Friday, December 23, 2022

Why clear demarcation of LAC is a prerequisite to ensure India and China border peace

A Very Sacred Place: Arunachal Pradesh CM inaugurating a small gompa in the area
My article Why clear demarcation of LAC is a prerequisite to ensure India and China border peace appeared in Firstpost

Here is the link

Unless maps of the different perceptions are exchanged and a Line of Actual Control is agreed upon by both parties, clashes will continue, with the risk of degenerating into a larger armed conflict

It is important to understand how the northern border of India has been delineated. From the end of the 19th century, the main factor for fixing a boundary in the Himalaya, in particular with Tibet, India’s northern neighbour, has been the watershed principle.
During the Simla Conference in 1913-14, Sir Henry McMahon, India’s foreign Secretary and Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan Prime Minister representing the 13th Dalai Lama, agreed to define the border between their nations; they signed, with seals, a map, today known as the ‘McMahon Line’, though ideally it should be the ‘McMahon-Shatra Line’.
It should be noted that Ivan Chen, the Chinese Plenipotentiary, who was present during the Conference, did not object to the presence of Lonchen Shatra on the same footing as him and India’s Foreign Secretary, and this for months.
Till 1954, when India unnecessarily agreed to the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence’ (Panchsheel), the Line was a peaceful frontier with Tibet; but the ink had not dried on the agreement that it became a ‘disputed’ border with China, with serious consequences for India, which continue to be seen today.
Apart from the watershed, other principles can be used to define a frontier, i.e. rivers running in the area, land tax patterns or grazing rights of the local population; this has been done in some cases.
It is a fact that during the previous centuries, no dispute had taken place with Tibet in the remote Himalayan areas; with the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the border at the end of the 1950s, all this changed.

A very old dispute indeed (Chinese map of 1960)
An old dispute
While the first clash with the PLA took place in the Central Sector (Barahoti) in 1954, by mid-1959, soon after the Dalai Lama crossed to India, the Chinese started intruding in the Eastern Sector. Three places soon became ‘disputed’ (today one can count seven); these were Khenzimane, Yangtse and Longju.
It is Maj Bob Khathing, who after touring the area, demarcated the border in the Yangtse sector at the end of 1951. It was later confirmed by a detailed survey in 1954, as well as during tours of Indian officials in the following years; in Yangtse, the border was along the Kanglung Himalayan ridge.
In some cases, the border had to be slightly adjusted with the McMahon Line which, at time was imprecise due to the fast pace McMahon’s surveyors had to work before the Simla Conference and the inadequate equipment available at that time.

No fixed LAC
While China still today claims the entire Arunachal as theirs, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) remains officially undefined.
Maps of the Chinese and Indian perceptions of the LAC were exchanged in 2000 for the Central Sector (Barahoti); maps of the Northern Sector (Ladakh) came on the table for 20 minutes during a joint meeting in 2002, but were later withdrawn as China did not agree to Delhi including Gilgit-Baltistan in India’s territory.
In the case of the Eastern Sector (particularly of Tawang), maps have never been exchanged or even seen. This compounds the present confusion (often to the advantage of Beijing) and reinforces Chinese perceptions.
Sixty-two years later, the 1960 ‘disputed’ places remain ‘hotspots’ and it was expected that a flare-up could take place on any one of this places (one could also add Asaphila in the Upper Subansiri district as a possible point for a future clash).
The last flare-up took place on 9 December in Yangtse.
Indian troops were ready to retaliate
An unofficial report explains that the area under attack has “a commanding view of the ridges and tracks across the LAC deep into Tsona County in Tibet. The PLA were roughly 300 troops.”
It is far more than for their ‘routine’ intrusions.
They used melee weapons with a clear intention to harm the Indian troops holding the area: “Closely placed echelons on the lower ridges and the river valley were quickly able to reinforce the 50 troops firmly facing the PLA onslaught and reinforcements poured in from multiple directions immediately after being radioed.”
The report continues: “What started with abuses and stone pelting gradually progressed to fisticuffs and then fierce hand to hand combat where the PLA troops were overpowered and in some cases their weapons were used against them. This free for all went on until the PLA found itself losing ground with many of their troops overpowered and battered.”
The Chinese troops then started falling back on their side of the LAC.
Interestingly, they left behind some sleeping bags and other equipment which indicates that they had come to stay.

Medieval Weapons
Like in Galwan on 15 June, 2020 (it was Xi Jinping’s birthday), the PLA used melee weapons and shields. This time, the Indian soldiers were ready with the same equipment.
The reason why guns were not used is the “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC” signed by China and India in September 1993, agreeing to maintain the status quo on their mutual border pending a final solution, as well as the 1996 Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field” on the LAC, which mentioned: “No armed forces deployed by either side in the border areas along the line of actual control as part of their respective military strength shall be used to attack the other side, or engage in military activities that threaten the other side or undermine peace, tranquility and stability in the India-China border areas.”
Can this be considered a positive aspect during in these tense moments?

The gompa at Chumig Gyatse close to the LAC in the same sector

Development of Chumi Yangtse area
Though the Opposition would like to blame the Government for the incident, tremendous efforts have been made by Delhi in the recent years to develop the border areas in this sector and elsewhere.
It is enough to mention the opening of a new gompa (monastery); dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava, who meditated there in the 8th century, it is located a few hundred meters south of the LAC.
The Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Mr Pema Khandu himself walked to this exceptionally sacred place, blessed by 108 waterfalls, to inaugurate the gompa in July 2020.
It has to be noticed that the Chinese did not object to the construction of the gompa and its opening to Indian tourists in July 2020.

Xiaokang village north of the LAC (@NatureDesai)
Xiaokang Village as base?
A rather disturbing news that is China may have used one of the Xiaogang border villages (Beijing has built more than 600 of them, officially, ‘moderately well-off’ villages for the welfare of the local populations) as a base for their operation.
Does it mean that this string of villages on the border can just be used as garrisons for the PLA to launch attack on India?
This issue has to be followed closely by the Indian government (Army and Security agencies).

Xi Jinping abroad
President Xi Jinping was out of China (in Saudi Arabia) when the incident took place. Was he informed about the massive attack on the Indian position? Like when more than one thousand PLA troops intruded in Chumar (Ladakh) in September 2014, while Xi was visiting India?
Informed or not, such an operation needs a high level of clearance, at least from the Central Military Commission in Beijing.

End of the COVID lockdown
The Tibet Region, including the Tibetan Military District, which is responsible for the border, has been under severe (not to say brutal) COVID restrictions since the month of August; it is clear the PLA could not move earlier.
The lockdown had just been lifted when the incident in Yangtse took place and with the winter coming, rendering the logistics more complicated, Beijing had not much choice of options to show India that it has not forgotten the old disputes.
A longer stand-off would have undoubtedly been difficult for the PLA. At the same time, the CMC was probably not expecting such a stiff Indian resistance; it was therefore better for the PLA to withdraw as if nothing ‘big’ had happened.

China will not drop the ‘disputed’ area

In a press statement, Senior Colonel Long Shaohua, the spokesperson for the Western Theater Command in Chengdu claimed that it was the Indian troops who illegally crossed the LAC; he said: “The Chinese troops made a professional, normative and resolute response, bringing the on-site situation under control. Up to now, the Chinese and Indian troops have disengaged,” said the Chinese military officer.
Interestingly, he did not mention that a number of Chinese soldiers were severely injured.
The above means that the intrusions will continue, whether in Yangtse, Sumdorong chu or Asaphila (or in the Fish Tails area in Eastern Arunachal).

