The CIA papers

Print edition : August 24, 2007

New Delhi, November 28, 1956. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai received by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at Palam Airport.-THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

A CIA Staff Study published in May on the Sino-Indian border dispute (1959-62) throws neglected light on relations between the two countries.

We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.


SUBSTITUTE chauvinism for morality and you have an accurate description of the hyper-charged mind of the Indian public; not only of its lay citizens but of the entire political class, not least the academia and the media. It goes into a frenzy over disclosure of secret documents revealing betrayals, wrath over criticism by foreigners; jubilation over their support; and sheer ecstasy over their praise even if it is patronising praise. The chauvinism would have made Count Nicolas Chauvin blush.

Abba Eban, Israels accomplished diplomat, pitied Israelis who felt comforted whenever any state recognised theirs. We lack that calm self-assurance and, with it, the capacity for study, rigorous analysis and introspection. Wrong, simplistic lessons are drawn from disclosures and other events; invariably to fortify self-righteousness.

The publication in May of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Staff Study, entitled The Sino-Indian Border Dispute, covering the period 1959-1962, triggered off familiar reactions in familiar tunes Chinas perfidy, Nehrus idealism, both confirming the proposition engraved on rock we were always right, the Chinese were always wrong.

It was of a piece with the reactions to Jack Andersons disclosures on December 13, 1971 and January 14, 1972 published with other documents in 1973 as The Anderson Papers and Thomas Powers book on the CIA Director Rich ard Helms, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, not to overlook Tad Szulcs report on the Indo-Soviet Treaty in The New York Times of August 13, 1971, based on intelligence reports. They revealed the existence of a CI A mole in the Indira Gandhi Cabinet; a senior Minister, indeed. He performed freely for the CIA all through 1971 till he was compromised. She did not sack him, however, ever forgiving of human weakness. He survived. The CIA had penetrated the Indian Government at every level. It sent reports on troops movements, logistics, strategy, and even some of Prime Minister Indira Gandhis secret conversations. Was it not a matter of concern that her anxious queries to the Soviet Ambassador and his replies reached Henry Kissingers table while the war was on.

Disclosures are lapped up; but the questions they raise are never asked. How penetrable was and is our system? What does a particular disclosure say for our decision-making process and for the soundness of the decision? Kissinger has been coming frequently to India and was often asked about the entry of the Seventh Fleet; not once, about his explicit instigation to the Chinese in December 1971 to attack India. So much for our television anchors and other interviewers. The CIA paper s published in May reveal that there was a mole in the Indian Cabinet, in a sensitive Cabinet Committee and even in the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI). It split in 1964.

Here are some disclosures. Have fun: Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt plainly told U.S. Ambassador Elsworth Bunker on April 27, 1959, that if the mighty West could not fight the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in Hungary in 1956, certainly India could not fight over Tibet which it is practically impossible for Indians even to reach out. Some paragraphs that followed are blanked out. Did they contain Bunkers pleas for Indian intervention in Tibet since the Dalai Lama had entered India on March 31? Are they cut out because they would embarrass the U.S. vis--vis China now?

The first armed clash with China occurred at Longju on August 25, 1959. Two hundred Chinese troops attacked 12 Indians. Longju was north of the McMahon Line in fact, but on the ridge to the north along which, Nehru claimed, the Line shou ld really run. The Study says that the clashes seem to have stemmed largely from an increased Indian presence there. (emphasis added, throughout).

On October 6 Mao and Liu Shao-Chi told the CPIs general secretary Ajoy Ghosh that reliable sources informed them that the Tibetan rebels had been aided by the Indians.

The Study holds: The Chinese goal was twofold: (1) probe New Delhis willingness to begin preliminary negotiations on an overall border agreement and (2) establish a military presence along the entire border. In discussions on 5 and 6 October, Mao Tse-tung and Liu Shao-chi reportedly told Indian Communist leader Ghosh that they wanted a border settlement, were prepared to exchange NEFA for their claim in Ladakh that is, the Aksai Plain where they had built the road connecting Sinkiang and Tibet and would put pressure on India to negotiate. They did not make clear what they meant by pressure. As for the McMahon line, Mao and Liu stated that they would accept it de facto with minor adjustments. They then told Ghosh that it would be necessary to develop a proper atmosphere especially in India before negotiations could begin. In early October, Foreign Minister Chen Yi had moved to develop such an atmosphere, informally proposing to the Indian ambassador that the first step would be a visit by the Vice President. On 19 October, Chou wrote a personal letter to Nehru, suggesting that Vice President S. Radhakrishnan visit Peiping and that this might serve as a starting point for negotiations. Nehru was reportedly at the time encouraged that the Chinese seemed willing to talk. When the letter was finally delivered by the Chinese ambassador on 24 October, Nehru and Radhakrishnan turned the proposal down, as on 21 October Chinese military forces had clashed with a patrol of Indian border police near the Kongka pass in southern Ladakh, capturing ten and killing nine. For that clash, as the Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief B.N. Mulliks memoirs reveal, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Army blamed him (The Chinese Betrayal, page 243). The public was told the very opposite. Public opinion was inflamed. Nehru went along with it. Nehru made a fate ful and most unwise move which reflected his poor understanding of the international situation, his favourite words. He sought Soviet intercession, aggravating Sino-Soviet as well as Sino-Indian relations.

