Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Avian Intrusions over the Red Line

'Civilian' pigeon?
According to The Asian Age, “Pigeons with Chinese tags lead to a stir in Arunachal Pradesh.”
The reporter mentioned that villagers caught some tagged pigeons in Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The tags being written in Chinese created anxious moments for the villagers in the Lohit Valley.
The Anjaw district is strategically  located south of the McMahon Line
The Asian Age said: “The villagers who spotted the pigeons reported the issue to the local police and handed over the pigeons trapped by them. While it is not known if the pigeons were fitted with transmitters or spying equipment, security sources told this newspaper it had come to their notice and they are examining the tags. The sources didn’t rule out the possibility of China using these pigeons for surveillance of frontier areas and townships.”
Only after inquiry, we should know.

Chinese Markings
The Chinese markings seem to indicate that the origin of the pigeons was Rima, the first small town in Tibet, north of the McMahon (Kibithu is the last Indian village in the area).
It often happens that pigeons ‘loose’ their way, but it is strange that it has happened to so many on the same day.
Incidentally, at the same time, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh chaired the first-ever review meeting of Sino-Indian border infrastructure in Sikkim. It was attended by the Chief Ministers and representatives of five Himalayan states bordering Tibet.
Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu, who was present, raised serious concern over the migration of people away from border areas due to lack of basic facilities. It is not clear if he was aware of the avian ‘intrusion’ at that time.

An old posting
More than five years ago, I mentioned on this blog the use of pigeons for military purpose.
At that time, a Member of the French Parliament suggested boosting the use of military pigeons for the French Army. In a written question, Jean-Pierre Decool, a MP from the UMP (now Les Republicains) majority (from Northern France) asked for the return of the military pigeon as a weapon.
He forcefully spoke of "the usefulness of the pigeon in the event of armed conflict. In 2011, the Chinese army has decided to 'recruit' some 10,000 pigeons, in addition to the existing 200. Indeed, if during an armed conflict, a generalized failure of communication networks may occur. Consequently, the pigeon will remain one of the only communication tools capable of transporting messages," Decool said in the Parliament.
In his response, the French Minister of Defence stated: "historically, the pigeon presented a certain interest for military communications. Safe and reliable, it has often helped to get rid of the insecurity of the other lines of communication. The French Army has the last pigeon dovecote in Europe on the site of Mont-Valerian, near Paris. In addition, France has identified nearly 20,000 pigeon lovers, who could provide valuable assistance in case of strong 'weakening' of telecommunication networks."
In 2011, the Time Magazine spoke of "China's Most Secret Weapon: The Messenger Pigeon". The article asserted: "These military pigeons will be primarily called upon to conduct special military missions between troops stationed at our land borders or ocean borders," air force military expert Chen Hong told China Central Television after the announcement. According to reports at that time, the birds could be dispersed to communications bases across China's remote and mountainous southwestern region, particularly around the Himalayan foothills. The pigeons, flying at speeds of up to 75 miles (120 km) per hour, will be trained to carry loads of up to 3.5 oz. (100 g).

India should remain vigilant and learn from China the tricks of the Art of War.

In 1910, Chinese had 'walked' as far south as Menilkrai, near Walong
for what the British called a 'promenade'

 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The case of Barahoti, the first Himalyan blunder

