Prem Shankar Jha

Last month’s election in Jammu and Kashmir gave a ‘hung verdict’ of a new kind: most of the seats in Jammu ( 25 ) went to the BJP, But most of the seats in Kashmir (28)went to Mufti Sayeed’s mildly nationalist Peoples’ Democratic party. Thus neither party could form a government on its own in the 87 member state assembly.  This verdict brought to a head a struggle for power between the two main parts of this heterogeneous state whose roots go back  500 years. The split verdict has created both a crisis and an opportunity.  The article reproduced below, which  appeared in the Indian Express on December 31, 2014  examines its roots and what is at stake in the State. 

 

The election results  in Jammu and Kashmir have brought to the forefront an issue that has dogged Kashmir’s relations with the rest of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It is, ‘which part of the state will  dominate policy-making —Jammu or Kashmir?

In the hundred years before Independence , it was the Dogras from Jammu. Prior to that , while Jammu was squarely a part of the Mughal and later Sikh empires, Kashmir had been  ruled for more than five hundred years by a succession of invaders, ranging from Afghans to Sikhs.

In 1947, therefore, the feeling of  disempowerment was far more acute in Kashmir than in Jammu. It was assuaged only when Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference came to power in 1947.  Sheikh Abdullah’s 1945  war cry of ‘Down with Dogra rule’ was not a repudiation of ‘Hindu’ rule, but of domination by rulers from Jammu. The National conference, and indeed the Sheikh’s, endorsement of the Maharaja’s accession to India was wildly popular in the valley because it shifted the base of  power in the state from  Jammu to Kashmir. To the educated , politically sensitive sections of the Kashmir’s population, this was ‘independence’ after more than 500 years of enslavement.

The need to empower Kashmiris explains Sheikh Abdullah’s  lack of interest in recovering Gilgit, Skardu and “Azad’ Kashmir from Pakistan. He knew only too well that  this would  make Kashmir’s pre-eminance harder to sustain.

The roots of Abdullah’s growing disenchantment with India in the six years that followed Accession and his eventual, disastrous imprisonment, lay in Nehru’s failure to understand that waiting for Pakistan to vacate  POK before holding a plebiscite was endangering not only its outcome but also Kasmir valley ( and the NC’s) control over the state. He was privy to the fact that Pathans  made up only a fifth of the ‘Raiders’ from Pakistan and that  more than two-fifths  had come from POK. So had Nehru gone ahead with a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference would have been happy as clams because it would not only have fully legitimized the Accession in the part India controlled, but also   Kashmir’s domination of Jammu in Indian Kashmir.

The reason why the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s government  rigged every election in the valley from 1957 till 1972 was its need to maintain its dominance of the state in the face of declining popularity. The  suppression of dissent in the valley that this entailed led  to the uprising of 1990.

The insurgency, however, broke Kashmir’s hold over Jammu. In the ensuing decade Jammu’s politics became detached from those of Kashmir and became those of the mainland. This parting of the ways, first vividly demonstrated by Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir in July 2008,  reached its consummation this week.

Today  the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir is almost complete. This has confronted the PDP and BJP with an extraordinary  challenge, but also a unique opportunity. To its credit the PDP has been the first to realize that running a stable, functionally efficient and politically  equitable government will not be possible if the polarization is not reversed.  This requires  cooperation – preferably a coalition – between  the PDP and the BJP. But a coalition can only take shape if there is a broad agreement on the principles and goals of governance.

To the PDP the irreducible minimum is for the BJP to  respect Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnic and religious diversity, explicitly distance itself from communal polarization in Kashmir and other parts of India, and  avoid any attempt to change Kashmir’s special position within  the Indian constitution.

Since the BJP’s  main concern at the moment is to  capture the chief ministership, and  since Mufti Sayeed had shown in 2002 that he is not averse to sharing the chief ministership of the state, a deal is possible. But for this the BJP must agree to the basic principles of governance that Mufti has outlined.

This would have posed no problem for Mr  Vajpayee, but today’s BJP is a different party in all but name.  For Mr. Modi, therefore , stepping back from the programmes of communal polarization that the Sangh Parivar’s  hardliners have  let loose on the country, and resuming a constructive dialogue with Pakistan will be a supreme test of leadership.

