1962 war: history

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1962: Revisiting the Indo-Chinese war

The Himalayan Blunder

By Anon, The Times of India

The Times of India

Any reading of the Sino-Indian war of 1962 does not look good for India. Whether it was Jawaharlal Nehru's misreading of Chinese intentions in the wake of his support to Tibet's rebellion, India's "forward policy" that meant different things to different people, Mao Zedong's desire to teach India a "lesson" or the subsequent national security paranoia that it bred in the Indian political and security systems ...1962 evokes mixed feelings in India even after half a century.

But for India to grow out of the morass of humiliation, it's necessary to revisit that war, and perhaps admit to major blunders committed at every level, not least at the very top.

In 1951, China began its occupation of Tibet, which, by 1959, became a full-throated conquest. Until 1959, India tried to diplomatically persuade Beijing to give some kind of autonomy to Tibet along with providing covert arms shipments to the Tibetan rebellion.

India's discomfort stemmed from the fact that it believed the loss of Tibetan independence robbed New Delhi off an important buffer in the Himalayas. But Beijing viewed India's actions as interference in its internal affairs, and Mao ordered "harder approach" to India's meddling.

In India, Nehru maintained the romance of Hindi-Chini friendship. A more realistic Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel proposed better border development, strengthening of the military presence etc and to better integrate the north-eastern states. John Garver, in Protracted Contest, writes, "Patel saw clearly the linkage between Tibet and what would become the crux of the border/territorial issue."

Nehru looked at the inhospitable Tibetan terrain and decided first, not to push the Chinese too far, second that they would not be able to maintain troops in distant Tibetan plateau, and third that China would not engage in any major attack against India. However, he completely missed the technology argument, which China could and did.

By 1959, a huge change came over Indian public opinion at China's open repression in Tibet, which led the Dalai Lama to flee to India in 1959. In April, 1960, Nehru reject Zhou Enlai's boundary settlement proposal. Mao was convinced India was working with the US and USSR against China. Contemporary Chinese thinking believed that India's desire to keep Tibet was the cause of the 1962 war. India has refused to declassify documents of that era.

Nehru's forward policy, his demand that China vacate "all Indian territory" and his support of the Tibetan rebellion were all part of these classified docements. China had been active in Aksai Chin for over a decade before 1962. India was aware of Chinese activity there from 1951. But in 1953, Nehru decided to redraw the boundary that included Aksai Chin within India, as opposed to British policy of 1899, which kept Aksai Chin out of India. In 1957, Beijing's road building activities could not be ignored any longer, and India sent patrols to the area. It would be the beginning of the India-China conflict that would culminate in 1962.

By 1961, Nehru's forward policy had taken shape, creating 60 forward posts, 43 of them north of the McMahon Line. Meanwhile, China, too, had been preparing for war with India because Mao wanted to teach India "a lesson".

Indian units reported increased Chinese aggression, but the Nehru government did not read the tea leaves. China prepared for war, while India missed the clues. After intermittent clashes in the preceding days, when on October 20, 1962, China launched massive strikes in the north-east and Ladakh, India was completely caught off guard.

The Himalayan war ended in a rout of Indian forces. Chinese then withdrew although their victory was not without cost. The defeat, however, changed India's view of China forever. India claims the moral high ground, blaming China for a stealthy strike but it completely misread its giant neighbour. Mao, who saw Nehru as a conniving and pretentious leader, began and ended the war on his own terms.

In between, Indian troops suffered successive reverses. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) overran Indian positions south of the Mcmahon line. Chinese troops overwhelmed Indian defences by the sheer weight of numbers and Tawang was soon under attack.

In the north-east, confusion and courage, foolhardiness and daredevilry were all playing out as a dazed military leadership dithered about its response. Major General A S Pathania, commanding the fourth division in Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh, ordered his troops to withdraw in humiliation.

