TIBET: The Real Challenge to Indian foreign Policy


Shakti, December 1965

The emphasis on caution in the Foreign Minister’s reply to the debate on Foreign Affairs in the Indian Parliament is hardly the result of a preoccupation with a careful study of the aims and methods of preserving our national security which is being gravely threatened by China and Pakistan. Indeed Prime Minister Shastri’s pronouncements have led the public to expect a fundamental rethinking on the requirements of an adequate strategy which it was further hoped would lead to a central role for the concept of Deterrence. The personal popularity of the Prime Minister expressed in the rousing receptions he has received in all the states of India he has visited is not due to any belated discovery that India could inflict a military defeat on Pakistan. The confidence of the Indian public in Mr. Shastri is related to the feeling that as the chief decision-maker he is capable of flexible and independent initiatives on behalf of Asia’s largest democracy which has to compete with states which have autocratic decision-making systems. His predecessor Mr. Nehru came under increasing public criticism for his handling of foreign affairs with a rigid and dogmatic international outlook. The Ministry of External Affairs, with the exception of a few competent individual officers, has a tarnished public image chiefly because it has persistently advocated a static view of world affairs when even those with no more than a nodding acquaintance with the profiles of personalities and policies of world powers could see that new power centres were emerging. The Foreign office failed to take account of the far reaching change in the global situation following the emergence of the nuclear stalemate. Then again the break-up of the monolithic unity of International Communism was not analysed in a scientifically rigorous manner and no definite policy conclusions emerged. The naivette of the foreign office policy makers was particularly evident in the cliché-ridden Indian policy towards the Middle-east where on no occasion did India correctly estimate the unity and contradiction in the Arab world and no efforts were made to explore the possibilities of a mutually beneficial dialogue with Israel. There is, however, rarely so foolish a policy produced by a foreign office as that which led India to recognise Chinese rule over Tibet. It is only criminal negligence of India’s security interest which can explain the failure to examine the role which Tibet could play in future Chinese nuclear strategy. It was known that Communist China was developing an indigenous nuclear capacity and it did not require imagination to consider that China would also one day develop ballistic missiles for which Tibet would be an ideal base. The foreign office does not deem to have identified any motives in Chinese policy for the establishment of Chinese hegemony in Asia and it was not till 1962 that it saw it fit to establish specialised Research on China. All these facts are well known and even within the Ministry of External Affairs the more sober and intelligent officers have been pressing for radical reforms. Many of the senior officials were personally involved in construction of policies which had led to the sacrifice of India’s national interests, and they had naturally grave fears that if any radical reforms were undertaken unpleasant facts might come to light which would imperil their careers. This theme explains the status-quo mindedness of the Ministry of the External Affairs.

Prime Minister Shastri’s new pragmatism has not won the allegiance of the Ministry of External Affairs. And recently it would seem as if the dogmatic approach to foreign affairs has staged a come-back with renewed vigour. The Foreign Minister is in no mood to cut the dead wood so that new ideas may sprout and help Mr. Shastri to build the morale of the nation on the firm basis of National Security. When faced with grave crisis outstanding foreign Ministers are able to respond with new initiatives which can exploit the weaknesses of the countries enemies. But it almost spells failure when a Foreign Minister starts harping on sticking to hallowed policies. Mr. Swaran Singh’s recent behaviour is strongly reminiscent of the attitude of the late John Foster Dulles in the United States of America. The inanities of the Dullesian diplomacy were best expressed by the cliché: Better dead than red. It required the courage of a Kennedy backed by an able adviser like Dean Rusk to breathe optimism into the body politic of American Foreign Relations by the prescription: We shall be neither dead nor red. Indeed Mr. Shastri has himself shown a way out of the despair and diffidence of the earlier regime. In dealing with the aggression from Pakistan, Mr. Shastri rejected the foreign office outlook and returned to the traditional Gandhian decision-making. He revealed his independent powers of decision and the public endorsed his argument that India must decide freely where and in what form it should hit back against an aggressor. The domestic response of national unity and voluntary mobilisation of resources was directly the result of a widely shared conviction that Mr. Shastri would after the bitter experience of the Kutch affair (equivalent to Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs) improve the strategic posture of India by refusing piecemeal concessions. The public in India still associates Non-Appeasement as the essence of the Shastri outlook, although naturally enough the Prime Minister has to frame his arrangements in a language which emphasises continuity rather than change in Indian Foreign Policy.

