Written By: Maj Gen (Retd) Salim Ullah
When Neville Maxwell published his historic treatise in 1970, the title (India's China War) intrigued the reader and critic alike. The book soon became a best seller on the news stand and was adopted as a text book by staff colleges around the world including India. Much to her chagrin, India's accusations of the book being controversial and biased failed to dent the credibility of Neville's account. Indeed, the book was widely praised across a diverse range of opinions, including British historian A. J. P. Taylor, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as well as the Chinese premier Chou Enlai. However, in India, Maxwell continued to be demonized as hostile to the Indian narrative and received fierce personal attacks. Over time much light has been shed on the border war of 1962 by Indian and other writers. Much research work is now available including first person accounts and memoirs of distinguished Indian writers, both civilian and military, to substantiate Neville's authenticity. On the eve of the 'golden jubilee of India's Himalayan Blunder', as an Indian writer termed it, Neville Maxwell visited India in late 2012. Armed with recent research and fresh evidence, he spoke to the Indian media and think tanks extensively.But first to the genesis.
China and India share a long border comprising three stretches across the Himalayas, separated by Nepal, Sikkim (an independent kingdom, later annexed by India), and Bhutan. As a colonial legacy, a number of border disputes remain unresolved, from Kashmir in the west to Tibet and Assam in the north east, between India on the one end and China, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh on the other. The India - China disputed border, the so-called Line of Actual Control, spans nearly across 3000 miles from Ladakh in the North West to Arunachal Pradesh in the North East. At its western end is the Aksai Chin region, an area the size of Switzerland situated between the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang and Tibet, which China declared as an autonomous region in 1965. The eastern border, between Burma (Myanmar) and Bhutan, comprises the present Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, formerly the North East Frontier Agency.
The Sino-Indian War, October 20 - November 21, 1962, is notable for the harsh conditions under which much of the fighting took place, with large-scale combat at altitudes of over 4,250 metres (14,000 feet). It was a limited war in the classic strategic tradition; limited in scope and scale, as also in the politico-military aim, space, time and force levels employed by the two adversaries. It was confined to a remote region with strategic depth remaining unaffected on either side. It was marked for non-deployment of the navy or air force by the rival sides. But what it is most striking for is the sharp decline in relations between two brotherly countries, so declared by their leaders, descending into a full-scale border war in so short a time. Was it a clash of huge egos involved or a case of faulty perceptions that snow-balled into a border war? To fathom the real motives behind the sharp decline in relations, it may be instructive to analyze the events leading to the genesis of the dispute.
In his inaugural address to an independent India's parliament at midnight on August 14, 1947, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had laid out a road-map of India's foreign policy parameters. Calling it India's 'tryst with destiny', the Indian leader had stressed India's commitment to peace as the underlying theme in her relations with the world in general and with her neighbours in particular. He warned, “… freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.”
In April 1954, India set forth the famous 'Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence', or Panch Shila, with China. Under the historic Sino-Indian Treaty on relations between India and the Tibet Region of China, India gave up her rights in Tibet, pledging non-interference without seeking a quid pro quo. To avoid antagonizing China, Nehru went as far as to assure the Chinese leaders that India had neither political nor territorial ambitions, nor did it seek special privileges in Tibet. Greeting his honoured guest Prime Minister Chou Enlai of China to Delhi, Nehru declared”Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” (Indian - Chinese Brothers). Earlier in May 1951, Tibetan delegates had signed an agreement recognizing Chinese sovereignty and guaranteeing that the existing political and social system of Tibet would continue.
Later, in April 1955, India played the lead role in calling the Bandung Conference in Indonesia and laying the foundation of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Addressing representatives from twenty nine Afro-Asian countries, Nehru pledged India's commitment to world peace and non-participation in the Cold War. Decrying both power blocs, he declared: “So far as I am concerned, it does not matter what war takes place; we will not take part in it unless we have to defend ourselves. If I join any of these big groups I lose my identity… It is with military force that we are dealing now, but I submit that moral force counts and the moral force of Asia and Africa (emphasis added) must, in spite of the atomic and hydrogen bombs of Russia, the U.S.A. or another country, count.”
The core principles of the Bandung Conference were political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality. For several years, Indian leaders – mainly defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon – sang the swan song of morality in world politics in all international and regional forums - ad nauseam. India's sermonizing was not taken well in the West: the US leadership, especially, was unamused. At Bandung too, the US diplomats had taken up cudgels openly with Indian delegates. The US delegate representative, Adam Clayton Powell, elaborated at length the American foreign policy which assisted the United States' standing with the Non-Aligned bloc. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State (1953-1959), was in perpetual conflict with those non-aligned statesmen he found excessively favourable towards Communism, including India's Nehru and Krishna Menon. In one of his hard-hitting speeches on June 9, 1956, Dulles likened neutrality to the “worst form of prostitution”. He argued, "Neutrality has increasingly become obsolete and, except under very exceptional circumstances, it is an immoral and shortsighted conception."
Within months of the Bandung Conference – and as if to rebuke Dulles and the US – India invited top Soviet leaders, Prime Minister Bulganin and General Secretary Khrushchev, in late 1955, to a spectacular 14-day red-carpet visit to India and the disputed Kashmir. To the US media, the high-profile visit more than confirmed US apprehensions of India's hubris. Displaying rank opportunism, however, Nehru soon afterwards rushed to the US in1956 to offset the impression of a tilt towards the Soviet bloc. Lavishing praise for the US leadership of the 'free world', Nehru said, “To the people of India, I should like to say that the friendship of America is a treasure which we value and I am sure if these two countries cooperate, it would add to the peace of the world and will lead to our mutual advantage.”
In reality, India's preaching of world peace and non-violence was only a rhetoric to smoke-screen her increasing hegemonic designs in her neighbourhood. Earlier, she had air-lifted her military forces to forcibly occupy the disputed Kashmir while simultaneously pledging the right of self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In a broadcast to the nation on November 3, 1947, Nehru had brazen-facedly stated, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.” Later, India forcibly annexed the states of Hyderabad, Junagarh, Manavadar and Sikkim under the guise of police action or merger in naked violation of international law and complete disregard of the Will of the people of these states.
With China too, India did not take long to bare her claws. In characteristic Machiavellianism, she launched a clandestine 'soft' operation to instigate the Tibetans to revolt. Within two years of signing the Sino-Indian Treaty on Tibet, she surreptitiously 'invited' the young Dalai Lama to visit India in 1956 under the guise of participating in the 2500th anniversary celebrations commemorating the Enlightenment of the Buddha. To utter surprise of China, he subsequently 'sought' asylum in India. Chou Enlai visited India later that year and sought Nehru's personal intervention to persuade the Dalai Lama to return to Lhasa on the assurance of implementation of the 17-Point Agreement by China in good faith. Nehru promised to intercede; but did precisely the opposite. The failed uprising in Tibet was employed by Nehru as the game-changer. Worse was to follow…(To be Continued…)