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Tawang: Some Indian Plain-Speaking At Last

For those who are knowledgeable about the goings-on in New Delhi, it has been known for some time that despite all the positive spins put out by the Government of India, the Sino-Indian border talks were making no progress due to Beijing’s insistence that there could be no agreement on the border issue unless and until India agreed to transfer at least the Tawang Tract if not the whole of Arunachal Pradesh to China. The fact that China’s unreasonable demand was in violation of the broad principles already agreed to by the leaders of the two countries did not inhibit China from pressing it. One of these principles is that any transfer of territory under the border agreement should not involve populated areas.

2. For the Chinese, mutually-agreed principles have only a tactical value. They do not hesitate to unilaterally discard any principle if it came in the way of what they perceive as their national interest. They look upon Tawang as important for their final pacification of Tibet and to prevent any unrest by the youth of Tibet after the exit of the present Dalai Lama, when they try to impose their nominee as his successor. The strengthening of their Tibet-based military capabilities, including the development of their road and rail infrastructure right upto the borders with India and Nepal, is meant not only to pre-empt any possible destabilisation of Tibet after the Dalai Lama, but also to enable them to exercise the military option to acquire the Tawang Tract should that become necessary.

3. The decision announced by the Tibetan administration on June 19,2007, to upgrade the 108-kilometre rough track that connects the foothills of Mount Everest on their side of the border with the base camp used by mountaineers climbing from the Tibetan side has been projected as meant to facilitate the Olympic Torch of next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing to be taken to the top of the Everest. This upgradation, which has already started, is expected to be completed in four months at a cost of US $ 20 million. They have stated that this would also promote mountain tourism. They have totally ignored the concerns of environmentalists and nature lovers on the damage to nature and environment that could be caused by this project. They have also made light of the concerns of Indian analysts over the likely military potential of this upgradation.

4. Despite repeatedly professing friendship for India and expressing their interest in developing the multi-dimensional relationship without letting it be stunted by the deadlock in the border talks, the Chinese have been showing a lack of sensitivity to India’s concerns over their continuing military-related relationship with Pakistan and Myanmar and over the new military dimension, which is being imparted to their relations with Sri Lanka. Very often, Chinese analysts project India’s developing relations with the US, Japan and Australia and its increasing activism in the South-East Asian region as meant to contain China. It is not India that has been trying to contain China. It is Beijing that has been trying to contain India.

5. Its repeated claims to Arunachal Pradesh—- or at least the Tawang Tract— are sought to be given an air of legitimacy on the ground that this area historically belonged to Tibet, which was part of China, and that the British managed to have it transferred to India through force and deceit. The Chinese attempts to get possession of the Tawang Tract—if not the whole of Arunachal Pradesh— are sought to be justified on grounds of historic legitimacy.

6. The Chinese claims and policies with regard to Arunachal Pradesh remind one of the similar claims of Hitler’s Nazi Germany to Austria and Al Qaeda’s claims to what it projects as historic Muslim lands, that are now under the possession of non-Muslim powers. Al Qaeda looks upon the Xinjiang region of China as a historic Muslim land that has been occupied by the Hans through deceit and force. One of its objectives is to wage a jihad for the return of this “historic Muslim land” back to the control of the Ummah. The Chinese reject such claims of historic legitimacy when it comes to territory occupied by them, but have no qualms over aping the arguments of the Nazis and Al Qaeda when it comes to their acquiring possession of territory belonging to others if they consider such possession to be in their national interest.

7. It was the failure of Jawaharlal Nehru and V.K.Krishna Menon and those in India’s Ministry of External Affairs who were their advisers to understand the Chinese mind-set, which led to the national humiliation in the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Repeated warnings from the Intelligence Bureau about the large-scale Chinese intrusions into the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh and their construction of a road there were not only ignored, but these disturbing developments were kept away from the knowledge of the public and the Parliament. They fondly believed that they would be able to make the Chinese see reason and withdraw from this region by observing a policy of silence and not articulating our concerns in public. Their fond hopes were belied.

