 and then the advance to Lhasa during the next season .
India was fooled into believing that Communist China wanted a ‘negotiated’ settlement with the Tibetans: it was never the case. Marshal Liu Bosheng in a message in August 1950 made it clear that he was going to ‘liberate’ Tibet.
Opposite the Chinese strategists was Ngabo Shape , the Tibetan Commissioner for the Kham province, a weak leader, ready to surrender; he was obviously not the military chef de guerre that Tibet need at this point in time to coordinate the defence of the different border posts.
It has to be noticed that Mao Zedong entered the Korean campaign on the same day (October 7) as the PLA crossed the Yangtze and started its Tibet operations. It shows the confidence the Communist leadership had in the local PLA commanders.
Finally, the PLA summary of the battle and recommendations distributed by the PLA after the Battle of Chamdo tends to show that it was a good preparation for the Chinese troops for another battle 12 years later on the Himalayan slopes. Against India this time.

Marshal Liu Bocheng Communique

On the first day of August, a message from Marshal Liu Bocheng, the Chairman of Southwest Military and Political Committee, was widely distributed by Xinhua: “[The] People Liberation Army will soon march towards Tibet with object of driving out the British and American aggressive forces so as to make Tibetans return to the Great Family of the Peoples Republic of China.”
The general lines of the ‘liberation’ were given: “As soon as the Liberation army enters into Tibet they will carry out the Programme of National Regional Autonomy, religious freedom, protection of Lama church and will respect the religious belief and customs of the Tibetans, develop their languages and characters as well as their educational and their agricultural, pastural, industrial and commercial enterprises and work for betterment of the Peoples living standard.”
Did the CCP’s Central Committee have the intention to seriously implement these policies? It is difficult to say.
Lui’s message continues: “The military and political systems prevailing in Tibet now will remain as they are and will NOT be changed.” However the present Tibetan Army will become a part of the National Defence Force of the Peoples Republic of China. It was ominous for the Tibetans.
Liu generously added: “All expenditure of the Peoples Liberation Army when they enter into Tibet [will be borne] by this Central Peoples Government so as to reduce the burden of the Tibetans.”
The dice was cast.

The military plans for the ‘liberation’
On August 23, Mao Zedong sent a telegram to the Southwest Bureau of the Central Committee; it is entitled: “Strive to Occupy Chamdo This Year and Advance to Lhasa Next Year”. This cable, repeated to the Northwest Bureau in Qinghai , lays down the Communists’ military plans for the year 1950 and 1951.
Answering a note that he had received 3 days earlier  Mao writes: “The plan to push for occupying Chamdo this year and to leave three thousand men to consolidate Chamdo is good. You can actively make preparations according to this plan, and when it is ascertained by the end of this month or the beginning of next month that the road has reached Ganzi  without obstruction, the advance can go ahead. It is expected that Chamdo will be occupied in October. That would be advantageous for pushing for political changes in Tibet, and marching into Lhasa the next year.”
A few days earlier, KM Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in China had met Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Foreign Minister. The Ambassador reported to Delhi: “I am satisfied that the representations we have made have had two important results; the Chinese will NOT now proceed to attack Tibet unless all efforts at peaceful settlement have been exhausted. …Short of giving Tibet its privileged position, China, I am convinced, would do everything to satisfy Tibetans, at least for the time, and will NOT proceed to military action.”
Such a foolish assessment!
On August 22, the Ambassador had handed over an aide-mémoire to the Chinese Government in which he stated that the Government of India “have no political or territorial ambitions in Tibet and no desire to seek any novel privileged position for themselves or their nationals in Tibet.”
The next day, the Great Helmsman could affirm: “Now India has issued a statement recognizing Tibet as China’s territory, only expressing hope that the issue can be settled peacefully, not by force. …If our army can occupy Chamdo in October, there is the possibility of pushing the Tibetan delegation to Beijing for negotiation, begging for a peaceful solution… Right now we are using the strategy of urging the Tibetan delegation to come to Beijing and reducing Nehru’s fear.”
The strategy was clear. The PLA had to occupy Chamdo before the winter; stop the advance for a while; get time to force ‘an agreement’ with the Tibetans and then complete the ‘liberation’ by advancing to Lhasa in 1951.
In his telegram to Chengdu, Mao explains: “When Tibetan representatives arrive in Beijing , we plan to use the Ten Points already decided as the basis for negotiation, urge the Tibetan representatives to sign it, and make the Ten Points an agreement accepted by both sides. If this can be done, it will make things easier for advancing into Tibet next year.”
In other words, it would be a ‘peaceful liberation’.
It is what happened in May 1951 when the Tibetan ‘negotiators’ were forced ‘under duress’ to sign the 17-Point Agreement; the road to Lhasa was open.
In August 1950, Mao’s rationalizes further: “Your plan to leave 3,000 men in Chamdo for the winter after occupying it, not to advance into Lhasa this year, and withdraw the main force back to Ganzi may be seen by the Tibetans as a gesture of good will. The matter of 30 airplanes is in process, but it takes time. You should not count on them in the short term. All the provisions for the 16,000 men marching from Ganzi to Chamdo have to be carried by manpower and yaks, and 3,000 men among them will need provisions for winter. …Part of the grain and meat (needed by troops) may be purchased in Chamdo etc., and have you prepared some gold, silver and goods that Tibetans need, such as silk, to take with you?”
That was it. The military operations could start.


