Geopolitics

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the news again
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Aug , 2018

Surprisingly, exiled spiritual Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama said on 8 August at an event in management institute of Goa that Partition would have been averted had Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah become the first prime minister of India. “Mahatma Gandhi was very much willing to give primeministership to Jinnah. But Pandit Nehru refused. I think Pandit Nehru was a little bit self-centered. If Mahatma Gandhi’s (wish) materialised, then Indo-Pakistan would have remained united. Pandit Nehru, I know very well, very experienced person, but sometimes mistakes also happen,” said the Dalai Lama. 

Cautiously, the Dalai Lama should have avoided this uncalled for verdict on Jinnah and Nehru because at the time of granting asylum to the Dalai Lama and his “government-in-exile” in Macleodganj, Dharamshala Himachal Pradesh the government of India clearly conveyed that he will not indulge in any political activities in India and shall remain confined to his religious and cultural activities pertaining to Tibet. The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s highest spiritual and political leader who has been living in exile in India since 1959 and was provided asylum only to carry on his “spiritual” activities in the country. Moreover such a highly sensitive statement can cause misgivings in Sino-Indian relations that are improving under restrained verdicts.

To err is human but such words coming from His Holiness are unwelcomed. However, the 14th Dalai Lama apologized on 10 August at Bengaluru at a ‘thanks giving’ commemorative event of 60 years of Tibetans’ life in exile for his remarks, which he said had stirred a controversy.

In order to overcome his omission he said, “Jawaharlal Nehru, supported both the setting up of Tibetan settlements, as well as the creation of Tibetan schools, so that our culture and language could be preserved”.

China has never liked the Dalai Lama’s presence in India and has always accused India of allowing him to promote his “separatist” agenda. His trip to Tawang in April 2017, his fifth since 1959, upset the Chinese because of his very presence there made it clear that Tawang and the rest of Arunachal Pradesh belong to India. However, India consented to the visit, explaining it was for religious purposes.

During the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama fled to India, and settled at Macleodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh where he currently lives as a refugee. The 14th Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He has traveled the world and has spoken about the welfare of Tibetans, environment, economics, women’s rights, non-violence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality, along with various topics of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist teachings. After the founding of the government in exile he re-established the approximately 80,000 Tibetan refugees who followed him into exile in agricultural settlements. He created a Tibetan educational system in order to teach the Tibetan children the language, history, religion and culture. The Tibetan Institute of Performing arts was was established in 1959 and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies became the primary university for Tibetans in India in 1967.  In 1963, he promulgated a democratic constitution, which is based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, creating and elected Parliament and an administration to champion his cause. He supported the rebounding of 200 monasteries and nunneries in an attempt to preserve Tibetan Buddhist teachings and the Tibetan way of life. In 1970, he opened the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamshala, which houses over 80,000 manuscripts and important knowledge resources related to Tibetan history, politics and culture. It is considered one of the most important institutions for Tibetology in the world.On 29 May 2011, the Dalai Lama retired from the Central Tibetan Administration.On 24 September 2011, the Dalai Lama issued the following statement concerning his reincarnation:

When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust……..

Surprisingly, India has one of the largest refugee populations in South Asia, but is yet to enact a uniform law that addresses the issue of asylum. Neither is the term ‘refugee’ mentioned in any domestic law nor India has signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees, or its 1967 Protocol that stipulates the rights and services host states must provide refugees.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu Karmapa is the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Interestingly, the current 14th Dalai Lama helped the young and controversial 17 Kagyu Karmapa after he escaped China in 1999 following the same route the Dalai Lama took in 1959. The recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa has been the subject of controversy. Since the death of the sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, in 1981, two candidates have been put forward: Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje. Both have already been enthroned as 17th Karmapa, and both independently have been performing ceremonial duties in the role of a Karmapa.

The Dalai Lama and Shamar Rinpoche met on the 13th of August 2010 at the Dalai Lama’s residence to discuss ways of ending the controversy. Shamarpa wrote, “Although this matter is not easily resolved, since it is connected to the politics of China and India as well, with His Holiness Dalai Lama’s blessing and support I am confident that there will be an amicable solution, which will be beneficial for the Karma Kagyü lineage, as well as for Tibetan Buddhism in general.”

In February 2011, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was accused of being a Chinese spy by officials of the government ofIndia, due in part to the fact that $1 million cash was found in his monastery, part of it in Chinese Yuan.

After having alienated the Dalai Lama, India also seems to have marginalised another tall Buddhist leader Karmapa – Ogyen Trinley Dorje. He had gone to the United States for three months last year and has now refused to return. With the 14th Dalai Lama turning 83 earlier last month, India feels the need to cultivate influential monks to ensure Tibetan unity and support for its position on the Tibetan leader’s succession as adisputed succession would divide Tibetans politically and determine the direction of their struggle.

New Delhi seems desperate to invite Ogyen Trinley Dorje back. Yet its intelligence agencies promote stories about him seeking asylum in the US, trying to buy land to settle down there or even returning to China. Last year, he promised to return by June 2018, but that deadline is already over.

The controversy of both the Karmapa’s will get resolved only with the blessings of the Dalai Lama who before the time of his incarnation should declare the real Karmapa if Ogyen Trinley takes asylum in USA, which is likely.

