Tibet’s armed resistance to Chinese invasion
This is the last of six posts in series on the Tibetan Uprising. This one is about the Tibetan resistance after 1959, when the Dalai Lama set up a government in exile in India.
Post 1 covered Tibet before the 1949 Chinese invasion, including the Tibetan government’s refusal to heed the 1932 warning of the Dalai Lama to strengthen national defense against the “‘Red’ ideology”. Post 2 was the Chinese conquest, followed by armed uprising of the people, precipitated by gun registration. Post 3 described the 1956-57 revolts, which liberated most of Eastern Tibet. Post 4 covered the creation of a unified national resistance in 1958, the Chushi Gangdruk. Post 5 described how the armed uprising in Lhasa in 1959 saved the Dalai Lama from a communist kidnap attempt, and enabled him to escape to India..
These posts are excerpted from my coauthored law school textbook and treatise Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (3d ed. 2021, Aspen Publishers). Eight of the book’s 23 chapters are available for free on the worldwide web, including Chapter 19, Comparative Law, where Tibet is pages 1885-1916. In this post, I provide citations for direct quotes. Other citations are available in the online book chapter.
Resistance from Nepal
The Tibetan freedom fighters, the Chushi Gangdruk, were allowed to set up in Mustang, a thinly populated district in Nepal, surrounded on three sides by Tibet, populated primarily by Tibetans, and run by a friendly and mostly autonomous local king who was Tibetan. The fighters who had retreated to India in 1959 were joined by other fighters coming directly to Mustang from Tibet. Over the next several years, they caused so much trouble on the Tibetan highway from Kham to Lhasa that the Chinese had to divert traffic to the other highway 180 miles north.
In 1961, the Mustang fighters scored the biggest anti-communist intelligence coup since the Korean War, capturing over 1,600 classified documents of the Chinese “People’s Liberation Army” (PLA) from a PLA commander. The documents provided much insight into the PLA and communist government, including secret codes and Sino-Soviet relations. The documents noted that the famine in China caused by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” was demoralizing PLA troops. The communist militia was acknowledged to be of almost no value militarily, and some of the militia were joining uprisings in China. Some of the captured materials were later used as evidence by the Tibetan government in exile in its international law protests against Chinese atrocities in Tibet. The documents were released in 1963 and published in 1966. The Politics of the Chinese Red Army: A Translation of the Bulletin of the Activities of the People’s Liberation Army (J. Chester Cheng ed. 1966).
Through 1963, the Mustang fighters helped five thousand more Tibetans escape to India, Nepal, Bhutan, or Sikkim. The last CIA airdrop into Tibet was in 1965, and the Tibet resistance training center at Camp Hale, Colorado, was shut down. However, other CIA support for the Mustang fighters continued.
The governments of Nepal, India, and East Pakistan (a part of Pakistan near southeast Nepal) were pretending not to know about CIA support for Mustang, so the need to maintain secrecy was paramount. Accordingly, the CIA could not send a case officer to observe the situation in Mustang, since a stranger would be readily observed. As of 1960, only one Westerner had ever entered Mustang. Thus, the CIA was not able to monitor how its donations were being spent. Unfortunately, the first Mustang general, Baba Gen Yeshi, who was in charge of the rebels, stole a great deal of the resources.
U.S. financial assistance ended after 1969; the Mustang guerillas were clearly not able to meet the CIA’s metric that they establish operational bases within Tibet. Although the Mustang resistance persisted even without CIA backing, a few years later the Nepali central government began tilting toward China for support against India, and so insisted that the Tibet venture be ended. The Mustang fighters finally shut down in 1974.
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