Thursday, August 25, 2016

PLA Unit 77656 at India's Chumbi gate

My article PLA Unit 77656 at India's Chumbi gate appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer


Here is the link...

By honouring the PLA Unit closest to India's vulnerable Siliguri Corridor, Beijing has responded to Delhi's efforts to assert itself along the border through improved military presence and development of border areas

Lord Curzon was a man in a hurry. In 1904, he decided to march to Lhasa to open negotiations with the Tibetan Government which had stubbornly refused to talk to the British Crown’s representatives. A year earlier, Colonel Francis Younghusband, accompanied by 500 troops had been dispatched to Khamba Dzong, which commanded the entry into Chumbi, the first valley in Tibet (bordering India’s Sikkim State and Bhutan).
The Tibetan Government tried to stop the young colonel near the border with Sikkim, but the small British Army continued to advance toward Khamba Dzong. Lhasa was living in the ‘white clouds’; wishful thinking, rhetoric andmantras weren’t enough to counter-balance imperial power. Lhasa had to ultimately listen to the British.
Khamba Dzong was again in the news this week when Xinhua announced that President Xi Jinping, Central Military Commission’s Chairman, presented honorary titles to two military units for their outstanding services.  One is Unit 77656, a ‘model plateau battalion’, which was awarded for its performance “in safeguarding borders, ensuring stability and helping disaster relief” (The other award-winner is the PLA Navy Submarine Unit 372 posted in the South China Sea). Xi said that the “whole Armed Forces should learn from both examples.”
The Press Trust of India commented that Xi had “conferred special honours on the PLA battalion posted near Arunachal Pradesh.” The news agency got it wrong. Khamba Dzong (Gangba County for the Chinese) is not located close to Arunachal Pradesh, which is bordered by the Prefectures of Shannan and Nyingchi, but near the strategic Chumbi Valley — and the Siliguri Corridor. China knows that the corridor is one of the weakest points for Indian defence, at least until such time as the 17 Mountain Strike Corps is fully raised.
Beijing’s move to honour Unit 77656 may also have been prompted by other developments on India’s side, which have raised alarm bells in Beijing. Equating the Chumbi Valley (and India’s Achilles heel, ie the Siliguri Corridor) with the South China Sea is a message to New Delhi about the importance that China gives to the area. The award to the PLA’s crack Unit 77656 should be read in this context.
Why would China want to send a strong message to India? Not only has Delhi decided to raise the 17 Corps (though facing serious financial difficulties, it will have a strength of 90,274 additional troops ‘dedicated’ to China), but, importantly, it has also finally started developing its border areas.
Additionally, on August 19, a Sukhoi-30 fighter jet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) landed at the Pasigath Advance Landing Ground (ALG) in Arunachal Pradesh. The ALG’s reactivation comes a few weeks after the Indian Army’s Northern Command publicised the deployment of some 100 T-72 battle tanks in Ladakh.
At a time that China continues to claim the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh, the Pasighat ALG, located only 100km from the McMahon Line, has vital strategic significance. The ALG inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, along with Air Marshal C Hari Kumar, commanding the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command, is one of eight ALGs to be opened in Arunachal Pradesh at a cost of some Rs1,000 crore.
The other ALGs are at Menchuka, Ziro, Aalo and Walong; they have already been activated this year. Tuting is expected to be ready by the year-end, and Tawang and Vijaynagar will hopefully follow. This will be a game changer and China is obviously uneasy.
But that is not all. Remember in August 2013, the IAF landed a C-130J Super Hercules transport plane at the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) airstrip in Ladakh near the Line of Actual Control (LAC); DBO is the highest ALG in the world. The IAF said: “The achievement will enable the armed forces to use the heavy-lift aircraft to induct troops, supplies, improve communication network and also serve as a morale booster for maintenance of troops positioned there.” It added that the plane “touched down the DBO airstrip located at 16614 feet (5065 meters) in the Aksai Chin area.”
In May this year, the Jammu & Kashmir Government approved construction of a 150km-long Chushul-Demchok road; Demchok is the last inhabited Ladakhi village area en route to Western Tibet — and Kailash. Once the National Board for Wildlife gives the final clearance, the road will be constructed by the Border Roads Organisation.
In June, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the Government hopes to complete the construction of a new all-weather road to the Tibetan border in Uttarakhand by next year (“to make it easy for people to visit the abode of Lord Shiva”, said Gadkari). The Minister added: “We want to enhance tourism including religious tourism. We are cutting rocks through Himalayas to make a new alignment of highways through Uttarakhand for going to Mansarovar.” Whether China agrees to open the border to Indian pilgrims on a large scale is a separate matter, but for strategic purposes, the opening of the 75km route from Ghatiabagarh to Lipulekh is vital.
Back in the east, on August 6, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has given its nod for the Arunachal Frontier Highway, a 2,000km road which will mostly run parallel to the McMahon Line. Whether it is feasible or not, has to be seen, especially in an area where all the ranges stretch from east to west and the rivers flow from north to south.
Rijiju had apparently taken up the issue with MOD, but the Directorate General of Military Operations (DGMO) had understandably raised serious objections. It appears now that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, after considering different alternatives, secured the agreement of the DGMO, which suggested a few changes in the alignment in some areas. Parrikar told Lok Sabha: “Based on the operational requirements of the Army, the proposal for the construction of the Tawang-to-Vijaynagar highway has been endorsed.”
And then there is the deployment of the intermediate-range ballistic Agni-III missiles with a range of 3,500 km-5,000 km; in December 2013, the missile was successfully tested by the Strategic Forces Command. They are now being inducted. Also, the indigenously-developed supersonic surface-to-air missile Akash, capable of targeting enemy aircraft, helicopters and UAVs from a distance of 25km, and six squadrons should be deployed in the North-East. The BrahMos cruise missiles based in Arunachal Pradesh are also a strong deterrent that’s irritating China, and China has said so in The PLA Daily.
And then let’s not forget there will be a few Rafale jets in a couple of years.
In these circumstances, one can understand that despite the massive infrastructure development on the Tibetan plateau, Beijing is deeply unhappy about India’s moves. The posting of the best troops in the Middle Kingdom at Sikkim’s door, so close to India’s weakest point, is China’s warning.
Younghusband, the great ‘imperial’ strategist who knew so well the terrain, must be watching from his grave these new formidable developments.

