According to the latest intelligence reports China is luring Tibetan youth to join the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Tibetan families are being directed to ensure that at least one of them joins the PLA. Earlier China had forcibly moved Tibetans from their traditional grazing grounds into newly constructed border villages, making them the first line of defence against any Indian action and for closer monitoring. The report also states that China has commenced military training for Tibetan children aged between 8 and 16 as part of their compulsory summer camps, pulling them away from monasteries, where they normally spend their summers. This is part of their strategy to wean them away from Buddhism and subsequently induct them into the PLA.
To add credence to their policy of recruiting Tibetans, Tibetan monks are being ordered to bless those joining the PLA’s Special Tibetan Army Unit. China hopes that this would buy loyalty from the Tibetan community. China is also attempting to raise Tibetan militia opposite Sikkim.
Earlier the Chinese had been conscripting Chinese Han soldiers from mainland China and deploying them along the LAC. But they were found unsuitable for operations in the high altitudes of the Tibetan plateau. During the winter standoff, there were reports of casualty evacuation on a daily basis from Chinese bases, on both banks of the Pangong Tso. Historically, China had never maintained its Han troops in Ladakh during winters. Its forces withdrew to the mainland around Oct-Nov every year, just prior to the onset of winters. The LAC was patrolled by their border guards and local militia at irregular intervals.
It is a known fact that conscripted soldiers are not a substitute for motivated regular troops as they join the Army to exploit military service for future benefits. After the Galwan incident, the Chinese unit, involved in the clash, was withdrawn to its permanent base due to severe trauma on its soldiers. The Chinese policy of salami slicing, without physical confrontation, stems from the fact that it is aware its soldiers are soft and unsuitable for hard conflict. The Chinese single-child policy, in the past decades, has made its youth ill-suited for the rigours of hard military service. Those who join as conscripts do so to gain an advantage in education and jobs reserved for those with military service.
China had witnessed the capability of the Indian Special Frontier Force (SFF) units employed for the occupation of the Kailash Ridge and felt that it needed equally hardened local troops if it was to contest Indian forces in adverse terrain. Indian youth recruited from Ladakh serving in the Ladakh Scouts and SFF, proved their mettle in multiple operations, including the Kargil war. Both the Chinese and Pakistanis have witnessed their ability to operate in harsh conditions with impunity. An additional factor is that these troops, wards of Tibetan exiles, are respected by Tibetans on either side of the LAC.
The Indian army is voluntary and those who join have a life-long bond with the unit they have served with. For Tibetans and Ladakhi communities, joining the SFF or the Ladakh Scouts is a matter of honour. Hence, there will never be a shortfall of volunteers. The fact that they operate against those who desecrated their religion and occupied their lands adds to their motivation, especially when pitched against the Chinese.
Nyima Tenzin of the SFF, who died, when he stepped on a 1962 vintage landmine, during operations to capture the Kailash Ridge was given a military funeral, attended by senior BJP leader, Ram Madhav, representing the state. Madhav’s presence also displayed political respect to the SFF and its Tibetan ancestry soldiers, apart from sending a strong message to China. Being residents of Ladakh they possess a natural ability to operate in these harsh conditions.
The first successful operation during the Kargil war, the capture of Chorbat La, a strategic mountain pass, was launched by the Ladakh Scouts. As Col Sonam Wangchuk, a Ladakhi himself, then a major leading the operation, for which he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, stated, ‘By virtue of being sons of the soil, Ladakhi boys are mountaineers and conversant in negotiating mountains. Many troops get intimidated with lofty mountains and snow-covered terrain, but Ladakhi soldiers don’t fear the mountains.’ It is to overcome the shortcoming of employing hardened troops in mountainous regions that China is seeking to induct Tibetans into the PLA.
However, forcible recruitment after ill-treating, destroying their religion, insulting their spiritual leader and relocating Tibetan families into monitored villages, will not produce dedicated soldiers willing to die for the CCP and President Xi Jinping to whom the PLA swears loyalty. They may join due to compulsion, but their hearts would be with those whom they are expected to operate against. In history, conscript soldiers, especially from communities that have been suppressed and forced into submission, have never operated with dedication and sacrifice.
There are reports that China is also attempting to win over Arunachal youth, who reside close to the LAC. These attempts will never succeed as Arunachal residents cannot be bought. These attempts are being monitored by the Indian army and intelligence agencies operating in the region.
The Chinese are aware that their conscripted Han soldiers are unsuitable for war and operating in harsh conditions. China began implementing its policy of securing its borders by moving Tibetan herders into newly constructed border villages and is now seeking to deploy Tibetans in their front lines to protect their soft Han soldiers. Those being recruited are neither volunteers nor motivated but compelled to serve under threat. Forcible conscription from populations residing in border areas is always a double-edged sword and can well backfire. Historically, forcible conversion has never been successful, except in conditions of war. Tibet will be no exception.