The Battle of Chamdo
For the description of the Battle of Chamdo, our source is a Chinese text called Detailed Report on Battle of Chamdo by the 52nd Division of the 18th Army of the People’s Liberation Army.
It is part of a Chinese report, The Liberation of Chamdo, which was translated by two independent researchers, Jianglin Li and Matthew Akester.
While reflecting the views of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China, it shows that the Battle of Chamdo was a military operation conducted in a professional manner by the 18th Army of the Second Field Army, with the possibility to receive support from the North (Qinghai), the South (Yunnan) and even a few troops from Xinjiang.
While Nehru was banking on 'talks' to peacefully solve the issue, there was no question of ‘peace’ or ‘negotiations’ for Mao, and Chamdo was merely the first stage before an advance towards Lhasa during the next season.
What is surprising is the elaborate planning of this military operation. Comparatively, the leaderless Tibetans were novices and stood no chance in front of the calculated tactical moves of the PLA. We shall see that the Chinese learned a lot during the Chamdo operations; this is apparent in their ‘Summary’.
While Panikkar in Beijing was talking peace and dialogue, the PLA’s slogan in Eastern Tibet as: “Surround more, annihilate more; surround less, annihilate less” or “Cutting into the heart of the enemy position, penetrating, separating, surrounding and annihilating the enemy.”
It did not mean that some of the Tibetan troops did not fight well, particularly the Gadang regiment under Dapon Muja.
It is a tragedy that nobody in India thought of studying the Battle of Chamdo, it would have perhaps avoided a lot of suffering and the crushing defeat of 12 years later.

