Chinese Army Prepared for 1962 War by Fighting Tibetans

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In path breaking research into the Tibetan uprising in 1956-59 and the lead-up to the 1962 war, Chinese scholar Jianglin Li has accessed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents and interviewed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans from that war to present critical new aspects of that period’s history.

Li’s research illustrates that Mao Zedong cynically regarded operations against the Tibetan resistance – called Chushi Gangdruk – as an opportunity to train the PLA.

This research rebuts earlier claims by 1962 war veterans like Yin Fatang, a former CCP boss in Tibet, that the PLA fought the 1962 war unprepared. A similar claim was made in the 2008 memoir of Ding Sheng, who commanded the PLA’s 54thArmy in Walong sector. Ding says that in October 1962, the 54th Army was scattered across Sichuan for agricultural work. On October 28, when he received the order to attack Walong, “the troops were hastily mobilized, issued warm clothing and rushed to Tibet for the battle at short notice”, Ding says.

Li’s research – which is posted on the “War on Tibet” website in a research article entitled  “‘Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet’ and the China-India Border War” – shows the PLA presented a formidable contrast to the poorly equipped and poorly acclimatised Indian troops.

CCP documents indicate that, in the three years from March 1959 to March 1962, the PLA fought 12 major battles in Central Tibet, targeting the Chushi Gangdruk. Li concludes that, when the 1962 war began, “It had been less than a year since Ding’s troops pulled back from Tibet after three years of fighting.”

Beijing’s hostility came even though India helped China sustain its occupation of Tibet. “In the early 1950s, China needed India’s help to send supplies into Tibet, so that the PLA could consolidate the occupation. India was quite generous in providing this help. In 1952, Beijing “used diplomatic channels” to ship 2,500 tons of rice from Guangdong province to Calcutta, and transport it up to Tibet through Yadong (Dromo). By April 1953, all the rice had arrived. This basically solved the food supply problem for PLA troops, and enabled them to establish a preliminary footing in Tibet”, according to a book, “Remembering Tibet – Collected Recollections of Advancing and Liberating Tibet”.

After discovering the existence of the border dispute in 1952, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry “absorbed the former foreign office of the Kashag (Tibetan government) and acquired its archival documents”, Zhou Enlai sought to buy time.

“India is still under British and American influence, so we want to win it over… [Border disputes] should be solved in future… due to insufficient documents now”, says Zhou’s 1954 directive on the border issue, according to Wang Gui, of the Tibet Military Command Political Department.

Unlike the patient Zhou, Mao had decided to teach India a lesson by end-March 1959, soon after the Tibet uprising and Dalai Lama’s escape to India. Wu Lengxi, who headed Xinhua and People’s Daily at that time, describes Mao fuming in a Party Central Committee meeting in Shanghai: “Let the Indian government commit all the wrongs for now. When the time comes, we will settle accounts with them”.

PLA aggression on the McMahon Line started right away, says Wang Tingsheng of the 54th Army Division. His memoirs recount: “PLA soldiers crossed the McMahon Line at three locations in pursuit of escaping Tibetans.”

Even so, Mao carefully lulled India into complacency, ordering the inclusion of a paragraph into a May 15, 1959 letter from Beijing to New Delhi: ““China’s main attention and principle of struggle is focused on the east, the West Pacific region, on the ferocious American imperialism, not on India, the southeast or south Asian countries at all. …China will not be so stupid as to make enemies with the US in the east, and make enemies with India in the west. Pacification of rebellion and implementing democratic reform in Tibet would pose no threat to India whatsoever.”

At the time Mao made this statement, PLA 11 Infantry Division was already fighting the Tibetan resistance in Chamdo. Three years later, on October 20, 1962, this battle-hardened division would start the Sino-India war with its attack on Indian positions on the Namka Chu rivulet, near Tawang.

Li shows that Mao viewed operations against the Tibetan resistance as training ground for the PLA, causing the use of disproportionate force and warfighting weaponry against Tibetan civilians. From January 22nd to February 19th 1959, Mao Zedong added written instructions to four reports on the Tibet situation, stating: “Rebellion is a good thing”, as it could be used to “train the troops and the masses”, and to “harden our troops to combat readiness.”