Apparently in the hope that Khrushchev would restrain the Chinese from further border attacks, New Delhi instructed the Indian ambassador in Moscow to explain the Indian position to Khrushchev personally. Khrushchev was to be informed that a large number of notes sent to Peiping have gone unanswered and that the Chinese have started an insidious propaganda against India among socialist and nonaligned countries. In early September, Indian Foreign Secretary Dutt formally notified the Soviet and Polish ambassadors of New Delhis serious concern over Chinese border incursions. Dutt privately warned the ambassadors that if the incidents were to continue, New Delhi would be forced to re-appraise its policy of nonal ignment. These appeals and Khrushchevs apparent concern for the USSRs whole Indian policy combined to spur the Russians into an effort to dissociate Moscow from Peipings actions against India. Note the CIA studys direct quotes from secret Indian documents.

The TASS statement of September 9, 1959, provoked Zhou Enlai to send his letter of September 8 to pre-empt it after attempts to persuade Moscow not to release it had failed. It was a hard-line reply to Nehrus letter of March 22. Indias Ambassador in Moscow told his U.S. counterpart that Khrushchev, whom he had met on September 12, took a balanced view. Nehru told his Cabinet that in mid-October the Soviet Union had informed him that the Russians had done as m uch as they were able to in cautioning the Chinese to exercise restraint that is, Nehru explained, the Russians were clearly not in a position to dictate to Peiking (the italicised words are in direct quotes in the Study). The CIA had access to Cabinet papers. Further, at an emergency cabinet meeting in late October Nehru indicated that border fighting did not constitute a threat to India. The strategic Chinese threat, he maintained, lies in the rapidly increasing industrial power base of China as well as the building of military bases in Tibet. The only Indian answer, he continued, is the most rapid possible development of the Indian economy to provide a national power base capable of resisting a possible eventual Chinese Communist military move. Nehru seemed to believe that the Chinese could not sustain any major drive across the great land barrier and that the Chinese threat was only a long-term one.

Such was Nehrus understanding of the realities of the modern world that the concept of a limited war, in vogue by then, never entered his mind. He was obsessed with an all-out-war, which he regarded as unthinkable and one which would lead to a world war.

The Study does not approve of restraint. Had it not been Nehru but rather a more military-minded man who occupied the post of prime minister in late October 1959, a priority program to prepare India eventually to fight would have been started.

Documents are misread; well-known facts misrepresented. There are also grave factual errors. It is absurd to say that the Army Chief Gen. K.S. Thimayya told the Governors conference in October 1959 that he wanted to take necessary military steps on the road through the Aksai Chin but was prevented from doing so by Defence Minister Krishna Menon. This is belied by the entire record. It bears quotation in extenso: Nehru was responsible for the decision, and began to prepare Indian public opinion for the cession of Chinese-occupied sections of Ladakh. The procedure used was simply to reassert the line that most of Ladakh was wasteland. Nehru is reliably reported to have stated in late October sessions of the External Affairs sub-committee that he was willing to begin open negotiations on the determination of the Ladakh border. He emphasised that the disputed area of Ladakh is of very little importance uninhabitable, rocky, not a blade of grass and went on to imply that he would not be averse to the ultimate cession of that part of eastern Ladakh claimed by the Chinese. In conversations at the time with army and government officials, members of the American embassy staff were told that the Aksai Plain is not regarded as strategically important or useful to India. The Indians stated repeatedly that it is a barren place where not a blade of grass grows. Both Foreign Secretary Dutt and Vice President Radhakrishnan complained bitterly that Nehru was on the way to selling out the Aksai Plain. Nehru evidently was ignorant of Radhakrishnans penchant for intrigue. He got him elected as President in 1962.

