Book Review: The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet by Kenneth Conboy

The CIA's Secret War in Tibet
There are several books written on secret wars and espionage conducted around the World. Most of the books, I believe, represent some element of truth but could also be just among several books that provide an alternate perspective on what happened at a certain place at a certain time. I am not sure under what category this book falls into, but this book surely seems honest in its approach and the presentation of facts. The book, as the name suggests, talks about a secret campaign conducted by the CIA during the cold war to preempt a potential growth of Communist China by taking up the cause of the Tibetan nation. Tibet was occupied by Communist China when the PLA under the leadership of Chairman Mao laid claim to the vast expanse of mostly barren land for strategic, economic and possibly cultural purposes. The rest of the book tells the story of how the Tibetan’s organized themselves under the Dalai Lama, used India, Nepal and East Pakistan (Bangladesh) as a base and worked with the CIA to launch secret operations of resistance against the Chinese.

Assuming that this book was allowed to be published, it is probably anyone’s guess that these operations were probably not a secret for long and they were probably exposed or identified by the Chinese way back in the 60s or 70s. But, there were still some very insightful perspectives or facts offered that I will summarize in points below for those who are interested in knowing what the book is all about. I found these to be personally educative as it helped me realize how far away we are from the happenings around the World unless we try hard to learn more on our own!

  • The title Dalai Lama was given to a monk in the 16th century by a Mongol chieftain Altan Khan. Subsequent descendants kept that title going forward. The current Dalai Lama is the 14th.
  • Earlier Dalai Lama’s had less of a great legacy and didn’t last beyond a few years. The 4th Dalai Lama was Altan Khan’s great grandson -a shrewd decision made to gain Mongol patronage. The 5th Dalai Lama self declared himself as the Bodhisatva of Compassion- the highest celestial authority.
  • Tibet was divided into at least three distinct regions with different topographies and related ethnicity. The central part of Tibet was where the Tibetan leadership existed in the past. There were class based differences between Tibetans from these different regions with people in the central region considering themselves superior to the rest.
  • Chiang Kai Shek laid claim to Tibet by considering it as part of the Chinese Republic. Following a civil war with the communist party and his subsequent retreat to Taiwan, the PRC pursued the agenda of making Tibet a part of the country.
  • American leaders like the then US ambassador to India, Loy Henderson, were worried about the advancing PLA troops far south into the Himalayan regions.
  • The CIA based in India created and executed several covert operations to check the strength of the PLA in Tibet.
  • President Eisenhower began the first of a series of secret US sponsored activities in foreign soil to push the exiled Tibetans towards causing disruption to the PLA.
  • Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not openly support exiled Tibetans from going on an all out war with China as part of his appeasement policy with that nation. India was called as the “Dregs of Humanity” by Beijing in 1949.
  • The CIA conducted several covert operations by working with the Dalai Lama’s brothers to recruit exiled Tibetans who escaped to Nepal and India. India allowed the exiled Tibetans to settle in the country with the condition that they don’t cause any disruption to Indo-China relationships.
  • Several CIA operations were conducted from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) before India officially lent support to these operations after the Chines invasion of India’s NEFA (North East Frontier Agency).
  • Most of the CIA led operations in Tibet were small teams of Tibetan’s air dropped inside Tibet to conduct covert operations. Most of the Tibetan recruits were captured and killed by the PLA before they made any useful impact to their cause.
  • Biju Patnaik, ex chief minister of Orissa, was instrumental in the liberation of Indonesia from the Dutch. He also supported the CIA in partnering at a strategic level with the support of Nehru.
  • Brigadier Uban Singh was instrumental in organizing a strong regiment of Tibetan recruits under the name “Establishment 22”. Nehru and the Dalai Lama had also inspected the operations of these forces during a secret review of the regiment.
  • President John Kennedy was a strong supporter of India and was instrumental in providing support to the country in indirectly allowing the CIA help the Tibetan cause. This support and partnership with India was lost after Kennedy’s death. Subsequent governments were leaning more towards Pakistan thereby alienating a strong partnership with India. India on the other hand, pursued a pro-USSR policy for obtaining arms and other economic support.
  • In the 1962 war with China, the Soviet Union sided with China and dumped India. Indo-US cooperation was much stronger and better at that time, although very few in India knew about it. Anti-US sentiment was politically very active right from the start and continued over the next several decades after India chose to move closer to the Soviets.
  • The US soon adopted a pro-China policy during the Nixon era. US warships arrived dangerously close to India during the Indo-Pak war for Bangladesh’s independence. It was claimed by Henry Kissinger that US would have supported China in case the Chinese attacked India to support Pakistan, following which the Soviets attacked China.
  • Nepal leaned more towards China in fear of being dominated by India. During the closing years of the Tibetan struggle led by the CIA, Nepal, in support of China, was instrumental in destroying the Tibetan operations on the Nepal-Tibet border.
  • CIA funding slowly depleted for the Tibetan cause after a $180,000 yearly stipend to the Dalai Lama charity was shut down. Following that, most of the CIA led operations were winding down.
  • RAW director R.N.Kao later blamed the Americans for the lost Tibetan cause, although Indian support was also not strong enough. He said, “The Tibetans were looking for somebody to hold their finger, and the Americans dropped them like a hot potato.”

