Sunday, February 28, 2016

China loves Tibetan Culture?

A few days ago, I wrote ‘China loves Tibet’.
In fact, the Chinese government seems more and more enamoured of the Tibetan Culture.
It is difficult to say if it is genuine or just ‘promotion’ to bring more tourists on the plateau.
Probably the latter.
China Tibet Online reports that a Tibetan opera troupe from Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Kan-lho in Tibetan) in Gansu province received a ‘special award’ at the Gansu Provincial Theater Show in Lanzhou.
The opera relates the exploits (and ‘spiritual’ journey) of Thangtong Gyalpo, the great Tibetan saint, scholar, bridge constructor, doctor and founder of the Tibetan Opera.
China Tibet Online affirms that the Opera demonstrates “the historical progress of human civilization on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and reflects on the historical unity between Tibetans and Han ethnic groups in China.”
Well, this is propaganda!
The Gansu Tibetan Opera Troup took 3 years to prepare the performance on Thangtong Gyalpo, “adopting modern stage lighting, the play’s artistry has reached a high standard,” says the article.
China Tibet Online says that it was “the largest and most professional show held in the (Gansu) province.”
Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the troupe won several awards at the Fourth China Drama Festival in October, including awards for best screenwriter, stage manager and costumes.
Several times on this blog, I mentioned that China had started to promote Tibetan culture …with Chinese characteristics.
A few more examples…

Gedun Choephel, the Revolutionary

In 2013, China Tibet Online reported: "A museum in commemoration of Gedun Chophel [Choephel], a Tibetan humanism pioneer and scholar, is expected to be completed in Lhasa in July, 2013."
The Chinese website commented: "With a strong Tibetan flavor, the Gedun Chophel Museum is part of the Lhasa old town's protection project, covering an area of 1,269 square meters and consisting of three stories."
According to the Communist publication: "Gedun Chophel pursued truth, upheld humanist spirit, turned his conception of history from Buddhist theology to humanism, and made important contribution to Tibetan modern academic and intellectual history."
But there was another side to the coin.
He was a staunched nationalist who would have fought the Communists, if he not left this word a few weeks after the arrival of the Chinese troops in Lhasa in 1951.
While the official media was praising Gedun, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported: "Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have blocked plans by Tibetans to observe the 100th anniversary of the birth of famed Tibetan writer and thinker Gedun Choephel, as Beijing continues to crack down on public assertions of Tibetan cultural and national identity".
The gathering had been organized to discuss Choephel’s life and influence on August 24 in Ngaba town (in Chinese, Aba) of Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan province).
RFA then explained: "The action came despite recent moves by Beijing to present Gedun Choephel to Tibetans as a 'progressive' figure in modern Tibetan culture." When the Communist authorities learned of the plan, the organizers were told they could not have the event.
Incidentally, apart from the Museum in Lhasa, there is also a Gedun Choephel Gallery of Modern Art on the Bakhor, near the Jokhang cathedral in the centre of the Tibetan capital.

The Epic of Gesar of Ling
For the purpose of making Tibet as a tourist attraction, Beijing has decided to promote the Roof of the World’s ancient culture; Ling Gesar has been one the Chinese favorite targets for this exercise.
An article published by Xinhua in 2013 quoted one Jampel Gyatso, a Tibetologist and director of the King Gesar Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Gyatso asserted that China knew of the epic since centuries: “Research on King Gesar, the world longest epic, began in the Ming Dynasty, about 200 years earlier than aboard.”
The ‘old’ links between the Tibetan Epic and the Middle Kingdom were highlighted. The Chinese News Agency said that Jampel Gyatso's words have overturned a long-term old view of some foreign scholars that study on King Gesar first began abroad.
China admited the depth and age of the Tibetan culture: “King Gesar, the world's longest epic, is a ballad about a half-human, half-god Tibetan king in the 11th Century who conquered the devils of other tribes and sought to help ordinary people. With more than 120 episodes, King Gesar is considered the crowning masterpiece of Tibetan folk literature.”
Beijing also took pride that in 2009, Gesar was inscribed into the intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO.
The story of the legendary King apparently did not collide with the Communist ideology of the leadership in Beijing; so, why not using it.
Xinhua thus described the Epic: “Born in the Tibetan Plateau, the great epic tells the story of how the Tibetan hero, King Gesar, subdues demons and monsters and brings benefits to local Tibetans. Reputed as the ‘Oriental Homer's Epic’, the existing collected and sorted King Gesar has reached over 15 million words, the longest in the world.”
In November 2013, the Chinese media announced: “Renowned god-taught ballad singers performed story-telling of King Gesar in Lhasa …in a move to bring the ancient Tibetan art closer to local residents.”
Reading the article one has the impression that the Tibetans had never heard of Gesar before, though it is certainly new for the Chinese tourists.

China loves some Dalai Lamas too
The 2015 White Paper of Tibet asked the Dalai Lama to ‘put aside his illusions’ about talks on Tibet's future. The Tibetan leader is accused of insincerity and of trying to get independence, through the back door, i.e. the Middle Way approach. For Beijing, the Dalai Lama has little understanding of modern Tibet, but keeps ‘a sentimental attachment to the old theocratic feudal serfdom’.
The White Paper further argues: “The only sensible alternative is for the Dalai Lama and his supporters to accept that Tibet has been part of China since antiquity, to abandon their goals of dividing China and seeking independence for Tibet. …The central government [Beijing] hopes that the Dalai Lama will put aside his illusions in his remaining years and face up to reality.”
You may deduct from the above that Beijing has a problem with the Dalai Lamas.
It is not the case.
A Chinese official website, VTIBET.com recently reported the renovation of the birth place of the 13th Dalai Lama: “Tronkhang village, [in] Nang County of Nyingchi Prefecture is the birthplace of the great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso,” says the site. The Tibetan leader is even called, with reverence by Beijing, the ‘Great 13th Dalai Lama’.
The Communist website explained: “The place was formerly known as Nangdui village. However it was renamed Tronkhang (the birthplace in Tibetan language) village because the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was born in this village. His family became powerful Tibetan noble from ordinary people, and constructed Tronkhang manor during 1880 to 1883.”
It appeared that the Tibetan ‘local’ government invested some than 7.15 million yuan (1.2 million dollars) “in overall renovation to the manor for returning to its original appearance.”
Started in September, 2012, the renovation work was completed in September, 2013 and of course, it is opened to Chinese and foreign tourists.
Business is business even with the Dalai Lamas.
The fact that the 13th Dalai Lama fought all his life to make Tibet an independent country is ignored/forgotten by Beijing.
But there is more amazing!
In 2014, China Tibet Online had announced that the former residence of Tsangyang Gyatso, the 6th Dalai Lama, “has been approved to be part of Tibet's historical and cultural site under government protection.”
According to chinanews.com, it was important to study the life story of Tsangyang Gyatso. Why?
It is easy to understand: Tsangyang Gyatso was born in India in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, today claimed by Beijing.
The Chinese website told its Chinese readers: “Tsangyang Gyatso is a famous poet in Tibetan history besides his religious and political identity, having composed dozens of vintage poems.”
Historically it is not correct to say that “Tsangyang's former residence is located in Tsona county, Lhoka prefecture.”
The 6th Dalai Lama’s residence is located in Urgyeling, south of Tawang; he temporarily stayed in Tsona on his way to Lhasa.
The 6th Dalai Lama had an independent mind, as you can see from this old article.
Beijing seems to have developed a liking for the past Dalai Lamas, but not the present one.
It isn't strange!

Chinese celebrities and Dharamsala
A Beijing-based government’s website recently criticized Chinese celebrities who are seen at a Buddhist functions with members of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Tibet.cn reported that Singer Faye Wong, Hong Kong actor, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and mainland actor Hu Jun were photographed at the gathering in India with some Tibetan exiled leaders.
A commentary on the website said many Western film stars had been criticized for their support for the Dalai Lama and Chinese celebrities should have learned the lesson.
“Why do Faye Wong and Tony Leung still sit together with them knowing they are the heads of separatist forces? What on earth are they doing?” the article asked.
Beijing remains very selective in its choice of 'promotion of Tibetan culture’.

Tail end
As I had just posted this, I came across an news article in China Tibet Online. It asserts: "There are currently over 4000 cultural enterprises in Tibet, and their contributions to its economy are becoming increasingly prominent"
The report explains further the Chinese rationale: "Tibet is an important place for cultural preservation of the Chinese nation, and its cultural industry has a huge potential for development."
The piece cites one Kangchen, director of Tibet Autonomous Region Cultural Affairs Bureau, who affirms that between 2010 and 2014 Tibet’s cultural industry has expanded at an average annual rate of 20 percent on a year to year basis: "Tibet’s cultural industry attracted investment of 570 million yuan and had an annual output of 2.7 billion yuan, accounting for 2. 8 percent of Tibet’s GDP."
According to the outline of Tibet's 13th Five-Year Plan”(2016-2020), Tibet will "vigorously develop the cultural industry and promote integrated development of the cultural industry with tourism, sports, construction, ethnic handicraft and other areas."
China is bound to love more and more Tibetan culture ...as it is important for the cultural preservation of the Chinese nation.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

100 million Chinese on the Roof of the World

My article 100 million Chinese on the Roof of the World appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Tourism in China not only brings revenue to the regional Government, but also helps to ‘stabilise the plateau'. Unfortunately in India, the Nehruvian approach is still prevalent. Old mindsets need to be changed