The status quo
India’s Defence Minister made a statement in the Parliament; he said: “On 9 December 2022, PLA (People’s Liberation Army of China) troops tried to transgress the LAC in Yangtse area of Tawang Sector and unilaterally change the status quo. The Chinese attempt was contested by our troops in a firm and resolute manner.”
Status Quo is the need of the hour, until a LAC (if not a IB) is agreed upon, the status quo should be respected by both parties.

Need to demarcate the LAC
One way forward could be to hold Ladakh-type talks for the Eastern Sector.
After 16 rounds of talks in Moldo/Chushul, some progress has been made to delineate a LAC, though in two areas (Demchok and Depsang), China has refused to vacate the areas occupied in May 2020.
Unless maps of the different perceptions are exchanged and a LAC is agreed upon by both parties, clashes will continue, with the risk of degenerating into a larger armed conflict.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

 Claude Arpi on China’s Interest in Arunachal Pradesh

My interview with Sudha Ramachandran for The Diplomat: Claude Arpi on China’s Interest in Arunachal Pradesh

Here is the link...

“For Beijing, it is a bargaining chip for an eventual ‘swap’ and the recognition by India of the occupation by China of Aksai Chin.”

Sixty years ago, on November 21, China declared a unilateral ceasefire against India bringing to an end the month-long India-China border war. Of the territory it occupied in the war, China retained control of Aksai Chin in the western sector of the disputed border but, although it took control of almost all of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) or today’s Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector, it withdrew 20 kilometers north of the McMahon Line. The pullback of Chinese forces north of the McMahon Line suggested that China was perhaps not serious about pressing its claims in the eastern sector. However, since the mid-1980s, it has robustly asserted claims over some 90,000 square kilometers of territory in India’s northeast, which roughly approximates the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh or what China calls Southern Tibet.

In a conversation with The Diplomat’s South Asia Editor Sudha Ramachandran, author, historian and Tibetologist Claude Arpi points out that China “has not always claimed” NEFA/Arunachal and that its assertion of claims here is to gain leverage over India in a future border settlement.

When the war ended on November 21, 1962, China retained control of Aksai Chin but pulled back from India’s Northeast. Why?

The two sectors are historically very different.
To understand, it is necessary to go back to the Bandung Conference in 1955. An apparently moderate Zhou Enlai [China’s premier] convinced [Indian Prime Minister] Nehru of the “sincerity” of the Chinese Communist rulers. Writing about his encounter with Zhou at the Conference, Nehru said: “When asked if he wanted to push communism into Tibet, Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai] laughed and said that there could be no such question as Tibet was very far indeed from communism. It would be thoroughly impracticable to try to establish a communist regime in Tibet and the Chinese Government had no such wish.”
A few days later, the Indian prime minister told the Indian foreign secretary about a remark by the Chinese premier on the McMahon Line: “Although [Zhou] thought that this line, established by British imperialists, was not fair, nevertheless, because it was an accomplished fact and because of the friendly relations which existed between China and the countries concerned, namely, India and Burma, the Chinese Government were of the opinion that they should give recognition to this McMahon Line.”
Five years later, Zhou Enlai visited Delhi and had long talks with Nehru. In an informal encounter with Indian Defense Minister V.K. Krishna Menon,  Zhou explained that in the Western Sector (Aksai Chin) there had never been any delimitation and only an old treaty (of 1842), which did not mention any area; Aksai Chin, he affirmed, had always been part of Sinkiang (today’s Xinjiang) and the [Aksai Chin] road built by China (without India realizing it) was on Chinese territory.
Later, Zhou tested the ground for a “swap”: India would acknowledge Aksai Chin as Chinese and Beijing would recognize the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA or today’s Arunachal Pradesh) as Indian.
One has to understand that for Beijing Aksai Chin was strategically far more important than the NEFA. The road built in the early 1950s linked the two newly-acquired provinces of the People’s Republic of China, Xinjiang and Tibet.
Therefore, for Mao and his colleagues, there was never a question to return Aksai Chin to India. Further, Beijing has argued that the Communists started surveying the Aksai Chin road in 1952, the construction began in 1954/55 and it was inaugurated in 1957; during all these years India did not complain. Delhi only started objecting to Beijing in 1958. For the Chinese leadership, it was proof that the area never belonged to India.
On the opposite end, NEFA saw very few incursions from the Chinese troops south of the McMahon Line (the first one took place in Longju in August 1959). An early incursion had happened in the Walong sector in 1910, but the Chinese troops quickly returned to their barracks north of the watershed.
All this shows that both areas do not have the same strategic importance for the Chinese.
It is probably why China decided to withdraw from the NEFA in 1962.
The eastern sector of the India-China border, depicting the disputed area of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as Southern Tibet. Map by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Chinese claims in NEFA in 1960

Since the mid-1980s, China has been reasserting rights over Arunachal Pradesh. Why the renewed interest in this territory?

During the last few months, Beijing’s propaganda has reiterated that the entire Arunachal Pradesh is part of “Southern Tibet.”
On November 10, Xinhua published a news item: “A 5.6-magnitude earthquake jolted Medog County in Nyingchi City, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, at 1:01 pm, Beijing Time, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC). The epicenter was monitored at 28.35 degrees north latitude and 94.48 degrees east longitude, with a depth of 10 km, the CENC said.”
The area mentioned is near Likabali in Arunachal Pradesh.
In January 2022, Global Times announced new names of 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh, given with precise coordinates. Eight were residential areas, four were mountains, two were rivers, and one was a mountain pass (Sela). It was the second batch of so-called standardized names of places published by the Chinese government; the first batch of the so-called standardized names of six places in Arunachal was released in 2017. This is part of the propaganda to assert China’s claims.
For Beijing, it is a bargaining chip for an eventual “swap” and the recognition by India of the occupation by China of Aksai Chin.
It is interesting to look into the rationale of the Chinese claim over NEFA/Arunachal. The origin is linked to the creation of the Xikang province. In the 1930s, a Chinese scholar, Ren Naiqiang was encouraged by Liu Wenhui, the governor of Xikang, to produce a map of the area. Though the Chinese had never set foot in the area, the new map included NEFA in the new Chinese province.
In 1939, the Nationalist Government formally established a new province called Xikang (more or less corresponding to Tibet’s Kham province).
At the end of 1949, Ren Naiqiang met Marshal He Long, one of the senior-most generals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and explained why his map was dependable; the Marshal was convinced and ordered the distribution of copies. On January 10, 1950, He Long sent a report to Mao Zedong strongly recommending that Ren’s map should be accepted and circulated amongst the PLA. It is after this episode that Beijing started claiming NEFA as Chinese. This shows that China has not always claimed NEFA.

Why is Tawang important to China?

