When the CIA came to India’s rescue in 1962
John F Kennedy and Jawaharlal Nehru at the White House, November 1961 (Photo: AP)
THE CEASEFIRE ANNOUNCED by the PRC in the Sino-Indian war came into effect on 20 November 1962. It meant different things to different people, particularly those involved as prominent personalities in the autumn war.
In the opulent and sybaritic luxury of Room 118 in the Great Hall of the People in the Zhongnanhai district of Peking, Chairman Mao Tse Tung stared at the collection of late autumn leaves on the lawn outside his window. He needed to be distracted from the matters of state. The distraction was in the form of a coy teenage girl.
In a riveting book, Mao’s physician, Dr Li Zhisui, has revealed that Mao had an insatiable appetite for sex and was quite happy to manifest his sexual desire with either gender. But in November 1962, during the Sino-Indian war, Mao was besotted by a young 14-year-old girl called Chen. She was his favourite partner from the diverse supply of young people available in his harem. Mao was obsessed with longevity and, according to Dr Li, he used to follow the ancient Daoist prescription for ageing men to supplement their declining yang or male energy with yin shui or the water of yin. Yin shui was the vaginal secretion of young women. Because yang is considered essential to health and power, it cannot be dissipated. Thus, when engaged in coitus, the male rarely ejaculates. Frequent coition is, therefore, necessary to increase the amount of yin shui.
However, in pursuit of many women, Mao contracted trichomonas vaginalis, but because he was asymptomatic, he refused to be treated for it. Instead, he became a chronic source of transmission of the disease. Interestingly, trichomonas vaginalis also leads to psychiatric disorders. What is fascinating is that Mao, who professed to be an atheist and a communist, was actually a follower of the ancient Chinese religion of Daoism. This religious philosophy co-existed along with Confucianism in ancient China, particularly during the Eastern Zhou period which gave rise to the Chinese dream of world domination. Was Mao’s ruthless cruelty along with his delusions of grandeur a consequence of this disease? Dr Li Zhisui obliquely alludes to it. It is unfortunate that in those days, the Government of India had an inadequate system of intelligence from within China and that it was, therefore, unable to decipher the reasons for Mao’s almost visceral hatred of India.
At the White House on 19 November, Kennedy convened a high-powered meeting that discussed increased US military assistance to India and options for a show of force in the region. Also mentioned was the possibility of using the CIA’s Tibetan guerrillas. The new CIA Director John McCone, who replaced Allen Dulles after the Bay of Pigs, was on hand to brief Kennedy on such covert matters. With McCone was Des FitzGerald, the CIA’s Far East Chief
FOR NEHRU, THE news of the dire threat to the plains of Assam, brought to him on 19 November by General Thapar, was devastating. According to Shiv Kunal Verma, the author of The War that Wasn’t, on the morning of 20 November 1962, all of India was still in the dark about the ceasefire because the Indian chargé d’affaires in Peking had not relayed the news to New Delhi. Nehru had summoned Lt. Gen. Thorat, now retired, by special aircraft to New Delhi, ostensibly to offer him the job of COAS in the wake of General Thapar’s resignation. When Thorat met him in the morning, a sleep-deprived Nehru was cutting a cigarette into tiny pieces with a pair of scissors. Since the conversation between Nehru and Thorat veered round to Krishna Menon and degenerated into acrimony, Nehru was distracted and Thorat left without receiving a job offer.
Nehru wanted Kaul to succeed General Thapar; however, President Radhakrishnan dissuaded Nehru from taking that step. The next in line to be offered the job was Lt. Gen. Daulet Singh, who passed on the offer. After Menon’s resignation was accepted by Nehru on 1 November 1962 in the midst of the war, Nehru personally took charge of the Ministry of Defence. Menon, with due credit to him, recommended Thorat for the top job, even though he had earlier sabotaged Thorat’s natural succession. Now, with Thorat getting Nehru’s goat, the job by default went to Lt. Gen. J.C. Chaudhuri.
FOR MAO, WHO had successfully drained the Indian establishment of their ‘collective mojo’, the task of keeping Lop Nor out of public gaze remained, notwithstanding the ‘victory’ over India.