The Chinese leadership is clever; much more than its Indian counterpart, at least as far as the defence budget is concerned. Let me explain. In China, large chunks of the expenditures for the border infrastructure development are taken care of by another budget, namely tourism.
The Tibetan Autonomous Region received 20 million Chinese tourists in 2015. Qinghai Province (the most picturesque parts are inhabited by Tibetans) welcomed 23 million visitors. If one adds the Tibetan areas in Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, the number of Chinese visiting the plateau probably reaches around 60 million.
At least three issues explain the infrastructure frenzy in Tibet: The tourism boom, the (in)stability of the restive region and more importantly for India, ‘guarding the border’. Today, China loves Tibet; the Roof of the World has become the new paradise for mainlanders frustrated with the pollution at home. But tourism has also become the pretext for hurriedly constructing roads and airports — leading to India.
According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in April 2015, Lhasa was one of the cities with the best air quality in China. The China Daily recently advertised the Roof of the World thus: “Tibet with its mystery is the spiritual Garden of Eden and is longed by travelers home and abroad. Only by stepping on the snowy plateau, can one be baptised by its splendor, culture, folklore, life, snow-mountains, saint mountains, sacred lakes, residences...”
China spends a lot of energy and money on the plateau, but gets quick bucks in return. With one stone, several birds are killed. That is why I am saying that Chinese are clever. Tourism brings tremendous revenues to the regional Government, but it also helps to ‘stabilise the plateau’. In the wake of the 2008 unrest in Tibet, Beijing remains nervous; how to deal with the restless Tibetans?
On September 7, 2015, soon after the grandiose parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region foundation, Mr Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo met a large number of representatives from the  People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police Force posted in Tibet. Mr Yu urged them “to crack down on separatist forces and be ready to fight a protracted battle against the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique.”
Another ‘bird’ killed by tourism is the defence budget. In 2015, Chinese President Mr Xi Jinping reiterated his theory about the ‘border areas’: “To govern a country, we must govern the borders, for governing the borders …we must first make Tibet stable.”
By building infrastructure for tourism, not only can the PAPF reinforcements reach faster any spot of the plateau, but the PLA gets free tunnels, roads, pipelines or airports, as this infrastructure has dual use.
In April 2015, a joint statement from the PLA Air Force and General Administration of Civil Aviation announced the integration of both civilian and military airports, including joint maintenance of airport support facilities, joint flight safety support and joint airport management. The Lhasa Gonggar Airport in Tibet was one of the first two pilot PLA/civil airports in China to officially implement the ‘integration’. The circular further affirmed: “All the civil-military airports will conduct strengthened integration next year."”
But even before making official the ‘integration’, in fact the civilian infrastructure could be used by the PLA…which does not have to disburse a yuan from its budget for getting world-class infrastructure.
Reutersrecently reported that China is likely to announce a large rise in defence spending next month, “as the ruling Communist Party seeks to assuage the military’s unhappiness at sweeping reforms and as worries over the South China Sea and Taiwan weigh on Beijing.” The agency adds: “Military spending last year was budgeted to jump by 10.1 per cent, outpacing slowing, single-digit gross domestic product growth, and another double-digit rise looks set to be announced.”
One source told Reuters that a 30 per cent increase has been mooted by military circles; if one was to include the infrastructure on the Tibet plateau, it may reach this level, though it will not be shown thus.
In the meantime last Friday, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, presided over an infrastructure development meeting and reviewed the progress of various road sectors in west Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. Mr Rijiju, perhaps the only Minister in the Modi sarkar concerned with border areas, observed that the pre-requisite condition for development of any area depends on its road connectivity: “The progress in the various roads seems to be satisfactory, but it could be accelerated further,” he said.
The problem is that India has to depend on the Border Roads Organisation and various other Government bodies which, to put it mildly, do not have the resources and dynamism of the private sector.
Mr Rijiju spoke of the beautification and promotion of tourism, but it is still a long and cumbersome process to visit many places in Arunachal or Ladakh, as many areas remain ‘restricted’. Incidentally, would it not be the best proof that Arunachal is an integral part of India, if Delhi was quick in granting permission to prospective visitors?
On the plateau, the Chinese leadership does not have all these prejudices; one can safely predict that the tourism growth will continue this year and new records will be broken. What will be the implications for India if 100 million visitors drop on the plateau in 2020? It will certainly bring new headaches to those responsible for India’s security.
One of the areas which will witness a new boom is western Tibet, particularly the area around Mount Kailash. Some 470,000 pilgrims visited the region in 2015; this figure represents a rise of more than 50 per cent from 2013. Beijing believes that tourism can bring a tremendous benefit to western Tibet.
Many historical places in Tibet near the Indian border of Uttarakhand, Himachal and Ladakh (for example, Tholing, Tsaparang, Rutok) are soon to be developed. In November 2014, Xinhua announced that Beijing had approved the plan for a Lhasa to Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet railway which will run 402 km from Nyingchi and join the Lhasa-Shigatse line. This will definitively help, if China decides to construct large hydropower projects, particularly in the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra.
Other sections of the 1,629-kilometer Sichuan-Tibet railway between Chengdu and Lhasa will start in 2016. In 2020, the railway will also reach the Kyirong landport at the Nepal border; then Chinese tourists and goods will start pouring into Nepal via Shigatse. Nepal will also turn towards Tibet for the supply of essential commodities.
It is not only a question of being cleverer; the old mindset needs to change in India; unfortunately the Nehruvian approach (‘let the border areas remain unspoiled’) is still prevalent in many circles. Ecotourism can help these regions to develop, while remaining stunningly beautiful.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When Dalai Lama was to fly from Lhasa to India

The first Chinese plane landed in Damshung, north of Lhasa in 1955
An episode, not very not well-known, was the possibility to 'evacuate' the Dalai Lama from Lhasa soon after the Chinese troops crossed the Upper Yangtze river and entered Chamdo in 1950.
S.N. Haksar, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations wrote a Top Secret Note on November 30, 1950.
The Note was addressed for Cabinet's Foreign Affairs Committee.
Apart from the Prime Minister, the members of the Cabinet's Committee for Foreign Affairs were Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Deputy Prime Minister; Maulana Abul kalam Azad, Minister of Education; C. Rajagopalachari, Cabinet Minister; N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, Minister of Transport & Railways.

S.N. Haksar' note reads:
Subject: Flight of an aircraft to Lhasa to evacuate the Dalai Lama.
  1. Although the Dalai Lama has no intention at present to leave Lhasa, an enquiry has been made by the Tibetan Government whether a plane could be sent by us to Lhasa to evacuate Dalai Lama should this become necessary at a later date, and alternatively whether we would allow the use of Indian air-fields (on the assumption that the Tibetan Government make their own arrangements for a flight).
  2. The question has to be considered from the technical and the political aspects. Air Vice Marshal Mukherji is of the opinion that the flight does not present any serious difficulties. There is a good airport at Darbhanga and two air strips nearer Lhasa. Lhasa is well within range of a Dakota, and it can easily fly both ways without refueling. It is true that some of the highest peaks are in this area but it is possible to avoid them by flying over the valleys and the rivers which do not attain a height greater than 15 or 16 thousand feet. As for the landing at Lhasa, it has been reported by our Mission at Lhasa that there is a big plain which can be easily converted into a landing strip. This is probably the same plain as is mentioned as a possible airfield site in the Report of Tolstoy and Dolan, two American Army Officers who travelled from India to China via Tibet in 1942-43 on a mission to survey the routes and possible airfields. According to their report the plain is of hard-packed clay and allows an approach clean of mountains at both ends. All that seems to be needed is to clear it of stones. The Tibetan Government employ an Austrian as an engineer and this man should be quite competent to supervise the removal of the stones.
  3. After consulting the maps and the report of the American Mission, Air Vice Marshal Mukherji is of the opinion that the flight to Lhasa does not entail any special hazard and is no more risky than, for instance, a flight to Leh.
  4. Turning now to the political aspect, it may be mentioned that Robert Trumbull of the New York Times has taken a keen interest in this matter. Evidently, he wants to get a first class newspaper story out of it, and is prepared to pay the cost of the flight. He has been in communication with the Tibetan authorities at Lhasa and with Shakabpa. He has suggested Lessitor, an American pilot, to undertake this flight. Lessitor claims to have considerable experience of flying over the 'hump' and is at present the chief pilot of the Darbhanga Airways, whose plane he intends to use for the purpose. This is a purely private arrangement. The Tibetan Government charter a plane from an Air Company and the Government of India have no concern with it beyond granting permission to an air company to undertake a charter flight which is ordinarily granted as a matter of course. We have offered sanctuary to the Dalai Lama in India and it would be difficult to stand in the way of his evacuation by withholding the formal sanction to make the charter flight.
  5. However, it should be possible to refuse permission to Trumbull’s plane if we can make alternative arrangements for the flight. Trumbull’s efforts should be checked because if he splashes to the world the news that he was the rescuer it would give the Chinese the much needed evidence in support of their allegation of Anglo-American influences being at work in Tibet. It would be preferable that we, and not Trumbull, arrange the plane. It should not be difficult to get an Indian pilot to undertake the flight but even if one is not available and Lessitor has to be employed, he should be engaged by us rather than by Robert Trumbull. In view of the importance of keeping the proposed flight of Dalai Lama a close secret, a search for an Indian pilot has not been made wet but it would begin if the principle of the flight is accepted. In that case a reply should go to Tibet that it would be possible to send a plane when necessary provided the weather permits and there is no apprehension of any resistance at the Lhasa air-strip then.
A few comments:
The Darbhanga Airport, mentioned by Air Vice Marshal Mukherji was the longest runway airport of Bihar after Independence. It is still today operated by the Indian Air Force. It was then built for the use of Maharajah of Darbhanga's aeroplanes.
Darbhanga Aviations was a private Indian airline started in 1950 by Maharaja Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga. He had three aircraft; the airline's operations stopped in 1962.
Brooke Dolan and Ilia Tolstoy were US intelligence officers working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the CIA.
The duo traveled to Lhasa in the summer of 1942.
The National Archives blog explains:
The Allies were desperate to find a land route that would reconnect China and India. The task fell to two OSS men—Ilia Tolstoy, the grandson of Leo Tolstoy, and explorer Capt. Brooke Dolan. To complete the land route would require traversing Tibet, and to traverse the hidden country required the permission of a seven-year-old boy, the Dalai Lama.
When the two men arrived in Lhasa, the remote capital of Tibet, these spies were received as ambassadors. A military brass band played, and they were treated as guests of honor in a city that only a few decades earlier had forbidden Westerners to enter.
They came carrying a message from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On December 20, at 9:20 in the morning, they were granted an audience with His Holiness. As a further sign of his respect for these two emissaries, the men were allowed to ride horses up the Potala to the quarters of the Dalai Lama.
The Austrian engineer, mentioned by Haksar is Peter Aufschnaiter, the companion of Heinrich Harrer, who spent 8 years in Tibet.
Regarding the remark of Air Vice Marshal Mukherji that the flight to Lhasa does not entail any special hazard and is no more risky than a flight to Leh, it has to be noted that the first flight to Leh occurred on May 24, 1948 only, when Mehar Baba landed a Dakota at Leh, on an unprepared surface at 11,540 ft. Incidentally, his passenger was Maj Gen K.S. Thimayya, then GOC 19 Division and later Indian Army Chief.
The Dakota had no heating facilities, no pressurisation and did not carry any surveyed route map.
A flight to Lhasa would have been similarly hazardous.
It has to be noted that in 1949, the Tibetan National Assembly agreed to the idea of an air link between Lhasa and India. A British company, the General Electric Co. was given a contract to built a small hydropower station to supply electricity to Lhasa. The Company was the first to be permitted to land in Lhasa. The permission was given under the Regent’s seal.
It was an important strategic decision to open Tibet to air traffic. Due to the high altitude of Lhasa and the rarefied atmosphere, the flying and more importantly the landing of planes posed many problems.
The fact that the landing strip needed to be much longer in higher altitudes and the airplane engine more powerful, was an interesting challenge for the Indian Government. The permission given to General Electric also had important strategic consequences in the event of military intervention in the Himalayan region, though for India defending Tibet was more a question of political decision.
The first flight to Lhasa happened in 1955 at Damshung Airport, north of Lhasa near the Nam tso lake.
Damshung  was then the world's highest airport.
According to China Tibet Online:
There was even no telephone in the Damshung Airport. The civil aviation flight team of Beijing Administration used Ilyushin Il-18s. The plane flied from Beijing to Chengdu, and must arrive at Damshung at the forenoon of the next day and left as soon as possible, because the strong wind in Damshung will blow after the midday, making the airport filled with stones.
The earliest flights were not on a regular basis, and then it gradually became one flight every one month or half month. The ticket was quite hard to get.
The staff of the Damxung Airport at that time lived in the simple bungalow built of iron sheet, enduring hot summer and cold winter. There was no electricity and telephone, and they could only use candle for light in the evening. The unique machine connecting with the outside world was radio station.
The Dalai Lama's flight never materialized and a few weeks later, the Tibetan leader left the Tibetan capital by road (read horse-back and palanquin) for Yatung in Chumbi near the Indian border, where he took refuge for several months.