Maj Bob Khathing in February 1951 in Tawang
China has never officially accepted the existence of the Tibetan exile government. If India would return Tawang to China (including the monastery), it would be a denial by Delhi that the 1914 Indo-Tibet border agreement and the McMahon Line ever existed.
The fact remains that the border agreement of March 1914 had been signed with official seals by the Foreign Secretary of India (Sir Henry McMahon) and the Prime Minister of Tibet (Lochen Shatra).
It is also true that monastic taxes in the area were being collected by Tibetan officials till February 1951, when the expedition led by Maj. Bob Khathing took over the Tawang administration.
But taxes paid by a monastery do not amount to ownership certificates. Several monasteries in the Indian Himalaya have been affiliated with large monasteries in Tibet; it does not mean that these monasteries belong to China.
Another factor is that the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Urgyeling, south of Tawang. It is another pretext for China to claim the area. But the fact that a religious leader is born on a foreign territory is not legally considered a valid argument to claim ownership of the country (or the area where the leader is born).
Not often mentioned are the bitter relations existing between the Monpas and the Tibetans till the arrival of Major Khathing. In 1938, when Captain Lightfoot, the Assistant Political Officer (APO) in Balipara (Assam) visited Tawang, he noted: “Our visit raised hopes that they might be relieved of the Tibetan yoke but there was grave uneasiness at our departure lest they should be punished for the help they had given us… Tibetan domination is loathed by the Monpaas and is intolerable by any civilized standards.”
The APO observed that forced labor and extortion of supplies, failure by the Tibetans to protect the Monpas, payment of tribute at rates bearing no relation to the ability of villagers to pay, and finally a brutal and unspeakably corrupt judicial system made the local Monpas believe that they were “liberated” by Major Khathing and his Assam Rifles from the Tibetan yoke in 1951.
India has improved connectivity and military infrastructure along the LAC in the eastern sector. How does it match up to infrastructure on the Chinese side?
Because of the nature of the terrain, India will never match China in terms of infrastructure, but since a few years, the mindset of the government has changed and serious efforts have been made, if not to at least “catch up” to have a decent infrastructure to the border districts/circles in India.
To give a few examples, Hollongi Greenfield Airport, also called Donyi Polo Airport, near Itanagar, serving Arunachal’s capital has recently been opened.
On November 2, a Dornier D-28 aircraft landed at the Ziro Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in the Lower Subansiri district; commercial operations are expected to start soon. The 17-seater aircraft was operated by Alliance Air. ATR-72 and Dornier D-228 are already operational at Pasighat (Assam) and Tezu airports.
Arunachal Pradesh now has four airports (Itanagar, Ziro, Pasighat, and Tezu) and nine ALGs at Aalo, Mechuka, Pasighat, Tawang Air Force Station, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Walong, Ziro, and Daporijo. Several helipads have also been built near the McMahon Line.
While most of the existing roads have been improved, for example between Tezpur in Assam and Tawang, many new ones closer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have been built. Further, the traffic on the Bomdila-Tawang road will greatly improve with the opening of the tunnel under the Sela pass at the end of the year.
Even the last post in the Upper Subansiri district (in Maja), will soon be connected.
But first and foremost, what has changed is the mindset. A few years ago, one often heard: “We don’t need good roads, if the Chinese come again, they will break their vehicles on our poorly-maintained tracks.”
Today, the Arunachal Pradesh government as well as the Indian Army understand the necessity of dual-use infrastructure, not only for defending the border, but also helping the remote villages to survive.

Could you throw light on India’s “Vibrant Villages” scheme? What underlies the development of these villages?

To understand the “Vibrant Villages” scheme one has to look at the other side of the McMahon Line.
The Sixth Tibet Work Forum (TWF), held in Beijing on August 24 and 25, 2015 was a turning point for the Tibetan plateau. Tibet Work Forums are large meetings called every 5 to 10 years to discuss the Chinese Communist Party’s Tibet policies. They are attended by all the members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, members of the Central Committee, or senior PLA generals. The Sixth Forum decided to tackle poverty and develop Xiaokang (“moderately well-off”) villages on the plateau.
In 2017, soon after the conclusion of the 19th Congress, President Xi Jinping wrote a letter to two young Tibetan herders who had written to him introducing their village, Yume, north of the Upper Subansiri district. Xi “encouraged a herding family in Lhuntse County …to set down roots in the border area, safeguard the Chinese territory and develop their hometown.” Soon after, Yume became a model village for more than 600 Xiaokang villages, a large number located close to the Indian border.
The “Vibrant Villages” is a response to hundreds of Xiaokang villages, which have mushroomed on the Tibetan plateau. In India, they are also meant to tackle another genuine problem: large-scale migration from the border areas.
According to the Central Government’s announcement, India plans to open the villages along the Chinese border for tourists.: “The activities will include construction of village infrastructure, housing, tourist centers, road connectivity, provisioning of decentralized renewable energy, direct-to-home access for Doordarshan and educational channels, and support for livelihood generation.”
The government’s objectives are clear: “to enhance infrastructure in villages along India’s border with China, in states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Arunachal Pradesh.”
Like in Tibet, the scheme is based on the premise that the border areas will be opened to tourists, which will provide the economic backbone for the scheme. Several measures to remove/relax the Inner Line Permit system and other restrictions have already been taken, in Ladakh in particular.
If successful, it should give a boost to the local economy and benefit the populations living in these remote, largely inaccessible border areas. It will also enhance the defense preparedness of the Indian defense forces, which can use the newly created infrastructure

Thursday, December 15, 2022

We are well prepared for any eventualities: Pema Khandu

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

'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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Changing Ladakh

Chushul Village near the Spangur Gap

Ladakh is changing
I still remember my first visit in 2002. There were hardly any roads outside Leh and the approach from Manali in Himachal Pradesh or Zoji-la in Jammu and Kashmir was not an easy one; only a few flights were landing at the Bakula Rinpoche airport and it was always tricky to get a seat in a plane.
Three years ago, I had the chance of visiting Leh again; it was a few months after the mountainous region became a Union Territory (a long-time demand of the Ladakh Hill Development Council, the Ladakh Buddhist Association and the people in general).
By that time, Leh and a few selected areas had tremendously developed.
But all this was before what the historians will one day call ‘the BC era’ (‘before COVID’) and perhaps more importantly before the confrontation with China in several places on the northern boundary.  
Incidentally, is it not a paradox that one of the most peaceful spots on earth, with its high-perched monasteries, its innumerable stupas and prayers flags floating around everywhere, has witnessed the bloodiest conflicts since independence? It is only due to the belligerence of the neighbours.