Book Review: The Lightning And The Sun by Savitri Devi

The Lightning and the Sun by Savitri Devi
It is a well admitted fact that the Nazi regime was cruel and led to mass destruction and anarchy until its end with World War II. Even if we have been trained over the years to listen, read and learn one-sided stories on the Nazi saga with well crafted allied vs axis propaganda in books, movies, speeches, documentaries and our daily lives; the ultimate truth is that there was large scale loss of life and property during the years leading to the World War up until its end in 1945.

There also existed a parallel stream of so called “Nazi sympathizers” too. They were largely unheard of until the internet revolution provided an alternate medium for them to propagate their ideas. Their theories either invite the ire of Nazi regime haters or historians who feel they have already done enough justice to present the reality to the public. To others, they create confusion as the alternate “truth” that they present is sometimes mixed with realities and hard hitting facts that makes you think, thereby making you feel uneasy. The real truth is probably hidden somewhere in between, but the very pursual of that may seem insignificant and unnecessary.

In that light, I consider this book as contributing to the confusing yet delightfully challenging perspective on what could have happened before, during and after the Nazi years in World History. The narrative in this book is even more interesting as it delves into certain spiritual and philosophical aspects of Aryan wisdom and draws a logical map for what that means in the divine scheme of things in life. The author’s primary focus in the book is on three types of men who carve themselves out from the rest in the World- Men in time (drawing a parallel with Lightning), Men above time (drawing a parallel with Sun) and Men Against time (a combination of Lightning and Sun). Adolf Hitler is presented as a Man against time, an incarnation of the creator God of ancient mythology. The author also manages to provide examples in Akhnaton (man above time) and Genghis Khan (man in time) to provide glimpses into the other alternatives the World got to see. The Hindu principle espoused in the Bhagavad Gita on detached violence is also taken as the basis for justifying certain unimaginable acts of death and destruction.

While it is hard to just brush aside the not-so straightforward and not-so truthful acts of the allied nations, I do feel the author makes widely accepted assumptions on Aryan legacy based in Nordic, Celtic, Saxon and Germanic roots that I am yet to truly believe in.

The book is worth a read also because it has been written by someone who is not a German and who didn’t truly participate in the Nazi cause actively in Europe, although her husband and she worked on Nazi propaganda in India. The author’s name can also be misleading as it is a Hindu name -Savitri Devi. The author however was a European with French and Greek roots (no Germanic roots at all) and was married to an Indian, a Hindu, and she believes in calling herself an Aryan Hindu woman. Moreover, she does not really belong to the group of “Nazi sympathizers”. She is more of a Nazi fanatic, a passionate believer in an alternate purpose for that movement started by Hitler. Her commentaries however were all authored well after the World War ended, thereby lending voice to a long dead movement.

I would recommend this book only for people who can digest its contents without taking sides and have the capacity to think through things that go against widely hammered down literature on World History over the years.


