Saturday, April 12, 2008



After San Francisco, the Olympic flame is likely to have anxiousmoments at Islamabad (April 16), New Delhi (April 17) and Tokyo. AtIslamabad, the problem, if any, could be from the survivors of thePakistan Army's commando action in the Lal Masjid last year andanti-Chinese elements in the Uighur diaspora. The Tibetan issue willnot pose a problem there.

2.The students of the Lal Masjid madrasas hold Beijing responsible forforcing President Pervez Musharraf to order the commando action,during which about 300 tribal students were allegedly killed. Thesupport of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto for the commando action allegedly costher her life at the hands of jihadi terrorists. The anger over thecommando action remains strong and is directed against the PakistanPeople's Party (PPP), the leader of the present ruling coalition,which had also supported the commando raid.Musharraf ordered thecommando action after the madrasa students kidnapped some Chinesewomen working in beauty parlours and accused them of beingprostitutes. The anger of the Uighurs is due to the allegedsuppression of their ethnic members in Xinjiang and over thesuccessful Chinese pressure on Saudi Arabia during the last two yearsnot to issue pilgrimage visas to the Uighurs in Pakistan.

3. There will be very anxious moments in New Delhi because of theactivism of the highly-motivated Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), butthey may not have the same kind of street support from sections ofthe Indian civil society as the Tibetan residents had in London, Parisand San Francisco. The Dalai Lama's departure to the US---thoughostensibly in pursuit of long-scheduled programmes---is also meant tocool the temperature so that the Government of India is notembarrassed. Another possible reason is that he doesn't want to givethe Chinese an opportunity to make further allegations against himshould something go wrong on April 17.

4. In Tokyo, one could again see a mix of Tibetan activism andsections of the local civil society in action.Both the Chinese andJapanese authorities are prepared for it.

5 Unfortunately, in India and the rest of the world, the debate,which started after the violent incidents of March 10 to 18,2008, hasfailed to make a distinction between the "Tibetan card" and the'Tibetan issue". Many of the so-called hawks, including some retiredofficers of the Indian Foreign Service and leaders of the Hindutvagroup, as well as anti-China elements in the West look upon thepost-March 10 developments as providing a "Tibetan card", which can beexploited against China for different strategic objectives.

6. In the case of the Indian hawks, they want the Government to usethe Tibetan card to correct the past policy mistakes relating to thetotally unwise Indian action in recognising Tibet as an integral partof China without a quid pro quo from Beijing in the form of arecognition of Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India.

7. I was myself tempted to join this hawks' brigade, but refrainedfrom doing so after careful thinking. I have come to the conclusionthat this will be a cynical approach which could provecounter-productive. We should not give the impression that we areexploiting the spilling of Tibetan blood and the justified emotionaloutburst of Tibetan youth not for getting a better future for theTibetans, but to serve our own national interest. Nothing can be moreunfortunate than such an impression among the Tibetans.

8. In the West also, many look upon the shocking mishandling of theTibetan people by the neo Red Guards of the Chinese Government andCommunist Party as providing a welcome stick to beat the Chinese within this year of the Beijing Olympics. The respect for the human rightsof the Tibetans is not the primary issue. Needling Beijing is theprimary issue.

9. We need policies and an approach in India as well as the West basedon the conviction that the long-neglected Tibetan issue---meaning theobservance of human rights and giving the Tibetans a genuine voice andgenuine political opportunities and religious freedom in their ownhomeland-- has led to the present situation and that unless thegrievances and anger of the Tibetan people are addressed in adisinterested manner the problem is likely to continue. Our policiesshould be based on a genuine interest in the Tibetan people, theirplight and their future and not on exploiting their uprising forserving our own national interest.Let us keep the spotlight on the TIBETAN ISSUE and resist the temptation to use the Tibetan anger as acard for narrow purposes.

10. Despite the widespread adverse reaction against China all over theworld, the Chinese have not blinked and are unlikely to blink even ifthere are more violent incidents as the flame is taken to the top ofthe Everest and across Tibetan-inhabited areas of China. In theirapprehension, any weakening of their stand on Tibet could mark thebeginning of their losing control over China's sensitive peripheryconsisting of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

11. At the same time, once the Olympics are over there would behopefully re-thinking in the Chinese Government and Party over themess created for them by the mishandling of the Tibetan issue by theneo Red Guards and other hawks. This could result in policy andmanagement correctives meant to address the widespread alienation.Wein India should not lose our ability for discreetly promoting suchre-thinking and policy correctives by taking an unbridled hawkishapproach. His Holiness the Dalai Lama should be in the centre of anydebate on such correctives.(12-4-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt.of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, the Institute ForTopical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the ChennaiCentre For China Studies. E-mail: )