In blue, the passes 'forgotten' in the Panchsheel Agreement
During the annual Army Commanders’ Conference held at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, one of the topics addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the three Service Chiefs was the infrastructure development along the borders with China and Pakistan.
The commanders apparently pleaded for a far better infrastructure to facilitate the movement of troops in case of crisis.
This raises two important issues: one, the neglect of the Himalayan frontier with China for the past 60 years and two, there is no ‘minor’ issues when the Indian borders are concerned.
Take Barahoti, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, which witnessed the first Chinese intrusions on Indian soil in 1954. It is a telling case.
Every summer, the Indian media cries foul: “The Chinese have come again”. “The Chinese Dragon struck again”, say reports originating from the ‘inaccessible’ part of Uttarakhand.
In July 2016, The Times of India explained: “It all began on July 22, when an Indian team of 19 civilians led by a Sub Divisional Magistrate first entered into the area in Barahoti, an area perceived by Chinese as their territory. …Six Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, in civil clothes and unarmed, accompanied the Indian civilians 200 metres inside the ‘alleged disputed’ territory.”
The Chinese troops PLA prevented the Indians paramilitary forces from going further and asked them to return: “No soon did the Indian team return, the Chinese PLA came in exactly 200 metres inside. Seeing the aggressive stance, Indian side led by ITBP asked the Chinese team to return to their original position.”
The story is not finished: on July 25 for the first time, China sent a helicopter to the area. Whether it crossed the LAC (as perceived by India) is not clear. But it was evidently to intimidate the ITBP.
The Government of India, as usual, played down the incident.
The fact remains that the ITBP personnel were not carrying firearms (not allowed as per an agreed protocol signed in 2005 and reiterated in 2013), while Chinese were carrying arms and wearing uniforms.
How did the story start?
In July 1952, in a secret note, the Intelligence Bureau described the topography of the Himalaya in this area: “The Garhwal-Tibet border can only be crossed through the Mana and Niti Valleys where there are open places and habitation, while the rest of the border area consists of snow-covered mountains studded with glaciers. …There are four Passes between Niti Valley and Tibet”. One of them was Tunjun-la, we shall come back to it.
A couple of years earlier, some Tibetans officials had entered the tiny plain of Barahoti. The IB explained the background of the so-called dispute: “About the end of last century the Tibetans had established a Customs Post at Hoti Plain. To stop this practice, the British Government had to send out a detachment of Gurkhas along with the Deputy Collector in 1890. This had a salutary effect and the Tibetans removed their post. It appears that for some time past the Tibetans have again been establishing a Police-cum-Customs post at Hoti during the trading season.”
As in most areas in the Himalaya, the access is far easier from the Tibetan side than from the Indian. Over the years, this greatly facilitated the Chinese intrusions.
The IB note continued: “It is quite possible that if the Tibetans are not stopped from establishing their post at Hoti Plain, they might eventually claim it to be their own territory.”
The IB recommended: “It is, therefore, essential that the Govt. of India should make it clear to the Govt. of Tibet and its Dzongpon that the Hoti Plain is Indian territory and the Tibetans have no right to establish any Customs post there.”
AT that time, the Uttar Pradesh Government asserted that no case of “encroachment has so far been reported though at one or two places tax collectors from Tibet did come in but were persuaded to go back.”
The above was enough for China to claim the area as ‘hers’. It happened as soon as the negotiations for the Panchsheel Agreement, (which only deals with trade and pilgrimage between Tibet and India) were completed. But the Indian diplomats had goofed up, they had forgotten to discuss the Indo-Tibet border.
Though Delhi had sent a complete list of the Himalayan passes to the ‘smart’ Indian negotiators in Beijing, the latter believed that by naming six passes, they had delineated a border.
As a result of India not insisting on all the passes, China started claiming several areas south of the watershed, in particular the area south of the Tunjun-la pass, where the plain of Barahoti is located.
In a note written after the signature of the Panchsheel Agreement, N.R. Pillai, the Foreign Secretary remarked: “It would also be desirable for us to establish check-posts at all disputed points as soon as possible so that there may be no opportunity for Chinese to take possession of such areas and face us with a fait accompli. “
But alas nothing was done. Will it be done now?
It is much later that South Block understood the meaning of Premier Chou En-lai’s opening remarks, at the time of signature: “there are bound to be some problems between two great countries like India and China with a long common border… but we are prepared to settle all such problems as are ripe for settlement now”.
It took only two months for India to discover that all problems had not been solved. The first Chinese incursion in the Barahoti area of Uttar Pradesh occurred in June 1954. This was the first of a series of incursions numbering in the hundreds which culminated in the attack of October 1962
Correspondence went on for four years and in 1958 a conference was held to sort out the issue. China refused to admit that the watershed marked the frontier and that Tunjun-la pass had been for centuries been the traditional border.
After the failure of the talks, Subimal Dutt wrote: “Each side has put forward its arguments in favour of its case. The Chinese are contesting our arguments and we are, of course, contesting theirs. The only positive suggestion made by the Chinese is that there should be a joint local enquiry.”
But India refused when it discovered that was just a pretext for China to find out the exact location of the place. They thought that Barahoti (they call it Wuje) was north of Tunjun-la.
The Chinese intrusions still continue today.
During a debate in the Parliament in August 1959, when Nehru was asked why Indian can’t soldiers keep a watch during the winter months too, he replied: “I see no special reason to make our people suffer miserably for this, to make them sit there in winter, in the cold.”
In November, Barahoti was again discussed in the Lok Sabha. Nehru’s final submission was that one should not attach too much importance “to these matters and becoming touchy about them rather distorts the picture in our minds. …in the old days, two persons would fight if a moustache was a little longer or shorter or a little higher or lower.”
More than 60 years after it started, the case of Barahoti shows that for the Chinese, there is no big or small moustache, every inch is a victory, and the second lesson is that there is no short cut to building a strong infrastructure even it costs the nation some sacrifice.
Let us hope that the recommendation of the Army Commanders’ Conference will soon be implemented and not stopped by one babu or another.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Case of Demchok

Radar on the ‘Chinese side’ of Demchok
On August 14, 1939, as he camped near Gartok, one of the three British (Indian) Trade Agencies in Tibet, Rai Bahadur Dr Kanshi Ram, the British Trade Agent (BTA) in Western Tibet, found finally time to write to the Political Agent of the Punjab Hill States in Simla: “I have the honour to submit herewith the following report of my journey from Simla to Gartok via Srinagar and Leh, Kashmir,” Ram started.
He had left Simla on May 20 to reach Srinagar on May 27; after a week-long stay in the Valley, he began his journey to the Tibetan border. He was accompanied by the Wazir Wazarat of Ladakh; both were to meet the Garpon or Governor of Western Tibet  for a tripartite inquiry into the alleged murder of a Tibetan, Champa Skaldan by Zaildar, a Ladakhi of Rupchu. The crime had been committed in Ladakh a few years earlier.
After a week-halt in Leh, they started for Demchok, the last Ladakhi village before the Tibetan border. They reached Demchok on July 17, 1939, where they were to meet the Senior and Junior Garpons; the inquiry started three days later.
Dr Kanshi Ram, in his report to Simla, notes: “On the night of July 21 the stream by the side of which we were camping suddenly rose to higher level and began to flow over our camping ground at midnight. We were abed as alarm was raised and we then got up and took our luggage and other belongings to a place of safety, and had to keep awake throughout the night. The rain which began to pour down since morning was still continuing. The next morning we crossed the stream and camped on the Tibetan border at a place of safety. The Wazir also renewed his camp some yards away from the stream amongst the boulders. This stream forms a natural boundary between Tibet and Kashmir at Demchok.”
This is interesting because it shows that before Independence, the Indo-Tibet border in Ladakh was well defined and agreed upon by the government of British India (represented by the BTA), the State of J&K (the Wazir) and the Tibetan Government (the Garpons).
It is not true anymore; since the end of the 1950s, a very large area around Demchok is claimed by Beijing though no Chinese had ever been seen in the area. The fact is that soon after invading the Tibetan plateau, the Communist regime in Beijing started claiming more and more of India’s territory in the Himalaya.
We shall look at the case of Demchok which is a case study of Chinese ‘advances’ which resulted in what today is called a ‘difference of perceptions’ on the LAC.


The building of the Aksai Chin road
The Chinese ‘advances’ in the Demchok sector began with the objective to protect a new road linking Tibet to Xinjiang in the Aksai Chin area.
Though the issue would only become public through a debate in the Lok Sabha in August 1959, in the early 1950s already, Delhi was aware that China was building a road, but South Block was not ready to acknowledge it.
The Official Report of the 1962 War published by the MoD states: “The preliminary survey work on the planned Tibet-Sinkiang road having been completed by the mid-1950’s, China started constructing motorable road in summer 1955. The highway ran over 160 km across the Aksai Chin region of north-east Ladakh. It was completed in the second half of 1957. Arterial roads connecting the highway with Tibet were also laid. On 6 October 1957, the Sinkiang-Tibet road was formally opened with a ceremony in Gartok and twelve trucks on a trial run from Yarkand reached Gartok. In January 1958, the China News Agency reported that the Sinkiang-Tibet highway had been opened two months earlier and the road was being fully utilised.”