Friday, February 19, 2016

India holds on to Siachen...because Pakistan showed the glacier area on its maps in 1975

My article India holds on to Siachen...because Pakistan showed the glacier area on its maps in 1975
appeared in
Mail Today.
 
Here is the link...

The Siachen glacier has recently been in the news, 10 Indian soldiers tragically lost their lives in an avalanche. This triggered another avalanche: Indian ‘experts’ commenting on why, since 1984, successive governments have allowed 900 Indian Army personnel to die?
Why occupy such inhospitable terrain, mostly above 20,000 feet, with temperatures reaching minus 60 degrees?
Why should the tax payer spend Rs 200 to transport a 2-rupee roti to the glacier?
To answer, it is necessary to look at some historical facts. In 1975, when a German expedition applied for rafting on the Indus River, Col Narinder ‘Bull’ Kumar, a well-known military mountaineer, discovered that the Germans had a US map showing the Siachen Glacier as part …of Pakistan.
Col Kumar later told journalist Nitin Gokhale, author of Beyond NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga: 
Those maps, to my surprise, had shown the ceasefire line [today known as the LoC] being extended to the Karakoram Pass.
By that time, not only was Pakistan openly showing the glacier area on their maps, but Islamabad had also begun sponsoring mountaineering expeditions on ‘their’ glacier. After a first expedition led by Col Kumar in 1978, other Army missions returned to the glacier in 1981 and during the following years; finally in 1984, it was decided to permanently occupy the glacier.
Gokhale quotes from an assessment by the Northern Command in 1984:
Pakistani occupation of the Siachen upto the Karakoram Pass would lead to their domination of the Nubra Valley and the route down to Leh. Indian positions in Siachen as well as in the vicinity of the Karakoram Pass are thus a formidable wedge between POK, the 4500 sq km area ceded by Pakistan to China [the Shaksgam Valley] and Aksai Chin occupied by China.
It would have been a formidable strategic corridor with Pakistan and China controlling the Karakoram Pass and threatening Ladakh; it appeared to be a new Aksai Chin in the making (in the 1950s, China had built a road cutting across India’s territory, without Delhi being aware of it).
This strategic concern pushed India to take the hard decision to settle on the glacier and the neighbouring peaks in the Saltoro range.

There is also a not-often mentioned, legal angle. On January 1, 1949, India and Pakistan agreed, under the UN auspices, to a Cease Fire Line (CFL), which had to be subsequently demarcated.
The military representatives of Delhi and Islamabad eventually met in Karachi between July 18 and 27, 1949; the Indian delegation was led by Maj Gen S.M. Shrinagesh, who later became Army Chief. Before leaving for Karachi, the delegates received an in-depth briefing from Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth’s Secretary General.
Sir Girija explained to them the legal position: the UN resolution of August 1948
had conceded the legality of Kashmir's accession to India and as such no man's land, if any, should be controlled by India during the period of ceasefire and truce.
Further, the onus of proof to convince the commission in any disputed territory, rested with Pakistan. "In the absence of any such convincing proof, and even if India had no troops on the date of ceasefire in that area, the disputed territory should automatically come under Indian control,” later recalled Gen S.K. Sinha, then A.D.C. to General Shrinagesh.
The future Governor of J&K further commented:
This convincing and legalistic argument proved a trump card in our hands at Karachi. Based on this, we obtained control of several hundred square miles of State territory where we were not in position on the date of the ceasefire.
An accord was finally reached and the Line of Ceasefire was demarcated. The last point on the map was known as 'NJ 9842'. At that time no one thought about the possibility of a war on the glaciers.
The agreement mentioned that the line continued 'thence north to the glaciers', without going into the details. The demarcation had however been done on a clear principle: If a territory was no man's land and not occupied by any of the two armies at that time, it was deemed to be part of India.
This position was then accepted by Pakistan and the UN. It remains valid today. Even if not demarcated in 1949, the glacier legally belongs to India. In early 1987, when Pakistani troops established a post on a feature overlooking India’s defence posts near the Bilafond Pass on the Saltoro ridge, Islamabad knew the legal implications.
The post was so important for Islamabad that it was named the 'Quaid Post’, after M.A. Jinnah, the first Quaid-e-Azam.
Some Indian positions, being maintained by air, suddenly became untenable. It is then that the Indian Army planned a daring, secret operation to evict the Pakistanis.
On June 26, 1987, Bana Singh captured the 'Quaid' Post; since then, the glacier and the Saltoro range have remained with India. Bana Singh was later awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest bravery award.
What is disturbing is that often the Indian press swallows the Pakistani bait and portays the glacier as ‘disputed’, which is legally wrong.
And as always in India, there are peaceniks who argue that for the sake of ‘bonhomie’ with Islamabad, the Siachen should be a demilitarized zone, dedicated to ‘science’ or ‘peace’.
If accepted, it would mean that India gives up the gains obtained through the 1948 UN resolution, which recognized the validity of India’s position on the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
It could have dreadful consequences for India.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

100 million Chinese on the Roof of the World

This blog has often mentioned the infrastructure development on the Tibetan plateau. 
To give a few examples:
One can ask why this development frenzy on the plateau?
At least three issues explain the infrastructure frenzy on the plateau: (in)stability of the restive region, mega-boom of tourism and as importantly, ‘guarding’ the border with India.
Though it is rarely mentioned in the Chinese media, one could add the exploitation of the natural resources of the plateau (like water and minerals).
(i) Tibet: a Paradise for Tourists
The main pretext for rapidly developing infrastructure has been tourism. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in April 2015, Lhasa was one of the cities with the best air quality in China. The ministry compiled air quality data from 74 major cities. Seven of them, including Lhasa, have met the national standards for best air quality for five main pollutants.
The China Daily recently advertized the Roof of the World thus: “Tibet with its mystery is the spiritual Garden of Eden and is longed by travelers home and abroad. Only by stepping on the snowy plateau, can one be baptized by its splendor, culture, folklore, life, snow-mountains, saint mountains, sacred lakes, residences with local characteristics and charming landscape.”
Why should China spend so much time and energy on Tibet if there was not a quick return?
Tourism brings tremendous revenues to the regional government.
(ii)    Stability of the Plateau
In the wake of the 2008 unrest in Tibet, Beijing is nervous.
On September 7, 2015, soon after the grandiose parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Yu Zhengsheng, CPPCC chairman, who was the chief guest, met a large number of representatives from the PLA and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) posted in Tibet.
Yu urged the army, the police and the judicial staff “to crack down on separatist forces and be ready to fight a protracted battle against the 14th Dalai clique.”
Yu also asked the defence forces “to improve their abilities of governing Tibet according to law [sic], specifically cracking down on the separatist forces, strengthening social management and protecting the people's rights.”
He also spoke of the stability of the border areas, a leitmotiv of the Chinese leadership’s discourse.
For all this, infrastructure is crucial.
(iii)    Defending the Border
Though borders are often mentioned in the Chinese media, during the Tibet Work Forum, Xi reiterated his theory about the ‘border areas’; he said that “a series of strategies that have been in effect during the 60-plus years of governing Tibet," he then cited the theory that "governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilizing Tibet is a priority for governing border areas.”
This speaks for itself.
Though it is rarely mentioned in the Chinese media, one could add the exploitation of the natural resources of the plateau (like water and minerals), also explains the 'frenzy'.


