Saturday, October 03, 2015

Looking Back at the 1965 War, With an Objective Eye

On September 6, 1965, in an effort to stave off military disaster in Jammu & Kashmir, Indian troops crossed the international border near Wagah and lunged towards Lahore on three different lines of advance.
Thus began the second round of the India-Pakistan war, which ended in a stalemate. Pakistan has long celebrated the date as the “Defence Day”, conveniently forgetting that through the year it had been needling India. Beginning with a diversionary attack in Kutch in April, it had stepped up shelling of the Srinagar-Leh Highway, compelling India to twice capture (and return) the heights around Kargil. Then in August 1965, it sent an army of irregulars, or actually regulars who claimed to be Kashmiri freedom fighters, to trigger off an uprising in the Valley. That move, code-named Operation Gibraltar, failed and the coherent Indian response led to the capture of the Haji Pir Pass.

Captured Patton Tank during the 1965 India Pakistan warIn some panic, because he thought Muzaffarabad was the next target, the Pakistani general commanding the operation, Lt Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik launched a powerful armoured attack on Chamb and advanced towards Akhnur. This Operation Grand Slam would have immediately cut off an entire Indian division in Poonch and Rajauri, and could have led to the cutting of the Jammu-Srinagar highway as well. Fortunately for India, the Pakistani thrust inexplicably stalled for two days and Pakistan changed its commanders. Why they changed a warhorse in midstream is not known, but some argue that it was because Malik was a Qadiani and his replacement Yahya Khan, a protégé of Pakistan Army chief Mohammed Musa, wanted to grab the credit for the victory that never came.
This was because India moved on Lahore and Sialkot. In both instances, the Indian plan was not to capture the cities—that would have required an enormous military commitment. It was to capture strategically significant territory up to the Ichogil Canal and inflict a military defeat on Pakistan. Simultaneously, by reaching the canal which doubled as a well prepared anti-tank obstacle, the Indian move was also aimed at preventing a Pakistani attack on India, since there was no comparable water obstacle on the Indian side.
India’s main military thrust was through the 1 Corps towards Sialkot, which was launched on September 7, a day after the Lahore attack. This formation was given the pride of the Army—1 Armoured division. However, its thrust stalled just 6 km into Pakistan.
On September 6, three divisions had moved towards Lahore, with a view of establishing themselves along the Ichogil canal. The Pakistanis were taken by surprise, but considering the threat to their premier northern city, they rallied quickly. 15 Division actually reached the canal unhindered and the 3 Jat captured Batapore on the outskirts of Lahore by 11.30 that morning. But after waiting for reinforcements, they pulled back to their launch point. The Army had moved without informing the Indian Air Force, as a result when then PAF took to the air, they had a field day in shooting up the Indian forces. 7 Division slugged it out and captured Burki, but the 4 Division moving from Khem Karan ran into Pakistan’s main force, built around its 1 Armoured division which was planning an audacious attack into India.
In the end, defence alone triumphed—the Pakistanis successfully blocked our 1 Corps attack in Sialkot and the XI Corps thrust to Lahore. In turn, India managed to scupper the Pakistani offensive in Khem Karan in the battle of Asal Uttar, which could have got us into trouble, had the well conceived plan been implemented with a modicum of competence.

Saving face
The 1965 war was able to remove some of the blot on the Indian Army’s 1962 performance. But, not everything was hunky dory. There were several instances of units breaking and fleeing in the face of fire. The worst instance was the loss of nerve of the 15 Division Commander Niranjan Prasad who was sacked. Indeed, in assessing the performance of his commanders, Lt Gen Harbakshsh Singh, the chief of the Western command which did most of the fighting, said that the XI Corps performance was  “a sickening repetition of command failures leading the sacrifice of a series of cheap victories.” Of the prestigious 1 Corps, he opined, “With the exception of a few minor successes …the operational performance was virtually a catalogue of lost victories.” (Lt Gen Harbakshsh Singh, War Despatches: Indo-Pak Conflict of 1965 New Delhi, Lancers, 1999). In two key battles, for example, Indian forces captured their objectives—Dograi in Lahore and Phillora in the 1 Corps sector, early in the war, but pusillanimous commanders pulled them back and they had to be recaptured later, well after the attacks had lost their momentum.
On the failure side of the Indian ledger was the poor performance of its air force and intelligence services. The IAF lost an unconscionable number of aircraft on the ground because it did not adequately assess the threat it confronted. It also had a poor idea of the deployments of the Pakistan Air Force at the onset of the conflict. The Indian official history says that “taking an overall view of the air war, it appears clear that neither side won any decisive victory. The IAF and PAF mauled each other, but could not kill. They operated according to no clear-cut, well considered plan or priorities, nor concentrated their resources on close support or counter-air missions …”
On the intelligence front, India failed to anticipate the Kutch incursion, Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam. As K Subrahmanyam put it, “The Indian Army failed to assess intelligence effectively in respect of construction of aqueducts under the Ichogil canal (that runs from India to Lahore) and on Pakistan covertly raising a second Armoured Division.”
In essence, what mattered in the end was not the martial race or reputation of the division or battalion, but the quality of leadership. By and large at the basic battalion and regimental level the system functioned well, but at the brigade, division and Corps level, it faltered. In great measure this was because of inexperience. The essence of military art is the ability to manoeuvre large bodies of men and equipment to overwhelm the adversary. This requires considerable skill and nerve and, as Napoleon once said, luck. This underscores the importance of realistic training and exercises during peacetime, as well as the quality of military education at all levels.