Some History
At the time of Kashmir's accession to India in October 1947, political and economic power was offered to Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference government in Srinagar despite the fact that Ladakh covered 70 per cent of the area under India's administration. Dominated by the successive Kashmiri governments for several decades, practically Ladakh was deprived of any say in its development.
Soon after the signature of the Instrument of Accession in October 1947, raiders from the North West Frontier Province began pouring into the valley, looting and burning villages; Ali Jinnah and his colleagues’ motto was: “Let us liberate our Muslim brothers from the yoke of the Dogras”.
But thr Pakistanis leaders' greed had no limit. Their 'two nations' theory, according to which the Muslim dominated areas of the subcontinent were to become part of Pakistan and the Hindus, Sikhs and others were to remain with India, was thrown into the wind when Karachi decided to 'liberate' their Buddhist brothers in Ladakh. The motivation for Operation Sledge, which aimed to take over the vast Ladakh plateau, was not ideological: the treasures of the Buddhist gompas (monasteries) were a great lure for finance-starved Pakistan.
In February 1948, Brig 'Bogey' Sen, the brigade commander in Srinagar was in a fix; how to save Ladakh. The formidable Zoji-la pass was an uncrossable barrier between the valley and Ladakh and there was no way to airlift reinforcements to Leh.
It was then that Capts (later Colonels) Kushal Chand and Prithvi Chand, two young Buddhist officers from Lahaul offered their services; they told the brigadier they were ready to cross Zoji-la in winter with a small caravan of men and mules carrying arms and ammunitions. Though Buddhists and believers in ahimsa, these men were ready to risk their lives and fight their way through the weather, the altitude and the raiders to defend their co-religionists in Ladakh. Nobody thought the mission feasible, but there was no other solution. They succeeded and saved Ladakh (and were awarded Mahavir Chakra or MVC).
One should also mention the Ladakhi, Col Chewang Rinchen, who was twice awarded the MVC-- first for having stopped the advance of raiders in the Nubra Valley in June 1948 and the second for the bravery he displayed in the Turtuk sector in December 1971.
More recently, Col Sonam Wangchuk (another Buddhist soldier to be awarded the MVC) and his Ladakh Scouts recaptured some of the crucial peaks occupied by Pakistan during the Kargil war in 1999.
These Buddhist heroes had to first conquer their own non-violent Buddhist principles before they could take on the invaders; they knew the survival of their dharma was at stake.
From the start, the Ladakhis took the stand that their future was linked with India, though culturally, racially and linguistically they had in the past been close to Tibet.
In May 1949, the first delegation of the Young Men's Buddhist Association of Ladakh led by Kalon Chhewang Rigzin met Nehru in Delhi and presented him a memorandum: “We seek the bosom of that gracious Mother India to receive more nutriment for growth to our full stature in every way. She has given us what we prize above all things -- our religion and culture.”

Creation of a Union Territory

Things started moving faster after the Central Government decided to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019; the Parliament of India voted in favour of a resolution tabled by the Home Minister to revoke the temporary special status, or autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh could finally become a Union Territory (UT).
Then early 2020, the COVID wave swept Ladakh, stopping tourism, the newly created UT’s main revenue. A few months later, the northern borders were subject to armed attack at several locations by the People’s Liberation Army. It was a turning point in the history of the relations with China, but ironically the development of the border region got a boost due to the new requirements of the Indian Army and large-scale infrastructure projects started to reach the remotest parts of the UT for the first time.
During a recent visit to Rezang La and Chushul, I could personally witness the changes over the last three years.
But let us first remember the events which took place 60 years.

The Battle of Rezang La
On 18 November 1962, the ‘Charlie’ Company of the 13th Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment fought at Rezang La Pass at the incredible height of 18,000 feet, one of the greatest battles in history; 114 soldiers of the 124-strong company led by Maj Shaitan Singh, lost their lives, heroically defending the nearby Chushul airstrip, the last defence before Leh.
Shaitan Singh was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest military decoration; his battalion received eight VCs (Vir Chakras), four SMs (Sena Medals) and one Mention-in-Dispatches, making it one of the highest decorated companies of the Indian Army.
A recent book on the battle says: “The valour of the Charlie Company not only successfully stopped China’s advance, but it also resulted in the Chushul airport being saved, thereby preventing a possible Chinese occupation of the entire Ladakh region in 1962. According to reports, a total of 1300 Chinese soldiers were killed trying to capture Rezang La.”
Visiting the War Memorial, one has a feeling of super-humans defending the Indian territory against the Chinese onslaught; it is deeply touching; remember that most of the soldiers of the Charlie Company who fought the battle at this altitude had come from the plains of Haryana.

The Role of the Army
One of the greatest changes in the region is the opening of the area to Indian visitors, something which was not possible during my last visit in 2019.
It is necessary to mention the exemplary role of the Indian Army, which has not only encouraged these changes, but due their own strategic requirements, have built dual-use roads, facilitated the construction of schools and the erection of communication towers (one gets 4G Jio connection in Chushul, nearby the Rezang La Memorial).
During an encounter with some local herders, they unanimously agreed that their lives had definitively changed, they have better access to education (though they would like the school in Chushul to go up to Class 12), health services and communications have greatly improved.
The local population has benefited from the many changes brought by the Indian Army and the UT Administration; they can now provide taxi services (thanks to the opening of the area and better roads); they can open home stay which helps them to add to their poor pastoral revenue and contrary to what has been said in some poorly-informed media articles, the grazers are able to take their yaks till the LAC (except for a small area which has been demilitarized in the vicinity of the Spangur Gap, north of the Kailash Range). The rapid changes are likely to continue in the years to come, hopefully taking care of the fragile environment.
It remains striking that these majestic mountains remain the theater of an armed conflict, some sixty years after the Battle of Rezang La.
Looking at the snowy peaks, one wonders what are the objectives of President Xi Jinping when he speaks of ‘The Peaceful Rise of China’? However, Beijing’s belligerence has indirectly brought a better life to these deprived populations.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Heroes Who Saved Ladakh For India

My article The Heroes Who Saved Ladakh For India appeared in

Here is the link...

Visiting the Rezang La Memorial, one has a feeling of super-humans defending Indian territory against the Chinese onslaught, says Claude Arpi on the 60th anniversary of the heroic battle of the 1962 War.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to interview one of the most renowned Indian mountaineers, who had chosen to live like local folks in the Himalaya. She recounted an anecdote which took place during the All-Women Himalayan Traverse expedition; one day the expedition arrived in a small mountain village; speaking about the majestic surroundings, the mountaineer told one of the villagers: ‘Kitne sundar!’ (How beautiful they are!), the local pahari’s immediate reply was, ‘Kitna dukh!’ (So much suffering!).
Somehow, the pithy phrase summarized the hard life in these high mountainous areas.
These words came back to mind when I recently visited the site of the the Battle of Rezang La, near Chushul village in Ladakh at more than 15,000 feet.
As one arrives by car from Nyoma, the track follows the imposing Kailash range, covered with snow. Immediately, one is confronted by this paradox faced by one of the most peaceful and magnificent spots on earth, which has however witnessed some of the bloodiest battles since independence.
After crossing the Tsaga La (pass) and a few kilometers before arriving at the site of the newly-renovated War Memorial in honour of the ‘Charlie’ Company of the 13th Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment, one can have the magnificent sight of a tri-colour flag floating in the blue sky.