In his book The Saga of Ladakh,  Maj Gen Jagjit Singh mentions that in 1956, the Indian Military Attaché in Beijing, Brig Mallik received information that China had started building a highway through Indian territory in the Aksai Chin area. Mallik had reported the matter to Army Headquarters in New Delhi which passed the report to South Block.
Other examples could be given , but the fact that the road lies close to Demchok, triggered the Chinese claims on the area.

The Panchsheel negotiations
In 1953-1954, long negotiations preceded the signature on the "Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India", known as the Panchsheel Agreement for its famous preamble, on April 29, 1954.
The negotiations ended with India giving away all its rights in Tibet (telegraph lines, post offices, dak bungalows, military escort in Gyantse and Yatung, etc.), while getting no assurance on the border demarcation from the Chinese government in return, on the contrary.
The talks were held in Beijing between Zhang Hanfu, China’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Raghavan, the Indian Ambassador to China and T.N. Kaul, his Chargé d’Affaires and Chen Chai-Kang, a Director. They lasted from December 1953 till end of April 1954.
On February 21, N. Raghavan, the Indian Ambassador in China informs R.K. Nehru, the Foreign Secretary, that Kaul had met Chen the previous day.
Amongst other issues, the ‘trade marts’ were discussed: “Chen agreed regarding Tashigong and said we could also have Demchok.”
The move was clever: Chen was offering a Tibetan mart …on India’s territory.


The Demchok-Tashigang route
Kaul objected, Demchok was in India, he told Chen who answered that India’s border was further on the West of the Indus. On Kaul’s insistence Chen said “There can be no doubt about actual physical possession which can be verified on spot but to avoid any dispute we may omit mention of Demchok”. Though Kaul repeated Demchok was on India’s side, the Chinese did not budge.
In the same discussion, Chen also mentioned that Rudok and Rawang were not acceptable as trade marts to China. When Kaul insisted, Chen promised to put up the suggestion regarding Rutok again before his delegation, but he added “I know it is impossible as our Government has decided not to open Rudok.”
The Aksai Chin road was passing via Rutok and Rawang .
On April 22, after more than four months of ‘talks’, Raghavan cables the Foreign Secretary that Zhang even ‘virulently’ objected to inclusion of Tashigong in Agreement.
Ragahvan explains: “Tibet talks resumed at plenary sitting to-day... Chinese produced new drafts of both Agreement and Letter partly based on our draft and partly covering new points. …Four main points still at issue are: Inclusion of route from Indian border to Tashigong along Indus. Chang Han-Fu [Zhang Hanfu] vigorously objected inclusion of route in Agreement or Letter. Conceded that traders customarily using this route might continue such use but said an oral understanding to that effect between two delegations would suffice. We strongly contended inclusion of route in Agreement. Our view is Chinese might not concede. If so shall try to get it included by separate letter.”
It did not occur to the Indian negotiators to ask why?
For centuries, the trade and pilgrimage route for the Kailash-Manasarovar region followed the course of the Indus, passed Demchok the last Ladakhi village and then crossed the border to reach the first Tibetan hamlet, Tashigong, some 15 miles inside Tibet.
Not only did the Chinese refuse to mention Demchok in the Agreement, but bargained for nearly 5 months not to cite the Tashigong route.
In retrospect, one can find two main reasons for the Chinese dragging their feet. One, as already mentioned, is the proximity of the ‘Aksai Chin Road’ ; preliminary work on the road had just started at the time of the Panchsheel negotiations.
In 1954, Indian border forces visiting Demchok could have noticed that a road was clandestinely being built; Beijing did not want to take a risk.
The second reason is as grave and presently relevant.
After months of infructuous exchanges, Zhang Hanfu conceded that “traders customarily using this route might continue such use but an oral understanding to that effect between two delegations would suffice, [China] would not like in writing, even by implication, to have any reference to Ladakh.”
It means that China considered Ladakh a ‘disputed area’.
Kaul informed Delhi: “We have taken [the] position that Ladakh is Indian territory and route should be mentioned as its omission would be invidious.”
But China did not accept the Indian contention and “after considerable argument [Zhang] agreed, but subsequently withdrew [his agreement]. [He] suggests we would consider exchange of letters which will not form part of Agreement...”
India had finally to concur to the Chinese formulation. Demchok was mentioned nowhere, though Article IV of the Agreement says: “Also, the customary route leading to Tashigong along the valley of the Indus River may continue to be traversed in accordance with custom.”
China made no concession to India, while India had given up all its assets in Tibet.
Incidentally, a report sent from the Indian Consulate in Lhasa in February 1953 states: “Information as to Western Tibet relatively scanty unfortunately. In 1950 the Chinese advanced towards Rudok and Taklakot with about 500 troops. The present strength could NOT have been increased beyond 2 to 3 thousand due to difficulty in obtaining supplies. They are reported to be at Rudok, Gyanima (north of Uttarakhand), Gargunsa (Ngari), Taklakot and Khojernath (near Mt. Kailash) and Tashigong.”
The Tashigong PLA outpost was located some 20 kilometers east of Demchok.

The Closure of the Kashgar Consulate
At that time, very few Indian diplomats could see beyond the Chinese rhetoric and Zhou’s assurance of friendship. How many noticed the ominous signs on the horizon?
Another warning was the closure of the Indian Consulate in Kashgar in 1953.
Nehru readily agreed to the Chinese decision without taking any retaliatory measures or even protesting. India’s interests were lost to the ‘revolutionary changes’ happening in China. He declared in the Parliament: “Some major changes have taken place there [Kashgar]. …But when these changes, revolutionary changes took place there, it is perfectly true that the Chinese Government, when they came to Tibet, told us that they intended that they wanted to treat Sinkiang as a closed area. They told other State Government, too. …The result was, our Consul remained there for some time, till recently… but there is now no work to be done. So we advised him to come away and he did come away.
During the following years, trade and pilgrimage practically stopped via Demchok. You may think that it is past history, but it is not.
China today continues to adamantly refuse to reopen the Demchok-Tashigong route to Kailash/Manasarovar, while insisting on a long and tortuous route via Nathu-la in Sikkim. Probably, China would have to acknowledge that Demchok is in India.