Monday, August 22, 2016

China scared of 17 Mountain Strike Corps?

Khamba Dzong (Chinese Gangba), next to Chumbi Valley
Yesterday Xinhua announced that Xi Jinping, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, presented honorary titles to two military units for their outstanding services.
One is Unit 77656, which is termed a ‘model plateau battalion’, was awarded for its outstanding performance “in safeguarding borders, ensuring stability and helping disaster relief”.
The other award winner is the PLA Navy Submarine Unit 372 which was honored as a ‘model submarine for performing marine missions with excellence’.
Xi said that the “whole armed forces should learn from both examples.”
Xi also awarded ‘merit citations’ to four military units and 15 persons for outstanding services.
Troop 66114 was given a first-class merit citation for its outstanding contribution to completing tasks, and units 91515, 94669 and 96261 were given second-class merit citations for their outstanding performance in strengthening fighting capacity.
PTI, with its poor knowledge of geography, commented that Xi Jinping “conferred special honours on PLA battalion posted near Arunachal.”
The PTI piece says: “Chinese President Xi Jinping bestowed special honours on a PLA battalion posted in Tibet close to Arunachal Pradesh for its “outstanding performance in safeguarding borders”, adding that: “While the news report has not identified the battalion, Indian defence officials and strategic think-tanks have said it is Gangba 2nd Independent Battalion.”
PTI further elaborated: “It is based in Shigatse City, Gangba County in Tibet close to Arunachal Pradesh and is one of the six battalions functioning under the Tibet Military Area Command.”
Well, Gangba County (Khamba Dzong in Tibetan) is located north of Sikkim, west of the strategic Chumbi Valley, where for decades an Indian Trade Agent was posted (in Yatung).
The move to honour Unit 77656 is probably due to Beijing’s nervousness; remember that Delhi has decided to raise a Mountain Strike Corps in the area (17 Corps).
While India is aware of the difficulty of defending the Siliguri Corridor, China knows that the Chumbi Valley is one of their weakest points on the plateau.
This probably explains the award to Unit 77656.
India should take note that the PLA's crack unit is posted at the gate of Chumbi Valley ...and India.
Incidentally, Khamba Dzong entered in the history in 1903, when Col Francis Youngbushand attempted to negotiate a treaty with the Tibetans.
Only after talks failed, the 1904 Tibet operation was mounted.
I am posting here extracts of my book, The Fate of Tibet.
Khamba Dzong

Curzon was a man in a hurry and he had decided to act.
In June 1903, Colonel Younghusband was dispatched with some troops to Khamba Dzong, inside Tibetan territory. This small British army consisted of five officers and 500 troops. On hearing news of the approaching British army, the Tibetan Government immediately sent two negotiators with the brief to stop the advancing army and to hold talks at a border post called Giagong. A Tibetan-speaking British officer, Captain O’Connor advanced to Giagong to be told by the Tibetan representatives that talks should be held on the spot.
This was refused by the British who continued to advance toward Khamba Dzong arguing that they had permission from the Manchus in Beijing to hold negotiations. The Tibetan Representatives tried in vain to block their path.
In the meantime the Tsongdu, alerted by the ominous news from the border, sent an urgent message to their representatives on the border, instructing them not to allow a single British soldier or civilian into Tibetan territory.
It sounds just like the Indian Parliament instructing the Indian Army, some 58 years later, not to let an inch of Indian territory be occupied by the Chinese in the high Himalayas. History sometimes repeats itself and the debacles in Khamba Dzong or in NEFA prove that one has to be militarily prepared for it when one decides that “not an inch of our territory should be occupied.” In 1904, Tibet was no match for a marching modern army.
But the Tibetan National Assembly was living in the ‘white clouds’ of the Roof of the World. Wishful thinking, rhetoric and Mantras were not enough to balance the woefully poor preparedness of the Tibetan troops. More was needed to block the decisiveness of the Viceroy and his young Colonel who had decided to force the Tibetans to sit at the negotiating table.
The stubbornness and intransigence of the Tibetan Assembly in refusing any contact with the ‘foreigners with yellow eyes’ did not help the matters to unfold smoothly.
When more knowledgeable elements, such as Kalon Shatra, tried to make the Kashag aware of the power of the British in the world and the consequences that refusing to deal with them, even to open their letters might have, he was accused of being a spy for the Crown and of having received some bribes from his ‘masters’ when he was the Resident Representative in Darjeeling.
To be fair to the Tibetans, one should recall their blissful ignorance of the world outside.
At this crucial time, the Tsongdu took over the decision-making power from the Kashag, which was considered to be pro-British; the Great Monasteries were convinced that the British were the enemy of Buddhism and only interested in extending their empire. This may not have been totally untrue.
Once in Khamba Dzong, representatives of the three great monasteries as well as senior Tibetan officers came to meet the British officers. However they immediately got stuck as both parties could not agree on a place where the negotiations could take place. The Chinese Representative in Shigatse also appeared on the stage but he turned back when he was told by the Tibetans and the British that his presence was not necessary.
The British troops were also visited by the Panchen Lama’s representative and the Abbots of the Tashi Lhunpo who unsuccessfully tried to mediate.
Many visitors dropped by, mainly out of mere curiosity.
Younghusband had arrived at Khamba Dzong, but the negotiations remained at a standstill with the Tibetans still refusing to discuss commercial or any other agreements.
Younghusband began to feel that he was being taken for a ride.
When he asked for the Ambans to be witness to the discussions, the Tibetans retorted that the Ambans had nothing to do with commercial matters.
The ‘negotiations’ on the location of the negotiations went on for a couple of months. The British troops had, in the meantime, started enjoying the countryside: “The British passed their time carrying out impressive military exercises, taking photographs, hiking in the hills, mapping the surrounding countries, botanizing, and geologizing.”
Finally after three months the British troops received orders to return to India. The advent of the winter was the main reason for this temporary retreat.
In Lhasa, the power struggle between the conservative forces in the Tsongdu and some of the more liberal (at least better informed) ministers intensified. As a result, four Kalons ended up in jail, accused of supporting the British. One even committed suicide. The Tsongdu was more determined than ever to stop any advance by ‘British devils’ into Tibet.