8. It was not the Indian intelligence and security forces which were responsible for the 1962 debacle. It was the political leadership, which was living in an illusory world of its own creation. The debacle brought out our state of unpreparedness—-particularly in the Arunachal Pradesh area. Very limited intelligence capability, no stay behind capapability to harass an illegal occupier of our territory, no dedicated para-military force suited for frontline duties on the Sino-Indian border in the Arunachal Pradesh sector, poor technical intelligence capability, no covert action capability, no worthwhile road infrastructure. It was a disturbing state of affairs.

9. One thought the political leadership had learnt the lessons. Action to remove some of these deficiencies was initiated with American and British help, but even then the development of the road infrastructure in the border areas was not given the urgent importance it deserved lest we provoke the Chinese and land ourselves in another military confrontation. A crash programme to train our intelligence officers in the Chinese language was undertaken. Our Techint capabilities were strengthened. An important outcome of the 1962 debacle was the creation of the Special Security Bureau (SSB) as a dedicated para-military force for front-line, covert action, trans-border intelligence collection and stay behind roles in the Arunachal Pradesh area.

10. As our capabilities were improving, our relations with China too started improving. The 1988 visit of Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, to China brought the bonhomie, which had disappeared since 1962, back to the bilateral relationship. We went back into our world of illusions thinking that China would not repeat 1962. The dedicated role of the SSB was sought to be diluted on the ground that in view of the improvement in our relations with China we no longer needed such a force.

11. In the 1990s, when Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, a determined effort was made by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to divest the SSB of its dedicated role in Arunachal Pradesh and to have it placed under the direct control of the MHA for use in mantaining law and order in other parts of the country and to perform security duties on the Nepal border. Narasimha Rao shot down the attempt of the MHA to have the role of the SSB changed. He felt that we should not have any illusions about any permanent change for the better in the designs of the Chinese in Arunachal Pradesh.

12. The Government headed by Shri A.B.Vajpayee initiated the process of dismantling the intelligence-cum-security set up created in Arunachal Pradesh in the wake of the 1962 debacle. The SSB was divested of its Tibet-specific role and converted almost into one more central police organisation and placed under the control of the MHA for being used on the Nepal border and other parts of India. Today, as the Chinese are becoming increasingly difficult on the Tawang issue, we do not have a dedicated and specially-trained para-military force for performing frontline duties on the border between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet.

13. Till 1988, there used to be a close monitoring of the intelligence collection capabilities with regard to China. This has gradually gone into disuse after Rajiv Gandhi’s euphoric visit to China in 1988. The Special Task Force for the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus set up by the Vajpayee Government in 2000 in the wake of the Kargil conflict of 1999 had largely Pakistan-centric terms of reference. It paid very inadequate attention to China. One does not know whether in the light of the increasing Chinese obstinacy on the Tawang issue, a review has been made of our intelligence and security-related capabilities with relation to China. If not, this must be given urgent priority.

14. While our Prime Minister has not openly articulated any sense of unease over the Chinese determination to get Tawang and over the strengthening of China’s military-related capabilities in Tibet right up to its border with India, other senior Ministers such as Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Minister For External Affairs, and Shri A.K.Antony, the Defence Minister, have shown a refreshingly new readiness to call a spade a spade in public.

15.Talking to journalists at Shillong on June 16,2007, Shri Mukherjee said that “he had made it clear to his new Chinese counterpart that any elected Government of India is not permitted by the provisions of the Constitution to part with any part of our land that sends representatives to the Indian Parliament.”

16. He added: “The days of Hitler are over.After the Second World War, no country captures land of another country in the present global context. That is why there is a civilised mechanism of discussions and dialogue to sort out border disputes. We sit around the table and discuss disputes to resolve them.”

17. The international community has recognised that the days of coveting the territory of another country in the name historic legitimacy are over, but unfortunately, not China and Al Qaeda.

18. Shri Antony told journalists at New Delhi on June 18,2007:” China has been building infrastructure (near the Line of Actual Control). We are also building infrastructure.Nobody can prevent both sides. There is nothing wrong in that. They have the right to build infrastructure on their territory. We have the right to do that on ours. We are also trying to hasten the development of our infrastructure. They have their perception (about Arunachal Pradesh). On our part, we are very categorical that Arunachal Pradesh is part of India.”

19. These are welcome signals to Beijing of our determination to defend Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang. But signals without strength will serve little purpose. Strength can come only from concrete action on the ground to strengthen our intelligence and military-related capabilities in Arunachal Pradesh.. (22-6-07)

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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