The CIA papers

Print edition : September 07, 2007

BEIJING, OCTOBER 1954. Jawaharlal Nehru with Zhou Enlai.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The CIAs hitherto secret Study sets out the provocations from India that led to the Chinese attack in October 1962.

When the ambivalence of ones virtue is recognised, the total iniquity of ones opponent is also irreparably impaired. George F. Kennan

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Staff Study, The Sino-Indian Border Dispute, noted, had been compelled to act on the proposition that it was more important (as PM) to be realistic about domestic politics than Sino-Indian politics. But he had himself moulded public opinion by his rhetoric, fed it with the White Papers, and discovered that he had robbed himself of all room for compromise. China did not help him by its incursions, but with one vital difference it consistently offered talks without preconditions, which Nehru as consistently rejected. He opted for the use of force through the Forward Policy.

Section III of the Study records the course of events from Chinas encirclement of the Dhola Post on September 8, 1962, to the war on October 20, 1962, and beyond until 1963. Army officers continued to insist on a more forceful policy. Krishna Menon on 16 October finally accepted a proposal, long pushed by the Indian army, particularly by [General B.M.] Kaul, that it should be official government policy to evict the Chinese from the Aksai Plain as well as the NEFA [North East Frontier Agency]. Menon agreed to present this proposal personally to Nehru on the 17th and, upon the Prime Ministers approval, the Indian army general staff would be permitted, he concluded, to formalise its operational plan for the entire border. Nehru apparently agreed; he informed [United States] Ambassador [John Kenneth] Galbraith on the 18th that the Indian intention to keep steady pressure on the Chinese now extends to Ladakh. The army general staff estimated that two or three years would be required for the army to implement fully this long-range operational plan; the forward posts constituted only a beginning. Such was the mindset in high places in New Delhi.

Read this: The caution some Indian army officers and many Indian civilian officials had shown in spring and summer 1962 seemed to have fallen away by fall. In speaking of moving against Chinese forces in the Dhola area, army and civilian officials in October discounted the probability of retaliatory action on any significant scale. For example, when, on 13 October, Foreign Secretary M.J. Desai confirmed to Ambassador Galbraith the army plan to evict the Chinese from t he NEFA, Desai stated that he did not believe the Chinese would attempt to reinforce heavily their troops on the Thagla Ridge in the face of determined Indian action, as the Chinese had commitments elsewhere along the border. Moreover, Desai continued, there would be no extensive Chinese reaction because of their fear of the U.S. It is you they really fear.

The Study perceptively concluded that Chinas preparation for an attack probably began in June 1962. It noted, correctly enough, that Chinas aim was much more than repulsion or pre-emption of Indias moves. It was punitive. India must be taught to respect Chinas power, Chen Yi told Hong Kongs Communist journalists on October 6, 1962, and Liu Shaoqi confirmed to the Swedish Ambassador in February 1962.

Beijing, October 1957. Vice-President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan calls on Chairman Mao Zedong. Among the leaders in the front row are, from left, Premier Zhou Enlai, Marshal Zhu De, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Mao Zedong, Ambassador R.K. Nehru and Liu Shaoqi. Most of Chinas top revolutionary leaders of that generation are in the photograph taken in the courtyard of Maos residence.-K. NATWAR SINGHS ARCHIVE

Having secured the U.S. disengagement in June 1962, China also secured the Soviet Unions prior approval to the attack on India on October 20. The Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev personally gave it to Chinas Ambassador Liu Hsiao on October 13 and 14. Khruschev was in the throes of the Cuban missile crisis and needed Chinas support.

Lately a lot has appeared on decision-making in China prior to the war, based on Chinese documents. In 1998, Volume 3 of Roderick MacFarquhars magnum opus The Origin of the Cultural Revolution was published (Oxford University Press; reviewed in Frontline, December 18, 1998, Fresh insights into the 1962 war). Last year the Stanford University Press published a volume of essays in honour of Allen S. Whiting entitled New Directions in the Study of Chinas Foreign Policy, edited by Alastair Iain Johnston and Robert S. Ross. It includes an essay by one of the foremost experts on Chinas foreign policy, Prof. John W. Garver entitled Chinas Decision for War With India in 1962 (pages 66-130; with 126 references).

Both scholars cover common ground on important events; especially the Sino-U.S. understanding on June 23, 1962, between Ambassadors Wang Binguan and John Moors Cabot in Warsaw. It freed half a million Chinese troops in Fujian province opposite Quemoy. The ceasefire was no secret. But our great expert on the international situation did not realise its implications nor do our experts of today realise the pathetic intellectual equipment in this field of that expert.