Demchok engulfed in Chinese maps
Soon after the escape of the Dalai Lama to India  and the first border clashes in Longju (NEFA, today Arunachal Pradesh) and Kong-ka Pass (Ladakh), Beijing decided to redraw its border.
Maps had to match the new claims.
In the 1960s, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs published a collection of maps  explaining Beijing’s tactics.
One of the maps shows three lines: “The first line shows the disposition of Chinese posts in Ladakh in November 1959. It will be seen that at that time there was strictly speaking no ‘Line of control’ but only a series of Chinese posts on Indian territory. The November 1959 'line' would be one that joined the then Chinese posts.”
Then the second line describes the position between Indian and Chinese forces immediately prior to September 8, while the third line depicts the limits of the areas occupied by Chinese forces during the 1962 War: “The area between the September 7, 1962, line and the line of actual control of 1959 as falsely claimed by China represents the further aggrandisement of Indian territory by China as a result of its latest aggression.”
By the end of 1959, China distributed the new maps of the Western Sector in Ladakh, Demchok and the area around was now fully Chinese territory.
The next step for Beijing was to occupy some of these places.
According to retired diplomat R.S. Kalha, in his well-document book : “After the failure of the Nehru-Zhou talks in April 1960, Zhou wrote to Mao on 6 May, 1960, that “as no agreement had been reached ...it was imperative to strengthen China's military presence in the Western sector.” Zhou suggested that Chinese forces should seize the opportunity and favourable weather conditions to establish additional posts inside China's claim line. Mao approved the proposal and Deng Xiaoping was entrusted with the responsibility for its implementation.”
The former ambassador who participated in the boundary talks in the 1990s continues: “Acting on Mao's instructions, by the summer of 1961, the Chinese had advanced in the Western sector nearly 112 kilometres South-West of the positions they held in 1958 and began to set up several forward check posts backed by strong bases in the rear.”
In September 1961, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) prepared a paper on Chinese activities in the border areas and predicted that the “Chinese would like to come up to their claim line of 1960, wherever we are not in occupation.” The IB recommended that “posts be opened in unoccupied areas of Ladakh.”
This marked the beginning of the ‘forward policy’.
On 28 November, 1961 Nehru told the Lok Sabha that the Chinese had advanced even beyond their 1956 (and 1959) claim line in Ladakh and have established new bases. Nehru termed this as Chinese new “aggressive activities”.
Demchok was now in China.
The Report of the Officials of China and India interestingly says: “The Chinese side brought forward remarkably little evidence to substantiate their own claim that the alignment shown by them was a traditional and customary one.” It further added: “In the Demchok area they cited material specifying that the traditional alignment lay along Lhari Karpo. This was very near the traditional Indian alignment, and very far from the line now claimed by China. The Indian side, therefore, welcomed this statement and saw no reason to discuss this further. There was only one Lhari in the area, and that was the stream joining the Indus near Demchok.”
Lhari Karpo is the sacred hill above the village.

The attack on Demchok
In October 1962, the Demchok sub-sector was held by the 7 J&K Militia. The PLA launched an attack on October 22.
According to the book, A View from Other Side of the Hill , which used Chinese sources: “The attack was in the form of two pincers aimed to meet at Kariguo , thus cutting off the route of withdrawal from Shiquan  River Valley. The 3 B/11 R Group  carried out a wide outflanking move on Night 27/28 Oct from Jiagong  southwards to Zhaxigang  and then turned northwest towards Kariguo behind Demchok. …This was the northern inner pincer. The outer pincer in the North was provided by 3rd Cavalry Regiment and the 4th Division Reconnaissance Company. Since the southern outflanking move by the 3 B/11 R Group was delayed, the trap could not be closed fully. Indian troops were able to withdraw during the Night 27/28 Oct to Koyul and Dungti in fairly good order.”
The Chinese narrative mentions that on October 28: “the Chinese troops had achieved their objectives and had occupied the Kailash Range that dominated the eastern bank of the Indus Valley. All the seven Indian strongholds in this sub-sector were removed and New Demchok itself was captured.”
The PLA eventually withdrew, but occupied the southern part of Demchok .
The Indian media often speaks of ‘difference of perceptions’ between India and China on the LAC’; it is the consequence of Chinese advances in Ladakh in the early 1960s as well as during the 1962 War.

The Chinese attack on Demchok in 1962
The two ‘perceptions’ create a dangerous situation with two de facto Lines of Actual Control (LAC). It is not only in Demchok, but in 11 other places, also that India’s and China’s views differ. From north to south, they are: Samar Lungpa north of the Karakoram pass, Trig Heights, Depsang Plain (which saw a serious incident in April 2013), Pt 6556, Chanlung nalla, Kongka La, the ‘fingers’ at Siri Jap near the Pangong Tso, the Spanggur Gap, Mt. Sajun, Dumchele, Demchok and Chumar (which witnessed a massive incursion as President Xi Jinping arrived in India in September 2014).
Dumchele: a Security Risk
Though since 1962, the border is closed, it does not mean that there are no ‘exchanges’ along the LAC.
Not far from Demchok, a place called Dumchele witnesses a good deal of smuggling between Tibet and Ladakh. Local herders visit the shops in Dumchele, which gets its supplies from a Tibetan mart on the other side of the range; the Chinese goods are later clandestinely brought to Leh. While visiting the bazaar in the capital of Ladakh, if you wonder how there are so many Chinese bowls or other cheap stuff, the answer is Dumchele.
An author  describes the place thus: “The right bank, just as is the left bank of the Indus, is dotted with scrub and tsama with many grazing grounds. Directly to the east of this lake and just about 4 km away is the large Chinese market of twenty shops of Dumchele, which is actually in Indian territory. About 6 km behind it is the large and spacious shelf of the Chang La (5,300 m) through which the Chinese have built a truckable road to Dumchele.”
Smuggling happens when the Indus freezes in winter. The ‘trade’ has been going on for years on a rather large scale (some say more than 100 crores annually).
In a paper for Research and Information System , Dr Siddiq Wahid writes: “Dumchele has for some years now been a trading post between residents on this side of the LAC and the Chinese side. The PLA has set up a military post at its edge near a hillock and apparently encourages this trade. This is done with some intensity for a few days in late November or early December. I asked Mr. Zangpo [a resident of Nyoma] if he had ever come to the grazing fields of Dumchele during the winter market fair. He replied that he had, although not very regularly. He then told us about some of the items, other than the usual consumer goods, that were traded (smuggled?) at Dumchele during this market festival. He mentioned tiger bones, tiger skins, rhino horns and sandalwood. He said that the Chinese buy these items enthusiastically from the ‘Tibetans’ who bring them there. Mr. Zangpo knew that this was an illegal activity as he was aware that the Ladakh police have been of late very active in stemming this trade and had made several arrests.”
A mart has been opened by the Chinese at a place called Kakzhung; this is regularly supplied by trucks coming from Tibet. From Kakzhung, goods are sent to Dumchele.
From a military point of view, the situation is far from healthy: the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can gather intelligence on what is happening on the Indian side; that is why China closes its eyes (or actively encourages) goods trafficking.

