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Time to protect the Thunder Dragon

Source : SIFY
Last Updated: Tue, Jul 01, 2008 11:48 hrs

Though he is above 80, Lt Gen. Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob, a hero of the 1971 war with Pakistan, remains a keen student of strategic warfare. "I've learned from every campaign since Alexander the Great and Napoleon," he explains. Jacob, who also served as the Governor of Goa and Punjab, recently lectured in nine US cities, (including one at Capitol Hill in Washington DC) which were attended by several senior US administration officials and military officers. The lectures – broadcast live on some US television and radio channels – have been critically acclaimed by many, and parts of it have been also incorporated in the curricula of some universities. In this exclusive article for Sify.com, he warns that unless India is ready to defend Bhutan, China has an upper hand in strategic terms.

In pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello –

(In peace, like a wise man, he appropriately prepares for war)

The tiny (4,700 sq km) landlocked Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan (or Druk Yul, or Land of the Thunder Dragon) has borders of some 470 km with Tibet and 650 km with India.

It's estimated population in 2007 was around 2.300,000, although different agencies have widely different numbers. The government's estimates vary with those of the CIA World Factbook (2,005,222 in the year 2000) and the World Bank (782,000 for the same year) simply because a huge chunk of residents of Nepalese origin are not recognized as citizens by the Bhutanese government. Some 100,000 Nepalese have been driven out of the country so far. The country is predominantly Buddhist, and is ruled by the Wangchuk Dynasty.

In 1772, Bhutan invaded Cooch Behar and annexed the Duars. It was only in 1864/65, that the British drove the Bhutanese out and annexed the Duars [Treaty of Sinchu La, 1865]

India has a special relationship with the Bhutan, having signed a friendship treaty with the kingdom way back in 1949. The treaty was updated in 2007. India supported Bhutan's application for membership of the United Nations, and it was made a member of the UN in 1971.

India has guaranteed the defence of Bhutan by an unilateral declaration. China claims to have ‘suzerainty’ over Bhutan and also claims some 300 sq miles of Bhutanese territory mainly in the Chumbi valley, the Torsa Nala , and some areas opposite Ha. The Chinese also claim some grazing areas in the north.

Sino-Bhutan relations have been strained. Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with China. Bhutan and China reached an agreement in 1998 to maintain tranquility on their border, and since then there have been some 16 rounds of talks on border issues. In 2001, the Chinese ambassador to India led a delegation to Thimpu.

By the same author: Sino-Indian ties: What the dragon won’t forget | The 1971 war Izzat and lessons unlearnt

The economy of Bhutan is very small, mainly hydroelectric power, agriculture, forestry and minerals. Road communications are meagre. Some 5,000 km of metalled roads were built by the Indian Border Roads Organisation.

The armed forces of Bhutan number some 8,000.Their equipment is basic. The Indian Military Training Team, or IMTRAT, located at Ha is responsible for advice and training. Despite these limitations, the Bhutanese army in December 2003 drove out, on India's request, the ULFA insurgents from their part of the terai.

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Lord Curzon , when Viceroy, based his foreign policy on creating buffers. Later, at the Simla Conference of 1914, Sir Henry McMahon wanted to create an outer Tibet as a buffer. This was rejected by the Chinese representative Ivan Chen. McMahon and his surveyors drew the boundary along what he considered to be the highest crest lines. [not watershed].

McMahon felt that mountain ranges make good borders. Bhutan therefore is extremely important to India as it forms a barrier and buffer to Chinese desires of expansion south of the Himalayan range. It is absolutely imperative for our security that we have a friendly and independent Bhutan. Chinese designs in Bhutan poses a threat in being to Indian security.

Tibet is not China's 'internal affair'

China is rapidly developing roads in Tibet , particularly in the Chumbi Valley. They propose to extend their railroad from Lhasa to this area. They are also building many airfields, and proposing to dam and divert rivers in Tibet. They have already built a dam across the Sutlej. This will have disastrous consequences for both India and Bangladesh. We have to take note and watch this developing situation.

In the event of [hopefully unlikely] hostilities between China and India , China is unlikely to respect Bhutanese neutrality. The defence of Bhutan therefore is irrevocably linked with the defence of India.

Chinks in the Bamboo Curtain


In 1971, one Indian division was earmarked for the defence of Bhutan. This quantum of force is totally inadequate. The defence of Bhutan and the Tawang tract are interlinked. China is reported to be insisting that we transfer the Tawang tract [ upto Senge] to them. Possession of the Tawang tract, will, in the event of hostilities, give the Chinese two more approaches into the plains of Assam, one via Tashigong in Bhutan and the other parallel to it via Se La and Senge. [Senge is south of our main defences at Se La ].

'Dump the Dalai Lama, or else…'


Our other concern is the Chumbi valley. The Chinese are right up to the Torsa Nala east of Dhoka La in Sikkim. From there they can have access to the Jaldakha barrage into North Bengal and thence to Siliguri. With the improved rail, road and air communications in Tibet, the Chinese can build up to 30 divisions in Tibet in a matter of weeks.

We propose to raise two more Mountain Divisions in the next five years. In order to counter these emerging threats, we need to accelerate our efforts to develop the infrastructure, build roads, airfields, enhance rail capacity and throw more bridges across the Brahmaputra.

India-China: Imperfect harmony


There is a pressing requirement for raising and deploying more Mountain Divisions , armoured brigades and air force squadrons. The existing Mountain Divisions lack firepower and mobility. We also need to induct effective artillery [155mm], helicopters (both lift and attack), and surveillance instruments, both ground and UAV.

China has a large nuclear arsenal and the appropriate delivery means. The Chinese are reported to have some 600 nuclear warheads.. We must have a credible nuclear deterrent. We need, as a matter of urgency, to deploy the Agni 2 and the Agni 3 when it comes off the production lines .

Finally, we must take all measures to keep the Chinese on the other side of the great Himalayas. The defence of Bhutan is thus integral and interlinked to the defence of India.

Because India must, As Oliver Cromwell is said to have remarked before the battle of Marston Moor in 1644, " Trust in God but keep your powder dry. "

The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of Sify.com.

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