It will also be a test of his sagacity. For Pakistan’s encounter with the most bestial face of has become a defining moment for its government and army. The Nawaz Sharif government has shed the last vestiges of its ambivalence towards Islamist terrorism, and declared an all-out war on it within Pakistan. It has lifted a six-year moratorium on the death sentence with the specific purpose of putting terrorists it held in its jails  to death.

Around  500 terrorists are likely to be executed in the next few weeks. It is also revising its criminal code to award harsh punishment to terrorists, and is setting up special military courts  for their  speedy trial.

This is part of a comprehensive strategy that is designed to cut off all the insurgents’ sources of income including donations to charities under whose rubric they received their funds. The government also intends to enact a ban on religious persecution and punish the abuse of the internet for  the glorification of terrorism and  organizations sponsoring it.

 

The trigger was undoubtedly the killing of 133 children  in a Peshawar school, but the demand to lift the moratorium had in fact been made by the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif,  before this barbaric attack. Thus although it has done so for its own reasons, Pakistan is on the point of meeting Mr Modi’s demand that it should stamp out  terrorism within its own country  in order to build lasting good relations with India.

In the coming two years Pakistan will need all the help—military and economic– it can get. India could provide some of it indirectly by enabling it to move its troops from the Indian to the Afghan border. This would go a long way towards healing the scars of Partition. But even if does not, India will still be much better off with a stable Pakistan that is no longer hosting  terrorists, than it is today.

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Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first ten months of 2012. But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir. This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates, has killed 35 civilians in POK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: first, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire in August, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150 year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicized by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government, born out of a change of policy towards India. Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses”, a senior Indian Home Ministry official told Reuters.” The Modi government has decisively closed the doors to a return to diplomacy. Not only will it not talk to Pakistan till it stops provoking India through its violations of the LoC, but it will not do so till Pakistan acknowledges that Kashmir is “an integral part of India”. Third: unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Mr. Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming …. the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The Enemy”; note the choice of phrase. An aggressive a response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation. Most policy analysts too have looked only for reasons why Pakistan has changed its policy towards India, without considering that the mote might be in India’s eye. The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power. Not only do they dominate the countryside in southern and western Afghanistan but they have moved into the north and all but captured the province of Kunduz. The Americans have armed the Afghan national army with modern weapons but left it with an air force that consists of two C-130 transport planes, 80 helicopters and a nascent drone reconnaissance capability. This is far from sufficient to give the ANA the close air support it will need to fight the Taliban. The ANA itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt. Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pak army, Gen. Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter. Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers, almost a third of his regular army, from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more. He is also rapidly de-mechanising infantry divisions that had been mechanized only a few years ago in the belief that India was Pakistan’s main enemy. If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, the only other country that has come to its financial aid in the past, has made it crystal clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Dr Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Dr Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

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Israel has been at the heart of the turmoil in the middle-east for the last eleven years. During this period it has bombed Lebanon, imposed an embargo on Gaza, then bombed Gaza not once but twice. It has bombed Syria without provocation several times, most recently in May 2013, just possibly with a mini-nuke, played a key role in destroying Iraq, and had almost convinced the US and EU to unleash an all out air attack on Syria in reprisal for using chemical weapons against civilians, before the British chemical and biological weapons centre at Porton Down concluded that the Sarin gas used in these attacks could not have come from the Syrian army.

For the past ten years Israel has also spared no effort to instigate a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This relentless warmongering, and especially its second attack on Gaza, has brought it close to becoming an international pariah. Yet Israel has also been one of India’s staunchest allies. Not only has it given India its unstinting support on international issues, but it has been the most important supplier of arms and sophisticated defence technology to us during the past two decades. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN general Assembly was therefore both an act of courage and of affirmation.

But Netanyahu did not want to meet Modi simply because he is the prime minister of a brave new India. He had an urgent purpose: to persuade India to join the global coalition that Obama is forging to fight ISIS unconditionally. This is because Netanyahu’s goal is not to destroy ISIS but to ensure its survival and continued control of northern Iraq and Eastern Syria.