Xu Yan, a professor at the Chinese National Defence University, says the key differentiator in the 1962 war was combat experience. “Most of the troops of the [PLA] who fought at the China-India border have a glorious history”, he commented, “Besides that, they had also acquired rich combat experience in high and cold mountain regions in the five years from the Khampa rebellion in 1956 to the end of the suppression of Tibetan rebellion in 1961.”

Afghanistan is a Proxy War, Not an Insurgency

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There is a reason why we are still struggling in Afghanistan. We are fighting the wrong war, using the wrong strategy, under conditions that make it virtually impossible to win.

After the overthrow of the Taliban, the U.S. and NATO set up a government in Afghanistan, which Pakistan and Iran do not like. So, they exploit a level of internal discontent by supporting armed proxies to overthrow that government in Afghanistan in order to replace it with one more amenable to their national interests.

As the Taliban have demonstrated for over a decade, it is easier and more cost-effective to destabilize than to conduct counterinsurgency, that is, to engage in stability operations and nation building.

Just who are the Taliban?

Strip away the religious veneer and you have a criminal gang, hired thugs who extort villagers at gunpoint, perform “drive-bys” with IEDs, traffic in drugs, engage in turf wars and kill cops. They are the MS-13 of South Asia.

Even if you define the conflict in Afghanistan as an insurgency, we don’t control the operational tempo or the supply of our troops. And Pakistan and Iran will always do just enough to prevent the U.S. and NATO from ever reaching the point of ensuring a stable and secure Afghanistan on our terms.

It should enlighten even the dumbest of Washington DC policymaker to learn that, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, our “partner” in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan from 2001-2008 recently said that he is the biggest supporter of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani Islamic terrorist group reportedly responsible for the deadly 2008 Mumbai attack in India, which killed 164 people and wounding over 308.

Given the strategic conditions in Afghanistan, we will always be on the defensive and never gain the military initiative, a vital factor in military success and the pathway to a favorable outcome.

What then, should be done? Well, if you can’t beat a proxy war, join it.

First, from a military standpoint, the U.S. was most effective in the first months of the Afghanistan campaign when a few hundred CIA agents and special operations forces hired some Afghans and bombed the Taliban out of power. The shift to counterinsurgency strategy actually placed U.S. forces at roughly the same tactical and technology level as the Taliban, playing to their strengths not ours.

Second, from a political standpoint, if Pakistan and Iran were not fighting us, they would be fighting each other or amongst themselves. Their two most exploitable vulnerabilities are ethnic separatism and the Sunni-Shia religious divide.

Pakistan, the Yugoslavia of South Asia, is an artificial state composed of ethnic groups that never interacted in any significant way. Pakistan’s “Islamization” program, begun by President Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), which involved the proliferation of Islamic schools “madrasas” and the promotion of Islamic law “Sharia,” was specifically designed to create national unity by suppressing ethnic separatism and religious diversity. This is particularly the case for traditionally secular and tolerant Balochistan, Pakistan’s southwestern province, where an independence movement has existed since the formation of Pakistan 1947, when Balochistan was forcibly incorporated by an invasion of the Pakistani Army. The stability of Balochistan is critically important to the success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a project vital to Pakistan and China and an obvious potential pain point.

Likewise, Iran is sandwiched between two restive ethnic groups, the Kurds in the northwest and the Baloch in the southeast.

In addition, the 1979 Iranian revolution increased the momentum of Pakistan’s Sunni “Islamization” policy resulting in the proliferation of ever-more extreme and intolerant forms of Sunni supremacism. They include the virulently anti-Shia groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jundallah and its splinter faction Jaish al-Adl, the latter two reportedly responsible for cross-border attacks on Iran from Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan. It is interesting to note that Jaish-al-Adl claimed that a Kurdish visitor was abducted together with two of its members and turned over to the Iranians, all of whom are now in Zahedan Prison, waiting to be hanged by Iran.

Our current strategy in Afghanistan is a bridge to nowhere. It is time to regain the initiation by exploiting the weaknesses of the enemy rather than exposing our own.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.

(This article was originally published in the Daily Caller on 12/07/17. It has been reposted here with permission from the author. Original link is http://dailycaller.com/2017/12/07/afghanistan-is-a-proxy-war-not-an-insurgency/).