Book Review: India, A Short Cultural History by HG Rawlinson

India- a short cultural history by H.G. Rawlinson
Indians do not know their history. European historians who eventually put Indian history on paper did not get over their biased thought process to bring neutrality in their theories, thoughts and information presented.

HG Rawlinson’s book is mostly a compilation of Indian history from other books written in the past. The good thing is that it is presented in a brief, concise manner with mostly a good intent of highlighting the unique cultural history of this nation.

The book presents a historical account that tends to expose a couple of interesting facts about the country’s past and present.
– Indian’s don’t know what their history was as their history books in schools are useless.
– Indian scholars of history largely ape their colonial European masters when it comes to re-rendering India’s history. There is no critical thinking associated with questioning the works of Max Muller or other great European historians and their works.
– India did not and still does not have the resources required to restore the historical accuracy of its past. Nobody knows how to build a consistent chronological account of Indian history as they do not know enough about its past. The author brings this out by highlighting the dark ages of Indian history in different intervals in the past where no one knew what happened in this nation.
– India as a nation never existed in the past. It was a vast compilation of culturally rich, socially divergent and racially diverse groups of nations. Different rulers including the Mughals and the British tried to tie it into a single unified nation with only some success.
– The British and other Europeans passively resided in India centuries before they started taking over the political administration of the country during the fall of the Mughal empire.
– And yes, some of the best accounts of Indian history were documented by the Chinese. We shared a lot more in culture and cooperation in the past than in the present.


Book Review: India, What Can It Teach Us? by Max Muller

India: What Can it Teach Us? by Max Muller
Max Muller was a Sanskrit scholar and Orientologist who rose to fame with his translation of the Rig Veda and several other Sanskrit literatures from India. He was part of a small group of Historians who sometimes defined and in other times redefined India’s past based on theories that they felt were justified by archaeological or historical evidences. History so well crafted, politically authorized and mass publicized that no other modern historians have been able to break these shackles of preconceived ideas and thoughts to accept anything different about India’s history today.
This book is a series of lectures he gave to Indian Civil Service officers of Colonial Britain at the University of Cambridge, before they were commissioned on administrative assignments in India for 10-20 years. It largely talks about how Britishers’ should not look at India from a biased colonist point of view, but learn from its rich history and heritage dating back to 3000 years or more. Max Muller makes a case for how Sanskrit literature is rich in content and context sometimes surpassing Greek literature that most Europeans are largely appreciative of. He talks about the wisdom espoused in the Rig Veda around concepts such as religion and philosophy thereby attributing cultural richness to the nation.
The author belabors the point that the true India is in the village communities of the country. He talks about how the villages of India have defined the social strata, legal structure and cultural outlook of the nation as compared to its cities and towns that saw years of occupation and plunder from outside nations. The author’s main fascination is however around Sanskrit and Indian philosophy. He talks about Sanskrit as the elder sister of the Indo European languages and urges the civil service officers to learn Sanskrit on their arrival in India. He also laments the bad image created of India by British historians like James Mills and urges these officers to instead seek Indian History from the journals of Colonel William Sleeman, a British officer commissioned to handle thuggery in Indian villages.
Max Muller comes out as a very respectable figure in his brief lectures captured in this book. Whether he made any true impact on the British officers who attended his lecture is doubtful as the intent of British administrators was never meant to shower love on India or Indians. They occupied the nation for economic purposes and maintained their hegemony as long as it mattered for the mother country.
The author generously praises India a lot in this book and probably talks more passionately about the country in some cases when compared with other Indian nationalists of his time. He calls India a “paradise on earth” and a place where the greatest achievement of the human mind under the sky was realized. He however largely talks about these in the context of an India that existed 2000 years before, well before Buddha or Christ, and not the state of the country when it was under British rule.
Max Muller however suffers from using the same convoluted lens that other European historians have used to intuitively capture the history of the East, especially India, primarily based on the Aryan invasion theory. Like other historians of his kind, he comes with a preconceived notion on Aryan history and its origins. He makes glaring assumptions on how Aryans originated somewhere in Europe and their conquests pushed local aborigines (dasyus) further South in the country. This theory based purely on color of the skin of the native inhabitants and misinterpreted lines in the Rig Veda lack any convincing storyline. This mindset in reflected in how his showering of praise for the nation is also intermixed with a call for “sympathy” towards Indians. The other delusion that his work suffers from, like all other European Historians, is to consider “India” as a country in its entirety with a singular cultural or historical identity. This was probably done to provide uniformity in thoughts to its readers and sponsors, mostly rich colonial European administrators. India as a country was a fictitious creation of the Mughal invaders way back, but then even they didn’t consider the Southern part of India as part of the Hindustan that they mapped out. India turned out to be a creation of European invaders and trading companies, who cared less about its cultural diversity, if not the ethnic and linguistic history of its inhabitants. It’s a shame that this theory was well supported by the free India created in 1947 as it helped serve the federal or union building efforts of the then government. A simple way to look at this anomaly is in seeing what the World would have thought if Asian Historians self proclaiming themselves as experts would pool together the entire European nations and call them as a single country called “Europe” occupied by white inhabitants with a single religion tied to the Christian faith! This was how European authorities or historical savants viewed India as and got away with it.
The author also hurriedly tries to explain the antiquity of Indian literature in the context of the Rig Veda by making a case for how writing the Rig Veda onto paper was not the intent of the ancient Indians, but the goal was to have a select group of people memorize them and pass them over the years. But, he struggles to confidently claim that the Rig Veda shows an advanced culture dating back to 1500BC or even earlier. I believe the tendency for European historians and archaeologists to pick an earthen pot and use flawed carbon dating to confidently attach chronological evidence also forced him to still consider literary evidence as those scribbled on paper, wood or rocks as true beacons of dated history.
Overall, this book is a good read for anyone interested in the works of European orientologists and Indian History. At a bare minimum, this book reflects the historical fact that British colonists did organize a series of lectures to outgoing civil service officers by calling in noted European historians for sharing their perspectives on India. Sometimes, it’s the intent that matters rather than the results. The British government had a good intent in teaching its select cadre of talented people something more about the nation they occupied, although that knowledge, to Max Muller’s disappointment, didn’t percolate well enough to the British public in general.

