Monday, December 25, 2023
Tuesday, December 19, 2023
|Dekyi Linka, the British and then Indian Mission in Lhasa
New Delhi seemed to have lost its nerve, which greatly helped China attain its final objective: To remove all traces of Indian presence and influence from Tibet. The blunder seems irreparable today
Here is the link...
Addressing the Parliament, Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently remarked that Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was responsible for the loss of what is known as Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK): “The problem of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir occurred because of Pandit Nehru. Otherwise, that part would have belonged to Kashmir,” aid Shah, adding: “Nehru ji said it was his mistake. It was not a mistake. It was a blunder to lose so much land of this country.”
We shall not discuss here — the Kashmir blunders, though there are many more which could be listed, to cite just one: Why did India accept Lord Mountbatten as the first Governor General and Chairman of the Defence Council while Pakistan had nominated Muhammad Ali Jinnah as first Governor General?
Less known are some of the first prime minister’s ‘Tibetan’ blunders. He was assisted in this by KM Panikkar, India’s ambassador in Beijing, who often batted for Communist China; remember the words Sardar Patel wrote on November 7, 1950: “I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador [Panikkar] and the Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as the result of this study”.
Another of the most tragic events of the early 1950s was also initiated by Panikkar: It was the 1952 ‘downgrading’ of the Indian Mission in Lhasa into a Consulate General. While Delhi was dithering on whether to address the confirmation of its borders with China through bilateral talks with Beijing, the Chinese managed to gain this portentous change.
In the exchange of letters and notes between the Indian and Chinese governments after the latter’s troops entered Tibet in October 1950, Delhi never once insisted on the rights it had inherited from the Simla Convention in 1914, with the consequence that China even today does not recognise the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.
In 1952, India still enjoyed several privileges in Tibet; apart from the full-fledged Mission in Lhasa, there were three Indian Trade Marts managed by Agents posted in Gyantse, Gartok and Yatung. Except for Gartok, the Agents were entitled to a military escort. The Post and Telegraph Service, a chain of rest-houses and the principality of Minsar (near Mt Kailash) were also under the Indian Government’s control.
Ideologically, Nehru was not comfortable with these ‘imperialist’ advantages, though he often admitted that they were useful for trade. It is true that after the arrival of the Chinese troops, the Indian government found it increasingly difficult to retain these benefits on the ground.
On July 28, 1952, in a letter to Nehru, for the first time Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier officially requested the ‘regularisation’ of the Indian Mission in Lhasa; it meant downgrading the Mission into a Consulate General. Tibet would not be considered a separate country anymore.
Finally, on August 15, 1952, the Indian Representative was re-designated as a Consul-General under the Indian Embassy in Beijing. By downgrading the Mission, Delhi officially accepted that Tibet was a part of China. Thereafter, India had no border with Tibet anymore, but only with China, with the consequences that one can still see today.
The new arrangement continued for the following ten years. Though downgraded, the Indian presence in Lhasa could take care of the trade between India and Tibet, could look after the hundreds of Indian monks from the Himalayan region studying in Tibet, as well as the thousands of pilgrims undertaking the Kailash/Mansarovar yatra every year.
After the Border War
On December 3, 1962, two weeks after the ceasefire had been declared on the northern front, South Block suddenly decided to unilaterally close down its Consulate General in Lhasa. Despite years of research, I have never been able to find the rationale for this decision.
The Ministry of External Affairs just informed Beijing that India had decided to close its Consulate General in Lhasa as well as the Chinese Consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata.
It is not known what triggered this hasty action, especially at a time when India had nearly 4,000 prisoners of war in Tibet; there is no doubt that a Consul General would have been useful for their welfare, to provide information to their next of kin and their eventual repatriation.
On December 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing wrote to the Indian Embassy in Beijing complaining that India had “unreasonably requested China to terminate its Consulates-General at Calcutta and Bombay.”
Beijing started accusing New Delhi of having an anti-Chinese policy.
But the loser has been India, not China, which has since reopened its two consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata, while Delhi could never reopen the Indian one in Lhasa.