Chinese narrative of the Battle of Chamdo
The Chinese report tells us that after crossing the Jinsha river  from October 6 to 9, the troops reached “the vast plateau of a thousand li  in length and width and in coordination with brother troops, units of this division were divided into three wings, left, middle and right, forming the assault on Chamdo, a powerful pincer attack targetting the 1500-li-long position of the Tibetan army commanded by Chamdo Governor Lhalu. ”
It has to be noted that before the operations started, Governor Lhalu had been transferred to Lhasa. Robert Ford was not happy with Ngabo who ‘seemed too cool and confident’.
It was one could say, ‘a British understatement’.
The report continues: “During the fourteen days of rapid advance and fighting, all units were moving across the unfamiliar plateau without accurate maps. Soldiers carried loads of 60 or 70 jin , climbed more than 50 high mountains and crossed rivers over 60 times. On average, foot soldiers cover 72 li,  cavalry 80 li  a day, those who had to march day and night moved up to 34 hours continuously without enough food. However, all units answered the call by party committees of both the army and the division and endured extreme hardship, annihilated all the defending enemies in Chamdo on schedule, and successfully completed the capture of Chamdo.”
How such a quick success?
It is explained in detail: “[the PLA] annihilated five Dapons , the main force of the Tibetan army, and over 2,000 militia, liberated the region north to Qinghai , south to Yunnan , east to Jinsha river, west to Luolong  and Leiwuqi , a vast area more than one thousand square li. The success further strengthened our unity with Tibetans west of the Jinsha river, laid the foundation for advancing next year (1951), struck blows directly and indirectly at the British and American imperialist invaders, inspired people in the near east and repaid the people of the whole country who had warmly supported us.”
Of course, apart from the poor Robert Ford, who soon would be captured and kept five years in a Chinese gaol, there were no imperialist around.
But the Tibetans had to be ‘liberated’ from something or somebody. It was an easy alibi for the world at large, and particularly for the gullible Indian Ambassador in Beijing.
The military operation to ‘liberate’ Tibet also demonstrates how Mao’s concept of a ‘Liberation War’ was applied on the ground.
The Report says: “…Tibetans have warmly supported us (taking in and escorting individual stragglers, delivering information, guiding the way, providing transportation, building bridges, preparing firewood and fodder, etc.), all of this shows that we had good influence by carrying out the policies conscientiously before the attack and shows the tangible benefits brought to Tibetans during our westward march. This is a small accomplishment we achieved in the past, and it is also a major pointer for the future in the liberation and construction of Tibet.”
The ‘political’ instructions to the ground forces were: ‘Three Keep-in-Mind’  and ‘Eight Things-to-do’.  
The Political Department of Tibet Military Area Command in Chengdu later prepared “A Brief Report on Battle of Chamdo by Southwest Military Area Command”. One gets an idea of the role of the ‘liberated populations’  in the military operations: “Before the battle, troops had gone through comprehensive education on minority policy and conducted work aimed at uniting with the minority people in a planned way. This work contributed greatly to accomplishing the battle smoothly,” notes the Report.
Of course, the situation rapidly changed and by mid-1950s, the Khampa guerrilla started resisting the ‘liberation’.
To come back to the Report of the Battle, it notes: “In this battle, troops advanced rapidly for 15 days with heavy loads across the high plateau a thousand kilometers in length and width, wrapping up…entire enemy position 1500 li  in length and accomplished the task on schedule, completely annihilated the third (two Dapons), the seventh, the eighth, the fifth and the tenth Dapon, altogether five Dapons (averaging small regiments) under Tibetan Frontier Envoy Commissioner General , captured …over 3,000 men. This victory is fundamentally due to correct leadership by leading officers of the Military Area Command and the Army Party Committee, strong support from the people of the whole country, coordination from brother troops (particularly engineer corps), …and the eight-month long preparation.”
In some places, the Tibetans fought quite well. As noted by Melvyn Goldstein, already in August, the Tibetans fought a pitch battle in Denkok: “The battle of Dengo [Denkok] was technically a victory for the Tibetans, in that they had pushed the Chinese back and demonstrated they could contend with the People's Liberation Army. The battle boosted the morale of the Tibetan forces in Kham, but it did not alter the basic military situation of the Tibetans, who were woefully undermanned and under- armed.”
But at the time, Mao and his generals had not completed the preparations for the Battle of Chamdo.

Analysing the Tibetan opposition
We shall not go into the details of the operations, but it is worth stopping for a moment at the Chinese analysis of their opponents, the Tibetan troops:

  • The enemy had no focus, no depth and attached no importance to flanks.
  • Enemy lacks systematic strategic planning and command, they fought wherever they were attacked and were easily misled by us. After we crossed the river from Dengke , it was quite possible that the enemy might mistakenly believe, based on historical experience, that the Chinese could be stopped.
  • The enemy had never experienced large scale battle
  • The Tibetans had no knowledge of modern military science and were equipped with few heavy weapons.
  • Their combat capability was not strong.
  • The Chinese estimated that there were 3 possibilities:
  • The Tibetans would retreat without fighting and escape without hesitation (“if this happened, it would definitely make it more difficult for us to annihilate them”)
  • The Tibetans would scatter at the first contact, everywhere in the mountains and wilderness to entangle us also existed (“this would make it more difficult for us to annihilate them”).
  • The Tibetans would concentrate forces and put up strong resistance in strategic locations (“this was exactly what we were hoping for, for we were absolutely sure that we would annihilate them thoroughly, straightforwardly and completely”).

After a first encounter in Denkok in August, the Chinese report comments: “we did not seize the moment of strength to strike the enemy a fatal blow. The enemy might mistakenly have thought that our combat capability was not strong”.
But this was not the real Battle of Chamdo. Mao wanted to complete the logistic preparations before the fatal blow to the Tibetans.

A first step well-accomplished
The Report gives insight on the strategy; the Battle of Chamdo was the first step towards Lhasa: “Liberating Chamdo, annihilating the main force of the Tibetan army in the area east of Upper Mekong, Enda  and Riwoche lays the foundation for advance into Lhasa next year 1951 and liberate the entire Tibet.”
The report describes the battle: “We decided to deploy a powerful right-flank encircling force composed of infantry and cavalry, providing strong points to offset each other’s weaknesses, making a detour via Batang and Nangchen and pushing forward vigorously and precipitately. Troops should not be blocked by small numbers of enemy, doing everything possible to clear away obstacles and circle bravely…the entire field, cutting off the enemy’s retreats from Enda to Gyamda Dzong in Kongpo  and from Riwoche to Nagchu, the two main escape routes, making it impossible for enemies to escape even if they intended to slip away without fighting.
Performance of troops in this wing is the key to success or failure in annihilating more than three Dapons of the enemy force. The middle wing cut into the heart of the enemy position by way of …cutting into the heart of the enemy position, penetrating, separating, surrounding and annihilating the enemy within the entire enemy position and advancing straight to Chamdo.”
If the enemy did not rest, we wouldn’t rest; when the enemy took rest, we annihilate them. The left wing force crossed the river at Kamtok, marching slowly by way of Dongpu, Jomda and Jueyong to draw in the enemy. They seized the Damala Pass  and controlled Sichuan bridge.
The Chinese also wrote down the lessons of the battle and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the Tibetan Army. It makes interesting reading:

  • All Tibetan troops were organized in a comparatively primitive way. Troops have neither commanding offices (headquarters?) nor maps.
  • Everything was handled by one single officer-in-charge.
  • Special reconnaissance troops and communication tools were very outdated.
  • They did not fight aggressively and lacked counter attack ability. In several battles we did not find the enemy launching strong counter attacks.
  • Lack of systematic strategic thinking
  • No attention paid to protect flank and rear while deploying the forces. No knowledge of using the terrain to block our advance.
  • No night combat experience.
  • No guards posted at encampments.
  • Enemies were slow in climbing mountains: the 156th regiment’s speed was nearly one third faster than the speed of the enemy.
  • In terms of tactics: the Tibetans were good at riding horses, highly skillful at shooting and utilizing terrain and landforms, but not good at operation. There is certainly some exaggeration in this account, but the lack of larger strategic thinking cannot be discounted.
    One should also not forget that the Tibetan troops were less than 5,000 (perhaps 7,000 if one includes the local militia) and the PLA numbered around 20,000.
The tactics used against Tibetan army are also mentioned in the Report:
  • To deal with the weak Tibetan army with our current equipment, the key is to encircle the enemy
  • No need to worry about breaking through Tibetan army’s positions, the only worry is not being able to encircle them.
  • Once the supply line is cut, enemy will retreat in disorder without fighting.
  • Based on special conditions of the plateau cavalry is the key to annihilate the enemy, and the guarantee of success.

A good coordination between the Infantry and Artillery is required: “Due to weather conditions on the plateau and our equipment, vigorous activities and rapid charge are not favourable to the troops. Therefore, during combat firepower must be well organized so as to coordinate with foot soldiers continuously and effectively.”
About the reconnaissance, as no accurate map was available and rivers, forests and mountain ranges are serious obstacles: “knowledge of enemy situation and terrain through reconnaissance prior to battle is highly important. The method is to inquire from Tibetans familiar with the area …as long as we are nice to him, he would give us such information honestly.”
About the Artillery, to combat on the plateau, distance should be well measured: “Observation is not easy since too many objects block the view, and as a result, distances are often misjudged as closer.”
Perhaps more interesting for India are the suggestions on the PLA structure and equipment required for future operations.

The Summary recommends:

  • A division should have a cavalry regiment to fulfill the task of circling and surrounding the enemy.
  • A regiment should have a mounted reconnaissance company to facilitate communication and reconnaissance.
  • Mounted reconnaissance company can perform tasks of circling and surrounding in small actions.
  • One engineers platoon should be allocated for building bridges, handling boats, and clearing away obstacles to increase advancing speed.
  • Reduce mountain artillery, increase recoilless guns, high-angle guns, dynamite, detonator, fuse and explosive.
  • Quality and style of current field tools needs to be improved.
  • The current style of uniform must be changed and quality must be improved, otherwise it will not be able to last the season
  • It is better to make the uniform with strong and durable cloth, shoulders, backsides and knees should be reinforced.
  • Weight of coat should be reduced. Comforter should be changed into soft, warm, damp-resistant, lightweight, larger size wool blanket which can be used as mattress pad as well as comforter.
  • Raincoat and damp-resistant canvas should be combined into one, based on current raincoat size and shape, adding more rubber to make it thicker so it can be used to wear and to spread as bedding. Quality of shoes should be improved, soles should be softer and the upper should be higher, water-proof and damp-resistant.
  • Headgear should better be helmet with goggles fixed on.
  • Regiment and above level should be equipped with larger radio of 50 watt or more.
  • All food should be high quality, low quantity, long-lasting and easy to carry, otherwise it increases soldiers’ burden, reduces their physical strength, slows down marching speed and has negative impact on accomplishing tasks.

These lessons were certainly useful for a far more difficult campaign; i.e. against India in 1962. The battle of Chamdo can hence also be considered, logistically at least, as a rehearsal of the 1962 ‘Indian’ War.