15 JUNE 1962, Page 10

Tibet and Sino-Indian Conflict

By GEORGE N. PATTERSON A N intriguing,' and very important, strategic ,,.possibility in the increasing tension between India and China on the Himalayan border is the part which Tibet will play in any future struggle.

Since the Tibetan revolt of 1956-59 flared and died in the dramatic escape of the Dalai Lama and his Government to India in March, 1959, Tibet has been left out of all political and military considerations because of the more spectacular military preparations in India, on the one hand, and because of the renewed invasion threat from Formosa, on the other. This is an oversight of considerable magnitude, for the key both to India's military success in any war with China in the Himalayas, and in any internal revolution on the Chinese mainland, whether indigenous or from Formosa, lies in Tibet.

The reason for this is not just that Tibet's 20,000-foot passes, great rivers, vast plateaux and impenetrable forests present formidable logistical problems to any proposed Chinese military adventure, or that its near-million square miles and 15,000-feet height dominate the surrounding plains of India in the west and China in the east; but because its people are among the finest fighters in the world, are born to the humanly appalling conditions of life there, are fiercely independent and hate the Chinese with a bitter, undying hatred. In addition, to feed the fires of their determination to be free of Chinese occupa- tion, since 1959 they have lost their wives, their children, their lands, their religion, their Dalai Lama, their leaders, their trades—in short, their whole raison d'être.

But while all this and much more might be conceded with no more than sympathetic noises as one of the unpleasant facts of modern realpolitik life—particularly in the shadow of a monolithic, threatening China—the demand for a fresh evaluation of Tibet is not on sympathetic grounds but on the hard, factual basis of strategic significance in the light of possible war between India and China. Here are the facts. When the 1956-59 revolt ended in the flight of the Dalai Lama the Chinese used every means at their disposal to suppress the revolt and eliminate any possible recurrence in the future. They removed tens of thousands of the adult popula- tion into forced labour, transported tens of thousands of children to China, imposed military curfews and regulations wherever they were in control, gutted monasteries and broke up the priesthood, created compulsory Communist cells with a political commissar in charge of every ten Tibetans.

Despite this, and even from their own reports, several significant facts have emerged. In the two years since the revolt the Chinese have only captured between 5,000 and 10,000 of the Khamba rebels out of their own accepted figure of 25,000; the Tibetans give a much higher figure of rebels and many fewer captured. They have been faced with a mounting series of revolts, particularly in the East and South-East regions; at least, one engagement, according to their own statements, involved several thousand reinforce- ments. They have been forced to keep the Panchen Lama under strict surveillance to ensure his 'co-operation,' and he 'is now rarely allowed to appear publicly even on major occasions. They are facing the possibility of revolt within their own occupation army because of the scarcity of food, due not only to the 'natural calamities' of China but also to the 'scorched earth' policy of the Khamba rebels who, safe and well-fed in their impenetrable mountain hide- outs, sally out to destroy crops, granaries and convoys to bring about this mutiny.

The picture which emerges is one of extreme Chinese instability in a country where their vast numbers are only a liability, where their military concentration is formidable and monumental— between 300,000 and 500,000 soldiers, with modern equipment including tanks and jet air- craft—but where their lines of communication are few and extremely vulnerable to the fast- raiding Tibetan resistance groups. They no longer keep up the pretence of 'autonomy and advisory co-operation' but rule with Chinese officials helped by Chinese troops over a hating, starving, watching population who know that they were almost successful two years ago if only their ammunition had not run out.

And here we reach the intriguing crux of the whole situation. The 20,000 rebels in the moun- tains—that is the minimum figure, for there are almost 10,000 in the Nepal-West Tibet sector alone, and by far the majority are in the Kham territory in the East—still have the weapons which they used in the earlier revolt, but their supplies have run out and they are dependent on what they can raid from convoys and arsenals.

lf, however, Indian policy were to change as it is doing and a blind eye were turned on supplies to the rebels through India; or, more likely in the present tense border situation, if India is drawn into a conflict with China (even a small `local' one) and she decides to supply arms to the Tibetans openly, there is no doubt that the present Chinese military ' advantage would vanish immediately and they would be in a pre- carious position indeed, with a rampant, well- armed Tibetan guerrilla force operating for over a thousand miles to their rear.

In addition, there is also little doubt that the Khamba warriors would not stop at the border towns but would sweep northwards to the Moslem north-west of China, with their connec- tions in Sinkiang and Mongolia, and southwards to the tribal south-western provinces, tradi- tionally anti-Peking anyway. It is this possibility, taken in conjunction with evident Formosan support for the Tibetans and their own ambitious invasion plans, which accounts for the recent upsurge of renewed hope in Tibetan circles in India—and, to hazard a guess, which accounts for the recent meetings between the Dalai Lama, Mr. Nehru and Krishna Menon in New Delhi.

But there is another, and darker, side to this hopeful picture. The Tibetans themselves are split, and as things stand at the present time there is little likelihood of any rapprochement between the two factions. The cause of the breach is the Dalai Lama's dependence on his reactionary priestly advisers, his brother, Gyalu Thondup and certain former Ministers. The breakaway faction, which numbers at least two senior Cabinet Ministers—the two most responsible for the revolt and safe escape of the Dalai Lama— many important Lhasa officials and almost all of the Khamba guerrilla leaders, maintains that the Dalai Lama is a 'prisoner' of this group, who have advised him to keep quiet in order not to embarrass India for personal reasons and because they hope to hold on to their former feudal power in any future Tibet, instead of pursuing Tibet's own interests with sacrifical vigour in India and the United Nations.

This newly-formed group has broken with the Dalai Lama and his 'Government' completely and are going their own way.lt is this group which is in touch with the Khamba guerrillas inside Tibet and Nepal, is in touch with Formosa, which is seeking arms for the Tibetans—and which hopes for a clash between India and China. For in this event they see deliverance for Tibet, and a new and promising future as an important buffer State between them.