On October 24, 1962, Zhou offered Nehru a settlement that was rejected. Parliament passed a resolution resolving to "drive out aggressors" from Indian soil. Hostilities resumed with Chinese attacks on Sela and Bomdila. PLA was close to Tezpur, when China declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew 20km from the Line of Actual Control. According to Henry Kissinger, Mao did not see India as a perpetual foe, but famously remarked that force will "knock Nehru back to the negotiating table".

Mao ordered 1962 war to regain CPC control

Mao ordered 1962 war to regain CPC control, reveals Chinese strategist

PTI | Oct 17, 2012,

From the archives of the Press Trust of India: 2012

BEIJING: China's late strongman Mao Zedong had launched the 1962 war with India to regain control of the ruling Communist Party after the debacle of his 'Great Leap Forward' movement in which millions had perished.

This was stated by top Chinese strategist Wang Jisi, adding a new dimension to the conflict ahead of the 50th anniversary of the war on Saturday.

"The war was a tragedy. It was not necessary," Wang, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told PTI here.

Wang said he differed with the perception of many Chinese political and strategic analysts that the Chinese victory ended India's claims on the border and brought about long-term peace.

"I think we need to do some research. One anecdotal story I heard was because of Mao's own fear of his position in China in 1962 that he launched a war," said Wang, who according to senior Indian diplomats was often consulted by the Chinese leadership.

"In 1962, three years after the Great Leap Forward (GLF), Mao lost power and authority. He was no longer the head of the state and he went back to the so-called second line. The explanation given to us at that time was that he was more interested in ... revolution and so on," he said ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Sino-India conflict on October 20.

GLF was a mass campaign launched by Mao to use China's vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy to a modern Communist society.

The movement turned out to be a catastrophe for China as millions of people perished in violent purges weakening Mao's position as supreme leader of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and he was sidelined.

Mao’s strategy, not Nehru’s, led to war: Lintner

Indrani Bagchi, December 12, 2017: The Times of India

It wasn’t Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Forward Policy’ of 1961 that caused the war with China in 1962. Instead, fresh documents, evidence and insight make it clear that China was planning to attack India since 1959.

For over half a century, India has tortured itself over the disastrous loss to China in 1962, and many internalised British author Neville Maxwell’s criticism in his book India’s China War that argued that India, instead of being the victim of Chinese aggression, was in fact responsible for the war.

Swedish journalist and strategic consultant, Bertil Lintner, in a reversal of Maxwell’s theory shows in a new book, China’s India War, that the boot had always been on the other foot, casting more light on Henry Kissinger’s mention in On China of Mao’s determination to give India a bloody nose.

In an exclusive chat with TOI, Lintner said, “Nehru’s Forward Policy was conceived and put forward in November 1961. You cannot possibly imagine that in less than a year China would be able to mobilise tens of thousands of troops, heavy equipment, and move them over the most difficult terrain in the world.” His comments echo late B Raman’s account of RAW when he pointed out the intelligence failure in piecing together months of Chinese movements, including mule trails, ahead of the war.

Why did China want to go after India? Lintner points to two reasons. “Mao Zedong had launched the Great Leap Forward, and it was a tremendous failure. A huge famine started, maybe 30-40 million people died, there was cannibalism. Mao’s own position was probably at its weakest since the start of the Communist rule in China. No country in the world would go to war over a border issue at a time like that. But China did. Mao wanted to reconsolidate his grip on power. The best way to do that is to find an outside enemy. India was the perfect outside enemy.” The other reason which fed into the first was the Tibet question and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959. “Suddenly after 1959 the border issue becomes no. 1 on the Chinese agenda. The decision was taken in 1959 to “teach India a lesson” in Deng Xiaoping’s words.”

Interestingly, Lintner’s thesis was supported by a Chinese researcher, Jianglin Li in a paper last week. Writing in a website War on Tibet, she says, “the PLA’s ‘suppression of Tibetan rebellion’ was an important causal link in the outbreak of war in 1962.”

It is no surprise, she says, that the PLA won the border war, because its commanders were in charge of “a battle-hardened army that had been trained in live combat in Tibet for three years”.

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