This is the second of the series and is aimed to present details of the occupation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), followed by the American Secret War in Tibet, both events which preceded the Sino-Indian war of 1962. It is recommended that this be read in continuation with (1962, The Sino-Indian War: Reflections of the Past) which provides an overview of the war and sets the stage.
This part provides an insight on the socio-cultural conditions of Tibet as it was in the fifties, its occupation by the PLA, followed by the American Secret War, which to a great extent was instrumental in creating the conditions for the Sino-Indian war. These parts have been extracted from the book: ‘The Crimson Chinar-The Kashmir Conflict: A Politico-Military Perspective’ with a purpose, as the general perception is that the main cause of the conflict was a territorial dispute – this is far from the truth.
Ironically, when there seemed a chance of the Khampa rebellion succeeding, the US aid stopped abruptly. America played the game – but it was Tibet and India who lost the match.
These issues are important to highlight as in the decade after the intervention of China in Tibet, when India did nothing, China only grew stronger and by the time the CIA upped the ante in Tibet, it was too late. Ironically, when there seemed a chance of the Khampa rebellion succeeding, the US aid stopped abruptly. America played the game – but it was Tibet and India who lost the match. What cannot be condoned is that having appreciated the threat, very little was done to build up the infrastructure and bolster the military to be better poised to take up the Chinese challenge. At the same time the nation was not taken into confidence, which resulted as a deep sense of ‘betrayal.’ A corollary from the first Kashmir War needs to be pointed. Pundit Nehru had rightly homed on to Mirpur and Domel as the objectives for the successful termination of the war. However, even then Mr. Nehru had not converted his strategic aim into a tangible action plan. In 1950, Pundit Nehru’s strategic sense again told him what was required to be done; however, he did not translate these into actions to achieve the desired aims. In hindsight, what cannot be denied was that while his ‘perception’ and ‘judgement’ was proved correct, his ‘prescription’ for the malady was found wanting.
A Brief History of Tibet
It is said that in Sanskrit, the land of Tibet was known as ‘Divat’ (Divine Region), and this got degenerated to ‘Tibat’ which later got anglicised to ‘Tibet.’ There is another interpretation that the name Tibet has been derived from the Persian word ‘Tubbat’ meaning ‘the heights.’ It can be seen from these interpretations that the linkage of Tibet had never been towards China and more with the sub-continent.
Historically, Tibet had always retained her autonomy, even during the Manchu times when for the first time China established her suzerainty over Tibet; this arrangement was similar to the type she also had over Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan or for that matter over the Mir of Hunzain North Kashmir. Though, Tibet had always been militarily weaker, there was a time in 763 AD when she had conquered large parts of China and it was only after the spread of Buddhism that the Tibetan outlook became pacifist, in deference with the teachings of Buddhism. Taking advantage of the situation, Peking kept chipping at the frontier provinces and parts of border province of Amdo were taken over in 1724 and four years later even Eastern Kham had been incorporated and it were these provinces which were the first to rise in rebellion for the cause of the Dalai Lama and for Tibetan independence.
Historically, Tibet had always retained her autonomy, even during the Manchu times…
By 1750, the Chinese had taken over Tibet completely and due to this, the Dalai Lama was forced to accept Chinese suzerainty, though this was affected as a distinctive system of the ‘Priest-Patron’ relationship. The patron, in this case China, in return of the acknowledgement of her suzerainty ensured the security of the Priest or the Dalai Lama. This arrangement lasted till the early twentieth century when the Qing Government alarmed at the British inroads into Tibet commenced their campaign to integrate Tibet and their military expedition of 1905 carried out large scale destruction of monasteries in their process of re-unification of Tibet and bringing it into the Chinese fold. By 1908, the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, the predecessor of the present Dalai Lama was even forced to flee to India.
It was due to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 that Tibet gained ‘de-facto’ independence and the Dalai Lama, now restored at the Patola Palace, expelled the Chinese ‘Amban’ (Resident). The Dalai Lama publically proclaimed that the relationship between China and Tibet of the patron and priest had never decreed the subordination of one to the other. In other words, he indirectly proclaimed that China had never been suzerain to Tibet, though this could not be substantiated, since in all previous treaties, the pre-eminence of China had been acknowledged. Notwithstanding, the Dalai Lama in making this proclamation was declaring the Independence of his country, though no country, including the British, who would have benefitted by the move, recognised the new de-facto if not de-jure reality.
The Chinese Occupation of Tibet
The ‘invasion of Tibet’ commenced on 7 October 1950 when 80,000 Chinese troops outnumbered the ill prepared Tibetans at Chamdo in the east of Tibet and by 19 October, the Tibetan army had surrendered having suffered around 5,700 casualties. The conduct of the PLA after taking the surrender was remarkable and is a lesson for the psychological shaping of the battle space. The captured Tibetan soldiers were given a short but intense exposé to the ‘socialist way of collective life,’ and after this brief introduction to this wonderful new way of life which promised ‘equality’ and ‘opportunity’ for all, especially the underprivileged, the perplexed soldiers were given some money and asked to return to their homes to spread the word of their deliverance through Communism.
