“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory . Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”……Sun Tzu.
Col Satish Singh Lalotra
Ever since the uneasy calm of NWNP(No war no peace) scenario shattered across the LAC in May /June 2020 at Galwan in Eastern Ladakh ,the 2 Asian Giants have been in a perpetual state of shadow boxing made murkier by the collapse of a state in the neighbourhood and advent of the dreaded Taliban at the center of the ‘Great Game chess board i.e Afghanisthan. The entire swath of land encompassing the Pamir knots to the famous Wakhan corridor to the spread of Hindukush / Hinduraj mountains is in a state of severe churn . World’s famous powers from times of yore have kept an eagle’s eye on this area affecting thereby even the Geo-strategic concerns of countries like India and China . The Tibetan issue played a major role in precipitating the Indo-China war of 1962 which had its precursor in daring escape of HH Dalai Lama on 17 th March 1959 along with a select band of his followers and his near and dear ones from the famous Norbulingka palace at Lhasa. Lots of water has flown down the mighty Yurlung Tsang Po (Brahmaputra) since the time the 5 batches of Tibetan refugees numbering about 80,000 strong along with their spiritual head touched the Indian frontiers at Assam /Arunachal with the Chinese border guards in hot pursuit .
The status of HH Dalai lama and his Tibetan followers have ever since remained in the twilight zone of ambivalent acceptance by the Indian dispensation and has had the ominous potential of always casting a shadow over sino- Indian relations much to the discomfort of the sub-continent. Ever since the Nehruvian- VK Krishna Menon days of idealistic foreign policy dalliances in respect of China, Tibet & HH Dalai Lama have been an enigma of sorts for the successive ruling elites of Raisina hills . Why is it so? Is it not time for India to show case the genie of a Kahmpa warrior to its northern neighbour (China) in all its glory? Having had two successful tenures with SFF ,I may dare say that India has been far too overcautious and pussyfooted in its employment to achieve its nationalistic aims. The Tibet Govt-in-exile located at Mac Leodganj in Dharamshala ,HP is allowed to function but is not recognized by India . For China ,Tibet is a “core issue” just as Taiwan or Xingqiang are. Are there no “core issues” of India too? Have the so called “Core issues” of India been conveyed to our northern neighbour in so many words?
During the first tenure of the Modi government there has been much back slapping and open court ship with the Tibetan government in exile . Its PM, Lobsang Sangay was invited to the swearing in ceremony of our PM Modi in 2014 at Delhi for the entire world and China in particular to watch. On the other hand the Arunachal Pradesh CM, Pema Khandu went a step ahead by announcing in 2017, that his state shares a border with Tibet and not with China as such. Though on the Face of it these instances may seem as simple ‘Tokenism” in its pure form but to a “Tibet sensitive China” they are pin pricks enough to lose sleep . As a mark of retribution to India’s repeated assertions in Arunachal Pradesh China in fact tweaked the aid policy of ADB /Asian development bank headquartered at Manila putting spanners in fund raising for development projects in the frontier state of India much to the embarrassment and chagrin of other stake holding countries like US,UK,JAPAN etc. .As of June 2021 ,Japan, US each had largest pro rata share pegged at 15.5% ,China at 6.429% with India at 6.317% and Australia rounding up its share with 5,771% in the financial pie of the Asian development bank .
With near parity in terms of holdings with China in the financial pie of ADB , the Chinese pulling levers to align their foreign policy objectives with domestic compulsions should have been a rap on our knuckles to stop blinking in our foreign policy engagements with that country. It speaks volumes of China’s intransigence nature as a country and a race. But after the Modi- XI Jinping summit in Wuhan in April 2018 there appears to be a rethink on the Tibet issue with in the MEA reissuing instructions to the government functionaries to avoid public associations with the Dalai lama and the officials of the CTA(Central Tibetan association)of the government in exile . Beating the obvious Nehruvian line that India has always welcomed the spiritual head of Tibet as a guest and that we do not endorse his political indulgences nor of his countrymen on Indian soil has not cut much ice with the yellow race which goes by the avowed aims of its master strategic points man the “Sun Tzu”. Though the above line of thought has helped India maintain an even keel in its relations with its northern neigbour it smacks of a defeatist and self-delusional tenet of our foreign policy which does not behove well of a country of India’s size and stature.
I suppose the era of Nehruvian – Krishna Menon advocacy of Hindi -chini Bhai Bhai has to be given a bye bye to be replaced by a hard grounding of our way forward in its future engagements with China based on realpolitik . In any future China – India border settlement an understanding over Tibet will need to be arrived at with the following postulations–
a) The spiritual head of Tibet HH Dalai Lama residing in India with an overwhelming support of both the Buddhist and Hindu population as his backing.
b) A sizeable population of Tibetan diaspora living in the US,UK and Scandinavian countries functioning as ‘Feet on the street” campaign for a ‘Free Tibet” .
c) Long standing good relations between both India and Tibet stretching back to centuries.
d) Reconciliation between the Tibetans and the Chinese more likely with the blessings of HH Dalai Lama rather than in his absence as has been the wont of recent Chinese think tanks in the recent past.
e) Cashing on the angst of Tibetan population against the Chinese oppression facilitating easy operability of SFF.
f) Grant of equal status in terms of pay and allowances to SFF personnel vis-à-vis Indian army thereby heightening Chinese fears of it becoming part and parcel of the 4 th largest army of the world.
g) Recognizing the oldest refugee population of Tibet residing in India as citizens of our country as an ode to their endless sacrifices in hour of need of India since independence.
h) Dispelling the myth of Chinese government that once HH Dalai Lama is no longer available on the political landscape brought to bear by natural circumstances /death etc the problem of Tibet getting resolved automatically.
i) Tibetan youth getting more radicalized when the restraining hand of HH Dalai Lama is no longer available thus accentuating problems for mainland China.
j) In any confrontation with China dropping the notion that provoking the other side with greater equity and stake than oneself may harm us.
k) Removing the cobwebs of self-inflicted confusion in our minds that once SFF’s existence is announced to the world at large it will become pawn in a political game to convince public opinion that India has more levers to pull off in terms of influence than it actually has.
Well India does have more levers of influence to pull off against China and is no longer the India of 1962 . Doklam crisis of 2017 has amply demonstrated the will of Modi government to remove all stops in its way of realizing national security paradigms as presented to it . As is the common refrain ,Indian foreign policy experts fight shy of challenges posed by the Chinese dragon , whereas the need is to bend and amalgamate the foreign policy challenges /issues with the domestic issues too i.e. national sovereignty reigning supreme come what may. This could be done by flaunting our both SFF &Tibet cards with impunity in the face of the Chinese dragon to make him taste the principle of “art of war” their master tactician Sun Tzu so exalted in i.e ‘Win without fighting. ”
(The writer is a retired army officer)