NEW DELHI: Nearly six months after it first became public, Indian intelligence agencies and Army personnel are keeping a close watch on how a special recruitment drive undertaken by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is progressing in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India.
Apart from the sustained pace of infrastructure building in Aksai Chin and areas close to Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the focused attention in the PLA in the past couple of years to induct Tibetan youth into its various units has come under intense scrutiny of the Indian establishment dealing with China.
Recent indications suggest that a Special Recruitment Drive (SDR) has been undertaken by the PLA to attract Tibetan youths into its fold. According to a March 2020 directive, every household in the Lhasa region has to send one youth to join the militia units that are being raised in Tibet. Majority of the Tibetans are reportedly part of the militia and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF).
Reports in the Chinese official media have mentioned names such as Snow Hawk Air Team, Snow Pigeon Communications Team, Snow Wolf Mountaineering Expedition, Snow Fox QRT (Quick Reaction Team) and Snow Mastiff Fighting Team that have been raised since 2020, comprising Tibetan youths. A section of this first batch of recruits has already been deployed at locations across the LAC. Sources say training of the first batch of 100 youths has been completed. This batch has already been deployed at different points across the Chumbi Valley, including at places such as Yadong, Cheema, Renqinggang and Phari Dzong. Interestingly, these recruits were taken to Tibetan monks for blessings after they completed their training.
Reports have said the second batch of the Tibetans is currently undergoing training at Phari Dzong, across the Dolam area in Sikkim which had witnessed a 72-day standoff between Indian and PLA soldiers in 2017. Some unconfirmed reports say that female Tibetans under the age of 25 are also being recruited of late, mainly from Medong county. Interestingly, majority of the recruits so far have deliberately been youths of mixed parentage (children of Tibetan-Han parents), since the PLA is not sure of the loyalties of Tibetans.
A preliminary analysis by Indian watchers about this development has surmised that so far, the recruitment of Tibetans is nominal and is unlikely to pose any threat to the Indian border deployments since most of these youths are being used for internal messaging. They are expected to assist the PLA in understanding Tibetans and Tibet better so that it can further tighten control over the region. The CCP is also likely to use them for spreading its own narrative about development and prosperity of Tibet and its people under the communist rule and use these recruits at border trading points as well as in the Xiaokang (prosperity) dual use villages that are coming up all along the LAC.
As noted Tibetologist Claude Arpi wrote in July 2021: “The Chinese propaganda machine is working full swing. A few weeks ago, a Tibetan female sniper called Dawa Choekar came into the limelight: she was described by CCTV Military as “an amazing female soldier in Special Forces”. It said: “The story of her efforts to achieve a counterattack [against India?] is more exciting than you think!”
Dawa belonged to the first mobile detachment of PAP’s Tibet Corps; she enlisted in the Army in September 2013. “She broke through the language barrier, kept reading the news and looking up the dictionary every day,” the website said, adding, she could write “a neat application for joining the party”. It is worth noting that recruits have to first join the Communist Party.
However, Tibetans rarely find higher positions in the PLA’s fighting units since the Hans still doubt their complete loyalty to the CCP and PLA. The new year might, however, see an intensified drive to coerce and cajole Tibetans to join the PAPF and militias, China watchers feel. What effect this will have on the India-China border interactions and negotiations in the coming months is anyone’s guess.