The Dalai Lama publically proclaimed that the relationship between China and Tibet of the patron and priest had never decreed the subordination of one to the other.
Having achieved the initial success at little cost, the PLA then proceeded to Central Tibet but halted two hundred Kms short of Lhasa, at what they claimed their de jure boundary with Tibet.Despite their overwhelming superiority, the PLA applied soft tactics and attempted a ‘peaceful liberation’ which was a classic ploy to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the Tibetans. Initially they were successful as the hapless Tibetans had no answer for such an approach. On the other hand, the Chinese were acutely conscious that their actions were being closely watched by the world. The PLA took on large scale developmental and targeted the lower strata of the populace who were constantly reminded of their good fortune of being ‘liberated from the serfdom of centuries’ and this was bound to hit the right cord. Ngapoi Jigme, who had earlier been a Governor and had been made a prisoner, was chosen as an intermediary to negotiate with the Dalai Lamaand the bait put forward was that if the Tibetans accept ‘peaceful liberation,’ they could continue with their lives, and the elite could retain their perks and privileges.
However, the initial experiences of the PLA were actually unpleasant. Unaccustomed to the Tibetan way of life and un-acclimatised to the harsh and rarefied atmosphere, and desperately short of supplies, the PLA were forced to scrounge from the already scarce resources of Kham and Amdo and this led to unrest and even triggered off minor clashes. In the meantime, Tibet had also appealed to the world’s conscience through the UN and it needs to be highlighted that it was only tiny El Salvador who supported the Tibetan cause in the UN. On the other hand, India who had recognised the PRC nearly a year earlier, ensured that the resolution to support Tibet never comes up for discussion and in the absence of support, the UN did not deem it necessary to even discuss Tibet and the Chinese annexation. The Chinese strategy and Indian diplomacy worked and Tibet remained forgotten, as it had been for centuries.
Despite their overwhelming superiority, the PLA applied soft tactics and attempted a ‘peaceful liberation’ which was a classic ploy to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the Tibetans.
However, despite the muted global response, the reassertion of Chinese authority in Tibet invoked strong emotive reactions from Indian people, as seen from the acrimonious proceedings inside and outside the Indian Parliament. India initially tried to restrain China diplomatically and maintain the ‘status quo’ by linking their support for China’s entry into the UN. However, this had no effect and China moved in quietly to occupy Tibet and China’s retort to the Indian protests in the media was sharp and unambiguous. “Tibet is an integral part of China and the problem of Tibet is entirely a domestic problem of China.”
The Chinese started their socialist reforms in Tibet which alienated the already restless Khampas and Amdowans and it was from the Khampas merchants that the first leader revolutionary sprung up when Tashi Andrugtsang rose up to organise an armed resistance against the PLA. By 1956, he had united various tribes and the rebellion became a large scale organised resistance, albeit limited to the countryside. “In early 1956, Chinese outposts were brazenly attacked, communications cut off, and Chinese garrisons stationed in several provinces in Kham were completely wiped out by the Khampa Guerrillas.”The local Khampas and Ambowans had the advantage of knowledge of the terrain and were obviously used to the harsh conditions.
While the rebellion was increasing in intensity, the fifteen year old fourteenth Dalai Lama was kept inured from the conflict, as both sides felt it prudent to keep Lhasa’s temporal power out of the confrontation. It was only in mid-1955 that the Dalai Lama saw for himself the conditions that prevailed and the fight being undertaken for the independence of Tibet, on his behalf. However, due to his pacifist desire to prevent further suffering, the Dalai Lama did not undertake any direct action and it was left to his brother, Gyapo Thondup to contact the CIA on the behalf of Andrugtsang and the Dalai Lama and request for American assistance to support the rebellion.
The American Secret War in Tibet
The CIA’s secret war for the Shangri La, codenamed ‘Op ST CIRCUS,’ reads like a Greek tragedy. In response to the Tibetans request for support for an ‘armed struggle’ and a possible ‘asylum’ for the Dalai Lama, the Americans responded with alacrity. The US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson sent Top Secret missives to the American Ambassadors at Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Thailand and India to sound out prospects for the ‘asylum.’ However, there was a dichotomous angle that needed resolution before physical aid could be proffered. At that time the Americans were actively supporting the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan who like the Communists Chinese held the view that Tibet was a part of the larger Chinese Empire. Hence, support to Tibet against Chinese re-occupation could not be justified, despite the desire of the Americans to embroil the Chinese on another front to facilitate their own war effort in Korea.