A stalemate
Who won the war? Popularly it is seen as a stalemate, which was confirmed by the fact that the Tashkent Agreement essentially created a situation of status quo ante as of August 5, the date of the start of Operation Gibraltar. If Harbakshsh Singh bemoaned his lost victories, a Pakistani military analyst, Agha Amin has noted that “The battles fought in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor are fit to be subject of a Shakespearian comedy of errors. On a more serious note Pakistan Army lost its last chance to force a military solution on the Indians.”
Pakistan failed spectacularly in its gamble to change the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. Indian aims were reactive and modest—to prevent a Pakistani victory and to deter Pakistan from future adventures by teaching it a lesson.  Unfortunately, because of the indecisive showing of its army, it was able to achieve the first goal, but not the second.  That required yet another war in 1971.
The eventual measure of success or failure was the politico-military situation in both countries after the war. Pakistan saw Z A Bhutto, the real architect of the war resign after the Tashkent Agreement and the fatal weakening of the Ayub presidency. It also marked a new phase in East Pakistan’s demand for autonomy which eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh. In India there was political turmoil after Shastri’s death and Indira Gandhi’s succession, but that had nothing to do with the outcome of the war.
If India seems to be tending to rewrite its history to suggest that it won the war of 1965, in Pakistan some voices are being raised to suggest a more realistic assessment of the outcome.
The war came at an interesting conjuncture in the global situation. The Sino-Soviet split had just appeared and the United States was on the verge of initiating its Vietnam commitment. The Chinese conducted their first nuclear test in October 1964, weeks after General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev had been ousted.
Pakistan was a member of CENTO and SEATO, but by now it was quite far gone with its Chinese connection. Indeed, it was also responding to Soviet overtures Ayub had visited both Moscow and Beijing in the months leading to the war.

A harsh lesson
India had learnt a harsh lesson that neither NAM, nor the Afro-Asian group would come to its aid. It was, in fact, bi-aligned with the US and the USSR. It was difficult to forget that between 1960-1964, it had staved off starvation with 17 million tons of American food aid, that the 1965 monsoon had failed and the American President Johnson had put New Delhi on a short-tether policy and was dribbling out further aid on a monthly basis.
Given the sinister Chinese moves during the war, it is not clear to what extent Beijing played a role in goading the Pakistanis. This was the first war that saw, what is now a familiar pattern, of Pakistani leaders rushing off to China to seek succour after getting into trouble with India. Ayub carried out a secret visit to Beijing on September 19-20, two days before the ceasefire. The Chinese encouraged him to fight on through a “people’s war” if necessary, but Ayub decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
The Wire  September 6, 2015

China’s Military Came Out on Parade but the Real Action Will be in the Sea

The PLA Navy is the most important and interesting component of China’s military modernisation and we are likely to see more of it than any other service in the years ahead


China’s spectacular military parade on Thursday  – the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in World War II – marks the coming of age of the modern Peoples Liberation Army. This was underscored by the announcement President Xi Jinping made that China would cut some 300,000 personnel from its 2.3 million strong  military. For the uninitiated, the cut is not about the country becoming more peace-loving, but about the compulsions that arise from the need for a military that is smaller, more technologically able and mobile.
Japan was only a pretext for the parade, after all a 70th anniversary is neither here nor there. Its main purpose was to establish Xi as the tallest nationalist leader of China since Mao, and to use anti-Japanese sentiment, which is always high in China, to consolidate his standing. So, predictably,  Xi’s speech was laced with strong anti-Japanese rhetoric.
However, the event also had a subtext – the need to signal to the world that China was fully capable of defending itself against all adversaries, not excluding the global hegemon, the United States.  As the official media noted, 84% of the equipment was being displayed for the first time and all of it had been made indigenously. The scale and  direction of Chinese military development makes it clear that Beijing is determined to establish itself as the regionally dominant player in East Asia in the near term – and a global power by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Expectations that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would attend, as a gesture of peace towards China, were belied. The star guests were President Vladimir Putin of Russia and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, while India sent its junior foreign minister, General V K. Singh.
There were several foreign military contingents in the parade. India did not send one, probably so as not to give offence to the Japanese. The other problem for India is that its soldiers fought on both sides – that of the Allies which included China, and the Japanese under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Chinese missiles on display at the September 3, 2015 parade in Beijing (clockwise): the DF 5-B,

Chinese missiles on display at the September 3, 2015 parade in Beijing (clockwise): the DF-5B, the DF-26, the DF-21D and DF-31A. Credit: TV grab from CCTV via China Daily
The scale of the parade was humongous, with some 12,000 soldiers displaying 500 pieces of hardware and some 200 aircraft participating. It  marked the first public display of the DF-21D – the so-called  “carrier killer” missile which has a range of 1500 kms and travels at 10 times the speed of sound, making it difficult to intercept. On display, too,  was the DF-5B  ICBM with a range of 12,000 km which is believed to possess a Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV). Another significant display was the DF-31A mobile solid-fuelled missiles, emphasising China’s ability to deliver a second strike after absorbing a nuclear first strike. The “Guam killer” DF-26 IRBM was also on display.
Among the other weapons systems were the H-6K bomber, a completely upgraded strategic bomber, the CJ-10 land attack cruise missile, surface to air missiles, airborne early warning and maritime surveillance aircraft, tanks, guns and so on.