Recent Developments In Taxation Law Agreements Between India And Switzerland

Recently, India entered into a revised double taxation avoidance agreement with Switzerland. A debate ensued in the Lok Sabha with leaders such as L.K. Advani asking for clarification on what benefits the agreement will truly provide to India. The terms of the agreement are confusing indeed and there is no clear sense of the benefits that such an agreement will provide to the country. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee however made it clear that this treaty will not help India in getting back any black money stashed away by Indians in secret bank accounts nor would it expose details of the account holders. According to Mukherjee, Swiss Laws are very strict and the banks don’t give any information of their banking transactions. Moreover, the only information obtained cannot be publicly disclosed and can be used only for taxation purposes. In other words, it is not meant to recover any black money.

According to the influential Swiss Bankers Association, India has roughly about $1.5 trillion of black money deposited in Swiss banks. India has more black money than the rest of the world and is equivalent to one year of India’s GDP. This is a tremendous amount of money that when utilized for the right purposes in India can educate children, fund much needed infrastructure projects and remove the majority of poverty in the nation over the next 15-30 years. Ram Jethmalani has been a recent advocate of the need to retrieve black money deposited by Indians in Swiss Banks. “A staggering $1500 billion Indian money has been stashed away in Swiss banks. If it is retrieved, each Indian family will get Rs 2.5 lakh each. India will have a debt-free budget for 30 years and all our external debt will be wiped out,” Jethmalani told a seminar organized by the Telangana Advocates Joint Action Committee, making a case for why regional differences would no longer matter when prosperity exists in the nation.