On December 15, 1962, the Chinese Government finally agreed to close down its two consulates general and to withdraw its staff: “But this decision does not in any way mean that the Chinese Government accepts the Indian Government’s unreasonable demand or agrees to the Indian Government’s unilateral action.”
Retrospectively, one can only say that from India’s side, it was a misconceived decision, nobody thought of the consequences.
One of the justifications was that the communications with Lhasa were completely cut off between October 9 and 25: “Even the telephone of the Consulate General was cut and outsiders were forbidden to enter the premises.” This was a few days before the treacherous Chinese attack on India’s northern borders. But it hardly justifies the closure of the Consulate, especially after the war was over.
Justifying the Closure of the Consulate
During the following months, the Ministry of External Affairs kept trying to justify its decision to close down its consulate in Tibet.
While all this haggling was taking place, China refused to speak about the 3,900 Indian PoWs kept in different camps in Tibet. This issue was never even part of the innumerable exchanges; it is most astonishing to say the least.
Why was the issue of the PoWs never raised directly with the Chinese?
Delhi reiterated the contents of the notes of November 4 and December 28, 1962: “The local Chinese authorities at Lhasa had willfully harassed the staff of the Indian Consulate General at Lhasa. Local Chinese authorities had, in every manner possible, restricted the freedom of movement of the staff.”
Beijing just rejected the allegation that it had violated acknowledged international practice or had disregarded diplomatic courtesy.
But again, all this does not explain why the Indian Consulate in Lhasa was closed? Nor how and why was the decision taken?
Could it have been a rushed and unilateral decision taken by local officials in Lhasa and later endorsed by Delhi? Perhaps the truth is that there was an atmosphere of utter confusion and chaos reigning in Delhi.
Trying to Reopen the Consulate
An Indian diplomat, Shivshankar Menon is said to have played a pivotal role in trying to reopen the Indian Consulate in Lhasa in the 2000s; however, it soon became obvious that it was easier to hurriedly close the Indian mission in 1962, than to reopen it. It has also to be noted that Nepal still has a representative in Lhasa today, with a thriving presence.
Designated as the ‘Year of Friendship between China and India’, Year 2006 seemed to offer a possibility for the two countries to leave their tumultuous past behind. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited China in May; for China and India, it was the occasion to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on defence cooperation.
Did Pranab Mukherjee officially suggest reopening a consular office in Lhasa in return for allowing China to open one in Kolkata during his visit? The rumour was that Beijing was not keen and asked Delhi to open an office in Guangzhou instead.
In July, 2006, the Nathu La pass between Tibet and Sikkim was officially reopened for border trade for the first time after 1962. Were the bilateral relations going to make a new start?
At the time of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Delhi in November, The Indian Express observed: “Though India has made it repeatedly clear that it recognises Tibet Autonomous Region, China turned down the Indian proposal for opening a consulate in Lhasa ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent visit.”
On March 31, 2015, PTI reported that India’s proposal to re-establish a mission “in the sensitive Tibetan capital Lhasa did not get a favourable response from Beijing.”
The news agency asserted “India is set to open its third consulate in China in the southwestern city of Chengdu after its proposal to re-establish a mission in the sensitive Tibetan capital of Lhasa which was closed down during the 1962 war did not get a favourable response.”
For millennia, China has been mastering The Art of War expounded by its great strategist, Sun Tzu. This episode is another demonstration that by attacking an enemy (by accusing the Indian diplomats of mischief) and mentioning all sorts of Indian wrongdoings, the Communist regime in Beijing managed to divert the energies of an India already weakened by the unexpected war (of 1962), but the blunder was Indian at the start.
New Delhi seemed to have lost its nerve, which greatly helped China to attain its final objective: To remove all traces of Indian presence and influence from Tibet. The blunder seems irreparable today.
Saturday, December 16, 2023
|Lt Gen AAK Niazi, with Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora
(behind Vice Adm N Krishnan and Maj Gen JRF Jacob), December 6, 1971
Here is the link...
'You have been surrounded from all directions, if you want the safety of your troops and your personal safety, we will give you eight hours to make up your mind to surrender.'
Lt Gen Ashoke K. Chatterjee, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command speaks to Claude Arpi about the 1971 Bangladesh operations and his participation in the Surrender in Dacca.