An integrated military
According to the consulting firm IHS, which is known for its Janes’ series of defence analytical products, Chinese military spending will double between 2010 and 2020 to reach a figure of $260 billion.
According to the latest (2014) estimates, China’s military budget is $176 billion, behind the $586 billion the US spends. India’s figure is $48 billion.
The cut in forces is only the visible edge of the large reform of the Chinese military that is being envisaged by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Beginning 2013, there have been reports that the Chinese plan to integrate their forces and reorganise their deployment from seven military regions to five. Earlier this year, its Defence White Paper elaborated on the concept of  ‘active defence.’

China's military regions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
China’s military regions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of the Third Plenum of the CPC, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defence, told a reporter that modern warfare was characterised by what the Chinese call “informationisation” or IT-led warfare, and therefore, “it is a necessary demand of operations under information conditions on building a joint operation command system.”
Two months later, the defence ministry denied the report and even the Global Times was constrained to note that it had been based on an official briefing. Actually, the Chinese were only denying that the integration process had begun. What they emphasised was that it would be taken up in the course of time. And that is what Senior Colonel Yang had said. One reason for the denial was that the issue had been played  up by the Japanese paper Yomiuri Shimbun which had emphasised that the change could involve the transformation of the PLA from a defence oriented force to one which is more mobile and managed in an integrated fashion.
What the Chinese are doing is part of the international trend, and reflects not only their confidence as a military power, but their intention of playing a larger role beyond their geographic frontiers.
It is significant that the parade took place days before Xi leaves for an official visit to Washington DC and at a time when the US Navy is tracking five Chinese warships sailing in the Bering Sea off the Alaskan coast – apparently the first time the PLA Navy (PLAN) has been seen so far up north.

PLA Navy holds the keys
It should be clear by now that the US and China are involved in a strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific region. Given that the US has a much more sophisticated military and routinely deploys naval assets close to China because of its historical links with the East Asian region, the going is not easy for Beijing. The challenge China faces has been compounded by its crude assertiveness, based on the fiction of its Nine-Dash Line claim over the South China Sea. China remains wary of  Japan, which has a powerful navy and is a strong economic and industrial power backed by an alliance with the US. Chinese behaviour has spooked countries like the Philippines and Vietnam and allowed the US to make new inroads in the region.
While the equipment on display may be impressive, as was the precision of the parade, questions remain about the quality of the PLA, especially since the Chinese want to bench-mark themselves against the United States. The PLA has little or no experience in combat and remains a traditional continental force for the time being. The same is true of the PLAF – the Chinese air force.
The PLAN is the most important and interesting component of China’s military modernisation and we did not get much of a glimpse of its capacity in the parade. In a few years, the PLAN will be truly a mature force which will have consequences for other powers. Using piracy off the coast of Somalia as a convenient pretext, the PLAN has garnered considerable experience in functioning far from its home bases. This has been manifested by the increased showing of the PLAN in the Indian Ocean region since the beginning of 2014.
In the future, we are likely to see more of PLAN, than any of the other services. And that is where the 300,000 cut come in. It signals the CPC’s intention of focusing on a high-tech mobile military over the traditional manpower-intensive PLA. Of course, this will take time since the military tends to be the most conservative institution in any country and in China the Army has a unique status.

In India, reform still adrift
All these developments have implications for India. Unfortunately, our own trend lines are not very wholesome. Despite brave words, the new government has done little to reform the manpower-intensive Indian Army and shift budgets towards high-tech and mobile forces. Indeed, the biggest problem it has been grappling with – that too, without success – is the issue of pensions for ex-service personnel.
If there has been little effort to pick up the gauntlet of reforming the military and the Ministry of Defence., it’s not for lack of advice. The standing committee on defence in Parliament, the Group of Ministers in 2001 and the Naresh Chandra Committee in 2012 have given all the recommendations that are needed. The problem is that the Modi government seems to lack the understanding of how important it is for the political class to lead the reform process. Instead, it continues to drift with the tide, focusing on low hanging fruit like defence acquisitions rather than tackling the more difficult issues of the relationship between the civilian MoD and the armed forces, the need for the integration of the armed forces so as to enable them to become a more effective, war-winning force. Incidentally, the strategic missiles on display today in Beijing have implications for India’s nuclear posture. Hopefully in that area at least, someone in New Delhi is paying attention.
The Wire  September 3, 2015