Reopening Demchok
What could be a solution?
Considering the ‘Nathu-la’ effect, reopening Demchok route could be an excellent Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between India and China.
Remember the skirmishes in Sikkim before the Nathu-la pass was officially reopened to trade in July 2006. It had the effect to fix the border, drastically reducing the tensions in the area.
For years, the people of Ladakh have also asked for the reopening of the ancient route. Why is Beijing so reluctant to let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya? Why can’t China allow the devotees wanting to visit Kailash-Manasarovar to use the easiest route, i.e. via Demchok?
It would an additional benefit; it would stop the smuggling between China and Ladakh, which poses serious security risks of infiltration for India.
The Indian External Affairs Minister should definitely raise this question with her Chinese counterpart when they meet.

Young President with many old challenges

President Macron En Marche?
My article Young President with many old challenges appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer


Here is the link...

It’s difficult to label Emmanuel Marcon as a Rightist or a Leftist. He himself would not wish to be categorised as it will hobble his functioning. India, meanwhile, has every reason to look forward to enhanced bilateral ties

France has decided. By default, some will say. After winning the most unexpected presidential elections, Emmanuel Macron is the new President of the French Republic. The 39-year-old former investment banker defeated Marine Le Pen of the National Front with more than 66 per cent of valid votes.
It is an extraordinary rise for Macron, France’s youngest-ever leader since Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte who was elected President in December 1848, at the age of 40. The leader of the En Marche! (‘On the Move!’) movement will also be the youngest among the G-20 leaders, before Justin Trudeau, who turned 45. By ‘default’, because the voters had not really a choice.
During the second round of the presidential election, more than 4.2 million electors (nearly 10 per cent of the 47.6 millions voters) who went to the booths, deposited a ‘white’ (blank) or ‘nul’ (invalid) ballot. A record!
On Sunday, just before 11 pm, Macron met his supporters near the glass pyramid of the world-famous courtyard of Le Louvre Palace in Paris. “Tonight, France won”, he solemnly declared. He told the jubilant crowd: “Merci mes amis!” (Thank you, my friends). He continued: “I want to thank those who voted for the defence of the Republic.” Then he addressed those who voted for Marine Le Pen, his unsuccessful rival: “I know our disagreements, I will respect them. You have expressed anger, disarray, sometimes conviction. I respect this.” Accepting her defeat, Marine Le Pen proposed a profound transformation of her xenophobic party, which will now have a new name.
In retrospect, it was the strangest French election campaign for decades. First novelty, primaries for the Left and the Central/Right were organised. Macron’s master-stroke was perhaps to have avoided the primaries… and a possible defeat against his former Socialist Party colleagues.
His political fate took a new turn in August 2015, while serving as the Minister for Economy and Industry in François Hollande’s Government, when he stated that he was no longer a member of the Socialist Party (PS).
On April 6, 2016, in Amiens in Northern France, he founded an independent political movement, En Marche!. He was then officially reprimanded by President Hollande (though some rumours say that the entire operation to get him elected may have been piloted from the Elysee Palace).
On August 30, 2016, Macron resigned from the Government, and on November 16 he formally declared his candidacy for the French presidency. He then promised to ‘unblock France’. Very few doubt that France needs to be ‘unblocked’. Despite the post-election euphoria, difficult times are awaiting the nation which invented the French Revolution.
Interestingly, this election saw the fading of the differentiation between the political Right and the Left. Symbolically, Macron the candidate, refuses to carry a label.  Though Macron’s party wants to challenge the entire political system, it might not be easy, knowing that he himself is a pure product of the establishment, having worked with Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande.
Macron has been described a fervent European; in fact his victory gave an immediate boost to the Euro and the European stock exchanges. But which Europe?
Without being carried away like Le Pen who threatened to walk out of the Common Currency or even spoke of a ‘Frexit’, Macron will have to deal with a Europe needing more than a facelift. There is no doubt however that Macron’s victory created a sigh of relief in Europe; particularly the other side of the River Rhein. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was proably the first to call Macron to congratulate him.
It will be symbolic that at the time of Macron’s investiture in Paris, in a suburb of Beijing, China will be hosting a Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation attended by hosts of foreign heads of states and Governments. Chinese President Xi Jinping will preside over the summit in Huairou district’s Yanqi Lake area from May 14 to 15.  Though India may not be officially represented, Xi’s mega dream shows that the times have changed and dynamism has today shifted to the East.
Is there a place for Europe in the New Deal? Can a young President like Macron change the tide? But before this, he will have cross many hurdles.
The first one will be the nomination of a Prime Minister who has to be acceptable to a large political spectrum; then, soon after, a government will be announced. June might be the turning point with the holding of the legislative elections.
With its strange semi-presidential system, France may witness a ‘cohabitation’ when the President is from a different political party than the majority of the members of Parliament. The President has to name a Prime Minister acceptable to the parliamentary majority — in some cases, opposed to his policies. The Prime Minister must be acceptable both to the President and to the legislature. It is not an easy endeavour. This has happened a few times since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, making governance difficult, to say the least.
At Le Louvre, Macron admitted that the future may be thorny: “I am aware that the task will not be easy, but I will tell you the truth … [but] I want the unity of our people, the unity of our country.”
Two days before the vote, hundreds of thousands of emails and documents stolen from Macron during his campaign were dumped online and then spread by WikiLeaks. How will the new President deal with this?
Through foreign policy had not been much discussed during the campaign, Macron will need to choose a path.
During Hollande’s presidency, the Russian President was made a demon. This absurd policy took such proportions that two Mistral-class helicopter carriers, which had been ordered (and paid for) by Moscow, were never delivered to the Russian Navy. There were finally sold to Egypt… with Saudi money.
Will Macron look at this afresh, or will his horizon be limited to Syria and Russia, with small incursions in Africa, like with his his predecessor?
And what about India? Soon after the result of the election, Prime Minister Modi tweeted: “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron for an emphatic victory in the French presidential election. I look forward to working closely with [him] to further strengthen India-France ties.”
Now, much depends on the alchemy between Modi and the new French President. In any case, the strong strategic partnership between France and India will remain in place and several files such as those on Rafale and its offsets, the Scorpene, collaboration with a few smart cities or the Solar Alliance, are on track. Can it go beyond this, it is a million Euro question?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What do we know so far about the French presidential elections