 The ‘dukh’ side
On 18 November 1962, a battle was fought at Rezang La (pass) at the incredible height of 16,000 feet, one of the greatest battles in history; 114 soldiers of the 124-strong company led by Maj Shaitan Singh, PVC, lost their lives heroically defending the nearby Chushul airstrip, the last defence before Leh, Ladakh’s capital.
Maj Shaitan Singh was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), the highest military decoration; his battalion received eight VCs (Vir Chakras), four SMs (Sena Medals) and one Mention-in-Dispatches, making it one of the highest decorated companies of the Indian Army.
The citation which appeared in the gazette, said: “Major Shaitan Singh was commanding a company of an Ahir infantry battalion deployed at Rezang La in the Chusul sector at a height of about 16,000 feet. The locality was isolated from the main defended sector and consisted of five platoon-defended positions. On 18 November 1962, the Chinese forces subjected the company position to heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire and attacked it in overwhelming strength in several successive waves. Against heavy odds, our troops beat back successive waves of enemy attack.”
It is further mentioned that “Major Shaitan Singh dominated the scene of operations and moved at great personal risk from one platoon post to another sustaining the morale of his hard-pressed platoon posts. While doing so he was seriously wounded but continued to encourage and lead his men, who, following his brave example fought gallantly and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. For every man lost to us, the enemy lost four or five. When Major Shaitan Singh fell disabled by wounds in his arms and abdomen, his men tried to evacuate him but they came under heavy machine-gun fire. Major Shaitan Singh then ordered his men to leave him to his fate in order to save their lives. Major Shaitan Singh's supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight almost to the last man.”
Visiting the War Memorial, one has a feeling of super-humans defending the Indian territory against the Chinese onslaught; it is deeply touching; remember that most of the soldiers of the Charlie Company who fought the battle at this altitude had come from the plains of Haryana.
The Ladakh Range and particularly Rezang La and the nearly peaks/passes have an extraordinary strategic importance as they dominates the Spangur Tso (lake), the Spangur Gap (the narrow area between the Pangong Tso and the Spangur Tso) as well as the strategic road to Rutok, the main garrison in Western Tibet and the route to Leh.
By controlling these ridges, the Indian Army stopped the Chinese advance on Leh and probably saved Ladakh. Incidentally, the cease-fire was declared by China four days later. Was it a coincidence?
Though still classified, parts of the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat Report (hereafter the Report) on the 1962 conflict have found their way to the Internet. It is worth quoting some extracts.
In November 1961, a ‘Forward Policy’ was ordered by the Government; the Report commented: “the ‘Forward Policy’ was primarily introduced to bunk the Chinese claims in Ladakh. Had the developments stemming out of it been correctly apprised by the General Staff at Army Headquarters and correlated to NEFA [North East Frontier Agency], it is possible that we would NOT have precipitated matters till we were better prepared in both theatres.” This sentence has been used by anti-India elements like Neville Maxwell to put the blame on Delhi.
The General Staff of the Army Headquarters knew that any move in NEFA would have consequences in Ladakh, here the level of preparations was minimal; according to the Report: “we acted on a militarily unsound basis of not relying on our own strength but rather on believed lack of reaction from the Chinese. We forgot the age old dictum of the ‘Art of War summed up so aptly by Field Marshal Lord Roberts.”
The latter had said “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy NOT coming, but on our own readiness to receive on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”
But till the last minute, the government (primarily the Defence Minister Krishna Menon) believed that “The Chinese will not dare”.
The Report continued: “Militarily, it is unthinkable that the General Staff did not advise the Government on our weakness and inability to implement the ‘Forwards Policy’. General [BM] Kaul [Chief of General Staff] on his report has brought out that, on a number of occasions in 1961-62, the Government were advised of our deficiencies in equipment, manpower, and logistic support, which would seriously prejudice our position in the event of a Chinese attack on us.”
At the same time: “orders were given by the General Staff in December 1961 for the implementation of the ‘Forwards Policy’ without the prerequisite of ‘Major Bases’ for restoring a military situation, as laid down by Government. Indeed General KAUL as CGS and the DMO [Director of Military Operations, Maj Gen DK Palit], time and again, ordered in furtherance of the ‘Forward Policy’ the establishment of individual posts, overruling protests made by Western Command.”
Winds of folly were blowing over the Army Headquarters in Delhi; we know what happened a few months later, in October/November 1962.
Maj Shaitan Singh and hundreds of his comrades sacrificed their lives to undo the foolishness of the politicians; the Report added: “There might have been pressure put on by the Defence Ministry, but it was the duty of the General Staff to have pointed out the unsoundness of the ‘Forwards Policy’ without the means to implement it.”
Further, Gen Henderson pointed out: “It is apparent that none of this planning took place and NO operation orders or instructions were issued by the General Staff. It was therefore NOT possible for Command or lower formations to issue any comprehensive order without a directive from the General staff.”
Is it the reason why the Report is still classified 60 years after the event?
One of the conclusions of the Report was: “It was a junior leaders and jawans battle and there is no doubt that they acquitted themselves well. They fought under grave handicaps and in face of defeat; yet there was no sign of undue panic and never a rout. The main reason for this was that troops fought under commanders they knew and trusted. There was no interference or short-circuiting in the chain of command and commanders on the spot were given freedom of action. The good name of our Army was NOT completely marred in LADAKH and the grave errors committed by the General Staff to an extent mitigated, thanks to the fighting ability of our troops.”
Indeed the 13 Kumaon and other units fought like lions. It is said that some 3,000 Chinese lost their lives in a couple of days in this sector.
Leh was probably saved by their act of heroism.
Ironically, the 58 years later, the Tibetan commandos captured the same peaks to have a strategic peep on the Rutok road.
In the process of the negotiations in Chushul and Moldo in the nearby Spangur Gap, the area was demilitarized in exchange of an agreement in the Fingers area on the Pangong Lake. Without commenting on the wisdom of this political move, one can only say Kitna dukh these stunning mountains have witnessed.
While on the spot, an idea came to me, when Chinese officers come to Chushul/Moldo for LAC talks, they should be invited to visit the Memorial to understand what the Indian soldiers are made of. 



Monday, November 14, 2022

The History of the First Months of Establishment 22 (Special Frontier Force)

Today, it is 60 years since the Foundation of the Special Frontier Force.
Homage to the Vikasis!

I am reproducing an old post on the history of the First Months of the Establishment 22.

This post is dedicated to Company Leader Nyima Tenzin, who lost his life near Pangong tso, fighting for India.

The Song of Establishment 22

We are the Vikasi
The Chinese snatched Tibet from us
and kicked us out from our home
Even then, India
kept us like their own
One day, surely one day
we will teach the Chinese a lesson
Whenever opportunities arise
we will play with our lives
In the Siachen glacier
we got our second chance
Our young martyrs
have no sadness whatsoever
Whether it is Kargil or Bangladesh
we will not lose our strength
Whenever opportunities arise
we will play with our lives
Where there is our Potala Palace
and lovely Norbulingka
The throne of the Dalai Lama
was dear even then
Remember those martyrs of ours
who sacrificed with their lives
Let’s sing together
Hail to our Tibet!
Hail to our Tibet!
Hail to our Tibet!
The First Months of the Tibetan Army

Earlier articles on Establishment 22:

The Phantoms of Chittagong

 A War which was not theirs 

 A Two-Two as Army Chief

The History of the First Months of the Special Frontier Force

An aspect which has not often been researched but is the outcome of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, is the creation of a Special Frontier Force (SFF). It was to be ready to infiltrate into Tibet after six months following its creation. This did not happen, but it is worth looking at the first months of the Tibetan Army.

