(This was originally posted in The Print by Amrita Nayak Dutta)
China’s military has actively started recruiting local, unemployed Tibetan youths to form a “volunteer militia” in areas across the border from Sikkim, intelligence reports have suggested. Military and intel experts say India should not be too worried about the development but must keep watch on it all the same.
The bulk of India’s 3,488-km border with China runs along with Tibet, from Ladakh at one end to Arunachal Pradesh (claimed by China as southern Tibet) on the other.
The drive to recruit the volunteer militia comes as the stand-off between India and China in Ladakh continues over a year since it began.
According to the intel inputs, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and police authorities are recruiting unemployed Tibetan youth from the Yadong county, located opposite Sikkim, and other neighboring areas in the region.
The inputs suggest these cadres would be sent to police and PLA centres for training and subsequent employment.
Sources said those at police centers would be trained for duties at vehicle check posts, those related to immigration, and law and order at model “Xiaogang (well-off)” villages, which have reportedly been built all along the border in keeping with President Xi Jinping’s vision for frontier governance.
“To govern the country well we must first govern the frontiers well, and to govern the frontiers well we must first ensure stability in Tibet,” he was quoted as saying in 2013.
The youth trained by the PLA, meanwhile, could be deployed as reinforcements for the regular Chinese army units when needed, the inputs suggest.
Some of the recruits, the inputs say, are being trained by the PLA to keep a watch on border residents at the LAC — for the purpose of gathering intelligence — and could be put on duty at border trade markets and the xiaokang villages.
It was also reported this April that China has stepped up recruitment drives in the Tibet Autonomous Region, with plans to create a Special Tibetan Army Unit.
‘Must Keep Watch’
An intel source said the recruitment of the volunteer militia may not have major implications for India. However, the source added that it has to be ensured that linkages between the populations on either side, if any, are not exploited in any way.
Reached for comment, Lt Gen. S.L. Narasimhan (Retd), a member of the National Security Advisory Board, told ThePrint that the border terrain in the region is such that any sort of intelligence gathering would be a difficult task for any person.
“Firstly, the border areas are well held in that sector by troops on our side, so it is not easy for anyone to come across and gain access to our side. In a few areas, where the troops may not be manning right up to the LAC, the terrain is so rugged that it would not help in any kind of intel gathering,” he said.
Lt Gen. Narasimhan added that it would be prudent to wait and watch, but said there would not be major implications of the move.
“In the 1954 agreement on trade with Tibet, it was mentioned that the Tibetan Autonomous Region is a part of China. So, if China is recruiting Tibetan youth in the area, it is their decision. We have to maintain a constant watch along the LAC,” he said.
Amid what is described as a crackdown by the Chinese government on their culture and traditions, scores of Tibetans have fled to India over the decades, with their government-in-exile also functioning from Dharamsala.
Thousands of Tibetan refugees who now call India home comprise a security unit known as the Special Frontier Force, which took part in several operations conducted by the Indian military at the LAC last year.
The SFF was formed in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 war with China, which resulted in a defeat for India.