In the early 1950s, Soviet aerial surveys of the Shaksgam Valley revealed that the Shaksgam River originated in an area between the Shaksgam Glacier and the Shaksgam Pass. This river merges with the Raskam River at a point called Chog Jangal and, thereafter, the combined river is known as the Yarkand River. The Yarkand River merges with the Tarim River. The Shaksgam River lies on the northern side of the Karakorum watershed as does the Karakash River that flows north from Aksai Chin and merges into the Tarim River. Both the Shaksgam River and the Karakash River originate within the political boundary of Maharaja Hari Singh’s state of Jammu and Kashmir that merged with India on 26 October 1947. Because of his unwillingness to let the Indian Army recover the entire lost territory of this state from the clutches of the Pakistan Army whose proxies invaded the state on 22 October 1947, Nehru was responsible for India losing territorial control over the Shaksgam River in 1947. Further, because of Nehru’s unwillingness to prevent the Sino-Soviet invasion of Aksai Chin in March 1950, India lost territorial control over the Karakash River to China.
In pursuit of many women, Mao contracted trichomonas vaginalis, but because he was asymptomatic, he refused to be treated for it. Instead, he became a chronic source of transmission. Trichomonas vaginalis also leads to psychiatric disorders. Was Mao’s ruthless cruelty along with his delusions of grandeur a consequence of this disease?
Both the Shaksgam River and the Karakash River flow into the western part of the Tarim River. The eastern part of the Tarim River that flowed into Lake Lop Nor was scheduled to become radioactive; so was Lake Lop Nor. The latter was going to be the drainage point of all the radioactive debris from China’s proposed nuclear tests. It, therefore, became crucial for China to usurp and claim ownership over both the Shaksgam River and the Karakash River in order to provide for the future irrigation needs of the entire Tarim Basin post the nuclear tests that were planned. In effect, China had to steal both these rivers if it wanted to go nuclear at the selected site of Lop Nor.
Second, Kim Philby had leaked the knowledge of the three British nuclear monitoring stations in the Gilgit Agency to the Soviets. By the by, China also came to know of them. After Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO pacts in 1954, it was speculated that there was a proposal by the British to set up a fourth nuclear monitoring station in Raskam Village in the Shaksgam Valley or Trans Karakoram tract, which was ceded to China as part of the Sino-Pak Boundary Agreement signed on 2 March 1963. Today, this village is known by its Chinese name of Yilike. A metallic road connects it with Mazha, which is a junction on the Chinese Sinkiang-Tibet Highway, now called C219.
If a nuclear monitoring station had been set up at Raskam Village, it would have looked over the Taklamakan Desert directly at Lop Nor. Therefore, it became critical for China to legitimise ownership of the Shaksgam Valley and build the basis of a deep and lasting friendship with Pakistan. Mao was thus able to erect an impenetrable wall of secrecy around Lop Nor.
MEANWHILE, ONE OF the first things that General Chaudhuri did was to order an investigation into the military debacle in October and November 1962, during the just-concluded hostilities. For this investigation, General Chaudhuri appointed a team of two officers led by Lt. Gen. Henderson Brooks, then the GOC XI Corps. Brigadier P.S. Bhagat vc (later Lt. Gen.), then the Commandant at IMA, Dehradun, was the junior member of this team. It is said that General Chaudhuri was initially keen to initiate a full-fledged study of the ‘debacle of 1962’, but he was advised to avoid any investigation on the higher direction of that conflict. This would require the Brooks-Bhagat team to access files pertaining to governmental decisions. And this was unacceptable. India’s new Defence Minister Y.B. Chavan stated that the government was unwilling to institute an enquiry into its very own policies and decisions.