The Creation of the Establishment 22

For most Indians, November 14 means the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, but there is also another anniversary, albeit an ‘uncelebrated’ one, falling on the same day; the latter has for long been kept secret, as it marks the creation of the Special Frontier Force (SFF), the Tibetan Army (also known as Vikas Regiment or the ‘Two-Twos’). It was founded a week before China’s unilateral cease-fire in the 1962 conflict. There might have been an invisible link between the two ‘birthdays’, but we will possibly never know why the formation of the Tibetan Army was initiated on November 14.
Did BN Mullik, the then Director of the Intelligence Bureau or DIB (and one of the main culprits of the 1962 fiasco) want to please Nehru on his birthday by telling him that he ‘had found a solution’ to China’s military superiority? The Tibetans would themselves ‘liberate’ Tibet!
Mullik immediately realised he would need outside help for his project; he obviously looked towards the United States.
On November 19, the day Nehru sent two panicky letters to the US President asking for help for India,  a crucial meeting to respond to Nehru’s requests was held in the White House. The then Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, the Secretary of State Dean Rusk, as well as his Assistant for Far Eastern Affairs, Averell Harriman, a respected diplomat and politician, were present. The CIA bosses were also in attendance.
The declassified US archives  tell us: “McNamara urged that the first move be to find out what the real situation was. If we were to put our prestige and resources at risk, we must find out the score. He proposed sending a small high-level military mission immediately to Delhi. …McNamara again urged getting a high level mission out to Delhi, including State and Intelligence people in order to concert a plan of action with the Indians.”
This is what happened.

The American Version
Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison in their book The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet  recounted: “Also mentioned (during the meeting) was the possibility of using the CIA’s Tibetan guerrillas. John McCone, a wealthy and opinionated Republican chosen by Kennedy to replace CIA Director Dulles after the Bay of Pigs, was on hand to brief the President on such covert matters. Joining McCone was Des FitzGerald, the [CIA’s] Far East chief.”
McNamara’s delegation arrived in India three days later; during their stay, the CIA officials held lengthy discussions with BN Mullik. According to Conboy, who quoted from David Blee, the CIA station chief in India: “The Indians were interested in the Tibet program because of its intelligence collection value …Mullik was particularly interested in paramilitary operations.” The DIB and his deputy ML Hooja  made a special request during a session with FitzGerald and Blee. “They made us promise that our involvement would remain secret forever.”
By the end of the Harriman mission, the CIA and IB had agreed to a division of tasks; the IB with CIA support would train a 5,000-strong tactical guerrilla force; the CIA’s Far East Division would create a strategic long-range resistance movement inside Tibet and the Tibetan freedom fighters in Mustang  would remain under the CIA’s control.
The honeymoon with the CIA did not last long and the Tibetan Force would eventually be built with purely Indian inputs under the supervision of Maj Gen Sujan Singh Uban .
Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison have written a romanticized version of these events; reading their account, it is as if it was the CIA which was entirely running the show. They explained that it was Krishna Menon  and Lt Gen BM Kaul  who decided “to create a guerrilla force that could strike deep behind Chinese lines. Because the Chinese were coming from Tibet, members of that ethnic group were the logical guerrillas of choice. Finding volunteers would not be a problem; both knew that there was no shortage of Tibetans on Indian soil, and virtually all were vehemently anti-Chinese and would not hesitate to take up arms for their own patriotic reasons.”
Putting the CIA always on the center stage, the US Spy agency wondered who could lead such a force: “They needed a senior Indian officer who could win the confidence of the Tibetans, embracing their independent nature and promoting a semblance of discipline without resort to a rigid army code. And he would need to have a bent (of mind) for the unconventional-something that was in short supply in the Indian military.”
The CIA ‘historians’ wrote: “As they scoured the roster of available officers, one name caught their eye. Brigadier Sujan Singh Uban, until recently the commander of the 22 Field Regiment in Kashmir, was in New Delhi after having just processed his retirement papers;” by their version, the CIA could pick up any officer in the Indian Army, for a particular job.
The authors argued that Uban had spent much time with mountain units and was familiar with fighting at high altitudes. Furthermore, during a stint as an artillery instructor for jungle warfare units, he had earned the nickname ‘Mad Sikh’, “this small detail was enough for Menon and Kaul” to summon the brigadier.
According to the US writers, on 26 October, 1962, Uban was given sketchy details of the proposed behind-the-lines guerrilla mission : “Working with the Tibetans would not be easy, warned Kaul. Disciplining them, he said, would be like taming wild tigers. As a sweetener, the brigadier was promised a second star in due course. Uban was hooked; he grabbed the assignment without hesitation.”
Later an emissary was sent from the Intelligence Bureau to Darjeeling to fetch the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Thondup: “After years of attempting to court the Indians - who were often sympathetic but never committal - Gyalo relished the moment as he sat in front of a select group of senior intelligence and military officials in the capital.”
Thondup Gyalo told the meeting that he needed 5,000 volunteers.
The following exchange is ludicrous: “Would Gyalo prefer that the Intelligence Bureau or the Ministry of Defense be involved?”
"Not Defense," he would have said.
The story continued “The very next day , Prime Minister Nehru made an unequivocal request for US military assistance. For the tired, beaten leader, it was a humbling overture. It was an admission not only that his central belief in peaceful coexistence with the PRC was irrevocably shattered but also that his cordial relationship with the Soviet Union had proved hollow.”
This is when, according to Conboy and Morrison, the US President called the meeting already mentioned; it decided to increase US military assistance to India; also mentioned was the possibility of using the CIA's Tibetan guerrillas: “By meeting's end, it was decided that Harriman would lead a high-powered delegation to New Delhi to more fully assess India's needs. General Paul Adams, chief of the US Strike Command, was to head the military component. From the CIA, Des FitzGerald won a seat on the mission, as did the head of the Tibet Task Force, Ken Knaus.”
According to the US version: “without pause, Ambassador Galbraith ushered Harriman into the first of four meetings with Nehru. The end results of these discussions were plans for a major three-phase military aid package encompassing material support, help with domestic defense production, and possible assistance with air defenses.”
During their visit to Delhi, the CIA representatives held sessions with BN Mullik: “Both the CIA and the Intelligence Bureau were quick to seize the opportunity.” They came up with some schemes to counter China and despite the opposition from several quarters in the US Administration, on December 13, the Kennedy administration approved some training assistance to Uban's tactical guerrilla force.

A First Meeting

Ratuk Ngawang, one of the commanders  of the Tibetan force, consecrated one chapter of his memoirs  to the first days of the SFF, we shall quote from his book in Tibetan. He recalled: “One day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s brother Gyalo Thondup had asked Andruk Zasak  Gonpo Tashi  to visit him at his residence in Darjeeling.” Ratuk accompanied him: “In one of his messages, Gyalo Thondup mentioned that we should not believe that the military base in Lo Manthang  has strong foundation.”
Thondup explained that in a place where there were plenty of bamboos, the leaves which fall from the bamboo will move upwards when the wind blows upwards and downwards if the wind blows downwards: “there is no guarantee which side the leaves will go. His conclusion was that it was better to establish a large military academy in India.”
He then asked Gonpo Tashi’s opinion, the latter told Thondup that it would be an important military initiative which could make the Tibetan people more powerful.
When Gyalo Thondup asked the Khampa leader about his recruitment plans, Gompo Tashi said that a thousand or two thousand soldiers would not be of much benefit and that the objective should be to have as many soldiers as possible. The Dalai Lama’s brother answered that he would go ahead and speak with the IB (Intelligence Bureau) people to check if there was any possibility of finding support. Thondup told Gonpo Tashi that strict confidentiality should be maintained about the meeting.
It was suggested to go ahead and coordinate with Indian authorities; there would not be an issue with the recruitment from the Tibetan side. As the meeting ended with a mutual agreement, it was decided to proceed with the project.