How the stage was set for the 1965 war

The events that led to the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan on September 6, 1965 are well known — the Kutch incursion of April 24, Operation Gibraltar of August 5, followed by Grand Slam on September 1. Each of them took New Delhi by surprise and were the reason that the government decided to constitute the Research & Analysis Wing subsequently.
This was a period of great change across the world, some were visible, others subterranean. The Cold War had peaked in the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the first signs of the Sino-Soviet rift were appearing. By 1964, the US was set on its fateful course in Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964. In South Asia, India was licking its wounds after the humiliating defeat in the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and America’s most allied ally, Pakistan, was establishing close ties with China, and working out a détente with the USSR.
India’s situation was none too good. Its economy was stagnant and it had staved off famine by importing 17 million tonnes of food from the US between 1960-64 and the 1965 monsoon had failed. It sought to maintain an even keel in its relations with the US and USSR, even while the US struggled to manage its alliance ties with Pakistan and its newer proximity to India after the 1962 war.
The most important development for Indians, undoubtedly, was the passing of Pandit Nehru on May 27, 1964. He was the leader of our freedom struggle, prime minister for the first 17 years of our nation’s life and the man who shaped the India we know.
After his stroke on 7 January 1964 in Bhubaneshwar, Nehru got Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had been ‘Kamarajed’ out of the government, back into the Cabinet as a minister without a portfolio. Panditji’s death on May 27th was not unexpected, but it was sudden. Four days later, on 31 May, Morarji Desai was persuaded to withdraw his candidature, and Shastri was chosen PM by the Congress Working Committee.
The powerful men of the CWC hoped that the diminutive Shastri would be their puppet, but he turned out to be a man of firm views, and decisive to boot.
This was evident from his handling of the crisis over the theft of the Hazratbal holy relic that had occurred on 27 December 1963. Though it had reappeared after a week, it had given rise to a popular movement led by an action committee of people we would today call separatists. Besides the release of Sheikh Abdullah, they demanded a special deedar or viewing ceremony by experts to certify its authenticity. New Delhi was not inclined to agree, but on February 3, Shastri overruled the Home Secretary and ordered the deedar and this committee certified that it was indeed the genuine article. This helped calm things somewhat.
One fallout of the Hazratbal crisis was Nehru’s decision to release Sheikh Abdullah, who had been in jail since 1953, but for a brief period in 1958. The Sheikh travelled to Srinagar to an ecstatic reception. Later, after holding intensive talks with Nehru as his house guest in New Delhi, he travelled to Pakistan to discuss a possible resolution of the Kashmir issue with Ayub Khan. He had with him a formula that had been worked out after intensive consultations between Nehru and a committee of advisers. This probably involved the creation of some kind of a confederation or condominium between India, Pakistan with regard to J&K. However it was during this visit that Nehru passed away on May 27, 1964.
Not much attention has been paid by scholars to the far-reaching possibilities that could have emerged. Nehru’s initiatives were not welcomed by either the Left or the Right, or even members of his own party. Yet, his stature was such that if anyone could have sold a settlement in India of the nature that was being contemplated, it was Nehru.
The Kashmir initiative died with Nehru. Stung by the Hazratbal agitation, the Union government took the steps to integrate J&K closer into the Union by extending Article 356 and 357 of the Constitution allowing for the extension of President’s rule to J&K on December 31, 1964. The nomenclature of the head of the J&K government was changed from Prime Minister to “chief minister”. Another, equally significant development was the merger, in June 1965, of the J&K National Conference with the Congress.
Viewed from Pakistan, it appeared that the window of opportunity in Jammu & Kashmir was closing. In 1964, the UN had also more or less shelved discussion on the issue and earlier, in 1963, six rounds of bilateral negotiations with India had failed to come up with a solution on Kashmir. The Indian rearmament, which was proceeding apace, would soon blunt the edge the Pakistan Army had over India in terms of its US-supplied arsenal.
In March 1965, Sheikh went on a pilgrimage to Mecca via the UK and returned via Algiers, where he met Zhou Enlai. What they discussed was not revealed but on his return he was arrested. A senior CIA contact of the Sheikh has revealed in a memoir published in the 1990s that Abdullah was aware of the planning for Op Gibraltar, the covert invasion of Jammu & Kashmir by 30,000 armed Pakistani irregulars that began on August 5. When this invasion failed to trigger an uprising in the state, Pakistan sent in its 6th armoured division to cut off the Jammu-Poonch road.
Till then, the international community seemed to be unconcerned; the Pakistanis thought that like 1947, India will confine the conflict to Jammu & Kashmir. But the unassuming man who succeeded Nehru surprised them and the world. He ordered the Indian army to invade Pakistan and threaten Lahore and Sialkot and that touched off the second Indo-Pakistan war.
Mid Day September 1, 2015

From a Tibetan Adventurer, a Tale of Bravado and Betrayal

Review essay, timed for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibetan Autonomous Region on September 1, 1965 looks at the recent history of Tibet and China, and the role India and US played from the sidelines

 Cover of 'The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong'. Source: Amazon