Smashing an Egg on the Rock
But Curzon had decided to return. In December 1903, Claude White, the Political Officer in Gangtok sent a letter to the Tibetan Government informing them that Younghusband would be proceeding towards Gyantse to open the negotiations; the Tibetans were requested to send their representatives
The first days of 1904 saw a British expedition led by Col. Francis Younghusband and Claude White with five thousand Sikh and Gurkha soldiers begin their march to Gyantse. They had brought with them rifles, machine guns and artillery.
When the troops reached Tuna, between Phari and Guru, some negotiations started again without much success. The Bhutanese Raja, known as the Tongsa Penlop also tried to mediate at Phari and suggested that talks should start in Gyantse, but he was unable to convince the Lhasa authorities.
The Choegyal of Sikkim, a relative of the Tibetan General who was the military commander in Yarlung valley, advised the latter to negotiate with the British. Dapon Lhading was already aware of the strong reinforcements stationed in Sikkim as support for the troops of Younghusband: “For the Tibetan army to challenge the British was like throwing an egg against the rock - the egg could only be smashed,” wrote the Choegyal. But the Tibetans were not ready to listen.
In the meantime, the Tibetan troops entrenched themselves behind a five-foot wall at Chumik Shinko between Tuna and Guru. 
In Asia, one does not start a war before having tea; Younghusband paid a visit to the Tibetan camp at Guru and later received Dapon Lhading at his camp in Tuna; but despite the courtesy calls and offering of scarves, tea and refreshment, the stalemate continued.
The tea parties could have gone on too, but Younghusband was a young man in a hurry; during the course of his final visit to the Tibetan camp, he informed the Tibetan General that he would be advancing towards Gyantse the next day.
An Englishman later wrote: “In 1903 the position of Britain and Tibet, was like that of a big boy at school who is tormented by an impertinent youngster. He bears it for sometime, but at last is compelled to administer chastisement.”


The rest is history…

Sunday, August 21, 2016

UT Status for Ladakh?