60 millions in 2015 and then?
Looking at incomplete Chinese statistics, one can deduct that 60 millions Chinese mainlanders, visited the TAR and the surrounding 'Tibet-inhabited' areas of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan in 2015.
One can predict that the tourism boom will continue in 2016 and new records will be broken.
What will be the implications for India if 100 millions drop by, on the plateau in 2020?

Implications for India
A hundred millions Chinese on the Tibet plateau is a lot.
It can only bring new security concerns to India.
First and foremost, the development of the above mentioned infrastructure will be greatly boosted and let us not forget that infrastructure in China has dual use (civilian and military).
Passing from 60 to 100 million will definitively have serious consequences for the last two issues mentioned above, namely the ‘stability’ of the plateau and the ‘defence of the borders’.

The fast development of Western Tibet (Ngari) and Nyingchi/Nyingtri area will put pressure on India’s borders in Ladakh and Arunachal respectively. 
• Development of Western Tibet
Just take the area around Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
Some 470,000 pilgrims visited the region in 2015.
The Chinese propaganda says: “For pilgrims, circling either site is a great honor and the fulfillment of a lifelong desire. Tibetan Buddhists believe that features such as mountains and lakes are living entities and are born in a certain year of the animal zodiac. …They believe the journey will wash away the sins of one lifetime and bring prosperity.”
The figure of 470,000 tourists represents a rise of more than 50 percent from 2013. Some 30,000 are foreign tourists (Nepal, India, etc).
in 2014, Deng Xiaogang, the TAR Deputy Party Secretary (responsible for the law and order, security and police in the TAR) visited Ngari Prefecture for several months. The objective of his visit was probably to survey future developments in the area.
Tourism can give a tremendous boost to the region; first around Shigatse and then in the vicinity of the new landport with Nepal, in Kyirong.
More remote places near the Indian border (Tholing, Tsaparang, Rutok, Ngari for example) will be developed.
This, of course, poses serious security problems to India, mainly due to the proximity of the border of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
• Development of Nyingchi/Nyingtri area
In November 2014, Xinhua announced that the National Development and Reform Commission had approved the plan for a Lhasa to Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet railway which will run 402 km from Nyingchi to Xierong, a stop on the Lhasa-Shigatse line.
Xinhua said that the project will cost 36.6 billion yuan (6 billion US dollars); it will take seven years to complete (2021). The line is designed for a speed of 160 km per hour for passenger trains.
The cargo capacity will be 10 million tons per year.
The tourism boom will then take much larger proportions than today.
One can imagine the strategic implications of the new railway line reaching right to the Arunachal borders.
Another implication is that it will greatly help the construction  of large hydropower projects and why not a mega one in the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra.
• Railway to Kyirong and Nepal
What will be the consequences of the larger inflow of tourists in Nepal?
Economically, the new border infrastructure in Kyirong will undoubtedly benefit both sides, Tibet and Nepal.
Chinese tourists and goods have started pouring into Nepal through the Lhasa-Shigatse railway line and then the highway between Shigatse and Kyirong (a branch of the highly-strategic G219 highway linking Tibet to Xinjiang, i.e. the Aksai Chin Road).
After 2020, the railway line to Kyirong will be extensively used to link Nepal to the plateau. Already in 2014, a Chinese website announced that the Kyirong Port would be built into a tourist destination.
Nepal could also turn towards Tibet/China for the supply of essential commodities, which will be in demand with the increasing arrival of Chinese tourists.
The earthquake earlier in April 2015 delayed the operations of the land port, however, The South China Morning Post reported that China has already provided fuel to Nepal via Kyirong ‘amid undeclared blockade by India’.
Quoting Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Kathmandu, the article says: “China will supply Nepal with 1.3 million litres of fuel to ease crippling shortages after protests over a new constitution blocked imports from India.”
With lakhs of Chinese tourists overflowing into Nepal, China towns are bound to appear in Nepal’s major cities.

A similar could phenomenon could be witnessed in Bhutan though on a much smaller scale as no border post exist between Tibet and Bhutan.
• Tourism needs energy.
Mass tourism demands large amounts of energy and generates large quantities of solid waste. Where to get this energy from?
Probably by damming the rivers and further damaging the environment.
The rapid infrastructure development will however facilitate the energy production and transportation.
Large dams have serious implications for India, with India’s Indus, Brahmaputra, Ganga and other rivers having their sources on the plateau. India cannot be indifferent to what happens to the Tibetan rivers.
The problem of disposal of solid waste is also an unsolved issue. It is further compounded by the cold climate of the plateau.
• Development of restive areas in 'Tibetan-inhabited' areas of Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai
Though not directly connected to the Indian border, the development of a network of ‘support’ infrastructure in the Tibetan-inhabited areas can be of great help to China in case of conflict.
Apart from the string of airports mentioned above, the construction of a 1,629-kilometer Sichuan-Tibet railway, which will start in 2016, could be game changer.
The railway will be connecting Lhasa to Chengdu. The railway line will run for some 1,000 km on the Tibetan plateau and come close to the Indian border in its central sector.
Like the Qinghai-Tibet railway, it will bring tens of millions of Chinese tourists on the plateau.
•  The establishment of the Theater Command
Beijing has recently created five Theater Commands or Combat Zones. Interestingly, the plateau now comes under one Theater Command only and not two Military Area Commands (Chendgu and Lanzhou) as in the past.
On commentary on China Military Online explained: “The deployment and command system of the five Theater Commands is designed to target head-on strategic threats. The new Theater Commands will attack proactively once a war broke out instead of passively waiting for defending the enemy at home. After the new military services system is established, the reshuffled Theater Commands system can … build the joint operational commanding institutions that are more suitable for modern warfare.”
Among other things, the new ‘reforms’ and the creation of the Western Theater Command will greatly facilitate the infrastructure development on the plateau.
This will be done in parallel with the tourism boom which will provide the necessary backbone not only in terms of roads and airports, but also hydropower plants, electricity grids, pipelines, optical fiber cables, radars, weather stations, etc.
•    Environment
Because tourism is the main source of revenue for the local populations on the Tibetan plateau, very few dare to question this ‘hot topic’, unless, like in the case of Uttarakhand in June 2013, a natural disaster put the development of mass tourism in a fragile mountain ecosystem, into serious question.
In the Tibetan plateau, the Communist leadership only sees the huge revenues pouring into the coffers of the local governments.
Who is interested to look at the consequences of bringing 100 million visitors on the Roof of the World?
For environmentalists, mass tourism is however the best (and the quickest) way to destroy the environment of an area as it demands large amounts of energy and generates a big quantity of solid waste. At the same time, it can’t be denied that it brings revenues to the local economy and communities.
It has also implications for India as, if climatic changes occur on the plateau, the Indian monsoon system will be affected and the populations of the Himalayan belt will be the first to suffer.
The Disneyfication of Land of Snows will not come as a free meal for the plateau and the neighbouring states.
But who is interested by this?
India should.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kailash: Holy no more?

A few days ago, The China Daily reported that last year, some 470,000 pilgrims visited Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, located in today’s Ngari Prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
The article explains that these sites are sacred for the followers of Tibetan Buddhism, the Bon religion, Hinduism and Jainism:
For pilgrims, circling either site is a great honor and the fulfillment of a lifelong desire. Tibetan Buddhists believe that features such as mountains and lakes are living entities and are born in a certain year of the animal zodiac.
As often mentioned on this blog, the Communist regime in Beijing has now developed a great expertise in spiritual matters; for The China Daily:
If a pilgrim circles Kailash in the Year of Horse, the year the mountain is believed to have been born, it is a doubly auspicious act and equal to 12 revolutions in other years. They believe the journey will wash away the sins of one lifetime and bring prosperity.
The TAR government has however decided to implement measures to guarantee the pilgrims' safety, fulfill their religious needs while protecting the environment, says the newspaper.
The figure of 470,000 represents a rise of more than 50 percent from 2013 (some 30,000 pilgrims are said to have come from China's neighboring countries, i.e. Nepal and India).
According to Meng Fanhua, a Chinese pilgrim who recently did the parikrama:
It was so crowded. You could see pilgrims every few meters. People followed the same path, some Tibetans kowtowed, some walked.
Meng believes that his visit to the Holy Mountain is the greatest achievement of his life; it was a two-day walk around the base of Mount Kailash. The 50-year-old painter from Liaoning province said:
It was exhausting physically, but I have never felt better than after that journey. It was truly the greatest adventure of my life - and the most valuable one
Champa Tsultrim, head of the Ngari Prefecture’s Environmental Protection Bureau told China Today that the TAR government has invested 8 million yuan ($1.25 million) to establish some temporary sites for the disposal of garbage and help the travelers protect the environment: “We also increased the number of trashcans alongside Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar to guarantee one every 3 to 5 kilometers," he added.
Will it be enough to take care of the solid waste of half a million pilgrims?
It is extremely doubtful.
Champa explained that temporary sites are used to store the waste, which is collected every other week and then transported to Purang county, (near the Nepal-India border), some 100 km away from the mountain and 35 km from the lake.
Champa added that to ensure that the environment remains unspoiled, no industrial activity is allowed in the area.
But what about the ‘tourism industry’?
Nyima Phuntsok, head of Ngari's forestry bureau asserted that his office has established a hotline to allow local residents and visitors to report the behavior of pilgrims which pollute (such as dumping garbage or fishing in the lake).
Authorities can also be alerted in case animals are found sick or injured. Callers are accordingly rewarded, said Nyima.
Six monitoring stations on the lake, in some case manned by local residents have established.
Will it be enough?