Netanyahu has made no secret of this. On June 22, when Obama briefly toyed with the idea of enlisting Iran in the defence of Iraq, he went on MSNBC’s Meet the Press programme and said: “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. By far the worst outcome that can come out of this is for one of these factions, Iran, to come out of this with nuclear weapons capability. That would be a tragic mistake. It would make everything else pale in comparison.”

So great is Israel’s influence on American politics that it has succeeded in preventing a decisive US response to ISIS invasion of Iraq for three whole months. This delay has allowed it to grow from 800 to between 15,000 and 31,000 fighters, and embed itself through a reign of terror in the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, Fallujah, Ramadi and a string of smaller towns closer to Baghdad. Only the public execution of two American journalists and a British aid worker, accompanied by taunts and threats to the US and Europe, has forced Obama to raise his target from ‘degrading’ ISIS’ capability to destroying it. To do this he has assembled a Global Coalition of almost 70 countries, 27 of whom have undertaken to take part in the operations.

Netanyahu could not prevent this. But he still hopes to achieve his goal because he understands, perhaps better than anyone else in the middle east, that the strategy Obama unveiled on September 11 for destroying ISIS is bound to fail. This has three components: attack ISIS from the air to kill its leaders, destroy its bases and training camps,and make it impossible for it to move out in force; send more American soldiers and specialists to guard the embassy in Baghdad and enhance the military capability of the Iraqi forces, and train a new 5,000-man army of moderate Sunnis in Saudi Arabia to fight ISIS on the ground.
The gaping hole in this plan is the absence of ground troops. Air power would have sufficed when ISIS was traveling in pick-up trucks across open desert. Today ISIS fighters will move into city centers, from building to building, build tunnels and underground redoubts, and use civilians as human shields. Without large numbers of ground troops, therefore, ISIS can no more be destroyed than the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Where will the troops come from?

A look at the membership of the coalition that the US has put together only shows where they will not come from. The US has 1,700 specialists and marines in Iraq and may send some more. But Obama has sworn that there will be no combat troops. Will any of the European members of the coalition send their soldiers to fight ISIS? After Afghanistan the answer is self-evident.

As for the US’ Sunni Muslim allies, not only do their armies not have the necessary numbers, but even their desire to fight ISIS, whom they were arming, and paying until yesterday, is questionable. In fact Turkey, despite being a member of NATO, has not only refused to join the Coalition, but demanded that the US create a ‘no fly zone’ to prevent Assad’s forces from attacking ISIS from the rear. As for training ‘good rebels’ to fight both ISIS and Assad, the CIA has been trying to do this in Jordan for more than two years and hasn’t found many recruits.

The Indian army has the manpower to fill this gap. But Mr Modi will do well not to make any commitments until Syria and Iran have been asked to join it. Syria is the only country that has both the will and the capacity to fight ISIS on the ground. But it is also the only country Obama has explicitly refused to ask. The reason is its closeness to Iran and Israel’s obsession with the threat Iran poses to its security.

The Syrian army has lost 200,000 soldiers killed and wounded in the past 42 months. Three and a half years of seeing its surrendered brethren having their throats cut like sheep on ‘social’ websites, has hardened its will to fight to the end. This is because it, and the Syrian people, understand that the civil war is not between Sunnis and Shias, but between enlightened, secular Islam and a ruthless Wahhaby fringe that believes that God has given it the right to kill Takfiris (apostates). Forced to choose between defending a harsh, oppressive, but secular regime and an even harsher religious tyranny they have chosen the former.

With its immense army India has the capacity to tilt the scales decisively against ISIS. But it should only do so on condition that Syria and Iran are also asked to join the coalition. As Mr. Modi said to the UN General Assembly, terrorism is a global threat, so everyone should be asked to join in the fight against it. There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists, only terrorists.

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When India’s ambassador Ashok Kantha presented his credentials along with 13 other ambassadors to Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, he was one of only three diplomats with whom the president held one-to-one talks after the ceremony was over. One would have thought that this was as unambiguous, a signal of the importance that Xi’s government attached to its relations with India, as any a government could have given. But what he told ambassador Kantha at the meeting was even more significant: he regarded furthering the India-China strategic partnership as his historic mission. What he wished to do was to move India-China relations beyond the bilateral context and deepen cooperation on regional and global issues.