1842 Treaty with Tibet
Violence has again erupted in Kashmir.
More than ever, Islamabad seems determined to create problems for India in the Valley. And it is not covert anymore!
On the occasion of Pakistan's Independence Day (August 14), the Pakistani High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit declared: “Struggle for independence will continue till Kashmir gets freedom; sacrifice of the people of Kashmir will not go in vain."
He openly said: “We dedicate this year's Independence day to struggle of Kashmir.”
A day later, in a speech from the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi counter-attacked and referred to Pakistan's human rights abuses in Balochistan as well as Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Modi hinted that if Pakistan continues to instigate demonstrations and strikes in the Kashmir Valley, India will be compelled to expose Islamabad elsewhere.
Let us be clear, as long as Pakistan exists, the situation will not stabilize and violence is bound to erupt from time to time.
Though not a final solution, a step could help localize the abscess: trifurcate J&K State into 3 parts, namely Jammu, Ladakh and the Valley.
It has been a long standing demand of the people of Ladakh (and Jammu as well) who do not want to have anything to do with the anti-India movement in the Valley.
A resolution passed by the All Religious Joint Action Committee (ARJAC) of Ladakh goes a long way in this direction.
The ARJAC leaders, including Tsewang Thinles, president, Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), Ashraf Ali Barcha, president, Anjuman Imamia and Sheikh Saif-ud-Din, president, Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam, demanded during a press conference, the Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh. They remarked that since Independence, the mountainous region has always kept a special strong bond with the Union of India.
In a memorandum to the Prime Minister, the ARJAC explained that Ladakh was once an independent Himalayan kingdom: “The political history of Ladakh dates back to 930 A.D. when several small, sovereign principalities outlying the Western Himalayas were integrated and given a unified polity by Lha-Chen-Palgigon.”
The memorandum continues: “Ladakh as an independent kingdom gained political status during 15th–16th century when the Namgyal dynasty came into power;” this lasted until 1842 when General Zorawar Singh integrated Ladakh into the Dogra Empire. In October 1947, Ladakh acceded to India after Maharaj Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession for his State.
The ARJAC further points out that Ladakh has been linked to the Dogras (and Kashmir) for hardly 105 years: “Ladakh is fundamentally different from Kashmir in all respects – culturally, ethnically and linguistically. Over the years the successive governments of the State have adopted a policy of discrimination and subversion towards the region with the sole objective of stifling its people and marginalising its historical, religious and cultural identity.”
The ARJAC notes with some bitterness: “In the modern times, when the whole subcontinent has passed through the process of decolonisation to enjoy the fruits of national independence, we, the people of Ladakh, and our land still continue to suffer under the old concept of colonial administrative structure, which suited the imperial interests and feudal rulers under the name of the pseudo-State of Jammu & Kashmir.”
The ARJAC strongly affirms: “Nationalism remained a dominant ideological creed and became a rallying force among the Ladakhis to fight back the Pakistanis and the Chinese who made frequent bids of conquer our land in 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars. The jawans of Ladakh Scouts played an exemplary role in decisively foiling the enemy’s misadventures,” before concluding: “Our humble submission is that we are neither the problem nor part of any problem involving the state. Rather we are the solution. We firmly believe that all of us live only if India lives. Our commitment to patriotism is firm and unequivocal. Our people and soldiers have never hesitated to make supreme sacrifices in the discharge of their duties towards the country. We shall never fail the nation.”
The bifurcation (or trifurcation) would have other advantages not mentioned in the memorandum.
Today the Ladakh region has two districts, Leh and Kargil and two Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Ladakh (LAHDC ) and Kargil.
Though Ladakh is India’s largest district, with ‘disputed’ borders and two belligerent neighbours, it is administrated by a very junior officer.
The present District Commissioner (DC) Prasanna Ramaswamy is a young IAS officer from the 2010 batch. Without doubting his personal competence, such a border district with large numbers of Army and ITBP personnel posted in the area, makes it one of the most sensitive districts of the country.
Further, can only one officer visit the 19 blocks of Ladakh, some of the extremely remote? He can’t. As a result, some blocks have often been neglected.
Ladakh needs a special status; a Joint-Secretary rank officer or above should be posted in the district. Just think that the Army 14 Corps Commander responsible for Ladakh’s defence, is headed by an officer of Lieutenant General rank, with nearly 40 years of experience in the Indian Army. He deals with someone (the DC) who would be ranked a captain, or a major at the most, in the Army. Incidentally, the DC is also the Chief Executive Officer of the LAHDC, which makes the situation even more ridiculous.
The granting of Union Territory Status would solve many of these anomalies: a Lieutenant Governor representing the Center would sit in Leh (or Kargil) and a Chief Secretary would head the administration. Further, the elected MLAs and Ministers would not depend on the mood of Srinagar to develop the Union Territory.
Last but not least, it will probably force China to clarify its position vis-à-vis Ladakh.
Beijing has always been ambiguous on Kashmir and Ladakh.
In July 2016, Beijing called for a “proper settlement of Kashmir clashes”, Under the pretence of neutrality, China’s position on Kashmir has indeed conveniently remained extremely hazy.
Defence analyst Monika Chansoria recently pointed out: “Nothing could be further from the truth than this duplicitous and outrageous statement [about neutrality]. In fact, Beijing has shifted its position on Kashmir, gradually, yet firmly, with each passing decade. Recall China’s response during the 1999 Kargil conflict with its commitment to a policy of neutrality, which compelled the Nawaz Sharif government, who was already under immense international pressure, to look for an honourable retreat from Kargil.”
Remember the issue of stapled visas for the J&K’s State subjects?
Another issue is Beijing’s refusal to reopen the Demchok-Tashigong road to Kailash-Manasarovar. It is the fastest and easiest route for pilgrims wanting to visit the Holy Mountain. Beijing does not want the route to be reopened, because they would not be ‘neutral’ anymore and would have to recognize the fact that Ladakh is part of India (by setting up a custom house at the border for example).
Already back in 1954, when India and China were negotiating the Panchsheel Agreement, China adamantly refused to acknowledge, let alone reopen the Demchok route, simply because it considered and probably considers Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’.
The reopening of the ancient pilgrim route would be a great Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between India and China, but perhaps Beijing is not ready to give up the ‘disputed territory’ label for Ladakh.
Making Ladakh a Union Territory would (peacefully) kill many birds with one stone; it would help localized the so-called Kashmir issue in the Valley; it would provide a better administration to the mountainous region, streamline the security of the area and force China to drop its ‘neutrality’ stance.
But where is the political will?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It's time to stand up to China over Ladakh

My artcile It's time to stand up to China over Ladakh appeared in Mail Today.

Here is the link...

Does Beijing still consider Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’. If not, why not open Demchok? Pictured: Chinese president Xi Jinping
 
As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrives in Delhi for his second visit to India, it is interesting to recall one of the most unknown episodes of the history of modern India.
Let's recall the negotiations which, in 1953-54, preceded the signature on the “Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India”, known as the Panchsheel Agreement for its lofty preamble.