There are some distinctive details in each account. Mao abdicated in favour of Liu Shaoqi in the first half of 1962. He registered his return at a conference in Beidaihe on August 6. Garver brilliantly analyses the decision-making process in China. One wishes an English translation of the six odd documents he cites is published in India. It would be a great service.

Garver considers the motivations and objectives of both sides. In his opinion Chinas misperceptions of Indian policies on Tibet had a considerable influence. He begins with its response to Indias Forward Policy, with particular attention to the last five months. He holds, rightly, that Nehru could very probably have carried Indian public opinion with him had he decided to accept Zhous terms at the 1960 summit. Mao and Zhou had assured Khruschev, w hen he went to Beijing in September 1959, that Zhou would go to New Delhi to settle the dispute. The Dhola Post was set up in June 1962 precisely around the time China was losing patience. In an article in Asian Survey (October 1963), Prof. Klaus H. Pringsheim called Chinas response carefully planned. Indias predictable moves for eviction led China to mount a massive counter attack which they had planned from the outset. It was an elaborate trap into which India walked. The media and the Opposition clamoured for action. (There were no TV channels then to whip up emotions.) In 2001-02, the BJP regime whipped up public opinion on equally spurious grounds for war with Pakistan. Few keep their heads in such times. Dissent is branded unpatriotic.

On September 18, Indias intention to evict the Chinese from the Dhola area at the base of the Thagla Ridge was officially announced. Garver meticulously records each step in Chinas response. The object was to disable India from recourse to force again. In early October (probably on the 6th), Chinas leaders met to review the escalating conflict with India. Deputy CMC [Central Military Commission] Chair Lin Biao led with a briefing on the situation. Reports from both the Tibet and the Xinjiang military regions indicated continual Indian advance and firings on Chinese outposts in both the eastern and western sectors. Mao remarked, It seems like armed co-existence wont work. He declared himself for war. He had been mulling over it since his return in August. As early as in May, Marshal Liu Bocheng, head of the Military Affairs Commissions (MAC) strategy group had predicted an Indian attack and was deputed to oversee the planning of a Chinese counter-attack, as MacFarquhar mentioned. Release from American pressure, the Dhola Post, and Indias reaction to Chinas response to it settled the issue.

Garver writes: Apparently following this consensus among Mao, Zhou, and Lin, a larger meeting of military leaders was convened in the western outskirts of Beijing. Participants included Mao, Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, Lin Biao, Marshals Ye Jianying and Liu Bocheng, Chief of Staff General Luo Ruiqing, Vice Chief of Staff General Yang Chengwu, head of the PLA General Political Department General Shao Hua, head of the General Logistic Department General Qiu Huizuo, the commander of the Tibet military region, Lieutenant General Zhang Guohua, and the commander of the Xinjiang military region, Major General He Jiachan. Mao opened by indicating that war had already been decided upon and that the purpose of the meeting was to consider problems associated with it. Mao explained: Our border conflict with India has gone on for many years. We do not want war and originally sought to solve it through peaceful negotiations. But Nehru is not willing to talk and has deployed considerable forces, insistently demanding a fight with us. Now it seems not to fight is not possible. If we fight, what should be our method? What should the war look like? Please everyone contribute your thoughts on these policy issues.

He asked Foreign Minister Marshal Chen Yi to brief the group. It is highly significant that Chen traced the origin to the 1954 map. He mentioned Indias terms for negotiations plus its Forward Policy.

Mao recalled the first Sino-Indian war in 648 and the half war in 1398. He now wanted to knock Nehru to the negotiating table as if humiliation would aid diplomacy. It did not. The war only hardened positions on both sides.

Garver continues: On 6 October, Mao and the CMC decided in principle for a large-scale attack to severely punish India. The same day, PLA chief of Staff Luo Ruiqing received a directive from the CCP centre and Chairman Mao authorising a fierce and painful attack on Indian forces. If Indian forces attack us, you should hit back fiercely... [you should] not only repel them, but hit them fiercely and make them hurt. The 6 October directive also laid out the broad directions of the projected offensive. The main assault was to be in the eastern sector, but Chinese forces in the western sector would coordinate with eastern assault.

However even as the PLA moved toward war with India, Mao continued to mull over vexing problems. Should China permit Indian forces to advance a bit farther into Chinese territory under the forward policy, thereby making clearer to international opinion that China was acting in self-defence? What should be the focus of the PLA attack? The major piece of territory in dispute between China and India was Aksai Chin in the west. Militarily this area posed problems. The east was easier and it would send a stronger message. On October 9, Indias offensive began in the Thagla Ridge area. On October 12, Nehru told the press: Our instructions are to free our country... I cannot fix a date, that is entirely for the army.

