At a funeral last week in the mountains of northern India, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi̵7;s top aides paid tribute to a Tibetan soldier killed on the front lines of deadly clashes with China.
Surrounded by troops waving flags of both India and Tibet, Ram Madhav laid a wreath in front of the coffin during a ceremony honoring the deceased man with full military honors. In a remote tweet, Modi Bharatiya Janata, the national secretary general of the ruling party, said he hoped the soldier’s death would lead to peace on the “Indo-Tibetan border”.
The rare recognition of a secret Indian military unit with Tibetan soldiers has in itself threatened to escalate a border dispute that has killed dozens of people since May and led to economic ties between the world’s most populous countries. Even more significant was the suggestion that India was questioning China’s sovereignty over Tibet, a red line for Beijing, which sees separatism as a cause also worth fighting in places from Xinjiang to Hong Kong to Taiwan.
“The Indians are sending a message – a very strong message that they probably haven’t sent in decades,” said Robbie Barnett, who headed Columbia University’s Modern Tibetan Studies Program until 2018 and has written about the region since the 1980s. “Attracting exiled Tibetans and using exiled Tibetan icons, images and flags is extremely important for China’s interpretation.”
Although the foreign ministers of India and China agreed on the need to contain during a meeting in Moscow last week, tensions along the border remain higher than at any time since the resumption of hostilities. Both sides continue to build up in the disputed area, which is key to controlling vital Himalayan mountain passes, with warning shots fired this month along the Line of Actual Control for the first time in four decades.
In the past few weeks, China has moved fighters and heavy bombers to India’s borders from Central Theater, Beijing’s strategic reserve, which was not done even when both sides went to war in 1962 without being identified by media rules. The Chinese Ministry of Defense did not answer facsimile questions.
Although none of the countries has an incentive to go to war, the growing intensity and stability of friction may force them to come together, according to Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last week, the group “Eurasia” raised the probability that border skirmishes can lead to a more lasting military conflict is up to 15%.
“An intentional or unintentional incident at a local outbreak can now actually lead to a wider conflict that no government wants,” said Narang, who has written a book on strategies to contain regional nuclear powers.
The Dalai Lama
Tibet, a territory about the size of South Africa that stretches across the Himalayas, has been controversial in India’s relations with China since the Dalai Lama fled to the South Asian state after a failed uprising in 1959. He formed a government -in exile in the town of Dharamshala in northern India, which caused discontent in Beijing. Only India recognized Tibet as part of China in 2003.
India first set up a Tibetan refugee unit, known as the Special Border Force, immediately after the 1962 Indo-Chinese War to conduct covert operations in China’s rear, according to Jayadeva Ranade, a member of the National Security Council’s Advisory Board. Like the US Special Forces, each participant trains as a para-commando and acts undercover with the Indian military.
“The recognition is a clear message to China that your compatriots are fighting alongside us,” said Ranade, who heads the China Analysis and Strategy Center, a research group in New Delhi. “I don’t remember this force being recognized as such before.”
Special border forces took part in last night’s night raid to capture a strategic height and remain at the forefront, according to Indian Defense officials, who asked not to be identified.
Both India and China are seeking to downplay Tibetan soldiers.
A spokesman for the Indian Army, Colonel Aman Anand, declined to answer questions about the unit, but said the military sought to maintain peace and tranquility while protecting national integrity and sovereignty at all costs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
China downplayed information about Tibetans, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Monday to ask India about the issue.
“China’s position is clear,” he said. “We strongly oppose any country that promotes the separatist activities of the Tibetan independence forces in any way.
Although the government avoided escalating the situation, China’s state media published footage of last week’s Tibetan-led military exercises involving fire involving tanks, fighters and even unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring food to soldiers during the long winter. was expected to begin soon.
The coffin of Nimi Tenzin, a Tibetan soldier who died, was hung with the flags of India and Tibet. Madhav, a BJP representative who took part, understood the significance: he wrote a book published in 2014 about the conflict, entitled “Difficult Neighbors: India and China after 50 Years of War.” Madhav did not immediately respond to a request to comment on why he deleted his tweet.
Although the Indian government has not officially recognized Tibetan forces, Tenzin’s public funeral and Madhava’s involvement have sparked support from a unit with the Tibetan exile community, according to Gonpo Dhundup, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, a body with more than 30,000 members fighting for the region’s freedom. .
“I am strong feel that the younger generation will join the SFF in greater numbers, ”Dundup said by telephone from MacLeod Ganja near Dharamshala. “Confirmation, however brief, has been received that our contribution will be recognized.”
– With the help of Colum Murphy and Jing Li
(Update with a new image after the 11th paragraph)