Tuesday, November 16, 2021

'We are well prepared for any eventualities'

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu pays tribute to Veer Jawans
of the 5 Assam Rifles at the Chhetri War Memorial
near Tulung La pass at the India-Tibet border
 The first part of my interview with Pema Khandu, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh 'We are well prepared for any eventualities' appeared in Rediff.com

'Guarding the borders in extreme weather conditions is not easy and most people don't realise it is a very tough job.'

In April 2011, Dorjee Khandu, the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, died in tragic circumstances in a helicopter crash.
Soon after, his elder son Pema succeeded him as the MLA of Mukto in Tawang district; he was then only 32 years old.
Five years later, on July 17, 2016, after a long period of confusion in the state, Pema Khandu took oath as the chief minister; soon after, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
During the 2019 legislative assembly elections, Khandu won a landslide victory with 41 seats out of 60 for the BJP alone.
Under Khandu's leadership, the border state found badly needed stability which helped putting Arunachal Pradesh on fast track development, while preserving its own genius.
At a time when China social media is buzzing with threats of military action against Arunachal (with various verified or unverified handles releasing videos and photos of People's Liberation Army troops training close to the Indian border), Arunachal Pradesh's dynamic 42-year-old chief minister answers Claude Arpi's questions.
He speaks of the 'Philosophy of Arunachal', his visits to the troops posted at the LAC, but also of the development of the infrastructure, his vision for 'Low Volume High Value' (including spiritual) tourism and the importance of ecology for the entire Himalaya.
He concludes by putting on record that Arunachal Pradesh does not share any direct border with China, but only with Tibet; it is indeed the best answer to Beijing, who without any historical basis, continues to claim the entire Indian State.

The first of an exclusive two-part interview:

For decades the 'Philosophy of NEFA' has been the guiding policy for what is today Arunachal Pradesh (as well as the North-East in general).
It may have helped to preserve the tribal culture but it did not take care of the borders when India was attacked.
Do you have today a 'Philosophy of Arunachal'? If yes, can you elaborate?

The 'Philosophy of NEFA' propounded by Verrier Elwin included facilitating the local population to develop on their own genius, respecting tribal rights in land and forests and respecting the social and cultural institutions.
These contours are honoured even today.
But there is a significant change in the Government of India's approach to the northeast region, where earlier a Union government's minister coming even to Guwahati used to become news.
Today we have five ministers in the Union council of ministers from the northeast region, including a Cabinet minister from Arunachal Pradesh.
Every month we have visits from the Union government bringing in some important development scheme for the people.
This signifies a major shift in the mindset and the confidence of New India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Developing our border areas and securing territorial integrity is the priority of our government both at the Centre and state.
The 'Philosophy of Arunachal Pradesh' is the same as the 'Philosophy of New India' which comes with the awareness of where we stand today and what we wish to achieve.
We care about the last person standing in the queue and our aspirations are not limited by our past.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu with Indian Army jawans on the occasion
of 22nd Kargil Vijay Diwas in Tawang

The media has lately reported your visits to forward posts and your interactions with jawans and officers.
Tell us about your motivations. And also about the importance of these visits. Should it be emulated by other CMs in other border states?

My father served in the Indian Army and having been born and lived most part of my life in the border region of Tawang district in India, I have seen the life of our security forces very closely.
Guarding the borders in extreme weather conditions is not easy and most people don't realise it is a very tough job.
By visiting our forces in the forward posts, I am only paying a humble tribute to them for the immense sacrifice they are making for our great nation.
I know many other leaders in our country who too visit border regions.
Visiting my uniformed brothers in forward posts is a very personal motivation and if other leaders and common people in other states too emulate it, would be a wonderful gesture.
I welcome fellow countrymen to come and visit forward posts of Arunachal Pradesh and understand the tough life of security forces and common citizens of the state.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu at Chuna with Indian Army soldiers.

Many in India believe that one should change the narrative of the 1962 War with China, in the sense that India did well in many areas (in the Walong sector for example). Do you plan to do something to change this 'defeat' narrative?