Manasarovar Ghats?
Finally, the article notes that areas on the lake have been set aside for pilgrims “whose beliefs require them to bathe in the waters, and wardens keep a sharp eye out for anyone using detergents or soap that could damage the ecosystem.”
Will China built concrete ghats on the Sacred Lake?

The Future
One can safely predict that 1 million pilgrims (with a growing percentage of Chinese) will visit the Kailash Manasarovar every year by 2020.
It will be unmanageable.
Will the Holy Mountain remain Holy is the question which should be asked?

Tail-end: Incidentally, the time has perhaps come for Delhi to ask Beijing for the return of Minsar, the Indian territory illegally offered to China in the 1950s.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Netaji files show up India's secrecy rules

My article The Netaji files show up India's secrecy rules appeared in Mail Today.

Here is the link...

Millions in India awaited with anticipation the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on January 23, hoping that the Prime Minister’s promise to declassified 100 ‘top secret’ files would throw some new light on Bose’s death and why not a major revelation.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, there was no scoop. The 17,000 pages contained in the 100 files released by the Prime Minister, were later posted on the website of the National Archives of India (NAI) where one can access them; this included 36 files from the PMO, 18 files from Home Ministry and 46 files from MEA, covering the period between 1956 and 2013.
A note dated 1995, confirmed that Netaji was killed in an air crash in Taiwan: “There seems to be no scope for doubt that he died in the air crash of 18th August 1945 at Taihoku. Government of India has already accepted this position. There is no evidence whatsoever to the contrary,” wrote the then home secretary K Padmanabaiah on February 6, 1995; the bureaucrat added: “If a few individuals/organizations have a different view, they seem to be more guided by sentimentality rather than by any rational consideration.”
The real ‘revelation’, which passed unnoticed to the news channels, was that the ‘top secret’ files, so jealously kept in the vault of South or North Blocks, contained nothing new which could endanger the ‘security of India’; nothing to jeopardize India’s foreign relations; nothing which could have forced Russia or Japan to break their diplomatic relations with Delhi.
This was however the pretext given for decades to not disclose the content of the ‘secret files’ to the general public. What a joke, a sad one!
Despite the fact that in 2005, the Right to Information Act was passed with fanfare by the Indian Parliament, the politicians and babus (let us call them ‘P&B’) have systematically refused to declassify archival material concerning India’s post-independence history.
It is true that some loopholes in the law help those who do not want India’s history to be known: Article 8 (1) (a) says: “There shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.”
This paragraph, interpreted by the P&B, who have confiscated India’s history, is enough to makes all the files of the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence or Home inaccessible to the public.
P&B hide behind another law, The Public Record Rules, 1997, according to which all documents older than 25 years need to be declassified; records that are 25 years or more must be preserved in the NAI and no records can be destroyed without being recorded or reviewed. Legally, it's mandatory for each department to prepare a half-yearly report on reviewing and weeding of records and submit it to the NAI. The rules also stipulate that no public records which are more than 25 years old can be destroyed by any agency unless it is appraised. This is valid for all the ministries, including Ministry of External Affairs.
The P&B are however a clever lot, they know how to circumvent the law (they have drafted it after all); every 6 months, they give a ‘bulk exemption’ for lakhs of files at a time and that’s it.
One of the most glaring (and foolish) examples of this outdated policy is the Henderson Brooks Report.
A few weeks after the debacle of October-November 1962, General J.N. Chaudhuri, the Chief of Army Staff, constituted a committee to study the causes of the 'Himalayan Blunder’. An Anglo-Indian general named Henderson Brooks (along with Brigadier P.S. Bhagat) was requested to go through the official records and prepare a report on the war. Sometime in 1963, the general presented his findings to Nehru. The report was immediately classified as 'Top Secret.'
One can understand that at the time the Prime Minister did not want the report to be made public, as he might have had to take responsibility for the unpreparedness of the army, but the tragedy is that this report, classified ‘Top Secret’ in 1963, continues to remain so today …though it is available on the Net.
P&Bs like to speak about India’s security and jeopardizing ‘national interest’, but how long can this pretext be used to block the declassification process?
According to The Times of India, Sudershan Rao, the chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) recently suggested having a band of 'barefoot historians' to educate ordinary folk on the country's history; Rao wants that common historical knowledge reaches the doorstep of every citizen and ‘breaks out of the matrix of western and Marxist historians’. This is fine, but ‘booted’ historians should also be allowed to access ‘Indian’ records; today, they have to run to London, Moscow or Washington to learn about to know the history of Modern India as the Indian archives are classified.
It is time for a proper declassification policy to be announced; the work should not be done in an ad hoc way, but in a professional manner by trained personnel in a defined time-frame.
The present string of antiquated rules and regulations, red-tapism, as well as obscurantist mind-sets, do not help projecting the image of India as a modern nation and a world leader.
India needs to become smart in the domain of historical research too; the declassification of Bose’s files has shown that it is possible.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Where wild roses bloom

I reproduced here an article on the Siachen glacier published 10 years ago

Where wild roses bloom
June, 4, 2005
Once upon a time, a small Yarkandi village stood guarding the entrance of a mighty glacier of the Karakoram range. It was a meeting place for Balti traders to barter their goods with Central Asian merchants.
One day the Yarkandis decided to visit their southern neighbours; they descended from the glacier, but before returning north, they could not resist taking away a beautiful Balti girl. The offense could not remain unpunished; the Yarkandi village had to pay for its crime.
The Baltis contacted a local cleric, who gave them a taweez (amulet) to be placed on summit of the Bilafond-la pass. The villagers were told to strictly follow the priest's instructions and come back via Nubra valley.  However, the Baltis performed only the first part of the ritual. After leaving the taweez on the pass, they did not use the Nubra track to return. Legend says that a terrible storm destroyed the Yarkandi village; only a few stones and wild roses remained.
The priest later explained why the roses did not disappear; his instructions had not been fully followed. Result: Wild roses could still grow in the area. This glacier is known as the Siachen ('Sia' is rose, 'chen' is place)-the place where roses bloom. This is one of the many myths around the area.
But there are also political myths anchored to the 72 km long glacier.
One such legend is that Pakistani troops are occupying the glacier. If you regularly read the Pakistani press, you are informed that Islamabad is ready to "withdraw its troops from the glacier" if New Delhi accepts to reciprocate. According to Islamabad, 'demilitarisation' is the solution. General Pervez
Musharraf has even declared that he finds the issue "actually troublesome for both sides and it is an unnecessary irritant which can be resolved".  But the point is that Pakistan does not occupy the glacier and never did (though it did try in 1983-84). Later in 1984, India took full control of the area as well as most of the peaks of the Saltoro range.
Today, the legend of Pakistan occupying the glacier is even less credible than the Balti girl's story, but the disinformation continues.
The Pakistani President (and his predecessors as well) has been able to spread false propaganda travelling far and wide. Take, for example, a paper published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the US Library of Congress. Titled, 'Pakistan's Domestic Political Developments', which was updated on February 14, 2005.
It shows a map of Pakistan with the entire glacier as occupied by that country. The CRS is supposed to have been created by the US Congress "in order to have its own source of non-partisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues".
Indeed, the sole mission of CRS is to serve the United States Congress.
What an objective and non-partisan service indeed!
And of course, nobody in South Block bothers to complain to "our American friends"!
It is necessary to make a quick return to the past to understand the history of the LoC and the glacier.
Following the ceasefire of January 1, 1949, the military representatives of India and Pakistan met in Karachi between July 18 and 27, 1949, under the auspices of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. An agreement was reached and the Line of Ceasefire (today's LoC) was demarcated. The last point on the map was known as 'NJ 9842'.
Nobody thought of going further north at that time. The agreement of July 1949, mentioned therefore that the Line extended "thence north to the glaciers" without going into the details.  The important point which is often forgotten now has been pointed out by General SK Sinha, the Governor of J&K, who participated in the Karachi negotiations as the ADC to General Shrinagesh, the head of the Indian delegation.
Before leaving for Karachi, the delegates had a briefing from Nehru and the Secretary General of the MEA, Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, who explained the legal position in detail to the delegates. He told them that the resolution of August 1948 "had conceded the legality of Kashmir's accession to India and as such no man's land, if any, should be controlled by India during the period of ceasefire and truce.
This meant that the onus of proof to convince the commission of any factual position, on the date of ceasefire, in any disputed territory, rested with Pakistan.  "In the absence of any such convincing proof, and even if India had no troops on the date of ceasefire in that area, the disputed territory should automatically come under Indian control.
This convincing and legalistic argument proved a trump card in our hands at Karachi. Based on this, we obtained control of several hundred square miles of State territory where we were not in position on the date of the ceasefire."
This position was then accepted by Pakistan and the UN. It remains valid today. Even if not demarcated, the glacier legally belongs to India. More, the area (including the Saltoro range) has been in the physical possession of the Indian troops since in 1984.
In the early '80s, Islamabad had tried to occupy the glacier under the cover of mountaineering expeditions, but the Indian Army intervened in time and took control.
This was the beginning of the conflict. What disturbs me most is seeing the Indian press biting the Pakistani propaganda bait. Take, for example, a reputed national weekly which regularly publishes the map of Jammu & Kashmir with a different colour for the Siachen as if the glacier is were disputed.
After the recent dialogue on Siachen between the defence secretaries of India and Pakistan which concluded without any agreement, many newspapers spoke of "failure of the talks". Does it mean that a unilateral withdrawal from the glacier would have been a "success"? General Musharraf likes to quote the Fifth Round of talks in 1989: "Yes, indeed there was an agreement in 1989. And that Agreement was based on reallocation of the Siachen." This is far from true. The negotiations saw a hardening of the position of the Pakistan military and, finally, the talks broke down.
However, a communique was issued stating that "both sides would work towards a comprehensive settlement" in future talks. It was conveniently interpreted in Pakistan as meaning that India would unilaterally withdraw from the glacier. India's position has always been clear: Delhi is ready to concede a redeployment zone for the sake of a compromise; but, as General VR Raghavan who has been involved in the earlier negotiations, wrote: "First, each side should acknowledge its current position before a disengagement commences. Second, there should be a high level of assurance that neither side would breach the agreed formula."
This would require mutual verification and surveillance. It is what General JJ Singh, the Chief of the Army Staff, reiterated when he asked Pakistan to accept the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) along the 72 km long glacier before even talking of 'redeployment'. But Pakistan today, like 15 years ago, is not ready to admit that its troops are not positioned on the glacier. This is the reason why it refuses to acknowledge the AGPL.
The Indian negotiators, who have managed to remain "on their ground position" while agreeing to keep the ceasefire and "continue talks in the future", deserve to be complimented.
It is true that the Pakistani intrusions in Kargil ordered by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 have helped New Delhi to better understand the mind of Pakistani leaders.
To kidnap a beautiful girl is easy, it is not quite as easy to get her back home.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Monkey Year and the Pure Crystal Mountain Pilgrimage