Gyalo Thondup has had an extraordinary life. He was born in 1929 to a well-off family in the Amdo region of Greater Tibet — now subsumed in part by the Qinghai province of China — a region so poor and rugged that even commodities like soap and candles were a rarity. But he was raised to become the political adviser to the Dalai Lama, his younger brother —  Lhamo Thondup — born in 1935.
Educated in China and married to the daughter of a Kuomintang general, he is fluent in Chinese, Tibetan and English and was the Dalai Lama’s  adviser and interlocutor with foreign leaders like Chiang Kai-shek, Jawaharlal Nehru, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. His journey from his village in Amdo has taken him to Lhasa, India, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States and then back to the compound of the house he lives in today in Kalimpong where he earns his living by making noodles. That is how the remarkable memoir he has written — The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong — came to be named. However, the title of his book gives the unsuspecting reader no inkling about its actual contents.
The Chinese conquest of Tibet was a calamity for the Tibetans — and a disaster for India. This book is  a sad chronicle of the tragedy that followed the Chinese defeat of the Tibetan army in 1950 and the signing of the 17 Point Agreement affirming Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Though the agreement was to enable Tibet to live as an autonomous region, the Chinese took physical control of the country through an invasion in  1951, divided it by hiving off its eastern portion and renaming it the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in 1965. Needless to say, the region has been autonomous only in name.

Tibetan text of the Seventenn-Point Plan signed in 1951
Tibetan text of the Seventenn-Point Plan signed in 1951

In 1959, Chinese misrule led to a major uprising and the Dalai Lama took political asylum in India along with tens of thousands of Tibetans. Chinese repression intensified, culminating in the holocaust of the Cultural Revolution when all its prominent monasteries were sacked and its religious and cultural artefacts destroyed or damaged.
The relations between China and Tibet are a matter of controversy. The People’s Republic of China insists on affirming the imperial borders of the Manchu or Yuan era, but ties in that era were more complex and fluid. There was no “China” and both these were, in fact, foreign empires who ruled over China. However, what matters now is that Tibet is under the firm control of the PRC and there is little chance in the near term that this situation will change. The only change that can come is through negotiation and dialogue and better awareness in China of how shoddily they have treated their minority peoples and culture. This is a lesson that Gyalo learnt the hard way, going through the process of associating with the CIA and Indian intelligence agencies to stoke an insurgency against Chinese rule, failing and thereafter seeking to achieve Tibetan autonomy through dialogue.
The Chinese efforts to transform the hearts and minds of the Tibetans has been a spectacular failure and its rule has been characterised by repeated uprisings — 1959, 1969,  1987, 2008. The protests of  Tibetans that shook China on the eve of the Olympics in 2008 were significant in that not only did they take place in the TAR, but in areas of Tibet like Amdo and Kham which had been assimilated into Chinese provinces and where the Tibetans were in a minority. People who have travelled to Tibet have noted the deep veneration with which they hold the Dalai Lama even now and retain deep feelings for autonomy and cultural freedom.
India and Tibet are joined at the hip geographically. Their cultural ties are even deeper. Tibet is the abode of Shiva, the greatest god in the Indian pantheon; it is also the repository of a vast trove of Buddhist culture that once prevailed over India and was driven out by Brahminism. No Indian general, barring the unfortunate Zorawar Singh attempted to conquer the forbidding plateau, and, for that matter, none of the numerous invaders that India suffered came through Tibet. There was trade across the mountain passes between India and Tibet; indeed, the shortest distance between Lhasa and the sea was to the port of Kolkata, through which its major supplies were routed till the war of 1962. It is for these reasons that India has been extraordinarily generous and hospitable to the Tibetan refugees and the Dalai Lama. A Tibetan government-in-exile functions from Dharamsala which, however, treads carefully so as not to undermine India’s claim that it does not permit Tibetans to carry out political activities in India.
For a century or so, the British colonialists who drew the boundaries of political India sought assiduously to maintain Tibet as an autonomous region — recognising what they said was Chinese “suzerainty”, rather than sovereignty over Tibet. (It was only in 2008 that Britain abandoned  “suzerainty” and accepted Chinese “sovereignty” over Tibet)  But once a strong Chinese entity re-established its control over the country, such distinctions vanished and Beijing established its control over the region with the iron hand of the People’s Liberation Army. And the Indian political entity now faced a strong central power on its northern borders.
General Cariappa, C-in-C, Indian Army, greets Pandit Nehru at Plaam Aerodrome on the Prime Minister’s return from his foreign tour on November 15, 1949. Credit: Photo Division
General Cariappa, C-in-C, Indian Army, greets Pandit Nehru at Plaam Aerodrome on the Prime Minister’s return from his foreign tour on November 15, 1949. Credit: Photo Division