Negotiations
The negotiations ended with India giving away all its rights in Tibet (telegraph lines, post offices, dak bungalows, military escort in Gyantse and Yatung, etc), while getting no assurance on the border demarcation from the Chinese government.
The talks were held in Beijing among Zhang Hanfu, China’s Vice- Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Raghavan, the Indian Ambassador to China, and TN Kaul, his Chargé d’Affaires.
It lasted from December 1953 till April 1954.
Why so long? One reason appears in a cable sent by Raghavan to Delhi in which he informs the Foreign Secretary that Zhang was “virulently objecting to inclusion of Tashigong in Agreement.”
For centuries, the trade and pilgrimage route for the Kailash-Manasarovar region (and then onward to Lhasa) followed the course of the Indus, passed Demchok, the last Ladakhi village, and then crossed the border to reach the first Tibetan hamlet, Tashigong, some 15 miles inside Tibet.
Not only did Zhang refuse to mention Demchok in the agreement, but also bargained for nearly five months to not cite Tashigong.
Retrospectively, one can find two main reasons for the Chinese dragging their feet.
One was the proximity of the National Highway 219, later known as the ‘Aksai Chin Road’, cutting across the Indian territory in northern Ladakh. Though China had started constructing the highway, Delhi was to discover its existence only four years later.
In 1954, Indian border forces visiting Demchok could have noticed what was clandestinely being built; though the road was not within firing range for the Indian artillery, Beijing did not want to take a risk.
It did not occur to the Indian negotiators that something momentous was happening on the other side of the range.
The second reason is also grave and presently very relevant. After months of infructuous exchanges, Zhang Hanfu conceded that “traders customarily using this route might continue such use but an oral understanding to that effect between two delegations would suffice, (China) would not like in writing, even by implication, to have any reference to Ladakh.”
But why to not name this ancient route in the agreement, as it was done for the passes elsewhere? The answer is that China considered Ladakh a ‘disputed area’.
Kaul told Delhi: “We have taken (the) position that Ladakh is Indian territory and route should be mentioned as its omission would be invidious.”
But China did not accept the Indian contention and “after considerable argument (Zhang) agreed, but subsequently withdrew (his agreement). (He) suggests we would consider exchange of letters which will not form part of Agreement...”
Bargaining continued. India had finally to concur to the Chinese formulation. Demchok was mentioned nowhere, but article IV of the agreement says: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and route: (1) Shipki La pass, (2) Mana pass, (3) Niti pass, (4) Kungri Bingri pass, (5) Darma pass, and (6) Lipu Lekh pass. … Also, the customary route leading to Tashigong along the valley of the Indus river may continue to be traversed in accordance with custom.”

History
You may think that it is past history, but it is not. China today continues to adamantly refuse to reopen the Demchok-Tashigong route to the abode of Lord Shiva, while insisting on a long and tortuous route via Nathu-la in Sikkim.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj should definitely raise this question with her Chinese counterpart when they meet.
The people of Ladakh have for years asked for the reopening of the ancient route.
Why is Beijing so reluctant to let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya?
Why can’t China allow the devotees wanting to visit Kailash-Manasarovar to use the easiest route, i.e. via Demchok?

Smuggling
It is not that there are no ‘exchanges’ along the Line of Actual Control.
Not far from Demchok, a place called Dumchule witnesses a good deal of smuggling happening between Tibet and Ladakh.
Local herders visit a Tibetan mart on the other side of the range, bringing back Chinese goods to Ladakh. If while visiting the bazaar in Leh, you wonder how there are so many Chinese bowls or other cheap stuff, the answer is Dumchule.
But the situation is not healthy; apart from the fact that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can gather intelligence on what is happening on the Indian side, (that is why they close their eyes on the traffic) and worse, Indian pilgrims are not allowed to cross into Tibet and proceed to Mt Kailash.
To officially reopen the Demchok-Tashigong road would be the best confidence building measure (CBM) between India and China.
After all under its One Belt, One Road scheme, China constantly speaks of opening new routes or corridors.
Does Beijing restrict these projects to its ‘friends’ only (i.e. Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or Nepal in Zham and Kyirong)?
Let us hope that Wang will understand that it is in China’s interests to regularise the situation in Ladakh.
He should also clearly spell out China’s position: does Beijing still consider Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’.
If not, why not open Demchok?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sri Aurobindo: the Man who saw the Future

Sri Aurobindo
On the occasion of Sri Aurobindo's Birthday, I re-post an article which appeared 2 years ago in The Pioneer