In keeping with the dichotomous requirement, the American Tibetan Policy concurrently operated at two levels. At the strategic level, while they accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet in deference to the Nationalist Chinese, they also operated at the tactical level and provided financial and material support to the rebels; obviously, this had inherent contradictions that eventually led to disaster. In accordance with this policy, the Americans promised the Dalai Lama full support and it was then left to the World War Two OSSveteran, Allen Dulles, now the Deputy Director of the CIA to enact the secret guerrilla war to bleed the Chinese in Tibet. The large haul of German weapons after the World War came handy (please note the German weapons in the picture) and Tibetans were flown out and imparted training at Fort Hale on the American continent and soon the ‘Chushi Gangdruk’, which literally meant ‘four Rivers, Six Ranges’ signifying the land of Tibet became an effective guerrilla force. Sent into combat, these God fearing Khampas, Goloks and Amdowans, proved themselves as formidable fighters and they found support for their cause from the locals and the religious flock of the various Monasteries.
…it was from the Khampas merchants that the first leader revolutionary sprung up when Tashi Andrugtsang rose up to organise an armed resistance against the PLA.
The resupply was done by air drops for which the CIA used Colonel Heinie Aderholt’s Air Commandos, an elite Air Force unit that specialised in supporting CIA covert operations. The supplies physically moved from Okinawa in Japan, to Takhli in Thailand and from there the Americans overflew Indian airspace to make their drops in Tibet. India was thus placed in a difficult position as China was bound to interpret the use of her air space as a hostile act. On the other hand, the consideration for the Americans was that if faced by a hostile China, India might be forced to seek help from the Soviet camp. Hence, they were naturally keen that India leans her way, rather than towards the Soviets. It was a Hobson’s choice which was forced on for both parties. The Cold War politics were peaking, as was the American sponsored secret war in Tibet.
March, 1959 was the beginning of the end for the ‘Tibetan Rebellion.’ With the insurrection intensifying and spreading to central and southern Tibet, the Dalai Lama publically threw in his lot with the rebels. Consequently, the Chinese also made this an ‘all-out war,’ which even included the physical abduction of the Dalai Lama to quash the rebellion in a single master stroke. On the other hand, apprehending danger to the Dalai Lama, the enraged Tibetans thronged the streets of Lhasa in large numbers to protect their Spiritual Leader. The Chinese retaliated to this outburst for the Dalai Lama with characteristic force and shelled the crowds. “The crisis was the turning point for Tibetan diplomacy, which for eight years had sought an accommodation with China. With no accommodation now possible, the Dalai Lama took up the standing American offer of help in getting out of Tibet.”As a result, refugees poured into India by the thousands.
The safe flight of the Dalai Lama was ensured by the CIA trained Chushi Gangdruk fighters who escorted him and fought desperate rear-guard actions to keep the Chinese from frustrating their difficult trek to Tawang. The CIA kept informing Dulles on the progress via coded messages which were routed through the listening posts at Okinawa. It must be mentioned that the arduous and hard fought ordeal decimated the Tibetan guerrillas and it has been estimated that the Tibetans suffered 85,000 casualties in that month alone. This was compounded by the fact that many crossed over to India, further denuding their fighting strength in Tibet. (Many of these fighters were later inducted into the 22 Establishment under India’s R & AW and fought in the 1971 War under regular Indian Army officers – the ones who survived lead a pitiable life, without financial help nor acknowledgement of the Indian government).With their backbone effectively broken, the Chinese announced on 22 March that the rebellion had been effectively crushed. Local Governments were now abolished and actions to complete the ‘liberation’ in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) were now put in place.
March, 1959 was the beginning of the end for the ‘Tibetan Rebellion.’ With the insurrection intensifying and spreading to central and southern Tibet, the Dalai Lama publically threw in his lot with the rebels.
The American actions after this point proved an embarrassment for them as became an unmitigated disaster for Tibet and for India. On one hand, the American President visited India where he expressed solidarity with India and Tibet; on the other hand, the shooting down of an American U-2 plane (aircraft based in Peshawar, Pakistan) caused the Cold War to intensify. The upshot of this episode was the cancellation of a summit meeting between President Eisenhower and Premier Nikita Khrushchev on which much hope had been placed. “Such were the politics of the Cold war era, and this turn of events had serious ramifications for the Tibetan resistance. Air drop were to be cancelled, thus no weapons or supplies were dropped in Tibet by the CIA.”President Eisenhower was advised by his political well-wishers to rein in the support to the Tibetans as the backlash was bound to reflect on the forthcoming American Presidential elections.
