Loss of Aksai Chin- the Background, the Foreground and the role of Sydney Wignall'

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Loss of Aksai Chin- the Background, the Foreground and the role of Sydney Wignall’

“….we will keep working away at Nehru. Some day he must see the light and realise the threat that communist Chinese occupation of Tibet poses to India,”

By Tej.K. Tikoo
Reported By Team RK

29 May 2020

Chinahas under its occupation 38256 sq km in Aksai Chin, through whichpasses its National Highway 219, connecting Lazi and Xinjiang inthe Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Though the region is barrenand nearly devoid of habitation, it has great strategic significance forChina, as it connects its two restive regions, Tibet and Xingjian. Theconstruction of this road started in 1951 and was completed in 1957,without India getting a whiff of it; or that is the general perception.To say that Nehru and the Government of India did not know about this road, isnot borne out by some recently declassified documents and various articles and bookswritten by those who dealt with the subject.

In 1953, the Chinese had succeeded in forcing Nehru to close the Indian Agency inTibet, as a prelude to the commencement of the construction of Tibet-Xinjiang roadthat would pass through Aksai Chin, the undisputed territory of the State of Jammuand Kashmir. Around the same time, Indian Military Attaché in Beijing, Brig SS Malikhad, in his report to the Government of India, made references to this road constructionactivity. A year later, he confirmed this by adding that the road passed through Indianterritory of Aksai Chin.

The information about the construction of this road was further confirmed by a Britishadventurer, Sydney Wignall, who led the first Welsh Himalayan Expedition to climbMount GurlaMandhata, close to Mount Kailash (height 25,355 ft), overlookingMansarovar and Rakshastal lakes in Tibet, in 1955. He had been contacted by the IndianMilitary Intelligence officers in London, prior to the commencement of the expedition,and asked to collect information on this road.

During the expedition, Wignall collected vital information about the feverishconstruction activity on this road. He was, however, detained by the Chinese PLA onthe suspicion of being a CIA spy and kept in prison. The Chinese eventually released himafter some weeks on a high-altitude pass, hoping that lack of oxygen, intense cold andsnow-blizzards would kill him. However, the redoubtable adventurer somehow, madeit back to India and reported the matter to his ‘contact’ in the Military IntelligenceDirectorate.

 Through, General KS Thimmaya, the soon-to-be-made the Chief of the Army Staff, the matter reached the highest levels of the Government, but it was treated with disdain. In his book Spy on the Roof of the World, Wignall writes that he was later told by his ‘contact’ in Military Intelligence, “Our illustrious Prime Minister Nehru,who is so busy on the world stage telling the rest of the mankind how to live, has too little time to attend to the security of his own country. Your material was shown to Nehruby one of our senior officers, who plugged hard. He was criticised by Krisna Menon inNehru’s presence for lapping up ‘American CIA agent-provocateur propaganda.’ Menonhas completely suppressed your information.” “So, it was all for nothing?” I (Wignall)asked. “Perhaps not, we will keep working away at Nehru. Some day he must see the light and realise the threat that communist Chinese occupation of Tibet poses to India,”replied the contact.

No wonder, General Thimmaya on the eve of his retirement in 1961, said while speaking to his officers, “I hope that I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese communists.”After the Chinese aggression of 1962, the Official Report published by the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, stated, “China started constructing motorable road in summer 1955. …On October 6, 1957, the Sinkiang-Tibet road was formally opened with a ceremony in Gartok and 12 trucks on a trial run from Yarkand reached Gartok.”

Though the existence of this road was discussed in Parliament (Lok Sabha) in August1959, it was in 1955, that the Government had information about this road.