However, only the day before he had, when the odds were pointed out to him, ordered that instead of attacking the Chinese under these circumstances, we should hold on to our present positions (The Untold Story by B.M. Kaul; pages 386-7). Major General D.K. Palit mentions that the decision to mount an attack had been taken on September 15-16 at a conference over which Menon presided. He left for the U.N. The conference held on September 22 was presided over by the Minister of State for Defence Raghuramaiah. The Army Chief General P.N. Thapar pointed out the dangers of Chinas retaliation with prophetic precision. Foreign Secretary M.J. Desai cited Nehrus instructions. Thapar asked for written instructions. They were given, shockingly, by a Joint Secretary, H.C. Sarin (see box for the minutes and the order). In 2001, the Army Chief General S. Padmanabhan secured no clear directive from A.B. Vajpayee other than to mass the troops. The Army was used for political ends.

On October 16, the CMC formally decided to annihilate Indian forces, approving, apparently, the war plan drafted by its staff. On 17 October, the CMC cabled the appropriate orders to the Tibet military district. PLA forces were ordered to exterminate the Indian aggressor forces. On 18 October, the CMC met yet again to give formal approval to the decision for a self-defensive counterattack war. Participants in the meeting included Mao, Zhou, Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Luo Ruiqing, and Marshals Liu Bocheng, He Long and Xu Xiangqian. On 18 October, the decision for war was approved by an expanded Politburo meeting. The attack was set for 20 October.

After initial successes, a lull followed. India launched offensive operations on November 14. China responded with a massive, pre-planned offensive on 18 November. Indias defences in the east collapsed. On November 20, China declared a ceasefire and withdrew on certain terms. It acquired 2,500 square miles more in Ladakh.

In a survey of Trends in the World Situation dated June 8, 1964, Willard Mathias of the Board of Estimates of the CIA held that Chinas attack was to some extent a response to Indian provocation. The CIAs hitherto secret Study set out the provocations. Foreign Secretary Desai told an American embassy officer on 6 October that a steadily mounting squeeze was being applied by the Indian troops to the Chinese at Dhola and emphasised that the Chinese must be ousted. The immediate result of this Indian initiative was the 9-10 October clash near the Che Jao Bridge, during which, the Chinese claimed, 33 Chinese and 6 Indian soldiers were killed the biggest and bloodiest clash on the Sino-Indian border as of that date. The Chinese declared that another one of their frontier guards was killed in a renewed firefight in the area on 16 October.

Two points emerge clearly from the record. Nehru unilaterally redrew the map in 1954, claiming the Aksai Chin as Indian territory, which he knew was in dispute for over a century; he refused to negotiate unless China first withdrew; even if it did, he would not discuss those large areas. He compounded rejection of negotiation with recourse to force (the Forward Policy). He spurned Chinas recognition of the McMahon Line because it entailed recognition of Chinas stand on the Aksai Chin. Fundamentally, China was right to assert that the boundary was undefined and call for negotiations without pre-conditions. Its terms in 1960 were reasonable.

Criticism of China is based on three grounds. First, the lack of candour in contrast to Nehrus public statements The question remains why did Chou En-lai not raise the subject of the western sector of the Sino-Indian border at this time [1954-1956]? Nehru, it seems, had no inkling then that since 1954 Indian maps had been claiming in Aksai Chin an area which China regarded and used as her own. But the Chinese Government must have been aware of the recently confirmed Indian map claim to Aksai Chin. They were already dealing with the boundary dispute in the adjoining middle sector, so it can be assumed that Chou En-lai had been briefed about the potential for a dispute in the west too. It has been seen that Nehru and his advisers had taken the view that Indias interests would best be served if it were left to China to bring up her map claims to territory occupied by India (the area beneath the McMahon Line); perhaps the Chinese took the same approach to the Indian map claim to what they regarded as their Aksai Chin territory.

Whatever the reason for it, Chou En-lais failure to bring up the western sector when he was discussing the eastern border with Nehru in 1956 had far-reaching and malign consequences. If, in the context of what Chou certainly saw, and Nehru probably accepted, as a Chinese concession on the McMahon Line, he had gone on to point out that Indian maps were showing an incorrect boundary in the western sector, it is highly probable that the dispute would have been avoided. T he glow, almost euphoria, of Hindee Chinee bhai-bhai was then at its zenith and Nehru would surely have seen a marginal modification of Indian maps, bringing them into accordance with actuality on the ground, as a negligible price for its continuance indeed, he might have welcomed the opportunity to match Chous pragmatism about the McMahon Line. But the opportunity passed unseen, and two years later the situation was wholly changed. To have it civilly pointed out that your maps do not accord with actuality is one thing; to discover that a neighbour, without a by-your-leave, has built a road across territory your maps show as your own is quite another. The objective reality may be the same but the perception is not, and in this case the perception was everything. (Indias China War by Neville Maxwell; pages 94-5).