My article What do we know so far about the French presidential elections appeared in DailyO.

Here is the link...


It was indeed the strangest French election campaign for decades. First the novelty: primaries for the Left and the Centre/Right were organised. After Francois Fillon, who served as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s prime minister, emerged as the winner on the Right side of the checker board, many thought that the former would be the next president.
Fillon’s intentions of introducing drastic cuts in the bureaucracy to reduce the budgetary debts had made him popular. But the satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchainé, published documents showing that for more than 30 years, Fillon’s wife Penelope was paid by him as a parliamentary secretary while she was not working.

Candidates
Though his direct opponent, Marine Le Pen, faced the same accusations of having created "fictive" jobs as the European Union parliamentarian, she claimed parliamentary immunity, thus refusing to appear before the judiciary. On the socialist side, Benoit Hamon emerged as the winner by defeating Francois Hollande’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
Unfortunately for Hamon, two "leftist" candidates refused to participate in the primaries and they eventually scored much better than Hamon during Round 1.
First, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a hardcore communist who believes that Xi Jinping and modern China are examples to follow for France; his popularity has seen an unexpected surge, primarily because he is a good orator and having never been in power he has not been caught in any financial scams. His surge was probably boosted by the lack of credible candidates.
Emmanuel Macron is other candidate who refused to stand in the primaries (in the French political system, anybody who manages to collect 500 signatures from locally or nationally elected representatives can register his candidature). In Round 1, in which the first two qualify for Round 2, the race was extremely tight between four of the eleven candidates.
Ultimately, Macron emerged the winner (24 per cent) and made it for Round 2 on May 7 with Marine Le Pen, second with 21.3 per cent. Fillon came third with 20 per cent, while Mélenchon scored 19.6 per cent. The socialist Hamon was far behind with 6.3 per cent.
Retrospectively, one could question the usage of the "primaries"? Though electors voted en masse (77 per cent), times are difficult for the nation which gave the triple mantra of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity to the world.
During the last five years, a weak presidency has demoralised the nation further. Hollande’s unpopularity had beaten all records, mainly due to his lack of charisma and many goof-ups. General Charles de Gaulle’s "grandeur de la France" (France’s greatness) has long gone.
One factor is the fading of the differentiation between the political "Right" and the "Left". It is symbolic that the candidate projected by the French media as the next president (Macron), refuses to carry a "rightist" or "leftist" label. A Kejriwal-isation of French politics?

Xenophobia
While millions of voters apprehend the xenophobic policies of Le Pen, many are attracted by her anti-migrants rhetoric. But the question is: can she expel all the illegal migrants or take France out of Europe?
Lately, it appears that she has not been too sure about fulfiling her promises. Like Donald Trump, who spoke big about building a wall with Mexico or denouncing the Chinese as currency manipulators, but once elected, the electoral promises are faced with hard real-politics — or as the French say, “Mettre de l’eau dans son vin (dilute your wine with water).”
In any case, it is doubtful whether she can gather enough support between the two rounds to win on May 7. During her May 1 rally, she gave a speech which appeared to have been lifted from one of Fillon’s speeches. But the difficulties before France in the volatile "banlieux" (suburbs) and the wave of terrorist attacks in the name of Islam may get her votes in plenty.

Cohabitation
On Sunday night, Macron, the 38-year-old former economy minister of Hollande (who earlier worked as an investment banker for Rothschild), may became a president by default. Though his party, "En Marche!" (On the Move!) wants to challenge the entire political system, it might not be easy knowing that he is a product of the establishment, having worked first with Sarkozy, and then with Hollande.
But cleverly, he has managed to remain vague on his programmes, trying to please the "Right" and the "Left" at the same time. Macron is, however, a fervent European.
With the legislative elections due in June, there are good chances that the French semi-presidential system could witness a "cohabitation" which is specific to the French system. When the president is from a different political party than the majority of the members of Parliament, he has to name a prime minister acceptable to the parliamentary majority. The prime minister must be acceptable both to the president and to the legislature.
It is not an easy endeavour. This has happened a few times since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, making governance difficult, if not unmanageable. Interestingly, foreign policy has figured nowhere in the presidential campaign and India is even less in the French periscope.
Though the sale of 36 Rafales brought some cheer in the morose economic landscape, what is happening in the subcontinent is of no interest to the French electorate.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Chinese adventurism and the Tibet factor

Xi Zhongxun (President Xi's father) and the Panchen Lama (ca 1951)
My article Chinese adventurism and the Tibet factor appeared in The Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Had China extended the 1962 war against India, it would have had to battle it out at various fronts simultaneously. The situation in Tibet was grim and a power tussle was on within the ruling party

