Monday, March 9, 2009

Flight of the Lama

Fifty years ago an uprising in Tibet challenged Chinese rule. It was crushed and the head of the region's erstwhile theocracy, the Dalai Lama, fled across the Himalayas. What few realise is the consequences this had for India. Jawaharlal Nehru, being the perfect liberal, gave the Dalai Lama asylum above the protests of the Chinese. It was the first link in a chain of misunderstandings. The Chinese misread Nehru's gesture as an aggressive move against their political interests. Believing that India was bent on encouraging secession in China, the Chinese became more assertive about negotiating an end to a border dispute that had been left unresolved for a decade. After manoeuvres and counter manoeuvres in the region over the next three years, the People's Liberation Army invaded territory it believed was rightfully China's, defeated the Indian army, and then withdrew without annexing much of the land it had conquered, an act for which it gets no credit in India.
General Ayub Khan of Pakistan took India's loss as a sign that Pakistan's forces would be able to roll over those of its larger neighbour. Even as India strengthened its defense forces after the 1962 debacle, Ayub inititiated an aggressive policy of infiltration and confrontation in Kashmir. This led to the 1965 war which ended in a draw with India in a slightly favourable position.
So two wars were fought at least partly as a result of the flight into exile of a peace-loving man and the decision of a pacifist to offer him shelter.

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