The foreign Minister’s refusal to modify India’s existing stand on the political aspects of the Tibet issue is a clear example of his failure to understand the mood of the country in the Shastri era. It also reflects his failure to keep himself informed of the changing perspective of China’s involvement in Tibet. Even those die-hards among the China specialists – notably the British Singologists – who thought that Tibet has vanished from the world arena once for all are now beginning to have second thoughts. To quote G.F. Hudson, Director of the Centre of Far Eastern Studies t St. Anthony’s College Oxford:

“Tibet has been so far the thorniest problem of all (for Communist China) for the reconquest in 1950 was not an end of the matter. Chinese settlement in Kham produced a revolt which finally spread to central Tibet and led to the flight of the Dalai Lama into India in 1959. Since the episode coincided with the beginnings of the dispute between India and China over their common frontier, the Tibetan question became to some extent an international issue – which Indian policy had prevented it from becoming in 1950. The political asylum granted to the Dalai Lama and his followers greatly angered the Chinese; on the other hand, India refrained, even after the aggravation of the border conflict from actively aiding the Tibetan rebels by the supplies of arms, doubtless because it was feared in Delhi that China, if provoked too far, would retaliate against one or more of India’s more vulnerable fronts – Kashmir, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan or Nagaland. It remains a possibility, however, that in the event of a renewal of Sino-Indian hostilities India may decide to sponsor the cause of Tibetan independence; certainly supplies of suitable equipment would enormously increase the capacity of Tibetan guerrillas to harass an army of occupation dependent on long lines of communication through wild mountain areas. As against this potential threat the Chinese have made great efforts since the suppression of the rising in Lhasa to conciliate the Tibetan people, and Mr. Stuart Gelder has recently brought back a glowing account of benevolent Chinese empire builders behaving as the more enlightened colonial powers used to behave to natives after pacifying them. It is too early to judge how much success the current Chinese policy will have, but the odds are against it; the Tibetans are a separate nation with a culture of their own and traditions of independence, and it is likely to be a long time before they come to regard china as their “motherland”.

The above extract reveals the dilemmas of the British school of thought which has greatly influenced our Anglophile Ministry of External Affairs and brings out the contradictions which result from the heavy camouflage of Britain’s betrayal of Tibet. Geoffrey Hudson and other British Sino-logists have no one to blame but themselves for being unable to judge how much success current Chinese policy has had in Tibet. The brash manner in which statements of the Dalai Lama’s Headquarters at Dharamsala or the informed judgements of his principal advisers have been ignored by British scholars contrasts with the constructive attitude of Western research projects on Soviet Union and East European countries Mr. Stuart Gelder’s frivolous account shows how much of British emotionalism is pro-Chinese It is therefore all the more significant that Hudson should feel compelled to reflect seriously on two realistic possibilities:

1. Supply of arms by India to Tibetan rebels.

2. India’s sponsorship of Tibetan independence.

The British analyst’s blind spots are nowhere more evident than when he speculates on India’s fear of Chinese retaliation against one or more of India’s more vulnerable fronts. He gives the impression that after all the Chinese are not so wicked and there is no reason why India should want to negotiate from strength or should introduce a Theory of Deterrence in her defence planning against China. These are the same weaknesses evident in the old Pancha Sheel attitude to China in which India was committed to continuously appease Chinese intransigence. Nevertheless Hudson’s belated acknowledgement that Tibet does not as yet belong to the Chinese motherland and that it is China’s thorniest problem is quite enlightening. The Government of India experts might do well to initiate detailed studies on the basis of the hints available in the Hudson article.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that he is fully aware of the nuclear threat from china and has adopted certain formulations in which observers have detected a certain degree of new strategic thinking. The Foreign Minister’s thinking, however, remains fairly backward and there is particularly no indication that he understands the serious consequences for India if the Chinese are successful in emplacing missiles with nuclear warheads in Tibet. He has failed to comprehend the possibilities for nuclear blackmail by China. Even the most casual observer could detect the parallel between the security threat to United States from nuclear missiles in Cuba and that which will arise for India from Chinese missiles in Tibet. In fact the likelihood of a Cuban type situation arising in Tibet is a very real one. As far as one can make out Mr. Swaran Singh’s nuclear doctrine is a fairly simple one, namely that once India has signed the Moscow Test Ban Treaty, there is precious little that remains to be done. This is altogether a dangerous and irresponsible view from the perspective of our national security. As a matter of fact, Article IV of the Moscow Test Ban Treaty itself underlines the importance of safeguarding national security. The Article reads:

“…Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardised the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty three months in advance”.

This is, however, not the only action possible and India facing “extraordinary events” which have “jeopardised the supreme interests” of our country – in as much as the nuclear developments in China pose the gravest threat to our national security, - can take action under Art. II of the Moscow Treaty part I which reads:

“Any party may propose amendments to this Treaty. The text of any proposed amendment shall be submitted to the Depository Governments which shall circulate it to all Parties to this Treaty. Thereafter if requested to do so by one – third or more of the Parties, the Depository Governments shall convene a conference, to which they shall invite all the Parties, to consider such amendment.”

Clearly the Chinese nuclear explosions have caused very great concern in our country and the very basis on which we adhered to the Moscow Test Ban treaty has been affected. We should have no hesitation in proposing amendments to the existing treaty which should be aimed at placing obstacles in the way of China executing her aggressive nuclear strategy against us. In this connection it is of the essence to appreciate the key role of Tibet. To quote Oscar Morgenstern: “Tests might be made secretly… in Tibet, where the prevalence of earth-quakes makes a distinction between these and secret tests entirely impossible.” The Government of India would be within its right to demand that the Moscow Test Ban treaty be amended by providing for denuclearisation of Tibet. Even if Communist China has not been admitted to the UN, this need not prevent the Moscow Treaty members from taking the necessary action because apart from the registration of the treaty under Art. 102 of the Charter, the United Nations has no involvement in the operation of the Treaty.

A new Indian policy for Tibet is urgently needed and this should extend to political and military aspects. The Foreign Minister has cleverly sidetracked these issues by playing up the Human Rights issue in relation to Tibet. Some hard thinking is necessary and of that the foreign Minister and Ministry of External Affairs have provided no evidence in the recent Parliamentary debate on Foreign Affairs.

There is nothing unreasonable about India demanding international inspection of Tibet for possible nuclear missile sites and for atomic tests. But it is clear that such actions will sound hollow unless India revises its stand on the political aspects of the Tibet problem. The popular demand in India for the recognition of the Government of the Dalai Lama as the Government of Tibet in exile is by no means unrealistic. If the Africans can contemplate action against the usurper government of Ian Smith in Rhodesia there is good reason why India should reopen the question of the legitimate authority in Lhasa. The Soviet Union is aware that the chief objective of the Chinese is to exercise hegemony over large extra territorial areas. The Soviet Union cannot be expected to initiate action on the Tibetan issue, but there are enough indications to suggest that the soviets strongly dislike the Chinese presence in Tibet and would encourage any move which injures Chinese interests in Central Asia. The United States under the influence of the United Kingdom has been rather indifferent to the political rights of the Tibetans, but it is clear that once India takes up the Tibetan issue in right earnest public opinion in the United States would compel the government to extend support to a political move which would directly impinge upon the professed public philosophy of the American people.

The possibilities of political action by India on the Tibet question are quite promising but the Foreign Minister is badly misinformed if he thinks by supporting the human rights issue in Tibet he has worked out a rational Tibet policy. It is problems of military strategy and overall political considerations which the Foreign Minister needs to take into account. If Mr. Shastri is not to always pull the chestnuts of the fire for the foreign Minister, then he must urge the latter to undertake in his Ministry a strategic political study of Tibet and give up the present practice of guess-work and “muddling through”.

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