The Tibetan calendar is based on a sixty-year cycle using a combination of the twelve animal signs (Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog and Pig) with the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water).
We have just entered into the Monkey-Fire Year.
Monkey and Fire have often produced special years.
Take the last Monkey-Fire Year was 1956.
The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama honoured India with their visit on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the birthday of the Buddha in that year.
But Year 1956 witnessed another significant event: the last Tsari Pilgrimage.
In the Tibetan psyche, Tsari has always been synonymous of ‘sacred place’. With the Mount Kailash and the Amye Machen in eastern Tibet, the pilgrimage around the Dakpa Sheri, the ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’ has, since centuries, been one of the holiest of the Roof of the World.

The ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’ lies at 5,735 meters above the sea in the Tsari district of southern Tibet.
Toni Huber, one of the foremost scholars on the subject, wrote a great deal about the site of the pilgrimage, located between Tsari and the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh: “The large-scale, 12-yearly circumambulation of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims around the mountain known as the Rongkor Chenmo, had the character of a state ritual for the Ganden Phodrang [Tibetan Government]. Pilgrims in this huge procession crossed the McMahon Line below the frontier village of Migyitün in Tsari district,” wrote Huber.
After crossing the McMahon line, the procession would proceed southwards along the Tsari Chu (‘river’) and then suddenly turned westwards to follow the Subansiri, to finally cross back into Tibet to reach the first frontier village in Chame county.
The southern leg of the Rongkor procession crosses the tribal areas of Upper Subansiri. This was the territory of the Mara clan of the Tagin tribe who lives downstream the Tsari Chu valley and around its confluence with the Subansiri at Gelensiniak.
According to Huber, there was an elaborate system of ‘compensations’ or ‘taxes’ depending from which side one experienced the holy pilgrimage.
Payments in kind were regularly made to both the Mara and Na tribes by the Tibetan Government to allow the passage of tens of thousands of pilgrims via the tribal areas. The ‘assistance’ to the local population was compulsory for the sacred journey to proceed smoothly, south of the McMahon Line.
During the 1914 Simla Conference between Tibet and British India, Capt Frederick Bailey, an intelligence officer who had mapped the area with his colleague Capt Henry Morshead, informed Sir Henry McMahon about the sensitivity of the issue and it is probably on their recommendation that a condition was inserted in the border agreement to reassure the Tibetans and persuade them to agree to the Red Line.
The condition for the Tibetan acceptance was that the Government of India would allow the smooth continuation of the Tsari pilgrimage on the Indian side of the Tibet-India border.
Bailey and Morshead had visited the place in 1913 during their journey ‘beyond the snowline’. The young captain later recalled: “The great pilgrimage took place every twelve years, in the Monkey Year. 100,000 [perhaps less] pilgrims usually made the pilgrimage, many of them coming from Pome [in Kongpo province]. The Pobas [Tibetans] sent a hundred soldiers; fifty were sent from Trasum in Kongpo and thirty from the frontier village of Tron on the Chayul river. These were to protect the pilgrims from attack by the tribals, through whose territory the pilgrims had to travel when making the Great Pilgrimage.”
The pilgrims used to embark on their circumambulation from Migyitün which was the acknowledged border-post; the McMahon Line, drawn a few months later only reiterated this fact. Then, there was a several-day journey into Indian territory before returning to Tibet.
There is a clear racial distinction between the Tibetans and the Indian tribes, known as Lopas by the Tibetans; as Bailey put it: “The Lopas were not allowed to travel up the Tsari valley beyond the frontier village of Migyitün because the Tibetans feared they would damage their shrines. They were induced to give the pilgrims unmolested [sic] passage through their own country with the Tibetan government lavishing on them presents of woolen cloth, tsampa (barley flour) and swords.”
A few months later, the findings of Bailey and Morshead would be used by Sir Henry during the Simla Conference to draw the famous line.
When they scouted this most inaccessible area in 1913, the two Britishers probably heard about the clash which occurred during the previous Rongkor, in 1906, between some border tribes and the Tibetans. Indian tribals were enticed to abandon their traditional trade with the village of Tron located not far from the Cristal Mountain, in Chayul Dzong. Highly disturbed by this loss of trading revenues, the villagers of Tron killed more than a hundred tribals in a cold-blooded revenge. The Tibetan government had to send five hundred troops to punish the tribal attackers, thereafter the Tibet-tribal relations would never be the same.
To come back to the pilgrimage, Alex McKay, in a review of Huber’s work explained: “In terms of logistics, the event resembled a military exercise. Around 20,000 pilgrims from all parts of the Tibetan cultural world took part in this circuit with direct support from the central Government, whose agents negotiated safe passage from the various tribal groups through whose territory the pilgrims passed.”
In some ways, it was a clash of civilization. The tribes of the NEFA did not belong to the Tibetan world, but it was for them an occasion to interact and eventually extract their dues for the passage of the pilgrims on their territory.
With the recurrence of these clashes, the Tibetan government in Lhasa decided to take control the entire religious exercise. In 1920, Tibet’s strong man, Tsarong was sent to Tsari to overlook the preparations for that year’s Rongkor. The religious pilgrimage thus became a State affair, with all the implications for the future relations between India and Tibet …and today China.
The last Rongkor was performed in 1956; the Chinese had then begun occupying most of the strategic axis in Tibet and had reached north of the Indian border, i.e. the McMahon Line.
By that time, the Tibetans were also aware that the Government of India meant business, especially after Major Bob Khathing took over the Tawang area in February 1951. Elsewhere in NEFA, the Indian State was also fast pushing its administration towards the Red Line.
The 1956 Rongkor passed off peacefully with only a few noticeable incidents; according to Huber: “the Lhasa government had given a satisfactory tribute payment, made them all swear the oath successfully, and performed the appropriate rituals,” he adds: “However, it is almost certainly the fact that a vigorous decade of Indian administrative contacts had already either broken the spirit of the upper Subansiri tribes or made conditions too inconclusive for them to attempt any aggravation of their northern neighbors and risk a political incident during this increasingly critical period of Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese relations.”
For the first time during the 1956 Rongkor procession, a foreign presence was seen; the Chinese PLA camped in the Mandala Plain of Tsari from where the Pilgrimage assembles; the Chinese however kept their participation rather discreet, merely providing medicines for the pilgrims.
Huber however saw their presence differently: “These apparently innocent medical teams are now seen by Tibetans as an important reconnaissance leading up to the Chinese occupation and border claims of 1959, a view not without substance.”
Only three years after the last Pilgrimage, hostilities started on what was now the Sino-Indian border. New actors had occupied the border areas: it was no longer the Tibetans vs. the local tribals of the Upper Subansiri, but the Indian State vs the Chinese State.
The fact remains that till August 1959, the border was not really disputed in this area; it corresponded to the customary border. This however did not prevent the first serious clash between India and China.
It occurred in a small village called Longju, a few hundred meters south of Migyitün, the first Tibetan village north of the McMahon Line. This clash took place a few months after the escape of the Dalai Lama to India following the aborted Tibetan uprising in Lhasa. After India granted asylum to the Tibetan leader, the relations between Beijing and Delhi became tenser by the day. The Longju incident led to an uproar in the Indian parliament and for the first time, Nehru was questioned about his frontier policy. Ever since, the Longju area has become a bone of contention between India and China.
One should remember that traditionally the Himalayan range was never an ‘impenetrable’ barrier; on the contrary, it was a realm of exchange between people who were socially, ethnically and culturally different. Due to the geography, the contacts between the Tibetans and the tribals had not always been smooth, but the Rongkor pilgrimage institutionalized regular and business-like contacts.
With the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the situation changed dramatically. Though previously, every 12 years the Upper Subansiri area was a point of contact between the Tibetan world and the subcontinent, it is no longer the case.
Sixty years after the last Rongkor, the area remains one of the most impenetrable and inaccessible parts of the entire Himalaya.
Will we have to wait another Fire-Monkey Year, i.e. 60 years, to see this stunningly luxuriant area become again a bridge between two words?
Today, no solution is in view to solve the border dispute between China and India. The reopening of the Rongkor pilgrimage could be a great Confidence Building Measure between India, China …and the Tibetans.
Unfortunately, Arunachal is today busy with politics, with crores of rupees flying above the Himalayan ranges, spoiling the democratic process.
Who thinks of reviving the Great Pilgrimage?
In the meantime, China still claims the entire Arunachal as hers!