1962 is in the past, We have learned many things and is well prepared for any future eventualities.
I fully agree that the Walong sector triumph of our armed forces is under reported.
No matter what, the people of Arunachal Pradesh stand resolutely behind the armed forces.
Yes, We are developing the sites of the 1962 war as memorials in Tawang as well as the Walong area, it is an emotional feeling just to be present at those sites and experience the valour of the soldiers who fought then.
All these will tell the story, as it happened.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu with movie star Salman Khan.

China is building infrastructure on the other side of the border. For example, a new large airport is coming up in Lhuntse Dzong in Lhoka (Shannan); the train has reached Nyingchi, and the G219 (Aksai Chin road) to Tsari area and all along India's northern border?
What are you doing to counter this? What are Arunachal Pradesh's achievements in this field.

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modiji in the speech at the UN General Assembly had said, 'Democracy can deliver, Democracy has delivered.'
People of India and Arunachal Pradesh don't want to emulate any 'model of development' that tramples the liberty and culture of the local people.
Indian democracy isn't a 'one size fits all' model.
We are working towards providing amenities to the people in the border areas.
We are working aggressively to expand our road, rail and air network, improving communication networks and developing infrastructure to improve health and education status of our people.
The case in point is the Bogibheel bridge and the Dhola-Sadiya bridge which were pending for decades, it used to take hours to cross the Brahmaputra then.
Today because of the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the bridges got completed in record pace and can be crossed in minutes.
We will get our first airport in 2022 in Itanagar whose foundation was laid in 2019.
The Trans Arunachal Highway (about 1,600 km) is almost under completion and the Sela tunnel will make year-round travel to Tawang easy.
Eight new ALGs have become functional and around 1,000 new 4G towers are being installed in addition to the ongoing optical fibre projects to enhance digital connectivity.
All foothill areas will be connected with a rail network soon.
Surveys are being conducted to bring rail connectivity to Bame and high altitude areas like Tawang as well.
The list is long, yet our model of Compassionate Governance will have NO Match.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Chinese village in Arunachal: India must speak up!

My article Chinese village in Arunachal: India must speak up! appeared in Rediff.com

'China wants to change the status quo of India's Northern Border and proves that it can do whatever it wants in what it perceives as its own territory,' states Claude Arpi.

Here is the link...

On August 28, 1959, the Indian Ambassador in Beijing sent a strong note to China’s Foreign Ministry, to protest the fact that Chinese troops had violated Indian territory; after mentioning other trespassing in the Tawang and Ladakh sectors, the note says: “Another serious instance of violation of the Indian border and unlawful trespass into Indian territory by Chinese forces has just been brought to the notice of the Government of India. On the 25th August a strong Chinese detachment crossed into Indian territory south of Migyitun on the NEFA [North East Frontier Agency] border and fired without notice on an Indian forward picket [of the 9 Assam Rifles]. They arrested the entire picket which was twelve strong but eight Indian personnel somehow managed to escape. Thereafter the Chinese detachment outflanked the Indian outpost at Longju and opened fire on it from a distance of about 800 yards.”
For Delhi, the Indian outpost was “well within our territory, about two miles south of the international border.” The protest note affirmed: “There could be no doubt about the international frontier in this area and this is a case of deliberate aggression on Indian territory.”
Delhi concluded that it had taken very serious notice of the incident.
Three days later, the Indian public discovered with stupefaction that India and China had serious differences on the border; Prime Minister Nehru reported the incident in the Lok Sabha …and mentioned the construction of a Chinese road in the Aksai China area of Ladakh. India realized that large chunks of Indian territory, several thousand square kilometres in the Aksai Chin, were under Chinese control. It was the first time that the Government had made the legislators and the Indian public, privy to the situation on the border. 