Gen Chatterjee was then a young officer from the Sikh Ligh Infantry posted in the Eastern Command in Kolkata. He had the privilege to accompany Lt Gen Jagjit Sigh Aurora, the Army Commander to Dacca for the surrender of the Eastern Pakistan forces led by Lt Gen AAK Niazi, the last Governor of East Pakistan and Commander of the Eastern Command of the Pakistan Army.
Gen Chatterjee’s direct boss was Maj Gen ‘Jack’ Farj Rafael Jacob, the Chief of Staff of Eastern Command.
It is a fascinating first-hand account.
In March 1971, I was a Lieutenant Colonel (GSO-I), meaning General Staff (Operations) - Grade 1. At that time, a Lt Col was looking after the entire operational aspect of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. Today, the same appointment has been upgraded to a Major General rank.
I was working under the Chief of Staff; every morning at 8 o’clock, I had to report to him and subsequently brief all the officers at the headquarters of the Eastern Command.
My briefing included internal security issues in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh [NEFA at that time], Mizoram as well as the situation on the China [Tibet] and Bhutan borders and on the East Pakistan front.
After this, I had to meet Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, the Army Commander, along with Gen Jacob in a smaller gathering for a briefing regarding the happenings in East Pakistan.
General Jacob took a lot of interest in the planning of the operations, while General Aurora was more interested in preparing for the war. The latter used to go on around all the formations, the 4 Corps (in Tezpur), the 33 Corps (in Siliguri) and the 9 Mountain Division which was based in West Bengal.
[During these war games/briefings] for the Bangladesh operations, we decided to avoid hitting the enemy in conventional attacks.
The problem was that they were holding their defences on large obstacles, such as water courses, deep rivers, which we could not cross without specialised equipment.
Therefore, the idea was to always avoid these strong points, take a longer detour and come from the rear; cross smaller obstacles, not held by the enemy, and then maneuver.
By the time the Indian Army entered Bangladesh, the Mukti Bahini [the guerrilla resistance movement consisting of the Bangladeshi military, paramilitary and civilians who fought for the liberation of Bangladesh] had created such a sense of fear among the Pakistan Army and also the people supporting the Pakistan government, that psychologically we had already won the war.
At some stage, a Bangladesh government was formed in Kolkata; it was prior to our going into Bangladesh. The Mukti Bahini had workers all around East Pakistan, starting from West Bengal, North Bengal, Cooch Bihar district, then in Assam, Sylhet border, Tripura border, Mizoram border, everywhere we had organized Mukti Bahini camps. They would go in by night, raid the Pakistani strongholds and get back in the morning. So, the Pakistani army was afraid of the Mukti Bahini and we realized they had lost faith and confidence in the locals, except for some Bengali people who still provided support to them.
By the time we went in [for the War], there was some opposition at Jessore in West Bengal sector, we also encountered opposition in the North, in the area of East Dimapur. There was hardly any opposition in Khudmiya, same thing for Sylhet, but there was opposition at the Tripura border, when the Pakistanis had deployed the average of a brigade against a division of ours.
Our buildup took place and luckily we were on exterior lines, and they were fighting on internal lines, so our deployment had to be from multi directions along East Bengal border.
It reminds me of our Param Vir Chakra (PVC) Lt Col Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore, who died in 1965 during the Battle in the Sialkot Sector in the then East Pakistan. He was a tribal soldier from the 14 Guards; he won our first Param Vir Chakra in the Eastern Sector.
Our first thrust-line moved in from Tripura, the Guards battalion crossed the river Meghna and then moved in right up to the river line near Dacca. This created a panic among the Pakistani Army and subsequently the 8 Mountain Division came from Sylhet and closed in on Dacca.
The 33 Corps came from North Bengal, and 9 Division from West Bengal in Jessore Sector. These morning briefings continued throughout the war.
We used to get sitreps (‘situation reports’) and I used to go to the ops [operation] room at about 4 o’clock in the morning to get all the sitreps, speak to the general officers commanding [GOC] the divisions and the Corps about important issues.
I still remember Gen Sagat Singh, GOC 4 Corps, responsible for the two thrust lines on Dacca from the East.
Luckily for me he was my instructor when I was doing my junior commander’s course in Mhow [at the Army War College].