(Here are some of the rare pictures of Tsari and its surroundings found on the Internet)
Tsari today

Thursday, February 11, 2016

China’s military might, now for Africa to see

My article China’s military might, now for Africa to see appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...


China is rapidly expanding its footprints across Africa, and its latest moves are in Djibouti where it is planning to construct its first overseas naval logistics support outpost. The West and India must keep a sharp eye
Was it a coincidence that, as China prepared to celebrate its Spring Festival, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing announced that China’s first overseas naval logistics support outpost, is going to be constructed in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa? A few days earlier, Djibouti’s Foreign Minister, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters, “We understand that some Western countries have worries about China’s willingness to have military outposts outside of China”, and added that they should not be too concerned.
Beijing asserted that the outpost was “essential to implement highly efficient logistical support”, as China needs to regularly send escort fleets to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. In December, the Ministry of National Defence had already announced that China and Djibouti had reached a general agreement.
Every two years or so, the State Council (the Chinese Cabinet) publishes a White Paper on defence; each new WP has distinctive characteristics. In May 2015, Xinhua released its Ninth White Paper on National Defence, the theme being ‘active defence’. China Military Online, a website affiliated to the PLA, then explained: “The WP systematically expounded on the Chinese military’s missions and strategic tasks in the new era, and pointed out that the basic point is in making preparation for military struggle.” Is Djibouti naval base linked to this military concept?
At that time, Defence Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun denied that China had any intention to build military bases overseas, as China “seeks no hegemony or military expansion”.
However, China had already started negotiating for a military base in Djibouti. Mr Ismail Omar Guelleh, the President of Djibouti, has openly admitted that discussions were ongoing. “The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy, and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome”, he said.
Beijing’s move should be seen in the context of the recently-announced reforms of the Chinese defence forces. On February 2, a commentary in The PLA Daily noted: “China’s move to establish five new theatre commands is a breakthrough and a historic step in setting up a joint battle command system for the military.”
On the previous day, the seven military area commands were merged into five new battle zones, the People’s Liberation Army wanting “a more efficient command chain for battles”.
Opening a naval base, or a ‘logistics support outpost’ in Djibouti, should be seen in the perspective of the general PLA reorganisation and diversification  for example, the creation of two new units, a Rocket Force and a Strategic Support Force. While the PLA Rocket Force will provide a reliable nuclear deterrence and nuclear counter-attack capabilities, the PLA Strategic Support Force will deal with hi-tech warfare in space and cyberwar, the ‘war of tomorrow’.
It was further announced that the four old PLA departments had now been divided into 15 new units; ‘diversify and rule’ seems to be President Xi Jinping’s new motto. The Djibouti Naval Base appears to be part of these ‘reforms’.
A year ago, Chinese Defence spokesperson Geng Yansheng, while defending a Chinese submarine’s docking at Colombo port, called “utterly groundless” the reports that China was setting up 18 naval bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and several other nations in the western and southern Indian Ocean; he was then replying to the publication of an article in a Namibian newspaper announcing the setting up of these bases. A year later, the information has proved not so groundless. Further, it has now become ‘legal’ for China to carry out such operations abroad.
On December 27, Xinhua reported about a new counter-terrorism law which permits the PLA to get involved in anti-terror operations abroad: “According to the law approved by China’s top legislature, the PLA and China’s armed police forces could carry out counter-terror missions overseas with the approval of the Central Military Commission.”

Another development shows this new trend of foreign intervention: On February 5, China Military Online reported that after completing “tough winter training in the Gobi Desert of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the PLA Navy’s Marine Corps and a special operation regiment began to embark on the journey returning to their stationed areas.”
Thousands of marines belonging to the PLA Navy carried out “a cross-region long distance maneuver covering over 5,900 km from southern province of Guangdong to northwest China's Xinjiang”. According to the military website, “The marines engaged in independent confrontational exercises, round-the-clock confrontational exercises lasting 72 hours.”
Why should marines belonging to the PLA Navy get training in the desert (and arctic) conditions in the Gobi Desert? The answer is that China has decided to extend its tentacles abroad and Djibouti is among the first spots selected. Last year, The China Daily explained: “Djibouti is a pivotal country in the Horn of Africa standing between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. It is a key transfer stop for international humanitarian missions, including those of the United Nations.” The former French colony’s peaceful environment makes it an ideal place for a naval ‘outpost’.
A few months ago, the visit of General Fang Fenghui, the head of the Joint General Staff Department, to a Chinese warship in Djibouti, had already prompted fears of Chinese military expansionism. The Global Times defended the move saying that it was normal for a senior military official to visit PLA soldiers; when it urged the Western media “not to politicise or over-interpret the visit”, few believed it.
According to Duowei News, a media outlet run by overseas Chinese in the US, Djibouti would have ordered US troops to leave Camp Obock, their secondary military base in the country; the place would be given to China. Camp Lemonnier, the main US base hosting 4,000 US soldiers, is a major drone base in the region and is used by the US for gathering intelligence for its operations against the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Today, not only is China constructing a three-billion-dollar railroad from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to Djibouti, but it has also invested $400 million to modernise a port. The US seems unable to follow this rhythm. This has raised serious concerns in Washington, “given the prospect that 10,000 Chinese troops will occupy a base neighboring the main US base in Africa”, noted Duowei News.
The London-based Daily Telegraph remarked that the move may prompt the US “to relocate sensitive intelligence-gathering operations to more secure locations”.
India needs to carefully watch the developments and decide on the role it wants to play in the region, and act fast accordingly.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A War which was not theirs

Dapon Ratuk Ngawang
Dapon Ratuk Ngawang, one of the greatest Tibetan freedom fighters, passed away on February 7. 
On this occasion I republish an interview conducted for Rediff.com on the Tibetan participation in the 1971 Operations.
The interview dates from January 2012.  

According to a press release by Ratuk Ngawang's family:

Ratuk Ngawang was born in Kham Lithang in 1926. He was one of the founding members of the Tibetan Resistance group Chushi Gangdruk and was a close confidant of Andruk Gonpo Tashi. In 1959, he also served as one of the body guards of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his flight from Lhasa to India. In 1963 Ratu Ngawang was called on by Gyalo Thondup , brother of His Holiness, to serve and lead in the newly formed Tibetan regiment of the Indian Army, which we know as Establishment 22 or Special Frontier Force (SFF). He also served as a commander during the Bangladesh war in 1971. He was appointed to the rank of Dapon / Political Leader. He retired from SFF in 1977. After retirement from SFF he served as chairman of Chushi Gangdruk for many years.
Ratuk Ngawang la has written a four volume autobiography / memoir in Tibetan. Over the course of his life he has given numerous interviews to journalists and writers and has appeared on many documentary films on Tibet and its struggle for freedom.
Ratuk Ngawang la is survived by his wife Dechen Wangmo, daughters Sonam Yangzom, Tseten Dolma, Tsering Deckyi and son Tenzin Gawa.


Here is my interview

Dapon Ratuk Ngawang was one of the senior leaders of the Voluntary Freedom Fighter Force in Tibet, a Tibetan guerrilla outfit which fought against Chinese rule and played a key role in the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in March 1959.
After the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, Ratuk Ngawang commanded the Tibetan secret regiment, known as the Special Frontier Forces (SSF) or Establishment 22, based near Dehra Dun in Uttar Pradesh.
Now 84 old, Ratuk Ngawag lives in the Tibetan colony of Majnu Ka Tilla in Delhi. He recently published his memoirs (in Tibetan) in which he recounts his early life in Kham province of Eastern Tibet and the escape to India as well as the Tibetan participation to the 1971 Operations.
In an exclusive interview, he speaks to Claude Arpi about the role of the SSF during the Bangladesh Liberation War.
In 1971, Ratuk Ngawang was a ‘Dapon’, often translated by ‘Brigadier’, they were also known as ‘Political Leaders’.


CA: We are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Bangladesh Liberation War. One of the aspects which has never been publicized is the participation of the Tibetan troops in the Operations.
The Official History of the War mentions all the victorious battles but the Tibetan regiment is not mentioned. Today we have no document proving the Tibetan soldiers' participation.
We will be interested to hear from you more about the Tibetan Forces’ involvement in the war and about the role the Tibetan soldiers played before and during the Bangladesh Operations. We are also curious to find out about the directives (if any) from the Central Tibetan Administration (the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile) towards the Tibetan soldiers?


Ratuk Ngawang: I have covered all these issues in my Memoirs (published in Tibetan by Amnye Machen Insitute, Dharamsala). The Tibetan Regiment known as Special Frontier Forces (SFF) or Establishment 22 has never officially been under the Indian Army. It was established in 1962, after the Indo-China War. The main objective of the regiment was to fight the Chinese Army with the help of the Indian Army. At the time of the creation of the Force, we thought that the operations could be based at Lhuntse Dzong in Tibet (near the Indian border). The plan was to engage the Chinese Army in a military conflict within 5-6 months of the Force’s creation. But the Indo-China war came to an abrupt end (on November 22), and due to severe international pressure to maintain peace, no further military engagements occurred with China. Therefore, the services of Establishment 22 regiment were not used as planned.

CA: Tell us more about the Establishment 22?