Xiaogang Village
Sixty-two years later, China has built one of its infamous ‘Xiaogang’ (‘well-off’) border villages, a few hundred meters from the place where the Longju incident took place in 1959.
Since 2015, Tibet is said to have built 965 Xiaogang villages and relocated 266,000 people, many on India’s border. Official Chinese statistics said that by the end of 2019, “Tibet had lifted 628,000 people out of poverty and delisted 74 county-level areas from the poverty list.” ‘’Lifting out of poverty’ is a euphemism for relocating thousands of Tibetans.
Longju now has one of such villages; it was reported by NDTV: China had built some 101 homes in the remote place of Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The TV channel acquired satellite imagery dated November 1, 2020; the images, analyzed by several experts, confirmed:“the construction, approximately 4.5 kms within Indian territory of the de facto border. [the McMahon Line]”
It is of huge concern to India, added the channel: “Though this area is Indian territory, according to official government maps, it has been in effective Chinese control since 1959 [which is not correct as we shall see]. However, earlier only a Chinese military post existed, but this time a full-fledged village that can house thousands has been built. The village, located on the banks of the River Tsari Chu, an area which has been long disputed by India and China.”
As we have seen, the new village is located near Longju, a highly symbolic place, which witnessed the first clash between India and China in 1959. Incidentally, it was five months after the arrival of the Dalai Lama in India and the attack on the Assam Rifles’ platoon seemed to have been a ‘punishment’ for granting asylum to the Dalai Lama.

Year 1956
The year of the Monkey-Fire was a special year; the young Dalai and Panchen Lamas were honoured guests of India on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the birthday of the Buddha, 1956 also witnessed another momentous event: the last Tsari Pilgrimage.
In the Tibetan psyche, Tsari has always been synonymous of ‘sacred place’. With the Mount Kailash and the Amye Machen in eastern Tibet, the pilgrimage around the Dakpa Sheri, the ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’ has, for centuries, been one of the holiest of the Roof of the World. The ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’ lies at 5,735 meters above the sea in the Tsari district, north of the McMahon Line.
Toni Huber, one of the foremost scholars on the subject, wrote a great deal about the site of the pilgrimage, between Tsari and today’s Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh: “The large-scale, 12-yearly circumambulation of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims around the mountain known as the Rongkor Chenmo, had the character of a state ritual for the Ganden Phodrang [Tibetan Government]. Pilgrims in this huge procession crossed the McMahon Line below the frontier village of Migyitun in Tsari district,” wrote Huber. After crossing the McMahon line, the procession would proceed southwards along the Tsari chu (‘river’) towards Longju and Maja, where an Indian Army post is today located and then turn westwards to follow the Subansiri, to finally cross back into Tibet to reach the first frontier village in Chame county.
The southern leg of the Rongkor procession crosses the tribal areas of Upper Subansiri. This was the territory of the Mara clan of the Tagin tribe who live downstream in the Tsari chu valley and around its confluence with the Subansiri at Gelensiniak.
It is most regrettable that this sacred place has today become the symbol of Chinese aggressive and hegemonic policies. The now-retired Gen Zhao Zhongqi, who headed the Western Theater Command till recently, probably made it a point to build this village on Indian territory, knowing that India would not know how to respond.

India continues to patrol
Let us return to history.
Throughout 1962, the Indian Assam Rifles continued to patrol the place. In a letter addressed by Nehru to his Chinese counterpart on December 1, 1962 (two weeks after the cease-fire), Nehru pointed out: “In Longju both Governments agreed that neither Chinese nor Indian personnel should occupy the village. However, it is known that Longju lies within the Indian side of the line of control, whereas Migyitun is on the Chinese side.”
A week later, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing gave its own version: “Longju is a village in the Migyitun area, and India itself has admitted that Migyitun is situated to the north of the illegal McMahon Line. This village was invaded and occupied by Indian troops in June 1959, but was recovered by China after the armed conflict instigated by Indian troops in August 1959. Following that, China not only restored its administrative control over Longju, but also maintained a post there for a period of time.”
Beijing added that the Indian allegation that both sides had agreed that neither Chinese nor Indian personnel should occupy the village, was ‘pure fabrication’.
On December 19, 1962, Delhi strongly objected to China ‘very boldly’ saying that the Indian stand was ‘pure fabrication’, it requested Beijing to read again Zhou Enlai’s latter of December 17, 1959 addressed to Nehru, in which the former had stated: "Pending the above-mentioned agreement, the Chinese Government, in a conciliatory spirit and out of the desire to move towards the withdrawal of armed forces along the entire border, is prepared to agree first to reach a partial solution by applying the proposal you have made in your letter for the non-stationing of the armed forces of both sides at Longju to the other disputed places on the border as well."
During the following years, China started slowly creeping in, eventually a small border post in the area. Delhi kept quiet.
Today, China wants to change the status quo of the Indian Northern Border and proves that it can do whatever it wants in what it perceives as its own territory. It has serious implications elsewhere on the border, particularly in the Aksai Chin area, where Beijing has started exploiting the largest zinc deposits in the Middle Kingdom. If India does not object now, it will be too late in Aksai Chin too.
If China was really interested by peace, as it pretends in every international fora, it should reopen the Rongkor pilgrimage for world peace around the Dakpa Sheri, instead of opening new fronts against India.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Phantoms of Chittagong: The unsung Tibetan heroes of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war