Gen Sagat always said: “Ok this is the story from my side, now you ring up the divisional commander and get his story too.”
He was commanding 4 Corps, the 8 Mountain and 57 Mountain Division came under him; he was based in Agartala and that is how the 4 Corps came in from that direction. Eventually the 4 Corps crossed the river, and they reached Dacca.
There was a Mukti Bahini force that came from Meghalaya, Foxtrot Sector, I don’t remember now which force; it was commanded by the Shillong Area Commander.
Gen Sagat was given certain troops and the Mukti Bahini was put under his command. They were the troops who entered Dacca first with the Mukti Bahini along with a platoon of the Indian Army which came from the north, from Shillong. They crossed the hills and just came down. And when they reached the outskirts of Dacca, the 57 Mountain Division had crossed the river Meghna. There was really a panic among the Pakistan Army.
Preparations for the Surrender
Soon after, Gen Jacob drafted a beautiful letter for Gen Niazi.
In his letter Gen Jacob mentioned: “you have been surrounded from all directions, if you want the safety of your troops and your personal safety, we will give you eight hours to make up your mind to surrender.”
This was, I think on December 9; General Niazi was then in Dacca. Pressure was being built on him from international groups also and then ultimately on December 12, he agreed.
On December 13,, the surrender papers were drafted in Kolkata and on 14th morning along with the Army Commander, we were to fly into Dacca where the ceremony was to take place.
My overall impression is that the Pakistan Army had no will to fight. They were encouraging the Razakars [an anti-Bangladesh paramilitary force organised by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan] to create atrocities on the civilian population, which they felt would affect the Bangladesh volunteers [the Mukti Bahini], who after March 1971 had come across the border to India and were operating under India’s control.
The role of the Razakars was revealed to me only after the signing of the surrender document, I put this together after talking to many Pakistani officers of rank of brigadier and generals…
The next day, I was told by my Army Commander [Gen Aurora], “you will represent me in Dacca.”
At the time of the Surrender, Major General Sarkar, who was the head of the civil administration of the Mukti Bahini, became the civil administrator on behalf of the Eastern Command.
So the responsibilities were divided between General Sarkar and myself.
I was to look after the military aspect; he looked after the civil side.
Military aspect meant that India did not want to get committed to restoring law and order in Bangladesh. The Indian forces in Bangladesh had come from our Northern borders, from Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.
Because we went in the month of December, we thought that in March, with spring, the Chinese border could get activated, so the idea was to complete the operation quickly so that the Indian troops could then go back to their original task.
There was not much threat from the Chinese, they moved near our border, but they did not cross it. All the major mountain passes in Sikkim, or Arunachal Pradesh, including Nathu-la [in Sikkim] and Jelep-la [in West Bengal] were closed due to heavy snow fall.
The Set-up for the Surrender
The ceremony of the Surrender was very interesting. Gen Niazi had agreed to surrender on the December 12. He had got the clearance from his government in West Pakistan. The United Nations had also intervened; they put pressure on Western Pakistan leaders to surrender. Having decided that, we formulated the surrender text the next morning, not only with Army lawyers, but also with the leading Kolkata lawyers including one of the High court judges.
They all sat to make the surrender papers.
On the December 15, it was cleared by the Army Headquarters in Delhi.
On December 16 morning, we left from Kolkata Eastern Command Headquarter to the airport by helicopter and then used a Dakota plane to reach Dacca; Gen Jacob, Gen Aurora, his wife and me. We landed at Dacca and from there we drove by road. After the surrender ceremony, the Army Commander with his wife returned back to Kolkata the same evening. Gen Jacob too returned to Kolkata the same day.
As we arrived, the Bangladeshis, the civilians were very excited; there was a surge of people; the ceremony took place at the heart of Dacca city, on the Dacca Polo Ground.
On one side was the university, on another side was the famous Kali Mandir, and on yet another side was the Secretariat building, all these places were surrounding the polo ground; it was something like in Kolkata where you have the Eden gardens or in New Delhi, Rajpath, with greenery all around. Such was the setting at the Polo Ground in Dacca where the ceremony took place.
It was late in the evening and luckily, Gens Aurora and Jacob had flown on a fixed wing aircraft, which could fly even at night.