The Man who saw the Future  


It was perhaps a coincidence or my good ‘karma’, but traveling from France to India in 1972, I kept a pocketbook in my backpack: the French translation of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical magnum opus. I did not know it, but it was the Great Rishi’s Centenary Year. I have also to admit that I was not able to not decipher much about the Master’s philosophical vision. It was, however, to greatly influence my life and answer a fundamental question: should the ‘outside world’ be transformed into something ‘beautiful’ in the image of the Divine or should the material world be abandoned and all life devoted to reaching ‘higher’ realms?
I had serious reservations about the latter. Traveling in India in the early 1970s was a shock; the dirt, the chaos in the big cities, the lack of ‘modern’ facilities, the blaring loudspeakers, the crowds, the crowds everywhere, everything was a constant reminder that things were not so bad in Europe where trains ran on time, towns were clean, information was easily available to the public, hygiene a way of life.
Somehow Sri Aurobindo’s words struck home. He said: “The affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense in mortal existence can have no base unless we recognise not only the eternal Spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, the wearer of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He weaves constantly His garbs, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions.”
Matter had to be transformed into the image of the Spirit; matter need not (and should not) be abandoned. It is quite a revolutionary statement.
It touched me deeply and I decided to settle in India.
It makes Sri Aurobindo relevant in our ‘modern’ century.
While the ‘Indian renaissance’ has recently been equated to economic growth, a sort of Chinese-model development with a constant GDP growth (a ‘to become rich is glorious’ à la Deng Xiaoping). Though he excluded nothing (‘synthesis’ being the keyword of Sri Aurobindo’s vision), it is certainly not the type of renaissance Sri Aurobindo envisaged for India.
His synthesis never meant to ape the Western model which, according to him, had already failed. He wanted India to rediscover her past, not for the sake of the past, but because “Spirituality is the master-key of the Indian mind”. The ancient seekers had found that “the physical does not get its full sense until it stands in right relation to the supra-physical; [Ancient India] saw that the complexity of the universe could not be explained in the present terms of man or seen by his superficial sight, that there were other powers behind, other powers within man himself of which he is normally unaware.”
This knowledge is the key to the true transformation of the bodily mansion of Mother India. Only then will India be able to play her rightful role in the world and truly shine.
In the meantime, planetary civilisation is going through one of the most difficult (and challenging) times of its recorded history. Just read a newspaper, whether published in Delhi, the Himalayas, China or Timbuktu, everywhere headlines are similar: pollution, corruption, poverty, global warming, environment catastrophes, nuclear proliferation, new viruses or the NSA (and Beijing) peeping into your private life…
In 1940, Sri Aurobindo foresaw: “At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny... Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites…”
How can we deal with this crisis? Sri Aurobindo’s answer is by a change in consciousness; not only an individual one, but a revolutionary transformation of the entire race. Sri Aurobindo noted: “The end of a stage of evolution is usually marked by a powerful recrudescence of all that has to go out of the evolution.... The law is the same for the mass as for the individual.”
The planet is today going through this difficult stage. India could help, but will she be able to grasp once more the Spirit which sustained her past achievements and formulate a ‘greater synthesis’?
In 1920, Sri Aurobindo wrote to his brother Barindranath: “The chief cause of the weakness of India is not subjection nor poverty, nor the lack of spirituality or Dharma, but the decline of thought-power, the growth of ignorance in the motherland of Knowledge… The modern world is the age of the victory of Knowledge.” Since then, tremendous changes have occurred; the explosion of the Indian IT phenomenon is one of the many signs which could be cited. But is it enough?
To do justice to Sri Aurobindo one should read some of the 35 thick volumes of his philosophical, socio-political and evolutionary thought, as well as Savitri, an epic in 28,000 verses. His socio-political philosophy and how he translated it into action during his life as a revolutionary leader in Bengal and later a Rishi in Pondicherry, are thought-provoking.
Sri Aurobindo, in a chapter of his Foundations of Indian Culture envisioned a three-point program for the ‘renaissance in India’: “The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness is its first, most essential work. ...The flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second.
An original dealing with modern problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society is the third and most difficult.
These tasks written a century ago remain unfulfilled.
On August 15, 1947 India obtained independence. It coincided with the 75th birthday of the one who had been the first Indian to ask for Purna Swaraj in the early years of the 20th century. For this occasion, Sri Aurobindo wrote about five dreams he had for India.
The first one was to see India united again: “India today is free but she has not achieved unity.” During the last years of his life he often spoke of the aberration of the Partition. The second dream was to see the “resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia”. His third dream was a “world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind.” The fourth dream was a “spiritual gift of India to the world”. The final dream was a new “step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society.”
The person that Dr Karan Singh has called the Prophet of Indian Nationalism could already see beyond India’s freedom. Bharat had a larger role to play for the future of humanity.
Though for the sake of his personal sadhana, he lived a secluded life in his room in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo never retired into some sort of Nirvana or beatific splendour. He remained well acquainted with the politics of the sub-continent and the world situation. In 1940, when many Indian leaders were vacillating and would have supported a German victory in World War II, he sent a personal contribution to the British war effort and expressed ‘unswerving sympathy’ to the Allies cause. He wrote: “We feel that not only is this a battle waged in just self-defence and in defence of the nations threatened with the world-domination of Germany and the Nazi system of life, but that it is a defence of civilisation and its highest attained social, cultural and spiritual values and of the whole future of humanity.”
Sri Aurobindo opposed the hegemony of any one single ideology. For the planet to survive, every nation, every culture or individual has to find its rightful place according to its own genius.
It is why he took a strong stand when North Korea attacked the South in early 1950; he then foresaw the invasion of Tibet: “The whole affair is as plain as a pike-staff. It is the first move in the Communist plan of campaign to dominate and take possession first of these northern parts and then of South East Asia as a preliminary to their manoeuvres with regard to the rest of the continent - in passing, Tibet as a gate opening to India.”
We see the consequences in Ladakh or Arunachal today.
After visiting Pondicherry in 1928, Tagore said: “Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee! O friend, my country's friend, O Voice incarnate, free, Of India's soul.”  The poet added “You have the Word and we are waiting to accept it from you. India will speak through your voice to the world. Hearken to me!”
Sri Aurobindo’s Vision is still relatively unknown in India, but his ‘Adventure of Consciousness and Joy’ is the most urgent task at hand for humanity today.

Friday, August 12, 2016

China’s border tactics unchanged

Indian patrol in the Barahoti Plain in the 1950s
My article China’s border tactics unchanged appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle
 

Here is the link...

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi on Saturday will not change anything in the mindset of the leadership in Beijing, and the intrusions (transgressions?) will continue. It is important, therefore, that the Indian public is aware about the history of our borders.