Secondly, Chinas massive attack on October 20, 1962, was wholly and unjustifiably disproportionate to the provocation, both in size and motivation. It was not confined to repulsion militarily. Its aim was political. It was punitive, a fact China recalled when it attacked Vietnam in 1979. It was not an operation in self-defence against an actual attack by India. It was a pre-emptive attack, prepared well in advance and executed for political results.

Thirdly, China has acquired more territory as a result of war, as the Colombo Powers noted in a document they gave to Beijing entitled The Principles Underlying the Proposals of the Six. It said: Neither side sh ould be in a position to derive benefit from military operations. (Para 4 (a)). It noted that prior to 1959 the Chinese held somewhere to the east of the traditional customary line as claimed by them. They established some military posts to the west between 1959 and 1962 but the Chinese reached what they claimed to be the traditional customary line in 1962 as the result of their recent military actions. It noted, as fairly, that between 1959 and 1962, India has established 43 military check posts to the east of what the Chinese have described as the traditional customary line (a euphemism both sides use for their claim line).

In 1979, China abandoned Zhous stand and claimed that the eastern sector was more in dispute. But it stuck to the status quo offer with the 1962 additional acquisitions. Latterly it has gone further. It wants Tawang, which India has administered since 1951. Two generations have grown up there speaking Hindi. China knows India cannot cede Tawang. The question is, what does it want in return for abandoning this impossible demand?

This brings us to Indias culpability. When the dispute erupted in private correspondence in 1958-59, Nehru banged the door to any compromise in his letter of March 22, 1959, citing a Ladakh-Tibet treaty of 1842 as having sett led the boundary in Ladakh. That was palpably false. Why, then, did the British appoint two Boundary Commissions in 1846 and 1847 and seek Chinas accord? Why did they offer the Akai Chin to China in the Macartney-MacDonald note of March 14, 1899? Nehrus stand was based on his confidential directive of July 1, 1954, and the map that followed it this is boundary as we define it; it is not open to discussion. In truth, the boundary in the west was always undefined. In 1956, 1959 and 1960, Zhou was prepared to accept the McMahon Line. Nehru refused to compromise on this basis at the summit in April 1960. Zhou met S. Radhakrishnan, G.B. Pant and Morarji Desai in a gesture of conciliation. Their arrogance was matched by their ignorance and a desire to cut Nehru to size. Morarji was rude to Zhou.

Nehru underestimated his political strength, skills and resources. He could have put his foot down, offered Zhou a settlement to be worked out later and prepared the country by simply publishing the records of the 19th century. His advisers were grossly culpable. They fed him with palatable history. Nehru sinned against the light. In August-September 1959, he had publicly admitted that Aksai Chin was disputed territory. His letter of March 22, 1959, was in reply to Zhous of January 23, 1959. Nehru had two whole months to reflect, institute a study and formulate a sensible policy. He did none of these. He preferred popularity to statesmanship, his survival in office to the national interest. Instead of moulding public opinion behind a policy of conciliation by publishing White Papers revealing the truths of history, he inflamed public opinion with White Papers that publicised diplomatic exchanges. The diplomatic process was debased. He compounded diplomatic arrogance with military folly. In 1961 he decided to use force to evict China from disputed territory in the Aksai Chin. In 1962 he decided to use force to evict China from an area north of the McMahon Line but which I ndia unilaterally determined was south of it.

In 1962 he would have launched a military operation in the Thagla Ridge area against China, albeit a limited one, even if China had not launched its attack in October. By then Mao had decided on his massive attack. The Dhola Post, which India set up in June 1962, provided a good opportunity especially since it was followed by Indias publicised military preparations. On October 20, 1962, China launched its pre-arranged attack on a massive scale.

Both sides must reflect calmly on that event. China, sensitive to the unequal treaties of the 19th century and Japanese textbooks on happenings 60-70 years ago, must consider Indian sensitivities about the 1962 war.

What did it accomplish? India must reflect on its consistent record in 1959-60 of recourse to false history, unilateralism and use of force to establish its claim. All this might have worked against a weaker neighbour. China refused to acquiesce, perpetrating in the process grave wrongs of its own. George Kennans remarks quoted in the beginning of this article are apt.

Relations between India and China have improved vastly. Now what is needed is a readiness on both sides seriously to reflect on their mistakes, coupled with a determination to settle the boundary dispute by creative diplomacy. Both seek the U.S. friendship. But if a multipolar order is to be established, a Sino-Indian entente is indispensable. That will not be accomplished if either side is perceived to be sucked into the U.S. schemes in Asia. The boundary dispute must be settled within a political framework, in a political context and at the highest political level. Time is fast running out.

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