In keeping with its national interests, India sought to help the Tibetans. A query by Prime Minister Nehru to the Army chief, K M Cariappa about the feasibility of military assistance was met with a firm “no”. But New Delhi did manage to provide some material assistance to the Tibetans resisting the PLA in Kham. Don’t forget, in those days, access to Tibet was far easier through Kolkata and the passes of Sikkim, than from any part of China. Given the size of the Indian army and its commitments in Kashmir, there was no question of taking on the battle-hardened PLA. In a 1954 treaty, India surrendered its historical rights in Tibet, accepted China’s occupation  by recognizing its sovereignty over Tibet without getting any  commitments from Beijing over the Indo-Tibet border, naively believing that “friendship” between two countries would take care of all the problems.
Separately, the United States, which had sought to prevent the victory of the PLA in China and fought it in Korea, sought to open a new front against China through Tibet. The CIA’s predecessor, the OSS, had already made a connection in Lhasa, but now, with the victory of the PLA in the Chinese civil war, they were looking for other ways to hit China. Contact was established through the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Thubten Norbu and simultaneously, the Kolkata consulate, through its vice-consul, a CIA officer, began to develop contacts with the Tibetan aristocracy via Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate. The story is told in considerable detail in Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison’s The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet and by one of the CIA officers, John Kenneth Knaus, in Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival.
Gyalo became the primary conduit of the CIA effort in Tibet, as well as an important interlocutor with India. Conboy and Morrison’s account, as well as that of Knaus’s, bring out the pathetic quality of that effort. Before 1962, India was complicit by permitting overflights of aircraft based in East Pakistan, dropping teams of Tibetans into their homeland. After the 1962 war, India got more actively involved and created Establishment 22, which supported the effort through a Tibetan group in Mustang, Nepal. The effort had little or no impact on China, if anything, it only served to deepen Beijing’s suspicions of India. However, following the election of 1968, the Americans shifted course as Kissinger sought to turn the Soviet Union’s flanks by befriending China. So, in 1969, the US abruptly stopped their Tibetan programme and the effort slowly unraveled.
Establishment 22 was used by India for some operations in Tibet and later against Pakistani forces in the Bangladesh war. It still exists in a truncated form as the Special Frontier Force.
Gyalo’s account is suffused with a sense of guilt. Had the Tibetans not sought Indian and American assistance, would the enormous suffering they subsequently faced at the hands of the Chinese been lessened? There is also a sense of bitterness  that after initially agreeing to give the Dalai Lama asylum in India in 1956, Nehru reneged,  taken in by Zhou Enlai who had dashed to India fearing such an eventuality. Naturally, there is no good answer to that. What has happened, has happened. And its unlikely that Mao, whose policies killed tens of millions of his own countrymen would have been any kinder towards Tibet.
What is interesting from the Indian viewpoint are some of the revelations Gyalo makes. He points to divisions in India’s bureaucracy, noting that he was  advised by Foreign Secretary T N Kaul to talk to the Soviets for help after the Americans dropped out, while the head of RAW, R N Kao was appalled by the suggestion. There is a ring of truth in this because through the Cold War and all the ups and downs in India’s relations with the US, the intelligence services of the two countries maintained a cordial and sometimes close relationship. He also speaks of the Indian effort to sabotage any effort on the part of the Tibetans to make a deal with China in the early 1980s. These were the same people who prevented a possible border settlement between India and China at the time.
There is also an interesting account detailing how Indian intelligence may have been involved in a plot to change the succession in Bhutan — which was foiled by the  premature death of King Jigme Dorji in 1972. A Tibetan consort of the old king, Ashi Yangkyi, was allegedly involved in the plot. Gyalo, who was then living in Hong Kong, was accused of masterminding the conspiracy. When he rushed back to India and sought to set the record straight through a press conference, he was strenuously opposed by Indian intelligence officials. In 1974, it may be recalled, skilfully manipulating a popular movement against the Chogyal of Sikkim, RAW succeeded in securing the accession of that protectorate into the Union of India.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of Gyalo’s account relates to his dealing with top Chinese officials. In 1979, almost coincidentally with the visit of Foreign Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to China, Gyalo visited China again, this time for a meeting with China’s pragmatic new supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.  It was during this visit that Deng told Gyalo that “except for independence, everything is negotiable,” an offer which evokes Narasimha Rao’s promise to the Kashmiris, that when it came to  autonomy, “the sky is the limit.”
Sadly, that has not happened, either in Tibet, or in Kashmir. Incidentally, that was the period in which Deng offered India a border package which would essentially freeze the Line of Actual Control. Unfortunately, the Cold Warriors in New Delhi rejected the proposal which now stands withdrawn.
Tibetan negotiations with the Chinese went on in the early 1980s, first through Hu Yaobang, the new General Secretary of the CPC, later with Yan Mingfu, various proposals were discussed, including a return of the Dalai Lama, but eventually the talks collapsed in 1989 when China itself made a radical change of course following the Tiananmen events. Gyalo also describes an encounter with Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, who was in charge of Tibet after Yan Mingfu was sacked.
Gyalo’s voice and his views are not being heard for the first time. He has, in the past, been interviewed by researchers writing on the events of the time. A memoir is also a place to set the record straight, as Gyalo does, with regard to charges that he embezzled money from the Mustang operation, or, earlier, from the bullion that the Dalai Lama brought with him from Tibet.
Age plays tricks with memories, especially when remembering frenetic events which took place 50 or 60 years ago. Indeed, in an afterword, his own co-writer, Anne Thurston, questions several portions of the narrative. In  p. 277 he writes of a “Mr Nair” the head of the “research division” of RAW  who urged him not to talk to the Chinese in 1988. But if it’s Sankaran Nair who he is talking about, he is mistaken. Nair headed RAW for a brief period in 1977 had retired subsequently and was High Commissioner to Singapore at the time of the purported conversation. But memoirs are memoirs which must be looked at warts and all.
The Wire September 1, 2015

1965 War: Myth as History

It is said that Indians pass off myth for history, while the Chinese mythologise their history. It is not surprising that both subcontinental cousins share the trait when it comes to the 1965 India-Pakistan war. 
Pakistan has long celebrated September 6 as Defence of Pakistan (Yaum-e-Difa) Day. This was the day when, it says, it defended itself against the Indian Army that had been launched on three axes towards Lahore. 