IN 1954, India and China signed the “Panchsheel” Agreement, which recognized the Chinese sovereignty of Tibet and India decided to withdraw its small military presence from Tibet. However Tibetans neither recognized nor endorsed the agreement. Soon India realized that a diplomatic intervention wouldn’t work well with China and their opposition of a Tibetan government as represented by the Institution of Dalai Lama. By 1957 when it became pretty evident that the PLA’s occupation over Tibet was not going to end, India and Tibet mutually decided to approach the next best option-the USA.

This was a very clever decision as the Americans were interested in countering the expanse of Communism in Asia. However both nations wanted a covert operation to raise resistance against the Chinese and not a full-fledged war. So with the help of CIA, Tibetan freedom fighters were trained at covert CIA camps and the resistance was generated.

They supplied arms and equipment to fight the Chinese army. The CIA recruited locals to fight against the Chinese as guerrillas and was airdropped throughout the resistance period. But the Americans gravely underestimated the intelligence capability of the Chinese. The resistance was thrashed by the PLA. Monks and civilians were executed, monasteries were bombed. This resulted in theDalai Lama to cross over to India with his followers in March 1959 and seek political asylum.

China was surely angered at Tibetan Lama and with India’s policy of giving asylum to Dalai Lama. This indifference still exists between the two countries. With India’s role in Tibetan Resistance and the Forward Policy of Indian forces to cut-off Chinese posts that were intruding into the Indian Territory, came the war of 1962 resulting in India’s crushing defeat.

Thousands of miles away, USA was tracking the situation the whole time. Wary of the expansion of Chinese, CIA had to act quickly to end the advancement of Chinese forces. As the war reached it’s zenith, a panicked Nehru sent letters to US President John F Kennedy urging for immediate help. 

The dying Tibetan resistance movement was revived. In a meeting held on November 19, 1962 at the White House, where decision was taken upon a military aid package in support of the newly created military organization in India, which was initially named as Establishment No. 22 and later Special Frontier Force (SFF).

However the war ended abruptly. China declared unilateral ceasefire and withdrew from many locations. Many reports suggest US threatened to “NUKE” China if they were to continue the battle.

CIA and IB helmed the project and seasoned officer of the Indian Army, Major General Sudan Singh Uban, was chosen to be the first Inspector General of the force.Based in Chakrata, Uttarakhand, the force was put under the direct supervision of the Intelligence Bureau, and later, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). With initial strength of 12,000, SFF commenced six months of training in rock climbing and guerrilla warfare. CIA provided most of the initial equipment and arms supply.

The soldiers were recruited with help from political leaders, of the Chushi Gangdruk, the original Tibetan Resistance warriors. It was primarily raised to address the lack of intelligence during both war and peace.With the formation of RAW by late 60’s, and with the help of the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) which provided airlift facilities, SFF became fully airborne-qualified and a dedicated mountain and jungle warfare unit.

During the 60’s there was a major scare in CIA that China was going to test nuclear bombs at Lop Nor region. CIA lacked any concrete intelligence gathering inside China and was relying on U-2 spy planes for intelligence. It was too high profile and they wanted something much more subtle. So CIA along with RAW and ARC launched an operation to place an ELINT(Electronic Intelligence) device atop the Nanda Devi mountain to snoop on Chinese nuke tests.

A mountaineering expedition was launched with celebrated mountaineer M.S.Kohli leading the climb. The expedition was a cover for the operation. The team included CIA operative and SFF operatives. The mission suffered a setback when the team had to retreat following the adverse weather conditions. They were carrying a nuclear powered transmitter, which was left out in a cave but when they returned for retrieving it, it wasn’t there.

Indian media reported that an electronic intelligence machine passed on by the CIA and mounted atop Nanda Devi in 1965 to track Chinese missile tests had gone missing. The bigger worry was over the plutonium generator that powered the machine. Then Prime Minister Morarji Dessai spoke of the safety of the device at the Parliament, SFF slipped out and that was the first time public was aware of SFF’s presence.

The SFF commandos can survive in any hazardous conditions. They are tough, hardy, well trained in rock climbing, para trooping and skydiving.Theyhave proven their mettle in the Chittagong War. They were very valuable for their clandestine intelligence collection and also to train the Mujibur Bahini, which led the Bangladeshi’s against the Pakistan. SFF conducted several mission, including the destruction of the Kaptai Dam and other bridges.They were also part of the Operation Blue Star against Khalistan terrorists. Since they are under RAW, information regarding their operations is kept secret. They report directly to a Cabinet Secretary who reports directly to the PMO.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col (Dr) P K Vasudeva

Col (Dr) P K Vasudeva is a defence analyst and commentator.

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  1. Why do you overlook the fact that the so called Special Frontier Force or SFF is specifically officered and manned by the Indian Army including Tibetan conscripts. They form the Vikas Regiments, deployed on the rarefied heights of Siachen, commanded by officers from the Army’s Para SF. The SFF detachment which took part in Op Bluestar as part of the assault group were army men. It may be working under the cabinet secretariat, but is unofficially a part of the Indian Army. They also wear olive green uniforms. These detachments were formed with the help of members of Black OPs, part of the US Army Special Forces on deputation with the CIA, to carry out their covert (read dirty) missions.

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