The developing line about the strategic insignificance of the Aksai Plain was strengthened by the Indian military estimate that the Plain was indefeasible anyway. General Thimayyas estimate was that the ridge line of the Ka rakoram Range is the only defensible frontier in the entire Ladakh area. Thimayya stated that therefore part of the Tibet Plateau east of the ridge line shown as Indian territory on New Delhis maps was militarily indefensible, and by implication there was really no strategic reason for recapturing it from Chinese troops even if it were possible to do so in the face of preponderant Chinese military power. This view provided Nehru with another rationalisation for his talk rather than fight decision. He also stated privately that the entire border in Ladakh is undefined, that few Indians live in the area, that there has never been any real administration there, and that therefore he is not sure th at all the territory claimed in Ladakh belongs to India.

Throughout the 19th century the British favoured the Karakoram boundary, which gave the Aksai Chin to China. Nehru claimed the Kuen Lun boundary which included Aksai Chin in India.

B. N. Mullik, the IB chief, records Thimayyas view on the futility of a fight over the worthlessness of the Aksai Chin. The MEA thought it was useless (The Chinese Betrayal, pages 204, 205, and 240). It lay in & #8220;disputed territory. President Rajendra Prasad was for a hard line and persuaded Nehru to revise his note of November 4 as it lacked firmness. Maulana Azad was dead. G. B. Pant and Morarji Desai thought it a good opportunity to bridle Nehru politically. Nehru needed little persuasion to swim with the tide of public opinion. It is, however, hard to believe, as the Study asserts, that Nehrus letter to Zhou on November 18 was drafted primarily by Pant and reviewed by Nehru. Whoever told the CIA that? Pant or a zealous aide?

Beijing, October 1954. Jawaharlal Nehru, along with Indira Gandhi, going to a rally accompanied by Zhou Enlai.-THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

So much for the juicy disclosures. More relevant is the record on policy. It was shaped by four crucial decisions by Nehru. As Aitchisons Treaties, Engagements, etc. recorded (1929), the northern as well as the eastern boundary of the Kashmir State is still undefined. The two White Papers on Indian States (1948 and 1950) had maps more than one, all reflecting that position. In one of them even the colour wash did not extend to the Aksai Chin (vide the writers article Negotiating with China, Frontline, August 14, 1989). In contrast, all maps showed the McMahon Line clearly as the boundary. Patels famous lette r to Nehru on November 7, 1950, and Nehrus declaration in Parliament on November 20, 1950, were confined to this Line. The Aksai Chin did not figure in our consciousness at all.The Panchsheel Agreement was signed on April 29, 1954. In June Zhou came to India. Four fateful steps followed thereafter. (1) On July 1, 1954, Nehru wrote a 17-paragraph memorandum directing that all our old maps should be withdrawn. New maps should be printed (which) should also not state there is any undemarcated territory. And there would be no discussion on that new line; no debate (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Vol. 26, page 481). Such a unilateral change in ones own map is ineffective in law, morality and politics. One might as well alter ones map to claim ownership over another state. China did not protest when, on February 12, 1951, Major R. (Bob) Khating evicted the Tibetans and took over the administration of Tawang, the last outpost south of the McMahon Line. Nor did it protest over the new maps of 1954. It ignored them. In April 1952 China had decided to go all out for the road through the Aksai Chin. In October 1951 India noticed its surveyors there. The IB reported construction on the site in November 1952. Completion of the road was announced in March 1957. Not till 1958 did an Indian patriot reach the road (Mullik, pages 196-198).

This was the situation when the second fateful step was taken. On August 21, 1958, India protested at Chinas maps. Chinas reply of November 3, 1958, neither owned them up nor promised revision; only promised surveys and consultation. Nehru wrote to Zhou on December 14, 1958, citing their talks in October 1954 and 1956 on the McMahon Line. It was Zhou who raised the Western sector in Ladakh in his reply of January 23, 1959. It made two points border disputes do exist between them but he would take a more or less realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line. The issue was about the Aksai Chin.

India could not, should not have asked for more. Instead, Nehrus reply of March 22, 1959, banged the door to conciliation contending that it was a settled matter and no dispute existed. He cited incredibly the Treaty of 1842 between China and Kashmir as having fixed the boundary. The area now being claimed by China has always been depicted as part of India on official maps which was untrue (vide the writers article Frontline, A ugust 28, 1998). Nehru himself admitted repeatedly in August-September 1959 that, unlike the McMahon Line, the Aksai Chin was disputed territory for a hundred years (September 17, 1959).