Xi’s gesture was not an isolated one. India’s Republic Day reception in Beijing on 26 January was attended by Vice-President Li Yuanchao. Not only was this extremely unusual but, to the amazement of the European diplomats who were present, Li went on to deliver a short speech extolling the historic relations between China and India.

This too had followed a succession of overtures to India by the new government in Beijing, whose significance New Delhi either did not, or did not want to, recognise. These included China’s speedy withdrawal of its troops from the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in Ladakh after their initial intrusion; Xi’s declaration after his meeting with Manmohan Singh at the BRICS summit in Durban last year that he wanted to settle the Himalayan border dispute not “gradually” but “as early as possible”; and his decision, also communicated to Singh at Durban, to make India the first country that his Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, would visit on his tour of Asia in May.

Since then, Chinese participants at several seminars have mentioned Beijing’s desire to raise the bilateral ties to one of long-term strategic cooperation. But India has reacted to these overtures with considerable wariness. Only a day after Xi’s meeting with ambassador Kantha, New Delhi summarily refused to give Chinese aircraft permission to enter, or overfly, the Andaman Sea in search of wreckage from Malaysian Airlines’ ill-fated flight MH-370. Considering that the majority of its 240 passengers were Chinese, this was a callous thing to have done. But what was even more disturbing was the vociferous approval that the Indian public bestowed upon the government for its rejection. One anonymous military official summed up the national attitude when he told the South China Morning Post: “We don’t want Chinese warships sniffing around in the area on the pretext of hunting for the missing jetliner or anti-piracy patrols.”

The contrast between Xi’s overtures and this viscerally distrustful response is so striking that it is difficult to see how the gap in trust can ever be bridged. Yet, bridge it we must if we want to resolve our longstanding border dispute, and play a constructive role in the remaking of the chaotic international State system.

As the 1962 war had shown, our Himalayan border is an area where we are at a severe military disadvantage. Diplomacy is, therefore, the only way forward, but its success depends upon building a measure of trust. This is the ingredient that is missing in our relations with China. The reasons, as The Times of India noted on 24 March, lie in the border war of 1962.

To say that the Indian public, its armed forces and most of its policymakers remain traumatised by that humiliating defeat would be an understatement. But the reason why the trauma has endured long after the Chinese seem to have put it behind them is not just that we suffered a defeat, but that we have never understood precisely why the war took place. Indians remain convinced that China was the aggressor. It claimed 140,000 sq km of Indian territory across the entire length of the Himalayas, and had begun nibbling away at it as far back as in 1954. But in his widely read book, India’s China War, Australian journalist Neville Maxwell has squarely accused India, and then PM Jawaharlal Nehru in particular, of having started the war.

Maxwell has accused Nehru of being an “imperialist” who adopted a Forward Policy of defending the borders drawn in Tibet unilaterally by the British, and of trying to evict China from any territory it occupied west and south of these borders through the use of “non-violent force”. The Chinese, he claims, were slow to catch on to his designs and continued to believe, until as late as 1961, that he would negotiate the borders in the Himalayas peacefully. They were only shaken out of their stupor by India’s aggressive patrolling and establishment of scores of posts along its definition of the border. From this, Maxwell went on to declare India the aggressor in the 1962 war, and China the victim.

Indian scholars and analysts have tried to refute many of Maxwell’s thesis for more than four decades. But they have been severely handicapped by lack of access to the Indian Army’s report on the causes of the military debacle, written by Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Victoria Cross holder Brig Prem Bhagat. Maxwell, on the other hand, was given a copy of the report, which he did not put out in the public domain, but used liberally to prove his thesis — a thesis that accepted the Chinese version of events as uncritically as it rejected the Indian.

Forced to rely upon anecdotal evidence to refute Maxwell, scholars such as K Subramaniam and Inder Malhotra have only managed to dent the edges of his assertions. As a result, Indians have never achieved closure on their humiliating defeat. Instead, as it happened to the Germans after their sudden, unexplained, defeat in World War I, the wound has continued to fester. Today, our incomprehension of the past is threatening to poison our future.