And at the point of time, Gen Sagat, who had crossed the river from the East, was also in Dacca. His responsibility was to look after the military affairs in the city of Dacca, though ultimately after three or four days, he was requested to go back to his original headquarter in Tripura and I was instructed to stay behind to represent the Eastern Command in Dacca.
Gen Sagat had also to initiate a headquarters for the civil administration of Bangladesh; high court judges of Bangladesh, police officers, magistrates, commissioners, deputy commissioners were brought in for administering and restoring the civil administration as fast as possible.
The Ceremony of Surrender
We were late by about by seven minutes, I think the Surrender was to take place at 5 o’clock in the evening, Gen Niazi, Gen Jacob, Vice Admiral Nilakanta Krishnan (Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief - FOC-in-C of the Eastern Naval, and the Air Marshall Hari Chand Dewan, in charge of Eastern Air Command, were there along with Gen Niazi, waiting for Gen Aurora, the Army Commander to come.
[On behalf of Bangladesh, Group Captain AK Khandker acted as witness to the surrender. Lt Gen Sagat Singh, Commander of the Indian IV Corps, Air Marshal Hari Chand Dewan, Maj Gen JFR Jacob, Chief of Staff of Eastern Command, acted as witnesses on behalf of India.]
When we drove in and the Bengalis saw Gen Aurora and his wife coming, the entire population broke loose and came to try to hug them. As a result, we were so scared; we were not used to such a large crowd and our four military police chaps could hardly keep our group away from the crowd.
Gen Aurora told me: “Ashoke, look after my wife and stay with the military police.” Ultimately, we went and witnessed the ceremony; it lasted about 15 minutes. The moment Gen Aurora went there, he told Gen Niazi, “You sign the surrender papers”. Niazi said ‘yes’, saluted and signed.
I think Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali (he was later accused to be a ‘conspirator’ of the civil war in East Pakistan and one of persons directly responsible for committing the mass atrocities) was also there from Pakistani side, and a major general, who was the Chief of staff was there too.
At that time, Gen Niazi was already under arrest.
The Pakistani side had also a naval officer, Rear-Admiral Mohammad Shariff, Commander of the Pakistani Naval Eastern Command and Air Vice-Marshal Patrick D. Callaghan of the Pakistan Air Force's Eastern Air Force Command, who signed the Surrender.
An interesting thing is that by that time the Pakistani army operating in Bangladesh were all prisoners of war, they were all disarmed. On the December 12 itself they, they had surrendered and we disarmed them.
If you had been leading us
Later, I was given the bungalow of a Pakistani major general, I don’t remember his name now; he used to be a civil administrator, he used to represent Gen Niazi, just like Gen Sagat used to represent Eastern Command. He was from General Niazi’s headquarters. He was commanding eastern command for the Pakistani side. After he was taken prisoner of war and sent to the PoW camp.
I occupied his house. Surprisingly his private staff, who cooked, looked after the garden, washed the clothes, etc, was all Bengali. They provided this service to him; when I came they jumped and said: “You are our savior, we will do whatever you want”, it was perhaps why this house was allotted to me.
While I lived in that house, they cooked for me; I was there for about eleven days after the surrender. Interestingly, after the fourth day, the prisoners of war had to be given some exercise, so the jawans were made to clean the roads, under guard of course.
Since I was in the General’s accommodation, (with a huge lawn and a garden, December is the flowering season in Bengal, there were lovely flowers, roses, etc), I sent a request for a working party to clean up the place on a daily basis.
And after two days a Pakistani JCO [Junior Commissioned Officer] came up and reported to me: “The working party has come to clean your house,” he said. After they had finished, I offered them a cup of tea, something we normally do (whenever a working party comes, they are given a cup of tea). Half-way they take a break, are given tea, then they go again to work.
When I offered tea, the JCO was so overwhelmed that a colonel could offer a cup of tea to a prisoner of war, he came to me with tears in his eyes and said: “Sir, we would never have lost, if we had been with us, leading us, if army officers like you, like the Indian army officers had led us. Our officers were corrupt; they were indulging in making money, in womanizing. We would never have lost the battle with officers like you.”