As a result, the terms of reference of the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Report, as it came to be popularly known, was to look only at what went wrong militarily—issues like training, equipment, physical fitness of troops and the role of military commanders. The purpose of this exercise seemed to fix the blame only on the ‘failure of military commanders and to the tactical mishandling of troops on the ground’, Chavan said in a low-key statement to the Parliament. Moreover, the focus of the enquiry was restricted to the operations of IV Corps, which was responsible for the debacle in NEFA. The outcome in Ladakh or the western sector was not even considered. Nevertheless, what the two distinguished officers produced was an unforgiving analysis of the problems along the entire Sino-Indian border, discovering along the way a great deal that Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul would like to have kept hidden. The report laid the blame on Army HQ for its direct interference by bypassing the established chains of command for the deployment of troops on the frontline against the Chinese. The example cited is of the general staff in Delhi giving direct orders to HQ 7 Brigade, bypassing the established chains of HQ Eastern Command, HQ IV Corps and HQ 4 Mountain Division in order to capture a PLA post 1,000 yards north-east of the legendary Dhola Post, and to contain PLA concentration south of Thag La Ridge at the NEFA frontline. This order could be seen to be as incredible as the order for ‘the charge of the light brigade’ during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.
Galbraith had a qualified change of heart because Krishna Menon was no longer the Defence Minister. By the end of the Harriman mission, the CIA and IB had arrived at a rough division of labour. The IB, with CIA support, would work towards developing Establishment 22 as a tactical guerrilla force
The controversial Sinophile and Indophobe author Neville Maxwell opines that Henderson Brooks and Bhagat placed the immediate cause of the collapse of resistance in NEFA on the panicky, fumbling and contradictory orders issued from IV Corps HQ in Tezpur to a coterie of officers they judged to be grossly culpable, namely Lt. Gen. L.P. ‘Bogey’ Sen, Lt. Gen. B.M. ‘Biji’ Kaul, Maj. Gen. Niranjan Prasad and Brigadier (later Maj. Gen.) D.K. ‘Monty’ Palit. But the investigation, even if it wanted to, could not have access to records of meetings in the Ministry of Defence, since Menon had categorically disallowed any notes or minutes to be kept of his meetings, saying these were top secret in nature. Therefore, the Brooks-Bhagat team was unable to access crucial information to see if the blame lay on Krishna Menon and his core team. It thus absolved them of responsibility for their blunders in the ultimate analysis.
IN OCTOBER 1962, after Nehru fully understood the import of the Chinese invasion, which left him floundering around trying to figure out how to handle this enormous crisis, the ever crafty Mullick put across a very unusual proposal.
Mullick said that he had a chat with Sir Roger Hollis, the then DG of MI5, which was the parent organisation of the IB. Hollis had suggested that the IB create a force of Tibetan saboteurs to undertake cross-border clandestine sabotage of PLA units, garrisons and facilities in Tibet. For the purposes of deniability, the force should only be staffed with Tibetans. The force should be modelled along the lines of the Second World War British organisation called the Special Operations Executive or SOE. Mullick added that there was an army officer who was a perfect fit to head such a force. This was a distinguished and decorated officer who had served in the Long-Range Desert Group of the British Army that conducted sabotage operations behind German lines in North Africa during the Second World War. This officer was Maj. Gen. S.S. Uban. Mullick also convinced Nehru that since the British had no money and fewer resources, he could get these at no cost from the Americans. It was necessary to do things correctly.
What Mullick in all probability did not disclose to Nehru was that the suggestion to create such a force had actually come from CIA Chief Allen Dulles who was interested in fixing the lack of effective coordination between the CIA and the large unwieldy force of Tibetan Chushi Gandrug guerrillas operating from the Nepalese border region of Mustang. If India joined in, then things would get much easier. A crestfallen and floundering Nehru could find no fault with Mullick’s suggestion. Since the British had successfully created and operated such a force of both British and expatriate Europeans to hit targets behind German lines, there was no reason why such a force of Indian-trained Tibetans could not do the same behind Chinese lines.
The executive order authorising such a force was issued by the Government of India on 14 November 1962, which was also Nehru’s birthday. Mullick had proposed this as Nehru’s gift to the nation on his birthday. Extraordinary times require extraordinary decisions. Setting up Establishment 22 was in many ways anathema to a man like Nehru who had an aversion to all such martial activities, particularly of the cloak and dagger variety. By withholding the use of the air force in the war and ensuring the rout of the army in NEFA, Mullick had paradoxically expanded the remit of his empire. He had added paramilitary-based black ops to his repertoire. A tripartite agreement between the IB, the CIA and Chushi Gandrug was signed, with the Tibetan outfit represented by General Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang and Jogo Namgyal Dorjee. Chushi Gandrug was to source 12,000 Tibetan Khampa fighters from the potential recruits available in Mustang in Nepal. These were Mullick’s own equivalent of the Gorkhas. Thus, the Indian State now had two streams of foreign mercenaries fighting for it, namely the Gorkhas from Nepal in the Indian Army and the Khampas from Tibet in Establishment 22.