My article The Phantoms of Chittagong: The unsung Tibetan heroes of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war appeared in Firstpost

Here is the link...

On 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh, we need to recall one of the best-kept secrets of the war: The role played by the Special Frontier Force, a highly trained Tibetan regiment based in today’s Uttarakhand, in the Chittagong Hills.

We are soon going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh from the clutches of the dictators of West Pakistan. One of the best-kept secrets is the participation of the Special Frontier Force (SFF), a highly trained Tibetan regiment based in today’s Uttarakhand.
The SFF played an important role along with the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladeshi freedom fighters, in the liberation war in the Chittagong Hills.

Creation of SFF
SFF was founded in November 1962, a week before China’s unilateral cease-fire. The idea was that the Tibetans would themselves ‘liberate’ Tibet!
Dapon Ratuk Ngawang, a senior Tibetan officer (who has now passed away), explained how the SSF became known as ‘Establishment 22’ or simply ‘Two-twos’: the first commandant of the force was a senior Indian Army officer, Brig (later Maj Gen) Sujan Singh Uban, an artillery officer, who had earlier served as Commander of the 22 Mountain Brigade.
The Phantoms of Chittagong The unsung Tibetan heroes of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war

SFF and the Bangladesh war

The Official History of the 1971 War published by the Ministry of Defence mentions all the victorious battles, but the Tibetan regiment is not even cited and today it is extremely difficult to find any document proving the Tibetan soldiers’ participation. This is mainly due to inter-services rivalry.
A few years ago, Dapon Ratuk (the rank of ‘dapon’ approximately corresponds to a Commanding Officer) explained in an interview: “The Tibetan regiment known as Special Frontier Forces (SFF) has never functioned under the control of the Indian Army. It was established in 1962, after the India-China war. The main objective of the regiment was to fight the Chinese Army (with the help of the Indian Army). At the time of the creation of the force, we thought that the operations could be based at Lhuntse Dzong in Tibet (near the Indian border). The plan was to engage the Chinese Army in a military conflict within five-six months of the force’s creation. But the India-China war came to an abrupt end on 22 November 1962, and due to international pressure to maintain peace, no further military engagements occurred with China. Therefore, the services of the Establishment 22 regiment were not used for what had been planned.”

However in 1971, the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi thought of using the Tibetan force to conduct guerrilla warfare within East Pakistan; she mentioned this to RN Kao, the then Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Chief.

Brig Uban wrote in his memoirs, The Phantoms of Chittagong: “Suspecting it to be a long drawn-out affair, the Government of India sent for me as an expert in unconventional guerilla warfare and asked me to study the situation by visiting the border areas and meeting people and to submit a report, which I did after a hurried visit to the affected border areas and meeting several Bangladesh youth leaders.”

He goes on to explain: “My personal visit confirmed what the map showed, that is Bangladesh was a paradise for guerilla warfare. Forests and hills, rivers, streams and lakes made many areas inaccessible. Yet there was fish and fowl in abundance to keep a guerilla force functioning independently.”
The Phantoms of Chittagong The unsung Tibetan heroes of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war

He added an important aspect: “On top of that if you take on a disillusioned and angry population of 75 millions, one can visualise the Force needed by the martial law authority to maintain a semblance of order in any part of that country, a guerilla warfare I thought would suck Pakistan dry of troops and resources if it ever decided to retain this part under its possession.”