For Indians, closure will only come when they too have read the Brooks- Bhagat report and used its solid factual base to draw their own conclusions. But if the government had continued to have its way, the report would have remained in limbo, possibly forever. However, in February, Maxwell did the Indian people an inestimable service by releasing the first part of the Brooks-Bhagat report on his website. New Delhi’s immediate reaction was the inexcusable one of blocking his website. But, fortunately for us and our future, by the time it did so, several copies of the report had already been downloaded and are now available on the Internet. This has at last given the Indian people an opportunity to understand the past and put it behind them.

The report does not speculate upon the political causes of the war. Its mandate was solely to conduct an “operations review” of the causes of “the reverses suffered by the army, particularly in the Kameng division of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA)”. Its terms of reference were to inquire into “what went wrong with the following: 1. Training; 2. Equipment; 3. System of Command; 4. Physical fitness of the troops; and 5. Capacity of commanders at all levels to influence the men under their command.

But Brooks and Bhagat concluded very early on that to carry out their mandate they needed first to examine the “developments and events prior to the hostilities, as well as the balance, posture and strength of the army at the outbreak of hostilities”. Their conclusions were so damning that they caused the report to be buried. The sections of the report now available to us give an insight into why this happened.

The report confirms that the war was indeed triggered by India’s Forward Policy and condemns it because it violated every canon of the art of war, and scaled new heights of ineptitude. But it also makes it clear that this policy was adopted only in December 1961. Prior to that, the Indian government had adopted a defensive policy that was intended to maintain the status quo in the Himalayas and avoid conflict to the maximum extent possible. In so doing, it also reveals the extent to which Maxwell had uncritically swallowed China’s version of the conflict in his book.

Till late 1959, the report points out, the Indo-Tibetan border was a dormant one. The army was not even involved in policing it — the task had been left to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. But two violent clashes, in August at Longju on the western edge of NEFA, and in October at Kongka La on the Kashmir-Xinjiang frontier, turned it into a ‘live’ border.

The government’s task for the army was “to restrict any further Chinese ingress into Indian territory in Ladakh” and “to establish our rights of possession on our side of the McMahon Line and to prevent infiltration”. Both these directives were very far from the Forward Policy that, Maxwell claimed, Nehru had adopted in the early-to-mid 1950s.

Following the army’s assumption of responsibility for policing the border, the Army Headquarters issued an “intelligence appreciation” of the Chinese forces in both regions. This was followed by “operational instructions” to the Eastern Command in December 1959, and to the Western Command in February 1960. In Ladakh, the intelligence appreciation estimated that the Chinese would deploy one regiment plus a few tanks. Based upon this, the Army HQ concluded that any future confrontations would involve troops at no more than company or battalion strength. To counter the Chinese deployment, therefore, the Western Command was asked to deploy one brigade and two battalions of the Jammu & Kashmir Militia. In fact, the area was so remote that by the end of 1960, the Western Command had only been able to deploy one infantry battalion (one third of a brigade) and the J&K Militia.

In the eastern sector, the intelligence appreciation prepared in 1959, estimated that China had one division facing Sikkim and Bhutan, up to two regiments on the McMahon Line in western NEFA, and one regiment in eastern NEFA. However, it concluded that China was in no position to launch an offensive because it was still “consolidating its hold on Tibet”. So the Eastern Command deployed just one infantry division in NEFA. It also had a division in Nagaland, and two brigades west of NEFA, but given the vast distances, the mountainous terrain and the absence of roads, these were in no position to reinforce the troops in NEFA within any meaningful period of time.

The operating instructions to the two commands were also similar: establish posts; patrol the areas in between; show the flag, but avoid confrontations. In the eastern sector, the orders were explicit: there was to be no patrolling closer than 2-3 miles from the McMahon Line. There was to be no aggressive action on any count; if Chinese patrols were encountered south of the line, they were to be told to withdraw. The troops were to fire only in self-defence.

Maxwell cites India’s refusal of a Chinese proposal for a mutual withdrawal of forces by 20 km after the Kongka La clash as proof of Nehru’s imperialism, but the report suggests a different explanation. Kongka La was 65-80 km inside what India considered its territory. Thus, agreeing to a 20 km separation from this point would have been tantamount to ceding the rest of the territory to China. However, in practice, India did precisely that: except at one point (Demchok), it kept its troops west of “the Chinese Claim”, a line proposed by the Chinese in 1954 but not accepted by India. In addition, both countries took care to leave a wide gap between their forces.