Meeting the Chushi Gangdruk
It is then that Adruk  and Ratuk called for a meeting of the Chushi Gangdruk to ask the opinion of the military commanders living in Kalimpong: would the Tibetans be interested to participate and how many were likely to join if a large military training academy was established somewhere in India.
Jagoe Namgyal Dorjee and Sadu Lobsang Nyandak, two Khampa leaders agreed; they had no objection to establish a military training institution; they readily supported the idea.
It was decided to divide the Chushi Gangdruk leaders and depute them to go across India to the different Tibetans settlements to collect the names of perspective soldiers: “Every participant agreed to this suggestion and started electing their representatives”.
Ratuk Ngawang, Dhargon Taso Choezoe and Amdo Kathok were selected to collect the lists of possible recruits. Gonpo Tashi told Ratuk to first go to Dharamsala to seek an audience with the Dalai Lama and update the Tibetan leader about of the new situation. During the next few days, this was done: “We informed His Holiness about our travel plans to cover Dalhousie, Chamba area, Kullu, Upper and lower Shimla, Janakpur, Jalirung  and Mussoorie to find candidates to start the new Tibetan military establishment. …His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised us to include names of young men and women from all three regions and not to restrict amongst Chushi Gandruk  and then filter and select those whom you feel are qualified.”
He also said to the three representatives of the Chushi Gangdruk that their work would be smoother and easier, if they travelled with a recommendation letter from Kashag : “We followed His guidelines and approached the Kashag and received an official letter from Palha Dronye Chenmo  and travelled to the above places to collect names,” said Ratuk Ngawang.
When they reached Mussoorie, Gyalo Thondup had already sent a message for Ratuk to Jigme Taring, the Principal of the Tibetan school: “Ratuk Ngawang should immediately proceed to Darjeeling. The work of collecting names should be left in the hands of two remaining members and they should join later.”
Ratuk obeyed and immediately left; when he arrived in Darjeeling, he met Gyalo Thondup and Gonpo Tashi who asked for a report on the places visited so far: “I informed them about our visit to Dharamsala, the audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Kashag’s support letter,” recalled Ratuk, who also brought a first list of volunteers’ names.
Gyalo Thondup was happy with the work done and told the Khampa chieftain that he should go again to the places already visited to recruit soldiers.
Kundeling Thupten Gyaltsen, Kalsang, student of General Yeshi and elder son of Trengdong were to assist him: “You should go to Pathankot and make a phone call to Security Department in Dharamsala and inform them about your arrival and ask Security Commanding Officer to come to Pathankot. He will meet you there, you will discuss with them and you guide them where to start the recruitment.”
The travel and daily allowance of the new recruits were to be paid according to the norms decided by Ratuk’s team: “A small metal box full of hundred-rupee Indian notes, exact amount I don’t recollect, was handed over to me with instruction to keep proper records of income and expenditure,” noted Ratuk.
The officers did as ordered and went to Pathankot; the Commanding Officer of the Dharamsala Security Office was not available, but his deputy, Lobsang Yeshi came to meet them; he was keen to get guidance on how to collect the names of the required soldiers. He was told that there were about 1,000 monks from monasteries working on two separate road construction sites in Chamba Valley, some 800 of them should be able to join the force; then they could get about 400 out of about 600 Chushi Gangdruk’s members living in Dalhousie.
On the Chamba road construction, many got suspicious and two of the leaders went to Dharamsala to meet the Minister of Home, Phalha Donyer Chemo and asked his advice about joining the military force. Phala said that he had no knowledge about the recruitment, but “it is up to individuals, we can’t prevent anyone from joining or push anyone to go against his wish.”
Fearing a misadventure like it had happened to the recruits to Mustang, only 72 volunteers signed up. The recruiters did not go to Dalhousie, but asked some of the leaders to send all the volunteers from Dalhousie to Pathankot. The officer in-charge of the Tibetan Handicraft Center and the settlement officer were told that no instructions had been received from the exiled Tibetan Government and it was an individual’s decision. The recruiters informed those wanting to enroll that they should report to Ratuk Ngawang at Pathankot. Their travel fare and food expenses were to be fully covered: “everyone left saying, we had been waiting for such an opportunity when we can receive military training.” Ultimately, they recruited more than 500 soldiers.
Incidentally, one of the buses had an accident and five or six recruits suffered minor injuries, but there was no loss of life.
Suddenly, the Dalhousie settlement officer informed the Kashag that the handicraft center was empty “because Ratuk Ngawang recruited everyone into military”; he wanted to know what should he do. Kashag insisted that the handicraft center should not be closed. Pathankot’s branch of the Security Department then asked Ratuk to report immediately to Dharamsala.
None of the new recruits were interested to go back to Dalhousie, though Ratuk and his colleagues tried to explain that it was an order from the government that they should return to the handicraft center.
The Security Office in Dharamsala deputed Chamdo Jampa Kalden to Pathankot to tell Ratuk to send at least half of them back to the handicraft center: “We requested and appealed to them, but not a single soul changed their mind. …Finding no resolution, we drafted a letter saying everyone should decide on their own [to join the Army] and Chamdo Jampa Kalden returned to Dharamsala.”
Then, Ratuk send them off after disbursing their travel allowances.
The recruiters then moved to Kullu and Simla area to see if there were volunteers interested to join the force: “in total there were little more than 3,800 volunteers.” Later, they visited Musoorie, Herbertpur, Jalirung , Chhorpur  and gathered some 200 recruits more before returning to Darjeeling to present the accounts of all their expenditures: “When we reached, we were informed of the arrival of about 200 guerilla fighters in Darjeeling and 700 from Kalimpong, Gangtok and Darjeeling area.”
With the other representatives who visited other areas, there were already 6,000 recruits at the military camp. 

The above lines are part of a longer paper, available on my webiste (proper references are provided in the paper). 

Click here to read...

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Had India employed its Air Force in 1962, there would have been fewer casualties

My article Had India employed its Air Force in 1962, there would have been fewer casualties appeared in The Week.

Here is the link...

India needs to tell the world about the valour of its soldiers who fought China

In July 2017, a few weeks after the start of the confrontation in Doklam near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction, Lt Gen Zhang Xuejie, the then Political Commissar of the Tibet Military Region (TMD) went to an ‘undisclosed place on the border’ (probably North of Sikkim) and wrote in red letters ‘1962’ on a stone. What message did he want to convey? That China could repeat the operations of 1962?
A month later, as the confrontation had entered its third month and with Delhi not showing any sign of backing off from its position of stopping the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to build a road in a disputed area, the Chinese media counter-attacked.
The Communist Party’s mouth-piece, The Global Times warned, "The border standoff has stretched out for nearly two months. If the Narendra Modi government continues ignoring the warning coming from a situation spiraling out of control, countermeasures from China will be unavoidable."
The newspaper then mentioned the 1962 war: “India made constant provocations at the China-India border in 1962. The government of Jawaharlal Nehru at that time firmly believed China would not strike back. …However, the Nehru government underestimated the determination of the Chinese government to safeguard China's territorial integrity even as the country was mired in both domestic and diplomatic woes," the newspaper cautioned.
Beijing was probably still dreaming of repeating 1962 ‘victory’, not realizing that India and the world have changed since then.