The Dalai Lama, Beijing’s bête noire, was recently awarded the Professor ML Sondhi Prize for International Politics 2016. Sondhi, a renowned academic, a Jan Sangh politician as well as a visionary diplomat, was probably the first to advocate normal relations with Israel, at a time when India was still living in a dream-world of non-alignment with the Hebrew state.
During the function, the Tibetan spiritual leader, in a veiled threat to Beijing, stated that China will have to think of Tibet in case of a conflict with India, as handling both simultaneously (India and Tibet) would not be an ‘easy’ task for Beijing. At the same time, the Dalai Lama played down the possibility of a military conflict.
He, however, added that since India has become a military power, the only option for China was ‘compromise’: “India is not a small country. It is gaining military power. So the only thing is compromise. The Chinese have to think about the situation inside Tibet when it comes to conflict with India.”
This raises an important issue: The significance of the ‘Tibet factor’ in the history of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict; the highly-unstable situation on the plateau in the months which preceded the Chinese attack in the NEFA and Ladakh played a restraining role for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in October 19622 — particularly the 70,000-character petition of the Panchen Lama addressed to Premier Zhou Enlai and another high official, Xi Zhongxun, President Xi Jinping’s father.

The Panchen Lama in Tashilhunpo before 'dying'
At the beginning of the 1960s, resentment was at its peak in Tibet. In January 1962, during a speech at an important party forum, Mao Zedong brought up the issue of the Panchen Lama and the situation in Tibet. The young Tibetan Lama, who had been made Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region when the Dalai Lama left for India in 1959, had started to criticise the Communist Party’s policy in Tibet.
The Tibetan issue was to became a crucial factor which impeded longer military operations against India at the end of 1962. In the 70,000-character petition, (dubbed by Mao as a “poisonous arrow”), the Panchen Lama listed several problems on the plateau.
In the summer of 1962, when the PLA started to work on the details of the military operations, it soon realised that the campaign could not be sustained for a long time. It was, therefore, decided to terminate the war ‘with a unilateral Chinese halt, ceasefire, and withdrawal’. Historian Shi Bo believes that in view of “practical difficulties associated with China’s domestic situation”, the PLA, after achieving its military objectives, had to “quickly disengage and end the fighting as quickly as possible”. China’s ‘domestic situation’ is referring to the power struggle within the Party (Xi Zhongxun would be purged in July) and the situation in Tibet. With discontent brewing on the Roof of the World, the supply lines to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been greatly weakened.
Tibet’s instability appears clearly in the 70,000-character petition sent by the Panchen Lama to Zhou Enlai who requested Xi Zhongxun and Li Weihan, responsible of the United Front Work Department dealing with ‘minorities’, General Zhang Jingwu, the Representative of the Central Committee in Tibet and General Zhang Guohua, the Commander of the Chinese forces during the 1962 war, to read and study the Panchen Lama’s petition.
Interestingly, when the Panchen Lama died in 1989, Xi Zhongxun wrote in The People’s Daily that the Tibet experts found “most of the comments and suggestions [of the Panchen Lama were] good; they could be implemented, but some had gone too far”. Indeed, he had gone ‘too far’ for the communist leadership.
He had criticised the handling of the 1959 ‘rebellion’ (‘uprising’ for the Tibetans). Xi Sr commented: “[It] was counter-revolutionary in nature, being against the party, the motherland, the people, democracy and socialism. Its crimes were very grave. Thus, it was entirely correct, essential, necessary and appropriate for the party to adopt the policy of suppressing the rebellion.”
In separate chapters entitled, ‘Democratic Reforms’; ‘Production in Agriculture and Animal Herding’; ‘Surviving of the People’; ‘Nationalities’ Policy’; ‘Dictatorship of the Party’; and finally, ‘Freedom of Religion’, the Panchen had mentioned the deep grievances of the Tibetan population. He paid a heavy price for having dared to write what everyone knew; he spent the years from 1964 to 1978 in solitary confinement and rehabilitation camps.
Few analysts have pointed out that a longer war would have been difficult to sustain in the atmosphere of ‘rebellion’ prevalent on the Roof of the World at that time. Though openly siding with the ‘reformists’ camp led by Lui Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, the Panchen Lama was also warning the communist leadership of the resentment of the so-called nationalities.
Some new historical documents regarding the 70,000 characters’ letter have recently appeared in English on a blog, War in Tibet. The transcripts make fascinating reading. In the Summary of a Meeting between Comrade Xi Zhongxun, Comrade Li Weihan and Panchen held on June 21, 1962, in The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Jaazharlal Nehru and India are several times mentioned. At one point, Xi Zhongxun intervenes and recalls his encounters with the ‘Master’, the Panchen Lama: “We held several meetings here just for you to vent your anger and figure out ways to solve problems.... if you are angry, let it out. If you have disagreement, speak out. Problems should be solved through consultation and discussion.” But the Panchen Lama’s anger venting would take him to jail for 14 years.
About the restive situation in Tibet, Xi speaks of Nehru: “This requires that we do our work better under the leadership of the [Tibet] Work Committee [implementing the ‘reforms’], and construct our motherland better. Nehru is laughing now, but don’t let him have the last laugh."
At another point, during the three-day discussions, Xi Zhongxun mentions other implications of the Panchen Lama’s letter: “Tibet is the front line of national defence, and there is struggle against enemies as well.” He adds: “This is the joint work of Nehru and Dalai. If they messed up Nepal, how can they not want to mess up Tibet? What’s their purpose? They just want to overthrow the current leadership in Tibet and restore the old order. …Things are difficult in Tibet, but solutions and hope do exist, and our future is bright.”
Though the situation is relatively stable in Tibet today (it is not the case in Xinjiang), it would certainly be an important factor in case of Chinese adventurism. Indian planners should take note of this crucial strategic issue and in-depth studies should be undertaken on the situation in Tibet in the eventuality of a Sino-Indian conflict.
Ngabo, Xi Sr., the Panchen Lama (ca 1986)
Xi Sr., the Panchen Lama (ca 1951)
Xi Sr., the Panchen Lama (ca 1951)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Renaming won’t help China’s cause

Gorsam Stupa, Qoidengarbo for China
My article Renaming won’t help China’s cause appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle


Here is the link...