In 1960, possibly after then premier Chou Enlai’s failure to make Nehru agree to renegotiating the border, the Chinese began to build up their forces in both sectors. By October 1960, they had more than one division in Ladakh, including supporting armour, and had built roads and tracks to all their western outposts, greatly improving their capacity strengthen them at short notice. An even more striking imbalance developed in the eastern sector. By July 1961, China had three full divisions supported by armour and mountain artillery in NEFA, two in the west and one in the east.

In October 1960, therefore, the Western Command asked that its forces in Ladakh be built up to a full division. But instead, for reasons that the report does not analyse, it did not get a single additional unit of any size. In December 1961, therefore, the Western Command had only one regular and two J&K light infantry battalions without armour, without even mortars and medium machine guns, without access roads, supplied wholly from the air to face the Chinese forces in Aksai Chin.

Much the same story was repeated in the Northeast. In May 1961, the Eastern Command also submitted an Emergency Expansion Plan that involved raising five more divisions for different parts of the Himalayan frontier. But although it kept pressing New Delhi for more troops for the next two years, it got none. Therefore, to man NEFA’s 900 km border with Tibet, it had a single division minus a brigade that had, for reasons unknown, been detached and sent to Nagaland.

This was the grim imbalance in both sectors when the government decided in November 1961 to adopt the Forward Policy. The Army HQ’s directives required the Eastern and Western Commands to set up scores of new outposts and push patrols as close as possible to the India-defined border in Ladakh and to the McMahon Line in NEFA. But both the commands had to do this without a single additional soldier.

New Delhi’s instructions remained to avoid conflict and fire only in self-defence, but the Brooks-Bhagat report leaves readers in no doubt that the Forward Policy was, in military terms, both irresponsible and indefensible. In Ladakh, it increased the number of outposts to 60 and located most of them in positions that overlooked the Chinese road through Aksai Chin. This was a situation that Beijing was virtually guaranteed not to tolerate. It demonstrated this by setting up its posts opposite the Indian posts and frequently surrounding Indian posts. This led to five armed confrontations. The most serious occurred on the Galwan river.

In May 1962, overriding the objections of the Western Command, the Army HQ ordered it to set up a post on the Galwan river. When it was set up in July, it was immediately surrounded by 70 Chinese soldiers. The Western Command advised against supplying the post through a land route and doing so only from the air, but New Delhi overruled it once more and ordered it to use the land route. The supply columns were forced back day after day for four days. In all, the siege of the Galwan post lasted for 12 days.

In NEFA, the Eastern Command set up 24 new posts. Many of these were up to 14 days’ march from their bases. This created a logistical nightmare and put the troops at risk of death through exposure, disease and starvation. The Chinese responded by setting up posts opposite the Indian posts. This brought the troops into eyeball confrontation. By late summer 1962, therefore, the entire border had become a powder keg.

Although Brooks and Bhagat did their best to stay within the narrow confines of their terms of reference, they found it impossible to do so without shedding some light on why the government ordered an army, which had been enfeebled by being stretched ever thinner, to initiate hostilities against a vastly superior force that had all the advantages of terrain and logistics on its side. Its conclusion was damning: “Against all evidence of increasing military disadvantage, and all the warnings that the Chinese gave us by actions like those at Galwan and Dhola, the government had convinced itself that when forced to choose between going to war against India and withdrawing, the Chinese would withdraw. Their indictment of the Forward Policy approaches the heights of literature: The Art of War teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming but on our readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking but on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

In the end, it was New Delhi that provided the casus belli for the war. As part of the Forward Policy, the Army HQ had decided to set up a post at the tri-junction of the Bhutan, India and Tibet border, but in August 1962, it was informed by the Eastern Command that although the McMahon Line broadly follows the watershed, the tri-junction was not located upon it, but 3-4 miles south of it. Chinese patrols had been coming south of the watershed till the tri-junction shown on the maps, so New Delhi decided to move its Dhola post 4 miles north to the tri-junction on the watershed. However, to “avoid alarm and queries from all concerned”, it decided to continue giving it the map reference of the old tri-junction. On 8 September, the Chinese surrounded the Dhola post with 600 soldiers.