A Turning Point: the Galwan Clash
Interestingly, after the Galwan clash on June 15, 2020 (it was Xi Jinping's birthday), during which China is said to have lost some 40 of its soldiers, including a Commanding Officer, the Chinese media was quieter: Beijing had started realizing that India would not be bullied so easily.
This raises an obvious question: can China play a redo of 1962 on India, or putting it differently, has Indian learnt the lessons of 1962.

Projecting the Narratives of the Victors
It is necessary to first point out the Sino-Indian border war was not the debacle which has been depicted by Beijing and by some foreign commentators. India fought extremely well during the battles of Walong or Rezang-la and in several other areas on the front, where hundreds of Chinese PLA were killed by Indian soldiers. Has Xi, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) heard of these battles?
This part of the story was never told to the Chinese people; similarly what happened in 1967 when the PLA was forced to back out after having intruded Indian territory in Sikkim, remains a State secret in the Middle Kingdom.
Beijing, presently working on publications about China’s ‘victory’, would today like that India remembers 1962.
The Chinese narative remains the same: India attacked China; according to The Hindu: “Chinese military researchers have compiled a new history of the war reassessing its significance and legacy, bringing the spotlight back to the war amid the current tensions in relations.”
The author is Zhang Xiaokang, the daughter of Gen Zhang Guohua, who commanded the Tibet Military Command (TMC) and directed the Chinese offensive against India in the eastern sector in October 1962. Her ‘new history of the war’ is titled One Hundred Questions on the China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack.
Extracts published on a Chinese website show that Beijing continues to propagate the myth: Mao had no other choice but to ‘counter-attack’.
The history of 1962 needs to be rewritten, and India should not be ashamed of its Army during those fateful months; on the contrary, it is time to do more research into those battles, build more memorials and museums and let the general public (and China) know about the outstanding valour of the Indian soldiers.
One can only hope that Indian scholars and historians will revisit the conflict and show that the outcome could have been very different.

The Political Management of the 1962 War
Undoubtedly, with a better political management and the use of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in particular, the war could have had a different end.
But let us look at what went wrong.
First and foremost, it was folly for the then political leadership not to use the IAF.
In an interview with this writer, Wing Commander Jag Mohan (‘Jaggi’) Nath, the first officer to have twice been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), India’s second-highest war-time military decoration, had been on regular missions over Tibet for more than two years from 1960 to reconnoiter the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Jaggi Nath concluded that China had no Air Force on the Tibetan plateau in 1962.
Unfortunately, the political leadership refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during his sorties.
Had the IAF been used, one can imagine that the casualties would have been less on the Indian side and more on the Chinese; the Line of Actual Control would have remained where it was in September 1959, and the border dispute with China would not be so acute today; the Shaksgam Valley would have not been offered to China by Pakistan in 1963; Mao Zedong would have lost his job. As a result, the relations with China would have today been completely different.

India is Ready Today
It is certainly the most important lesson that India learnt from the 1962 War. Today after the induction of the 36 Rafale fighter aircrafts, the IAF is ready to take on China and even has an edge due to the terrain as well as the preparedness, the professionalism and experience of the Indian pilots.
India has also a far better knowledge of the border; let us not forget that the 7 Brigade was fighting in the Namkha chu (river) sector, north of Tawang, without maps; weaponry was antediluvian and the arrogant political leadership would not allow the local commanders (Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad of 4 Division and Brig John Dalvi of 7 Brigade) to move to better strategic positions to defend the Indian territory.
More recently, as the Doklam and the Eastern Ladakh confrontations have demonstrated, the commanders have a far greater autonomy of decision. The present government has also delegated the negotiations about the disengagement on the border to the 14 Corps Commander based in Leh.
With its in-depth knowledge of the terrain, the Indian Army has been able not only to hold onto their positions (though China still refuses to fully disengage from some places, i,e, Depsang, PP 15 or Demchok), but in the process, the defence forces have been able to establish a far better synergy with the Ministry of External Affairs and other stakeholders; something totally lacking in 1962.
One can say that though it has today delegated tactical decisions to the local commanders, the political leadership is far more aware of the situation on the ground.
On their part, after 16 rounds of talks, the PLA generals have probably realized that India in 2022 is not the same as in 1962 and their Indian counterparts will not bend backward.
In fact during this exercise, officers from both sides have learnt to know each other; they today understand better the other’s mindset and motivations. One should add that the political leadership meets far more frequently than Mao and Nehru did, which is a good thing. A better understanding of India’s principled and firm stand could hopefully act as a deterrent for China.
Further, senior generals in the Indian Army, Air and Navy headquarters are today more professional and are ready to make their voices heard. It was certainly not the case in 1962, when a Chief of Air Staff did not even dare to try to convince his political masters to use the IAF, despite the fact that, after the split with the Soviet Union, Delhi had the full knowledge that China had no Air Force on the plateau and even lacked the necessary fuel supply.

The Situation today

Sixty days later, the infrastructure on the Indian side has tremendously improved (on the Chinese side too); there was a time when an argument was heard on the borders, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh: “It is better not to build roads on our side, otherwise they can be used by the Chinese invading troops once again”.
During the last few years, though the PLA always keeps a superior edge in infrastructure (the terrain is also easier on the plateau), Delhi worked hard to reach every corner of the 3,500 km LAC with China.
One important factor in the ‘defeat’ in 1962 was the failure of the Indian intelligence. The intelligence inputs were probably there (through Wing Cdr Jaggi Nath’s secret flights or the regular reports of the Indian Consul general in Lhasa, the Indian Trade Agents in Yatung, Gyanste and Gartok, but also the Tibetan refugees in India), but they were not properly analyzed by the Intelligence bosses, who were too busy obeying the ‘ideological’ orders of their masters; this was particularly true for the Director of Intelligence Bureau who had served too long in the job.
Another important factor which may force China to think twice before embarking on a new 1962: the Tibetan population living in India and particularly on the borders is emotionally and physically supporting India. The role of the Special Frontier Force, composed of Tibetan commandos during August 2020 on the Kailash range, south of the Pangong tso, is a case point which should not be underestimated.
The Tibetan populations on the plateau are also aware that their countrymen in India are allowed to practice their own faith and freely follow their leader, the Dalai Lama; it is not the case north of the McMahon Line.
In case of a long conflict, it could be a determining factor.
Finally, the Ukraine war has demonstrated that it is not easy to win a short ‘local’ war, like China had hoped to do; even if the Middle Kingdom is in advance in many domains compared to India (theaterisation of defence forces, infrastructure, use of Artificial Intelligence, drones, etc.), there is no way for China to ‘teach a lesson’ to India today.
Finally, post-COVID pandemic, the world opinion is much more aware of China’s totalitarian side than two years ago. In case of a conflict, this would translate into better real-time intelligence sharing and support; this can’t be neglected.  
Xi Jinping, the CMC Chairman was probably briefed of all these changes when he recently visited Xinjiang and met the top brass of the Western Theater Command and the Xinjiang Military District.
But would China become desperate, due to an economic collapse for example, adventurism could be a way-out for a totalitarian regime.
Though India has learned many lessons, but should remain aware of these dangers; especially knowing tomorrow’s war(s) may be ‘unrestricted’, fought on multiple new fronts simultaneously.