In July 1952, the Intelligence Bureau sent New Delhi a worrying report about the Garhwal-Tibet border; after explaining that the border in this area could “only be crossed through Mana and Niti Valleys, where there are open places and habitation, the rest of the border area consists of snow-covered mountains studded with glaciers,” it mentioned one area, Hoti, used by Indian traders going to Tibet during the warm season.
The report warned that at the end of the 19th century, the Tibetans had once established a customs post in Hoti Plain: “To stop this practice, the British government had to send out a detachment of Gurkhas along with Dharmanand Joshi, deputy collector, in 1890. This had a salutary effect and the Tibetans removed their post,” the IB report noted.
But once the Chinese appeared on the scene and occupied the plateau in 1950-51, the Tibetans became bolder: “It appears the Tibetans have again established a police-cum-customs post at Hoti during the trading season,” the 1952 IB report said. It added: “It’s quite possible that if the Tibetans aren’t stopped from establishing their post at Hoti Plain, they might eventually claim it to be their own territory. Since there is no habitation or cultivation in this area, the Garhwal authorities hardly ever visit the area or take action to denote that it lies within their jurisdiction.”
For centuries, the dzongpon (commissioner) of Daba in Tibet had sent serjis (messengers) to Hoti Plain in Indian territory to announce that the trading season had begun. As Indian traders went to Tibet, there were charged some “hospitality” taxes corresponding to the facilities they got from the Tibetan authorities (fodder for animals, etc).
In 1952, the Tibetans again shifted their “customs” camp to Barahoti. The IB then suggested sending a detachment of the Garhwal Rifles and local armed police to hoist the Indian tricolour in Barahoti “to stop the Tibetans from establishing their customs post”.
That is how the Barahoti “dispute” started. It took a nastier turn two years later, when China had established its presence in western Tibet.
It’s important to remember that the Indian and Chinese governments had signed the “historic” Panchsheel Agreement on trade and pilgrimage in Tibet in April 1954. India gave away all its rights in the Land of Snows (telegraph lines, post offices, dak bungalows, military escorts in Gyantse and Yatung), but got no assurances on the border demarcation from Beijing.
In the negotiations, Indian diplomats clearly showed that the traditional and customary boundary followed the watershed range; the passes of Mana, Niti, Tun Jun La, Balcha Dhura, Kungri Bingri, Darma and Lipulekh marked the border in the area. China agreed to name five of them in the agreement, but flatly refused to mention Tsang Chok La, Tun Jun La and Balcha Dhura.
Why? Simply because Tun Jun La is north of Barahoti in Garhwal and Balcha Dhura north of Sangchamalla and Lapthal in Almora district. Not naming these passes allowed China to later claim that these areas were located south of the watershed. The Indian negotiators were fooled... but then China, at that time, was a great friend!
The ink barely dried on the Panchsheel that China started making claims on the Indian territories. On August 13, 1954, a note from the Chinese embassy in New Delhi complained: “Over 30 Indian troops armed with rifles crossed the Niti Pass on June 29, 1954, and intruded into Wu-Je (Chinese name for Barahoti).” Beijing pretended to be shocked, saying “this not in conformity with the principles of non-aggression and friendly co-existence between China and India.” So while China had entered Indian territory, it was now blaming India!
Beijing later protested that on July 17, a 33-person unit had entered its territory... in Barahoti: “The unit was under the command of an officer called Nathauja (Chinese pronunciation), a deputy commander, the district magistrate of Walzanjapur district as well as a doctor, a radio operator and soldiers, all living in 17 tents.”
After investigations, India replied on August 27 that it was found “the allegation is entirely incorrect. A party of our Border Security Force is encamped in Hoti Plain, which is southeast of Niti Pass and in Indian territory. None of our troops or personnel have crossed north of Niti Pass.”
It is how the saga of incursions in the central sector of the Indo-Tibet (now Sino-Indian) border began.
A new terminology has been found by bureaucrats in New Delhi. It is called a “transgression”, but it doesn’t change the historical fact: Barahoti is south of the Himalayan watershed marking the border.
In 1958, New Delhi decided to try to negotiate a settlement with Beijing. Fu Hao, Chinese counsellor in New Delhi, met a MEA joint secretary several times. The Chinese suggested a joint local inquiry. Foreign secretary Subimal Dutt sent a note to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “Our case is that Barahoti is an area of about one and a half square miles. We have given the exact position with reference to its latitude and longitude. The Chinese have not defined which area they mean by Wu-Je... an area south of Tun Jun La.” Dutt then added: “If the Chinese claims are conceded, the international boundary would lie south in what is undoubtedly Indian territory.”
The foreign secretary said: “The Chinese are apparently keen on a local inquiry because they will thereby be in a position to define the exact borders of the area which they are claiming.” But Beijing didn’t know where Wu-Je or Barahoti was located.
Subimal Dutt then concluded: “We should emphatically refuse to take any oral evidence locally. Barahoti is more easily approachable from the Tibet side than from our side. The Chinese would be able to produce any number of Tibetans to say what they (want) these people to say.”
He went on: “The Chinese government is not prepared to accept our northern border as shown on our maps, as these maps are supposed to have been prepared by British colonialists surreptitiously. They are also not prepared to accept passes mentioned in the 1954 agreement as border passes... thereby indirectly repudiating the principle of watershed as marking the international boundary.”
All this shows that the Chinese still use the same tactics (whether in the South China Sea today or earlier in Aksai Chin or Barahoti); they occupy a territory that they deem important for their own interests and later emphatically declare it has always been “Chinese territory”, which is sacred and will be defended by force if necessary.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi on Saturday will not change anything in the mindset of the leadership in Beijing, and the intrusions (transgressions?) will continue. It is important, therefore, that the Indian public is aware about the history of our borders.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

India should talk tough to the Middle Kingdom

My article India should talk tough to the Middle Kingdom appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Wang Yi, who will visit India, to discuss serious issues, must clarify to the people of Ladakh (and India) if China still considers Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’. It is also hoped that Sushma Swaraj will dare ask a few questions