The Eastern Command’s immediate response was to send an order to the local units to “link up” with the Dhola post, i.e force a way through the Chinese encirclement. This was followed by a spate of top-level meetings, chaired by defence minister Krishna Menon in New Delhi and the army chief in Tezpur, Assam. At these meetings, the 33rd Corps, which had the immediate responsibility for NEFA, recommended sending two battalions to encircle the Chinese who were laying siege to Dhola from the south. But this sensible and realistic proposal was brushed aside at both the meetings and the army was ordered to clear the Chinese out, using force if necessary. When Indian troops attempted to carry out this suicidal order, they gave China the invitation to attack in strength that it was waiting for.

What should the Indian public and its representatives learn from the disclosures contained in the Brooks-Bhagat report? The most important is that China is not the aggressive, expansionist nation that two generations of Indians have been reared to believe. In Indian eyes, China committed its original act of aggression when it began to build a road connecting Tibet and Xinjiang through Aksai Chin in the mid-1950s. But the term “aggression” presupposes the existence of recognised, and clearly demarcated national boundaries. Aksai Chin, however, fell in no-man’s land between the Karakoram and the Kuen Lun mountain ranges where no recognised border existed. Based upon trade and travel routes, the Chinese considered the Karakoram range to be the traditional frontier between Ladakh and Tibet, but the boundary line that India had inherited from the British lay further east along the Kuen Lun mountains. Topography and hindsight show us that this alignment lost its raison d’etre the moment China annexed Tibet, for the British had chosen it with the specific purpose of blocking the valleys between the two ranges that could have given Russia easy access to Tibet, and thence to India and southern China, through Tibet. This alignment was, therefore, a product of The Great Game, and became history when China annexed Tibet.

It also became a claw stuck into China’s underbelly, for it lay athwart the road it needed to build to connect Tibet to Xinjiang. Given Aksai Chin’s importance to China and unimportance to India, the Ladakh border could have been settled easily through negotiation. But there is no record of the Chinese ever having formally raised this issue before starting to build the Tibet-Xinjiang road.

However, having secured its basic requirement, China went to great lengths to demonstrate its desire for a negotiated settlement. The lengths to which it was prepared to go were demonstrated by Chou when he virtually forced himself upon Nehru in New Delhi in February 1960, and went from one Indian Cabinet minister’s home to the next, trying to obtain a consensus. Nehru’s failure to take advantage of this extraordinary overture must be counted as one of the greater, and by far, the most costly, diplomatic mistake India has made. For the hostility that Chou encountered, and the humiliation to which he was subjected by ministers such as Morarji Desai, almost certainly triggered the rapid build-up of Chinese forces in the east and the west, that led Nehru and his advisers to adopt the Forward Policy.

But even then, the Chinese exhibited a strong preference for the use of “nonviolent force”. Thus they surrounded but did not attack the Galwan and Dhola posts. The message, again, was that they preferred to settle the dispute through negotiation, although the price would almost certainly be higher.

The report also reveals that the Chinese have been remarkably consistent in the terms they have set for a settlement. In Ladakh, the terms of the 1993 Agreement for Peace and Tranquility in the Border Regions, including the pulling back of troops by both countries to create a non-militarised border zone, are almost identical to the status quo that was established in 1960. This was also true of NEFA (now Arunachal) till 2006 when, without any warning, the Chinese went back to describing the whole of the state as a disputed are and calling it Southern Tibet.

By putting the blame for the war squarely upon the Forward Policy and, therefore, by implication upon Nehru, the report has also forces us to re-examine the prevailing belief that Nehru’s bloated sense of his own importance made it impossible for him to believe that the Chinese would ever attack India. This is simplistic to say the least, for it leaves out one crucial ingredient in the decision-making process: the role played by public opinion in tying his hands and leaving him with very few options.