While it was the chill of the Cold War that caused the demise of the Tibetan rebellion, it was American Cold War politics that buried the Tibetan fighters. Left in the lurch, the gritty Tibetans continued the fight, despite the death of their mercurial leader Gompo Tashi Andrugstang.However, the rebellion was doomed with the drying up of material support, though the last fight of this twenty-three years rebellion took place as late as in 1974 at Mustang, very close to the Nepalese border. Perhaps, had the Dalai Lama been involved from the start, and the Americans not have gone back on their promises, the end could have been different. Significantly, for India, the perceived collusion with America and the meddling in Tibet became the casus belli for the Chinese to teach the Indians a lesson in real politicks. The Chinese had made no secret of their disapproval of the Indian involvement and for them there was no guarantee that the situation in Tibet would not be repeated, especially now that the Dalai Lama was ‘free’ to propagate his sedition in India. The immense support for the Dalai Lama and the forward policy adapted by India around this time only reinforced their apprehensions.
Significantly, for India, the perceived collusion with America and the meddling in Tibet became the casus belli for the Chinese to teach the Indians a lesson in real politicks.
The Chinese occupation of Tibet was the litmus test of Indian diplomacy. The intension to occupy Tibet had been announced unambiguously by the CCP leadership as early as 1 January, 1950. If the Indians took note of this, there was no evidence of anticipatory actions that she undertook; in fact, the only statements to come out were once the PLA had physically entered Tibet. This by itself is a lesson for emerging India. Paradoxically, the Indian stance was one of embarrassing contradictions.
On one hand India was seen to be bending backwards to avoid confrontation with China, while on the other, the Indians did get involved in facilitating the CIA in fomenting trouble in Tibet, albeit indirectly, though that’s not how it would have be seen by Peking. Notwithstanding, the failure of the Indian diplomacy to ensure continuation of autonomy in Tibet was to cost India dearly. Not only did it lead to the war in 1962, but despite the half a century that have gone by, very little has been resolved with China.
Tibet as a strategic buffer has been lost and India continues to be host to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and for the large Tibetan Diaspora, while the borders remain as undefined as they had remained for the centuries.
 Lal John, p-6-7, Aksai Chin and the Sino-Indian Conflict, Allied Publishers Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 1989. As per the writer, Hunza in present day Gilgit-Baltistan, had traditionally been playing both sides. Besides paying his annual tribute to the Maharaja of Kashmir, he was also paying tribute to the Chinese Emperor through the Taotai (Military and Administrative Chinese Head) at Kashgar. The case of Hunza was peculiar as while the feudatory was located south of the Karakorum’s and undeniably in Kashmir, the Mir had the rights from the Chinese of collection of taxes and grazing in the trans-Karakoram tracts of Tughdambash Pamir, as well as the Shaksam and Raksgam valleys.
Some reports give this figure as low as 20,000.
The Chinese behavior with the Indian Prisoners, though inappropriate initially, was to become exemplary later. The officers were especially singled out for VIP treatment as narrated by a Lieutenant Colonel who had been taken prisoner along with Brigadier Dalvi. Despite not being a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, China observed the mandated protocol.
 The British in 1914 had divided Tibet informally as ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer.’ Amdo and Kham being contiguous to China were added to Inner (Chinese) Tibet. It was only to Outer Tibet (British) that China was prepared to grant some measure of autonomy. The de-jure boundary as given above coincided with the Inner and Outer Tibetan boundaries drawn by Lord McMahon in Shimla in 1914.
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Ocean of Wisdom) was ordained as the Tibetan Spiritual Head in 1940, at the age of five.
Maxwell Neville, p-70, India’s China War, Natraj Publishers, Dehra Dun, 1970. The linkage to the security of China is significant. The Chinese had always been threatened by the English since due to the terrain, Tibet was better linked to India. It was a result of this that all supplies for Tibet went routed from India rather than from China. The meagre supplies that made their way to the PLA after 1951 were also routed through India
 Babayeva Yuliya, p-17, quoting Andrugtsang in The Khampa Uprising: Tibetan resistance Against Chinese Invasion, Pace University, as available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/honorscollege_thesis/31, 8 May, 2006.
 The Office of Strategic Services was the predecessor of the CIA. This was formed in the Second World War to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines. Amongst other activities, OSS helped arm, train and supply resistance movements in Asia which had also included Mao’s Red Army, Viet Minh, KMT, Kachins and the Tibetans.
Sonam Tenzing, A Cold war in Shangri La-The CIA in Tibet –Where Tibetans write as available at http://www.tibetwrites.org/?A-Cold-War-in-Shangri-La-The –CIA.
Gulati Sumegha, Forget OROP, Tibetan War Veterans aren’t even getting pensions, October 30, 2015, as posted on the net.
 Babayeva Yuliya, p-25, The Khampa Uprising: Tibetan resistance Against Chinese Invasion, Pace University, as available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/honorscollege_thesis/31, 8 May, 2006.
The Autobiography of Angstrang has been since translated in English and is available. A notable omission made by the leader is that there is no reference in his book of CIA’s help and their involvement and might be intentional.