Ratuk Ngawang: The Chinese took over the entire Tibet in 1959. In 1960, the Government of India established a Force known as the Indo-Tibetan Border Force. Tibetan Establishment 22 was established in November 1962. But if you want to know about the Tibetan regiment's involvement in Bangladesh War, I will tell you.

RN Kao (center)
CA: Who ordered the SFF to take part in the war?

Ratuk Ngawang: A senior Indian Army officer, Maj. Gen. Sujan Singh Uban [The SSF became known as ‘Establishment 22’ or simply ‘Two-twos’ because General Uban earlier served as Commander of the 22 Mountain Brigade]. At that time, he was the Commander of the Tibetan Force. A special Army meeting was held in New Delhi; later we heard that General S.S. Uban had volunteered to lead the Establishment 22 regiment in the Bangladesh war. It was S.S. Uban Singh and my colleague Dapon Jampa Kalden who voluntarily decided to take part in the War.
Later they told me about their plans. First, I refused to join them, because to voluntarily go to war was for me ‘illegal’. I told them that only if we got an order from the Government of India or from the Central Tibetan Administration, could we join the Operations. Moreover, I told them that the Establishment 22 had not been created to fight ‘for India’; rather it was established with the sole aim to fight the Chinese. In fact, it is the reason why we get less salary as compared to Indian soldiers (we are not part of the regular Indian Army). When the regiment was established, there was a mutual agreement that we will fight the Chinese (this did not happen).
However, I told General Uban and Dapon Jampa Kalden that if we were to get a formal order from the Indian government, then we could join the Operations.
Gyalo Thondup at Chakrata

CA: Did Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother gave the directives to the Tibetan soldiers to join the Bangladesh War or was it someone else?

Ratuk Ngawang: The directive came from the Department of Security of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala.
The Department had called us for a meeting. They told us that there was no alternative but to go to war ‘for India’. Moreover, they told us that the Indian government was in a very critical situation at that time and our participation in the war could help saving a lot of Indian lives.

CA: Did you have any contact with Mr. R.N. Kao who was responsible for External Intelligence in the Cabinet Secretariat?


Ratuk Ngawang: Yes. Mr. Kao was a high level officer of the Indian government and Indira Gandhi's close associate. But our commander was General S.S. Uban. He had visited New Delhi and also informed the Central Tibetan Administration about his plans to lead the SFF in the Bangladesh War. After he came back to our base (in Uttar Pradesh), he sent Jampa Kalden and me to meet the officials of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala.
We told the Administration about our initial reluctance to join the war. But since the Central Tibetan Administration had already decided about sending the Establishment 22 to the war, we would go for it.

CA: Was R.N. Kao involved in the war?


Ratuk Ngawang: As I told you before, Mr Kao was a high level official of the Indian government and not a military man. So he was not directly involved in the Operations. But he instructed us and advised us to prepare ourselves and fight well. (It was important for) Establishment 22, a small unit of Tibetan soldiers.

CA: Was Mr. Kao giving orders to General Uban?


Ratuk Ngawang: General Uban was a military officer. Mr. Kao was a high ranking official of the Indian government, therefore he had greater authority.
When we captured Chittagong, Mr. Kao came to visit Establishment 22 and gave awards and speeches in praise of the Tibetan unit's heroic battles. Mr. Kao was a very patriotic person.
After the decision to participate in the Operations was taken, Dapon Dhondup Gyatotsang [who lost his life during the 1971 Operations], Dapon Pekar Thinley and myself divided the regiment into three units. We decided that each one of us would lead one unit in the war.
Due to his age and despite his military experience, Dapon Jampa Kalden couldn't take part in the war. He remained the administrative link between the Indian government and Establishment 22.
Mr. Gyalo Thondup was the chief strategist of Dehra Dun’s SFF, but he was not involved in the decision to send the Tibetan soldiers to the Bangladesh War.
When the Tibetan refugees first came to India, the Indian government had categorically urged the Tibetans not to participate in any political activities. Much before the Bangladesh War, Mr. Gyalo Thondup and Andrug Gonpo Tashi (the Founder of the Tibetan Volunteer Force in Tibet) had already resigned from their military posts.

CA: How many Mukti Bahinis were trained at Uttar Pradesh by General Uban?


Ratuk Ngawang: After Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been imprisoned in West Pakistan, more than 1000 of his supporters escaped to India. Many of them were stationed near by the SSF camp. We trained them in military combat. They were known as the Mukti Bahinis. Some of them were related to Mujibur Rahman. They later acted as our guides and contact persons during the war though they did not actually fight with us.
Though it us who fought the real war and suffered the casualties, all the credit has later been given to the Mukti Bahinis [because the Tibetan Force was involved under the guise of the Mukti Bahinis].

CA: Were the 1000 Mukti Bahinis also under the command of General Uban?

Ratuk Ngawang: Yes. That's right. General Uban provided the training to the Mukti Bahinis.

CA:  When did you and the other two Dapons (Tibetan Commanders) reach Bangladesh?

Ratuk Ngawang: It was in November 1971. I was 39 years old at that time.

CA: Did you go to Bangladesh before the beginning of the War or during the War?


Ratuk Ngawang: We went before the Bangladesh war started. Though we were meant to fight the Chinese in a guerrilla warfare, during the Bangladesh war, our main enemy was the Mizo insurgents. Just as the Tibetans were trained by the Indian army, the Mizo soldiers were trained by Pakistan.

CA: When and how did you go?

Ratuk Ngawang: We went from the base of Establishment 22 in Uttar Pradesh to Dum Dum airport (Kolkata) by plane. From Dum Dum we went to Demagiri in Mizoram by motor vehicles. It took us 3 days. After reaching the Bangladesh border (the Chittagong Hill Tracks), we had a meeting and went straight into the battle. We left for the war on November 12 and fought for 28 days after which we came out victorious. Many soldiers from the Pakistani side were killed and many surrendered.

CA: What was General Uban's military objective in the war?

Ratuk Ngawang: We were thoroughly trained in commando warfare to fight the Chinese; we were requested to use these skills to fight in the Bangladesh War. The Indian authorities had assured us that the Indian Army will fight with the Tibetans for the cause of Tibet. Their reasoning was that the Tibetan soldiers alone could not defeat the Chinese Army. That's why we decided to join the Bangladesh War. It was in the hope that the Indian Army will help us militarily one day to fight the Chinese.

CA: Before going to the war, did General Uban gave you any instructions to capture specific places or specific Pakistani military bases?

Ratuk Ngawang: We had a map of the area (Chittagong Hills). Each of the three units (battalions) with a little more than 1000 soldiers each included the Tibetan soldiers and some Mukti Bahinis partisans.
Since General Uban was the Commander of the Tibetan Special Frontier Forces, he gave us instructions in Hindi (we had Tibetan translators). He told us where to go and later through walkie-talkies we could inform him where we had reached and he would then tell us what we had to do.
The three Tibetan battalions had three Tibetan Dapons and three Indian Colonels. The three Dapons and the three Colonels always discussed the strategies, but the decisions we were taken by General Uban after we had informed him.

CA: Other than Demagiri, in which other places did the Tibetan soldiers fight?

Ratuk Ngawang: Demagiri was the main military base. About 100 Tibetan soldiers and 100 Mukti Bahinis were posted to guard the base. Apart from senior military officials stationed at Demagiri, the base also had a hospital, where those who got injured in the battle could be treated. Most of the doctors were majors and captains of the (Indian Armed Medical Corps). The preparation for this had been done much before the beginning of the war.
The severely injured soldiers were taken by helicopters to other hospitals but since the war was going on in the jungle of the Chittagong Hills, it was difficult for the helicopters to land; that's why many of the injured had to be sent by boats through the river.

CA: When the Indian Army came to Demagiri at the beginning of the actual war, were the Indian soldiers able to help the Tibetan soldiers?


Ratuk Ngawang: No. The Indian soldiers were not able to help us. Similarly, the Tibetan soldiers were also not able to help the Indian soldiers since both have been trained in different types of military warfare. The Tibetan commandos were trained in guerrilla warfare whereas the Indian soldiers were trained in urban warfare.
CA: Were your military objectives been fulfilled?

Ratuk Ngawang: Within 10 days, we captured almost all the enemy bases except for two. Most of the enemy bases had only 50 soldiers or so and when we attacked them, they were hugely outnumbered and surrendered within an hour of fighting.
On December 16, when news of the Indian army's conquest of Dhaka became known, most of the remaining smaller units surrendered.

CA: After the victory of the Bangladesh war, did you go to Chittagong for the official victory parade?

Ratuk Ngawang: General Uban did organize a trip for us to go to Chittagong for the official victory ceremony. But we couldn't go as the Tibetan soldiers had been scattered in many different places. Therefore, General Uban and Mr RN Kao went to Chittagong to attend the official ceremony and discuss the perks and rewards for the Tibetan soldier's contribution in the war. Meanwhile, we stayed back and celebrated the victory at our bases.
It is said that Maj Gen S. S. Uban’s plan was to use the Tibetan Force to capture Chittagong, but the SFF did not have the artillery and the airlift support to conduct such a type of mission.
However, they conducted smaller missions in the Chittagong Hill Tracks including the operation at the Kalurghat radio station, attacks on bridges and on the Kaptai Dam on the Karnaphuli River, 65 km upstream from Chittagong in the Rangamati District.
They managed to stop the Pakistani 97 Independent Brigade and the 2nd Commando Battalion for retreating into Burma by cutting off their rear defenses.
Establishment 22 lost 56 men and 190 were wounded in the 1971 Operations. The Indian government gave cash awards to 580 soldiers for their valourous conduct, but no bravery awards as the Tibetan soldiers were only ‘The Phantoms of Chittagong’, fighting a War which was not theirs under the guise of the Mukti Bahinis,.
I am indebted to Jamphel Shunu and Tenzin Lekshay for the translation (Claude Arpi)