Uban proposed to conduct guerilla operations in the Chittagong Hills in order to cut the retreat route of the Pakistani troops. He recalled, “Apparently General Manekshaw (the then Army Chief) had been thinking on similar lines and one day sent for me to investigate this possibility. Our minds met and I set out to prepare this Special Force of Northern Hill Tribes (the Tibetans) for this new venture. Leaders and men of this force did not take much time to understand the full implication of joining this venture and they made a representation in writing that they [should] be allowed to participate and make some contribution if ever Pakistan forced this war on India.”

Uban had two fighting forces under his command: The SFF as a commando force and the Mujeeb Bahini, the elite Bangladeshi force.

SFF’s involvement
In early 1971, the Tibetan force heard that during a special meeting called by the Indian Army in New Delhi, Brig Uban had volunteered to lead the Establishment 22 in the Bangladesh liberation war: “It was SS Uban Singh and my colleague Dapon Jampa Kalden who voluntarily decided to take part in the War,” recalled Ratuk.

The narrative from the old Tibetan officer continued: “Later they told me about their plans. First, I refused to join them… I told them that the Establishment 22 had not been created to fight ‘for India’; rather it was established with the sole aim to fight the Chinese.”

Finally, after a directive came from the Department of Security of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, Dapon Ratuk accepted. “The Department told us that there was no alternative but to go to war ‘for India’. Moreover, they told us that the Indian government was in a very critical situation at that time and our participation in the war could help save a lot of Indian lives,” he recalled.

Through Brig Uban, the force was in direct contact with RN Kao, responsible for the External Intelligence in the Cabinet Secretariat.

The old Dapon remembered: “Once the decision to participate in the operations was taken, Dapon Dhondup Gyatotsang (he lost his life during the 1971 Operations), Dapon Pekar Thinley and myself divided the regiment into three units. We decided that each one of us would lead one unit in the war. Due to his age and despite his military experience, Dapon Jampa Kalden couldn't take part in the operations; he remained the administrative link between the Indian government and Establishment 22.”

The fascinating story of the Establishment 22 continued: “After we captured Chittagong, Kao came to visit our regiment (in Uttarakhand) and gave awards and speeches in praise of the Tibetan unit's heroic battles” — a sort of acknowledgment of the sacrifice made by the Tibetans to liberate a country which was not theirs.

Before the operations
It is not surprising that the SFF was already present in East Pakistan several months before the official start of the operations.
Some years ago, Dapon Jampa Kalden gave us another perspective: “Initially there was some guerilla training given in places like Tamil Nadu, to the Bangladeshi guerrilla groups, the Mukti Bahini. The training was given by the Indian Army.”

In December 1970, a year before the beginning of the Army operations, the force was informed of the possibility of a war. In March 1971, it became obvious that India would have to go to war to liberate Bangladesh in order to solve the issue of millions of refugees in West Bengal. Jampa Kalden recalled that in February 1971, the SFF had already started infiltrating Bangladesh along with the Mukti Bahini. At first, it was probably for reconnaissance only, simply because “the operation was decided in March (1971) but we were already in Bangladesh in February. I was there two months before the operations were decided”, said the Tibetan officer.

He further explained: “The Mukti Bahini was very good at making guerrilla plans and at guerrilla tactics. Mukti Bahini was solely responsible; they would go on their own and fight. We were responsible to support the Mukti Bahini and provide some reinforcement to them. The real battle started in March.” This was after the massacre of the students on the campus in Dacca by Gen Tikka Khan on 25 March.

Asked why very few in Eastern Command headquarters in Fort William in Kolkata knew about the operations in the Chittagong Hills, he replied: “Our headquarters was independent. (We were under) Chittagong Hill Tract Area command and I was in charge with Brig SS Uban.”

This created some friction with the Army; many were not keen to acknowledge the role of the Establishment 22. Worse, the force was not even allowed to parade in Chittagong after the victory. This was just petty jealousy!

Incidentally, the force had only one helicopter. The pilot, Sqn Ldr Parvez Rustomji Jamasji, had to carry out all the duties, para-dropping over the battle sites, rations and ammunition dropping, rescue operations, etc — a feat in itself for which the young pilot was awarded Vir Chakra.

For their part, the Tibetans have never been officially rewarded or acknowledged.