Surrender or fight?
War is not a cricket match or Bollywood movie. Can India fight China if it must?
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Dec 4 2007, Editorial Page Special Article
Armies of the subcontinent, all deriving from rather antiquated British military traditions, have only once since 1947 fought an external army ~ when China’s Communists, using Lin Biao’s military doctrines, attacked India in 1962 and India lost territory, soldiers and self-respect, gaining ignominy for half a century instead. India and Pakistan have fought wars against each other, India’s army has fought Kashmiri, Naga and other rebels, Pakistan’s army has brutalised Bangladeshi and Baluchi civilians and fought Pashtuns in Waziristan, Bangladeshi soldiers have brutalised tribal minorities and shot at Indian border guards, Sri Lanka’s military has fought Tamil rebels, Nepal has fought communist rebels, etc. Other than the 1962 Chinese attack, all warfare in the subcontinent has been domestic and internecine.
Official 1962 history
The official Government of India history of the 1962 war frankly says: “The Indian Army trained and fought like the British Army, unimaginative, elephantine, rule-bound and road-bound. Armies of Germany, Japan, USSR or China were vastly better war machines, and patterned very differently.” During the 1962 war, the US Ambassador JK Galbraith wrote to President Kennedy: “The great question is what the Chinese intend…. The Indians have consistently underestimated Chinese intentions…. the Indian Army in its command, organisation, tactics and equipment is extremely old-fashioned. The individual soldiers carry personal arms that are sixty years old and this can hardly give them the feeling of equality with opponents carrying modern light automatic weapons. The tactics are stuffy and rigid… Some of the commanders are very good. More still are the amiable frauds that rise to the top in any peacetime Army… ”
When diplomacy is exhausted and international conflict arises, there is always an option of surrendering or yielding sovereignty instead of standing up to fight, e.g. Vichy France yielding before Nazi Germany. There is always a choice between submission and fighting. Pakistan’s military has geared itself over decades only to fight India, and chosen to serve the West and China as desired towards that end. Whatever America wants in Pakistan, America gets, e.g., if American missiles need to enter Pakistani airspace to hit Afghan targets, the US Government does not seek Pakistani permission but merely informs them not to think offensive missiles have been sent from India, and they say okay.
India’s Army may be under some suspicion of being similarly geared to fight only Pakistan ~ and when India and Pakistan are armed and obsessed only with fighting one another, they can hardly think of taking on other adversaries. “India’s soldiers now stand sentinel along India’s frontiers; but they perform guard-duties and are not spear-heads for her advancing armies”, Peter Lyon in FS Northedge (ed), Foreign Policies of the Powers, 1973.
Certainly India’s military has not seemed keen to have anything but a highly defensive posture against Communist China. On 23 March 1991, Rajiv Gandhi at his residence released a fat book by a retired Army Chief on Indian military defence titled Prepare or Perish. The book’s author and the present author had been working together for Rajiv, and the former was asked why in the hundreds of pages of the book there was barely a mention of Indian military preparation against China. He replied that our strategy against China would have to be a defensive holding action which relied on the international community’s intervention before matters escalated ~ revealing a rather wild optimism about the efficacy of international relations. Another Army Chief years before him, General Thimayya himself, is reported to have said “as a soldier he could not think of a total war with China and would leave the dispute to be settled by the diplomats” (BN Mullick, The Chinese Betrayal, p. 318).
Thimayya realised India was weak after World War II facing Mao’s Communists who had two and a half million armed men, had acquired large stocks of American and Japanese weapons after defeating Chiang Kaishek, and were aggressive and experienced after decades of fighting culminating in the Korean war. (Three divisions were trained in India by the Americans and sent for Chiang in 1942-45 with supplies along the Stilwell Road or flown across the “hump”.) Indian soldiers had fought mostly under British or American commanders; in 1947, they disintegrated in chaos into the new armies of India and Pakistan who went to war with one another immediately over J&K.
Not only was India militarily weak until 1962, our political and diplomatic policies since 1949 had been consistently ones of flattery and appeasement, betraying our interests as well as our relationships with Chiang’s Nationalist Chinese and, most cruelly of all, with the Tibetans who shared India’s culture. Our first Ambassador to Beijing was a communist sympathiser, his son-in-law a leading Indian communist. India was the first country outside the Soviet bloc to recognise Communist China, the first to help Mao diplomatically in the Korean war, the pioneer of many UN resolutions to have Communist China admitted as a veto-holding Security Council member in place of Chiang’s Nationalists. We bent over backwards to accommodate and appease them over Tibet. All this got us less than nothing ~ Communist China soon enough joined hands with Pakistan’s greedy generals against us.
Zhou Enlai was said to be “one of those men who never tell the truth and never tell a lie. For them there is no distinction between the two. The speaker says what is appropriate to the circumstances. Zhou Enlai was a perfect gentleman; he was also a perfect Communist” (Father Laszlo Ladany, The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921-1985, Stanford 1988). Zhou enforced India’s political and diplomatic surrender, and then we failed to fight adequately on the military front. Communist China thus established its dominance over India. After Nixon and Kissinger made their devious opening to Mao and Zhou using Pakistan, American policy changed too, almost betraying Taiwan and certainly stamping American approval on the idea that between Communist China and India, China shall be seen as dominant.
For recent Chinese Ambassadors to New Delhi to brazenly use today the same language as Zhou did half a century ago is not a good sign but an indication of Communist China’s wish not to have a relationship with modern India on the basis of sovereign equality. For them to say Tawang must be theirs because the monastery there was where the sixth Dalai Lama was born and the Dalai Lama is Chinese and not Indian, is to reveal an aggressive subconscious against us. We may next hear it said Buddha himself was Chinese since he was probably born in Nepal, as an excuse for further Communist encroachment.