The focus of the enquiry was restricted to the operations of IV Corps, which was responsible for the debacle in NEFA. The outcome in Ladakh or the western sector was not even considered. Nevertheless, what Henderson Brooks and PS Bhagat produced was an unforgiving analysis of the problems along the entire Sino-Indian border
The Dalai Lama’s elder brother Gyalo Thondup, who was at that time deeply involved with the CIA, flew to Mustang with a team of CIA and IB officers to interview and select the front echelon of Tibetan officers for the new force at its HQ in Chakrata near Dehradun, then in the state of UP. The initial complement of Tibetan officers was led by a man called Jamba Kalden. The CIA sent an eight-member team of instructors led by former United States Marine Corps (USMC) Colonel Wayne Sanford who helped set up the entire matrix of the force. Colonel Sanford was the then head of the CIA’s Special Operations Group. The CIA was investing a lot in this business.
NEHRU APPEALED TO Kennedy for assistance. Immediately, Washington stepped into the fray and responded generously to Nehru’s appeal for assistance. By 2 November, the USAF had already flown eight missions into India every day for a week by using Europe-based Boeing 707 transports. Each plane was packed with basic infantry equipment to refit the soldiers streaming off the Himalayas, who, in most cases, were outfitted with more primitive gear than had been afforded to even the CIA’s Tibetan guerrillas. These supplies were later ferried by USAF C-130 transports to smaller airfields near the frontier battle lines.
At the White House on 19 November, Kennedy convened a high-powered meeting that discussed increased US military assistance to India and options for a show of force in the region. Also mentioned was the possibility of using the CIA’s Tibetan guerrillas. The new CIA Director John McCone, who replaced Allen Dulles after the Bay of Pigs, was on hand to brief Kennedy on such covert matters. With McCone was Des FitzGerald, the CIA’s Far East Chief. At the end of the meeting, it was decided that Ambassador-at-Large Averell Harriman would lead a high-powered delegation to New Delhi to fully assess India’s needs. General Paul Adams, Chief of the US Strike Command, was to head the military component. From the CIA, Des FitzGerald won a seat for the mission, as did the head of the Tibet Task Force, Ken Knaus. On 21 November, Harriman’s delegation left for New Delhi. Although the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire while the group was en route, the situation was still tense when it reached New Delhi the following day. Without a pause, Ambassador Galbraith ushered Harriman into the first of four meetings with Nehru. The results of these discussions were plans for a major three-phase military aid package encompassing material support, help with domestic defence production and possible assistance with air defences.
The National Security Action Memorandum Number 209, approved on 10 December 1962 by JFK, authorised a new military aid package for India. Under the aid programme, it was decided that the US would:
1. assist in creating and equipping six new mountain divisions to work with the Indian Army to guard the Himalayas,
2. help India increase its own arms production facilities and
3. prepare for a US–UK air defence programme for India
As a sideshow to Harriman’s talks, the CIA representatives on the delegation held their own sessions with Mullick and his deputy M.M.L. Hooja. This was a first, as Galbraith had previously taken great pains to downscale the agency’s activities inside India to all but benign reporting functions. As early as 5 November, he had objected to projected CIA plans due to the risk of exposure. But in a 13 November letter to Kennedy, Galbraith had a qualified change of heart because Menon was no longer the Defence Minister. By the end of the Harriman mission, the CIA and IB had arrived at a rough division of labour. The IB, with CIA support from the Near East Division, would work towards developing Establishment 22 as a tactical guerrilla force. The CIA’s Far East Division, in the meantime, would unilaterally create a strategic long-range resistance movement inside Tibet. The Mustang contingent would also remain under the CIA’s unilateral control.
(This is an edited excerpt from Red Fear: The China Threat (Bloomsbury; 356 pages; Rs 799) by Iqbal Chand Malhotra to be released on November 2nd. Malhotra is an author and award-winning TV producer)