A file photo of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. The 17-day war was fought from September 6 to September 22, 1965 in Kashmir and along the International Border.

For this myth to take life, they gloss over Operation Gibraltar, the attack on Kashmir by thousands of irregulars on August 5, and Operation Grand Slam of September 1 where Pakistan’s six armoured divisions came close to cutting the highway connecting Jammu to Poonch. 
The Indian myths are only being unveiled now, when the government has decided on a large-scale celebration of the event. 
A celebration implies an achievement, but truth be told, the Indian performance during the 1965 war was just a shade better than that of Pakistan. And in that was our victory. 
This is what the commander of the main effort, Lt Gen Harbakhsh, had to say about the main thrust to Lahore that faltered on day one itself, largely due to incompetent leadership of the division and its brigades. 

Surprise attack 
On September 6, XI Corps launched a surprise attack at 4am, which led to the crossing of the Ichhogil canal and the capture of the Bata shoe factory on the outskirts of Lahore by 11am. But the senior commanders could not cope with the situation, and ordered a withdrawal to the east bank of the canal by that evening. 
Despite XI Corps capturing some 140 sq miles of land, and crippling Pakistan’s 1st armoured division at Khem Karan, Singh says it was “a sickening repetition of command failures leading the sacrifice of a series of cheap victories.” 
The performance of India’s premier I Corps, built around the 1st armoured division, was no less disappointing. I Corps captured 200 sq miles of territory and destroyed a great deal of Pakistani armour. But it did not deliver what it was meant to — a decisive battlefield victory. 
“With the exception of a few minor successes… the operational performance was virtually a catalogue of lost victories.” 
Singh praised the performance of units like the Poona Horse, but was harsh in his judgment of the higher commanders. 
Harbakhsh’s third corps - the XV Corps, which then, as now, looks after Kashmir - fared better. It gained an unambiguous victory in capturing the Haji Pir Pass and in defeating Operation Gibraltar. However, it was battered by the surprise attack launched by Pakistan in the Chamb sector on September 1. 
India also launched an offensive in the Rajasthan sector with a view of tying down Pakistani forces in Sind. But the plan was poorly conceived and executed. There was no joint planning, leave alone coordination, between the air force and the army. This led to the Lahore fiasco when Pakistani air strikes disrupted the Indian offensive on September 6. 
Despite seeing action on September 1 in Chamb, the IAF was unprepared for the strike on September 6 when the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) destroyed 13 aircraft in a raid on Pathankot, including two new MiG-21s. 
Similar raids found the IAF station Kalaikunda in the east unawares, leading to the destruction of eight aircraft on the ground. 

Shoddy intelligence 
Intelligence was equally shoddy. India failed to pick up the fact that the Pakistanis had surreptitiously raised an additional armoured division, and the IAF could not locate PAF aircraft in East Pakistan. 
There are, of course, bigger questions. Indian accounts claim that there was no plan to capture Lahore. If not, then why were three divisions thrown at it? 
And if the plan was to just carry out shallow attrition attacks, it nearly came a cropper in Khem Karan when Pakistan launched its 1st armoured division in a bid to reach the Beas bridge that would have cut off Amritsar. Fortunately, they were trapped at Asal Uttar and defeated. 

Biggest blunder 
Perhaps the biggest blunder India made was to terminate the war when it did by accepting the UN mandated ceasefire on September 22nd, which also happened to be the date in which the Chinese ultimatum expired. 
While these were important considerations, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to know from Army chief JN Chaudhuri whether India could gain any great victory if it continued to fight. 
In his typically offhand style, the general declared that India had run out of ammunition and it would be okay to accept the ceasefire. But later it was found out that only 14 per cent of the front line ammunition had been used and the number of tanks India still had was double that of Pakistan. 
We can still be proud of the bravery and grit of our fighting men in 1965, but we can only pray that the higher management of our armed forces has improved. 
Mail Today August 30, 2015

It’s Time India Stopped Punching at Shadows

Many in India are under the illusion that we are in some kind of a geopolitical competition with China. The reality is that we are already hard put to keep China out of our own backyard, let alone compete with Beijing elsewhere.