The Chinese media said that Beijing’s objective was to reaffirm China’s claim over Arunachal, “South Tibet” for the Chinese.

Tawang has been in the news in recent times.
According to an article in The China Daily, published at the end of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh: “Under India’s illegal rule, the residents of Southern Tibet live difficult lives, face various kinds of discrimination, and look forward to returning to China.”
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party says that the Dalai Lama “can’t wait to give away Tawang district… in exchange for India’s support for the survival of his separatist group.”
Calling the Dalai Lama a “troublemaker”, the daily further affirms: “Depending on India for a living, the Dalai Lama’s eagerness to please his master is understandable, but he is going too far by selling Southern Tibet in exchange for his master’s favour.”
A few days later, China Tibet Online, a website affiliated to Xinhua, referred to the Tibetan leader’s visit to “Southern Tibet”, particularly to “Dawang”, a pin yin transcription for Tawang.
Renaming names is however not new. It has been done by all colonisers. More than anybody, India is aware of this.
China has done it in a more systematic manner. After it invaded Tibet in 1950-51, Shigaste became Rìkazé or Xigatse, Sakya was Sa’gya, Metok, north of Arunachal’s Upper Siang district, Mutao or Medog.
Apart from the cases of pure pin yin-sation like the ones just mentioned, in many cases, names have been completely changed. Ngari province is now called Ali Prefecture (Chinese faulty pronunciation can’t probably pronounce “Ng” and “r”), Kyirong at the border with Nepal is now Jilong and worse, Barahoti in today’s Uttarakhand is called Wuje, while Demchok in Ladakh is termed Parigas.
Humans too are subjected to similar renaming: the Panchen Lama selected by China, Gyaltsen Norbu, is Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu.
All this shows that the recent announcement about the “official standardised names” for six places in Arunachal Pradesh is not a scoop; the only surprise is that it was not done earlier, which is simply because the claim itself on Tawang is an afterthought. In any case, today it looks like a childish reaction to the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state earlier this month.
The Chinese media said that Beijing’s objective was to reaffirm China’s claim over Arunachal, “South Tibet” for the Chinese. The Global Times reported: “China’s ministry of civil affairs announced on April 14 that it had standardised in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of six places in ‘South Tibet’, which India calls ‘Arunachal Pradesh’, in accordance with the regulations of the central government.”
The official names of the six places (transcribed in Roman alphabet) are Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidengarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bumo La and Namkapub Ri. Let us have a look where these places are located.
Wo’gyainling is the new spelling for Urgyeling, the birthplace of Tsangyang Gyaltso, the sixth Dalai Lama, a few kilometers south of Tawang town. One understands the political reasons why China would be so attached to the place. Beijing is not ready to accept that a Dalai Lama could be born outside Tibet (China).
The second place is Mila Ri. It is a lake known as Mila Nagula situated near the famous “Madhuri” Lake, north of Tawang and South of the Indo-Tibet border. The place is mentioned in the 1962 war records, advancing PLA troops passed the lake on their way to Tawang. As “Ri” means “mountain” or “ridge” in Tibetan/Monpa, Mila Ri is probably one of the ridges above the lake.
The third place is Qoidengarbo Ri, for “Chorten Karpo” or “White Stupa”. It refers to Gorsam Chorten, the only large white stupa in the area (and the largest in Arunachal). It is not far from Zimithang, the tactical HQ of the 4 Infantry Division during the 1962 war. The name may refer to one of the ridges around the stupa.
Mainquka is Menchuka (or Mechuka, alternative Indian spelling) is a most strategic valley in West Siang district of Arunachal.
It is the only of one the six places outside Tawang district. China is not happy that India recently landed a C-17 Hercules transport aircraft in the area. Menchuka was also occupied by the Chinese in October-November 1962.
Bumo La is the border post of Bumla, 45 km north of Tawang, where the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA meet several times a year. “Bumo” means “girl” in Tibetan/Monpa.
Namkapub Ri is linked to Namkha Chu river, the theatre of the first Chinese attack in October 1962. “Ri” is for one of the ridges above the river (perhaps Hathungla).
By naming these six places, Beijing wants to remind India of the 1962 war and the fact that the Dalai Lama “belongs to China”.
As the ministry of external affairs stated, renaming places can’t change the fact that the territory south of the McMahon Line belongs to India.
What about the local population in Arunachal looking forward “to return” one day to China under the Communist banner?
During the Dalai Lama’s visit, not only did the entire local Monpa population (some 35,000 to 40,000, according to police sources) throng to have a glimpse of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, but also large flocks of Buddhist pilgrims from the remotest villages of Upper Subansiri, West Siang or Upper Siang districts, who travelled for days to have a once-in-a-lifetime darshan.
Why did the visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang trigger so much violence from the Chinese propaganda machinery?
First and foremost, by allowing the Tibetan leader to visit Tawang, New Delhi has reasserted that the Land of Mon, as Tawang is known, is an integral part of India, whether China agrees or disagrees. This does not please Beijing, which lately has started adding Tawang to China’s “occupied territories”.
Moreover, if China is under the impression that Delhi’s policy is going to change, it is mistaken; Beijing has to reconcile and live with it.
The Chinese response is also a reaction to the Dalai Lama’s immense popularity in India’s border areas. This deeply irritates Beijing whose propaganda is unable to win over the “masses”, whether on the Tibetan side of the border or in the Indian Himalaya.
Beijing does not know how to react to such reverence for the Tibetan leader; given that the Chinese leadership has been unable to win over the hearts of the Tibetans, more than 60 years after their so-called liberation. In these circumstances, how could the Communist leadership convince the population of Arunachal Pradesh to join the authoritarian regime?
Another reason why Beijing has been so furious is that China has today become “bigger”; and it dislikes to be contradicted by “smaller” nations (like India).
Despite using batteries of “experts”, including a wanted Ulfa dissident, to bolster its claims, Beijing has been unable to project its case and ended up by resorting to insulting the revered Buddhist teacher and threatening India. It will lead Beijing nowhere in the long run