Why then did he cite the 1842 Treaty in March 1959? Had he stuck to this belated discovery a fair settlement could have been arrived at. He took the third step on September 26, 1959, only nine days later, stipulating two pre-conditi ons China must withdraw to the line claimed by India, but even if it did India could not possibly discuss the future of such large areas which are an integral part of their territory. This rendered conciliation and compromise impossible. Which historian advised him to (1) write the letters of March 22, 1959 and September 26, 1959? The people have a right to know.

That baleful advice was in the teeth of historical records from 1846-1947. The Bhartiya Janata Party decries Nehru, others laud him for idealism. He was in truth a unilateralist he decided where the boundary lay and refused to negotiate on it. He also decided there was no dispute on Kashmir. He left successors with terrible legacies since he had moulded public opinion on both in support of impossible positions. The fourth, last step was at the Nehru-Zhou summit in New Delhi on April 19-26, 1960, where Zhou offered to accept the status quo and Nehru refused.

By now the 1954 map had become a cartographic Bible. Ignore the disclosures and reflect on the light which the CIAs Study sheds on how we responded to the diplomatic challenge. It is in these parts, covering 1950-59; 1959-61 and 1961-62. It draws on inputs by the Defence Department, the CIA and the U.S. Embassys reports.

The U.S. was then hostile to China. All the more damning is its exposure of the arrogance and sheer folly that marked Nehrus stand on the boundary question. But remember the Jan Sangh, the Lohiaites, the Swatantra and the Congress right wing, in fact the entire media and academia backed him to the hilt and urged a harder line. It was a truly national failure rooted in hubris and ignorance. There is little sign today of either abating and yielding to serious introspection on such issues. That China prevaricated on the maps and showed lack of candour is evident. After August 1959 it spread out to the west of the road and occupied the Changchenmo valley in Ladakh.

Section I of the Study is supportive of Nehrus position. Not so the rest. Section II reveals the conciliatory advice which our Ambassadors to the USSR and China gave to India. According to Ministry of External Affairs deputy (sic.) Secretary [Jagat] Mehtas remarks to an American official on March 9, the acid test for a real compromise solution was not Chinese willingness to accept the McMahon line as they had already accepted the line in fact but willingness to withdraw from the Aksai Plain. That is, Chinese acceptance of the Aksai Plain as Indian territory and retraction of their demand that this part of Ladakh be considered at least disputed land. Peiping indicated, through a discussion by its military attach in East Germany with a Western journalist on 2 March, that China might agree to a demilitarized zone in certain portions of Ladakh. However, such agreement was conditional on Indian acceptance of the principle that Ladakh was disputed territory. The attach then made it clear that under no circumstances would the Chinese withdraw from the road. Another small concession of face, evidencing Peipings urgent desire to mollify the Indians and work toward an overall border settlement. The Chinese acted to create an impression of confidence that the meeting would bring satisfactory results. Ambassador Parthasarathy reported his impression from Peiping on 7 Mar ch that the Chinese were prepared to compromise.

Nehru was taken aback when Zhou indicated his intention to spend six days in New Delhi. He came to settle. Negotiation, in the Chinese view, actually meant a simple procedure whereby Nehru would agree to ac cept Chous formula of an Aksai Plain-for-NEFA exchange. The Indian officials reported to New Delhi that at their parting reception given in late July by Foreign Minister Chen Yi, Chen explicitly stated that the Chinese were ready to negotiate on the basis of Chous formula, and added that Chou would be willing to visit India again to sign an agreement to such a formula if Nehru had no time to come to Peiping. A similar message was later conveyed by Burmese Prime Minister U Nu in talks with President Prasad in New Delhi on 14 November. U Nu is reported to have been told by Chou En-lai that he was prepared to give up Chinas claim to the NEFA in return for Indias acceptance of the status quo in Ladakh, even though this would mean giving up vast territories that historically belonged to Tibet. When Prasad discussed U Nus statement with Nehru, the latter according to Prasad commented: Chous suggestion for solving the dispute has some merit, for if they (i.e. the Chinese) can prove that historically Ladakh belongs to them, what is the reason for us to keep it? line thinking on Peiping and his personal inclination to vacillate, keeping alive the hope of a way out through compromise. It also underscores the influence of his associates in sustaining at crucial times an adamant official attitude.