Speaking in Mumbai on August 3, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval observed that India “should not punch below our weight or over our weight. We must punch proportionately.” Taken in conjunction with his remarks elsewhere, it is well known that Doval believes that India is punching below its weight. While that belief is debatable, the bigger worry raised by Modi’s frenetic foreign policy initiatives is that India might just be punching at shadows.
On August 21, New Delhi will host a meeting of the 14 island nations of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC). According to a news report, the purpose of the exercise is to keep pace with China’s growing footprint in the region. But just what geopolitical or economic interests are served by expanding India’s influence in that region is a mystery.
The South Pacific region  flanks Australia and the Pacific Ocean. Its primary importance lies in the geopolitical contest between the United States and China, as the former seeks to contain the latter within the East Asian island chains. On the other hand, the region contains important military sea lanes linking the US and its Asia-Pacific military allies, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Philippines.
The economies of the island nations are small and their potential, too, is not particularly significant. Even so, some 3000 Chinese companies already operate in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) countries, ranging from small family businesses, to state-owned enterprises involved in fisheries, tourism, seabed mining and timber.
Another factor propelling China is the fact that six of the 14 Pacific Island Forum states continue to recognise Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. Anyone who knows how neuralgic Beijing is about Taiwan’s status will know how much this affects its perspective towards the PIF.
Over the years, China has been putting increasing amounts of  money to promote its presence in the PIF states. In the last decade, it has given nearly $2 billion in aid, focusing on Fiji, the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. Reflecting the geopolitical sweepstakes, the Aussies are the largest aid donors, followed by the US and Japan, but China is catching up. Already, the Chinese presence, which is famously unconcerned about issues like democracy and human rights, has been used by PIF politicians to cock a snook at their erstwhile Australian and American overlords.
Many in India are under the illusion that we are in some kind of a geopolitical competition with China. The reality is that we are already hard put to keep China out of our own backyard, let alone compete with Beijing elsewhere. Simply put, we lack the kind of resources and geopolitical heft that China has.

No matching China
China’s GDP is $9 trillion , compared to India’s $2 trillion According to a RAND report, China offers aid to more than 90 countries around the world. According to the report, China has already pledged some $750 billion in foreign aid and government-supported investment, with annual commitments now of the order of $200 billion.
There is no way in which India can match even a fraction of that sum. Our annual aid commitments are of the order of some $1-1.5 billion.  Given the enormous needs for infrastructure, education and public health facilities within the country, it would be unconscionable for India to pledge large sums abroad,  regardless of any geopolitical considerations.
China has yet another instrumentality which India cannot match – a flourishing arms industry. We are seeing the consequences of this across our own region as countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and, of course, Pakistan equip themselves with Chinese made weapons, provided for through “friendship” prices. India’s lamentable arms industry makes this a no-contest.

Central Asian overreach
The South Pacific is not the only questionable destination of Indian activity, an area closer home is Central Asia. Why is India – whose annual trade with the region is $1 billion, and which has no geographical linkage with the region – seeking to compete with China, whose trade exceeds $50 billion, which neighbours the region, and which has constructed vital economic linkages with it through an east-west railroad, highway and piplelines? Chinese investments in the region have already exceeded $60 billion and are set to grow with Beijing’s ambitious New Silk Route outreach to Europe via Central Asia.
It is not that India should not be in the South Pacific, Central Asia or elsewhere, but that New Delhi needs to prioritise its policies, or to put it another way, cut our coat according to the cloth we have. Central Asia is important to India from the geopolitical point of view, but we have one important disadvantage – we have no direct connection with the region. The only way out is to help create the North-South corridor through Iran, but that would  require investments of $8 billion and 10 years of effort to complete the multi-modal system which can move cargo from western Indian ports to Bandar Abbas or Chahbahar and thence over rail, road and maritime routes to Central Asia, Russia and Europe.
Meanwhile we need to ask ourselves hard questions – what exactly will be the goods that will flow from India to Europe or Central Asia, and what will come back? Would their value justify the investment and effort?
This country’s primary goal cannot but be the elimination of poverty and the creation of a flourishing economy upon which a more expansive foreign policy can develop. Talking up India’s capabilities and capacity is, in itself, not a bad thing when it helps to boost national morale. But it is irresponsible for officials who know the realities to be taken in by their own rhetoric. India is in no position to challenge China either in terms of military power, financial resources, or diplomatic reach and there is no use pretending we can.

Retrench and consolidate
There is need for us to work on asymmetrical strategies that calibrate our foreign policy with our actual, not talked-up  interests. Actually, what New Delhi needs to do is to retrench and consolidate its position around common sense goals such as establishing our primacy in  our neighbourhood – Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Maldives and Sri Lanka –  where China is making significant inroads. The second area of focus should be the Indian Ocean Region, which is important for our security, our economic growth, and where geography has placed us in a fortunate position.
Third should be ties with global players like the US, the European Union, Japan, China and Russia. All of them are major trading partners and sources of technology, investment and markets for Indian goods. New Delhi’s policies with all of them are evenly balanced and productive.
There is, of course, the matter of China, whose rise India does not find entirely comfortable because of our long-standing border dispute, and because of Beijing’s ties with our bugbear, Pakistan. India has sought to maintain an even keel on its China policy by participating in the Beijing-sponsored Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the China-dominated New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. For the moment, however, it remains wary of the Belt Road Initiative.
Developing closer political ties with countries like the US and Japan mitigates some of our risk with regard to China.  But neither Washington nor Tokyo can compensate for India’s inherent weaknesses. Strengthening the Asian balance of power and mitigating risks from the rise of China is good strategy, provided we have a cold-eyed understanding of where we stand today, and the many more steps we need to reach our intended destination.
The Wire  August 8, 2015