The Indian public had never accepted Nehru’s tame acceptance of China’s annexation of Tibet, and was viscerally hostile to China. It had been enraged by the discovery of the Aksai Chin road, and alarmed by the incidents at Longju and Kongka La. The publicity that surrounded the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet and arrival in India in April 1959 and the stories of Chinese atrocities brought by his followers had rekindled the anger of the people. Inder Malhotra, who was then the political correspondent of The Statesman, has given a graphic account of the pressures that this generated upon Nehru:

“Before and during the failed summit, bitter domestic discord raged in this country, at times theatrically. Nehru had to brush aside strident demands that there should be no welcome for Chou Enlai throughout his stay. Despite the chill, all courtesies were maintained. But on the demand for the exclusion from the negotiations of his protégé, the controversial defence minister Krishna Menon, Nehru had no option but to yield. However, when Menon did manage to have a pow-wow with Chou Enlai, popular rage knew no bounds.”

The dangers that democracies face from ill-informed public opinion is, therefore, the second lesson to be learned from the debacle of 1962. Nehru knew that he had used up most of his political capital getting Indians to accept China’s annexation of Tibet. When China began to build its Tibet-Xinjiang road without even informing, let alone reaching an agreement with India, and when a spate of revelations of the oppression the Chinese had unleashed upon Tibet gained currency after the Dalai Lama’s arrival, he felt unable to concede any more ground.

Even at this point, Nehru wanted to do no more than establish a new de facto line of separation between Tibet and Ladakh. But finding himself caught between the renewed Chinese military build-up in Aksai Chin and NEFA, and a rising “bunker mentality” at home, he may have felt that showing the flag to establish red lines was the only option left, at least to buy time till things cooled down. What is more, had the Chinese Communist Party not entered a period of crisis at that precise moment, he might just might have gotten away with it.

What Nehru failed to take into account, and what Maxwell does not even mention, are the changes that were taking place within China that were pushing it towards a Grenada-style “small winnable war”. In 1959, the Great Leap Forward had just started, so the Chinese were content to stake out the territory they needed for the Aksai Chin road. But by 1962, it had failed.

China’s leaders had cut down tens of thousands of acres of forests for firewood, produced worthless junk in its backyard furnaces, and plunged an already poor country into famine. Lacking a national food market, Beijing had been forced to sit helplessly by as 16 million people starved to death. In 1962, therefore, Mao Tse-tung knew that the Communist Party’s Mandate of Heaven was in tatters and needed something to shore it up. New Delhi’s 21 September orzder to push the Chinese off the Thagla ridge must have come as a gift from heaven.

To sum up, the 1962 war was not a product of Chinese expansionism (if one rules out its annexation of Tibet). Nor was it a product of Nehru’s, ie India’s imperialism. It arose out of China’s attempt at consolidation. China tried repeatedly to nudge India towards a negotiated solution, but did not realise that no democracy could afford to negotiate from a position of weakness. On his part, Nehru was not the puffed-up peacock that his present-day critics make him out to be, but a visionary leader who failed to make his people accept his vision, fell foul of public opinion, and lost his capacity to lead the country at a crucial time on a crucial issue. The crucial error that both countries made was not to perceive the visceral link between foreign and domestic policy. China never understood how public opinion could impede the search for a negotiated solution; Nehru did not have the faintest inkling of how much China’s natural aversion to conflict had been eroded by the failure of the Great Leap Forward.

The 1962 war was a product of these failures, but these are failures typical of young nations. Both countries have learned immensely valuable lessons from it. This became apparent in 2009, when after three years of increasing acrimony, renewed aggressive patrolling and frequent intrusions across the Line of Actual Control, and an unambiguous ultimatum by China to prevent the Dalai Lama from visiting Tawang, it was then premier Wen Jiabao who took the initiative to meet Manmohan in Thailand, and arrest the drift towards a repeat of 1962.

What is even more significant, both governments realised that public opinion, inflamed by the international media, was the main impediment to peace and arrived at the brilliantly innovative decision to ban the international, and limit the local media’s presence in Tawang, while allowing the Dalai Lama to continue his trip unimpeded.

When India is on the verge of an epochal shift in its domestic politics, the publication of the Brooks-Bhagat report has provided the historical perspective that the next government will need to respond positively to China’s overtures.

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