Soon after the Modi sarkar’s swearing ceremony two years ago, Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, rushed to Delhi. Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Sykiong (Prime Minister) had been seen on TV screens during the function: Beijing was not amused. Wang wanted Delhi to ‘clarify’ its position. This time Wang comes again to discuss ‘serious’ issues with Sushma Swaraj, his Indian counterpart.
A statement of South Block says: “During the visit, the two sides will discuss various issues of mutual interest including the upcoming multilateral meetings viz, G-20 Summit being held in China and Brics Summit being held in India.”
Not a word about the Chinese stand on India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the intrusions, sorry ‘transgressions’, in the Central Sector of the Sino-Indian boundary. The Chinese ‘visits’ in the Barahoti plain of Chamoli district (Uttarakhand) should certainly be discussed. Some historical facts about the Himalayan border should not be forgotten.
Barahoti was the site of the first Chinese intrusions in June 3, 1954, hardly three months after India and China signed the ‘glorious’ Panchsheel Agreement. Since then, every year in June/July, India sends revenue officers accompanied by local herders and unarmed jawans to ‘mark’ the place as Indian territory. Though the area is located south of the Tunjun-la pass, the watershed which delimits the border with Tibet, China also sends patrols. This time the Chinese intrusion on Indian territory was different; according to media reports, the Chinese border forces were carrying arms and a helicopter is said to have done some recce before the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army.
The Chinese have always used similar tactics, whether in the South China Sea today or a few decades ago in Ladakh and elsewhere: They claim an area which they judge important for their own interests, if possible occupy it (without Delhi noticing it for the Aksai Chin), then they categorically state that it has always been ‘Chinese territory’, which is sacred for them and will be defended by force if necessary.
Swaraj should not only raise this question, but also ask Wang: Why is Beijing so reluctant to let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya? Why can’t China allow the devotees wanting to visit the abode of lord Shiva in Tibet use the easiest routes, ie Demchok in Ladakh or Shipki-la in Himachal instead of the a long and tortuous route road via Nathu-la in Sikkim?
Demchok in south Ladakh had no historical connection with China; for time immemorial it was part of the kingdom of Ladakh; nobody ever disputed this fact.
According to The Ladakh Chronicles, as early as the 10th century, the boundary of Ladakh was already demarcated. It lay along the Indus river, south of Rudok, the main center in western Tibet. The border was clearly defined ‘south of Lde-mchog-dkar-po (‘White Demchok’)’; the present boundary alignment in this sector remains the same, except for the fact that sometime at the end of 1959, Beijing decided to change its maps and started showing Demchok within China.
In the Chronicles, there is also reference to the Ladakh-Tibet war which took place between 1681 and 1683; the Treaty signed a year later confirmed that “the boundary shall be fixed at the Lha-ri stream of Lde-mchok.” A hill above the village is still called Lhari Karpo.
The frontier was never discussed or disputed till the end of the 1959, when the Chinese produced a new map showing Demchok in China. Interestingly, during the 1962 war, Chinese troops occupied the area around Demchok to later withdraw behind the traditional frontier defined by the watershed, east of the Indus.
Why did the Chinese decide to advance the border and claim Demchok at the end of 1950s? One of the reasons could be the proximity of the National Highway 219, known as the ‘Aksai Chin Road’, cutting across the Indian territory in northern Ladakh: China was not keen to see Indians troops at a firing distance (15 miles) of the road.
In the course of the several rounds of boundary negotiations between India and China, Beijing stubbornly refused to even provide maps of its perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Ambassador RS Kalha who participated in some of these talks in the 1990s recalls in his excellent book (India-China Boundary Issues: Quest for Settlement), “Having committed to Jaswant Singh that they (China) would initiate a process for the clarification and determination of the LAC in all sectors of the boundary, a meeting took place in March 2000, where maps of the middle sector were exchanged. On 17 June, 2002, both sides met again and maps of the Western sector were seen by both sides for about 20 minutes. Soon enough, the maps were hastily returned by both sides since these maps represented the maximalist positions which were clearly unpalatable.” This explains why Delhi speaks today of ‘perceived LACs’.
The main areas under dispute remain Samar Lungpa in the north, Depsang plain (where a serious incident occurred in April 2013), Demchok and Chumar (where the PLA trespassed in September 2014 as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in India).
As the result of these ‘differences of perception’, the border between Ladakh and Tibet remains closed to trade and pilgrimage today. The irony is that at the same time China speaks of ‘Tibet as hub of Himalaya’. The China Daily recently published an article affirming: “Tibet could become the cultural, economic and humanitarian hub of the Himalayas and so build a peaceful, cooperative relationship with its South Asian neighbors.”
If China wants to transform Tibet as a hub, why is Beijing so reticent to accede to the demand of the people in Ladakh to reopen the old caravan road? After all, for centuries it has been the main (and the easiest) route to the holy mountain.
China practices double-speak; it is ready to open new routes or corridors, but with friends only Pakistan, (ie the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and Nepal (in Zham and Kyirong).
Not only is China adamant to not open Demchok, but the routes via Shipki-la (Himachal) and Mana-la (Uttarakhand) remain close to pilgrims too. For Demchok, there is another reason, more serious, on which Wang should clearly spell out China’s position: For Beijing, Demchok is part of Jammu & Kashmir State and, therefore, a ‘disputed territory’.
China’s position on Kashmir has always been ambiguous, but from the time of the negotiations for the Panchsheel Agreement in 1954, Beijing has systematically refused to acknowledge Demchok as the traditional landport between Ladakh and Tibet. Why? Beijing did not want to hurt the sentiments of its already good friend, Pakistan.
Wang should tell the people of Ladakh (and India) if China still considers Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’? Let us hope that Swaraj will dare ask a few questions.