Section III is critical of Indias Forward Policy. Formulated in December 1961 (in fact on November 2, 1961 - AGN) the army plan envisaged operations in Ladakh by spring when weather conditions improved. The plan called for the establishment of five new Indian posts of 80-100 men each behind nine existing forward Chinese posts in Ladakh west of the 1956 Chinese claim line; the posts were to be manned all year round. Krishna Menon instructed the Indian air force to prepare a report on its capability to sustain a major air supply effort. (Two of the posts were to be set up close to the western part of the Aksai Plain road, but the Indians were unable to move anywhere near it in subsequent encounters.)

Briefing cabinet sub-committee officials on the Nehru-approved plan in late December, Krishna Menon stated that the new posts would be positioned to cut off the supply lines of targeted Chinese posts; they were to cause the starving out of the Chinese, who would thereafter be replaced by Indian troops in the posts. These points would serve as advanced bases for Indian patrols assigned to probe close to the road.

Alert to the possibility of new Indian moves, the Chinese in late 1961 had warned the Indians to maintain the border status quo. Privately in January 1962, they began to threaten armed counteraction. The Chinese ambassador in Cambodia told his Burmese colleague in late January (at a time when Peiping was again probing for negotiations) that China still desired Chou-Nehru talks, but if India wanted to bully, pressure, or fight the Chinese about the disputed area, the Chinese would prove to be tough diversaries and were quite willing to use troops to resist attack. This threat was communicated to the Indian ambassador in Phnom Penh, who apparently informed New Delhi The border dispute was in this way transferred by the Indians from a primarily political quarrel to a serious military confrontation. Large portions that follow this are blanked out. Remember, in 1964 the U.S. was hostile to China.

Nehru declared: We will continue to build these things up so that ultimately we may be in a position to take effective action to recover such territory as is in their possession,; that is, use force to recover the Aksa i Chin, while penny posts were erected in that area. Worse, India set up the Dhola Post in the Thagla Ridge in the east in June 1962. It was north of the McMahon Line by at least 400 yards.

It thus played into the hands of an impatient and exasperated China, which formerly was afraid of attack by Chinese Nationalists across the Taiwan Straits. However, Statements made at the Sino-American talks in Warsaw to Ambassador Wang Pingnan on 23 June and by President Kennedy to newsmen on the 27th apparently dispelled these fears. Security precautions in the Canton area were eased in early July and on 19 July, Chen Yi, during an interview in Geneva, three times referred to the American assurance given to Wang Ping-nan that the U.S. would not support a Nationalist assault against the mainland, describing the assurance as not bad. He did not comment on Khrushchevs 2 July statement. The Chine se leaders, no longer rattled by the prospect of a two-front war, turned with restored confidence to encounter the Indian advances. Their first major move of 1962 was in direct response to a new Indian move in Ladakh. This was brought out 30 years later in Roderick Macfarquhars book and John W. Garners essay. Meanwhile, according to Krishna Menons report to the Cabinet Defence subcommittee on 12 July, the 20-man Indian unit had been ordered to open fire if the Chinese advanced any closer. Nevertheless, the Chinese had the superior force and could have destroyed the post without much trouble. Ambassador Galbraith received the impression from the MEAs China Division Director, S. Sinha, on 13 July that the strategy of the Indian leaders was to hope that the Chinese would go away.

Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul told Ambassador Galbraith on 16 July that the Indian army viewed the Chinese as set in a mood of weakness and that Indian policy was to take maximum advantage of this mood by establishing even more new posts. In contrast to the policy ambiguities of a year or two ago, Kaul continued, the Indian army is not now in a mood to be pushed around.

This CIA Study, hostile to China, records: Ever since the Chou-Nehru talks of April 1960, the Chinese leaders without exception had been receptive to any high-level Indian exploratory approach to talks. Only after they had ascertained that the Indian representative was stating the same old position that is, Chinese withdrawal as a pre-condition for negotiations did they act to reject an Indian overture. Thus in early July, the Chinese responded by returning Ambassador Pan Tuz-li, who had been in Peiping since January, to New Delhi to make a personal determination of Nehrus willingness to begin talks. Nehru advised the Cabinet Defence Subcommittee meeting on 12 July that during his meeting with Pan, the latter had suggested Sino-Indian talks be initiated. Nehru told the meeting that this suggestion would be turned down because the Chinese were capable of making further border advances under the guise of talks. President Radhakrishnan concurred, maintaining that no grounds for talks existed as long as the Chinese persisted in their refusal to withdraw first.

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