However, there are certain realities to consider in the background of this agreement, which even if not historical, is a significant step made in the right direction. Given the challenge with Swiss laws and the Indian political, legal and economic establishment, recovery of black money in part or in its entirety is not feasible. Swiss banks are not the only holders of India’s black money. A parallel economy has existed in this country over the past 50 years and inflexible taxation laws have led to Indians stocking large amounts of unaccounted money. This was also fueled by the existence of the License Raj in India until its slow demise in the early 1990s. Several countries including the US and Germany have been pushing Swiss banks for access to their citizen’s accounts for years together through several lawsuits and political pressure. However, all those efforts have only resulted in one success just for the US government. UBS, the second largest Swiss bank, agreed to hand over account details of about 4,450 tax evaders to US authorities out of a total request for account details of 52,000 clients.

Even without any effort at retrieval of existing black money, if we can stop the bloodletting by preventing further black money from flowing out, the benefits to the country are significant. Say, a wealthy person deposits Rs. 10 crores in black money (about US $2 million) in a Swiss bank. That money through the banking system will eventually fund and fuel the Swiss economy by providing its local governments and corporations with unprecedented access to investor money. The Indian economy on the other hand is sitting to lose not only that investment potential but also 30% of that amount (at least in taxes) or the equivalent of Rs 3 crore. It is anyone’s guess that such money could be used to fund huge development projects in the country to truly alleviate “materialistic” poverty.

Swiss bank laws support a very strong secrecy pact that in effect prevents anyone not authorized by the account holder from accessing account details. This applies even to governments seeking information on any suspected individuals. The reasoning as one Swiss official put it in a NPR radio interview several months back is to protect the privacy of the account holder and the safety of his assets. This has been evangelized over the years by the Swiss government and still continues to be their selling point. The Swiss laws make a glaring distinction on legal grounds between tax avoidance and tax fraud or evasion. The Swiss government agrees to cooperate willingly on tax fraud issues but not on tax avoidance. Understanding the difference between these largely similar terms is baked in technical language that is difficult to easily comprehend. The challenge that several countries including India face is that there is a lot of evidence needed to build a tax fraud case. That evidence is in turn already hidden in the bank asset details of a citizen under investigation. In other words, to request bank account details of India’s citizens, the government needs to build a case for evidence of tax fraud. However, to make an effective case for tax fraud, you need the bank account details of these citizens. Hence, a never ending loop is created and the ability to generate any viable results in favor of the country requesting bank account information may come only through a miracle of legal maneuvering or political hardballing. This is where the recent amendments to the DTAA with the Swiss government still continue to pose a major challenge to India if it truly wishes to retrieve black money and redirect it for the benefit of its people.

The irony of this situation lies in the fact that except for reasons of tax evasion or fraud, there is no other reason a person from developing nations such as India would stock money in a Swiss bank. India’s large population of the poor and middle class societies may never have visited or even heard of such banks. Even with the globalization of the banking sector in the recent past, Swiss banks don’t dominate the banking landscape of the country, although some American banks do. It is India’s minority network of politicians, bureaucrats, celebrities and other rich members who have the means and maybe the will to utilize these banking services. Populist taxation measures not built on true economic benefits for the nation but at the same time targeting the wealthy also seem to serve as a motivation for this section of the society to preserve its assets in other forms detrimental to the nation’s growth. Also, when it comes to safety of assets, most well established banks provide enough safety measures to protect the assets of its clients that this cannot be the motivating factor for someone seeking to transact with Swiss banks.

So, even though the merits for someone to save assets in a Swiss bank is not convincing enough to term it as a non issue, the means to get to money moving out of the country is not bright either. In the years to come, the hope is that the DTAA and other tax agreement measures are continuously improved so that its true purpose in preventing and redirecting black money to the mothership country is well served. Also to be considered is the ability to build taxation laws that are not complex, not populist and not cumbersome to comply with. In today’s age of globalization, assets move between countries at a very fast pace. The ability for India’s banking infrastructure to effectively participate in this global effort is important to sustain the long term potential of the country to renounce the parallel economy and participate in the country’s growth forward. The amendments to the DTAA may be a misdirected step in one opinion or a small step forward in another opinion, but it takes the collective will of several entities in India to address the root cause of it.