• 29 September, 2023
Geopolitics & National Security

Shadow Tibet circus: The CIA in the Himalayas

Mon, 19 Sep 2022   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

It was a time of rivalry between the capitalist bloc and the communist bloc and amidst it, in 1949 the leader of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China after a victory in the Chinese civil war.

Shortly after this takeover of the communist party in China in 1951 People’s liberation army invaded the region of Tibet and took over the capital Lhasa. Dalai lama was just 15 years old at that time. In 1956 communist wave came into Tibet completely and started destroying their cultural identity in the name of communist reforms for the region. The people of Tibet faced great atrocities during the communist wave. PLA destroyed around 7000 monasteries in Tibet, and they wanted to destroy that one thing that unites every Tibetan, which is their extremely unique and profound culture. And yes it sounds very similar to the case of the British era in India.

Seeing all the atrocities the tribes of Tibet started to stand against PLA. The Khamba tribe of Eastern Tibet (presently a tribe of Arunachal Pradesh in India) came out to be the resistance against PLA in the eastern Tibet. But they wanted aid to fight against PLA. They asked Gyalo Thondup (Dalai Lama’s Brother) who was residing in India for some help. He introduced Americans in the equation. Why didn’t he ask India to aid the resistance? That’s a topic for another article. So now Americans are here. No chance in this universe that Americans could have missed this opportunity to counter communist China and gather ground-level intelligence. In 1956 CIA intervened and the drill started. The name given to the operation was “Operation Shadow Tibet Circus”.

Resistance fighters were very excited to have the CIA as their ally. CIA started to train the resistance fighters. Their training camp was in the mountains of Colorado. They were taught guerilla warfare, hit and run tactics, ambush tactics, communications e.t.c. After the training, they were dropped in the area to fight against the PLA. Americans used to drop arms in Tibet to help the resistance. Fighters were required to report every piece of information about their operations to the CIA.

It started annoying the PLA. Resistance fighters fought bravely even though they saw a huge number of casualties. When the fighters knew they were surrounded they used to have their cyanide capsules and die. Even some of them went to prison. It happened so many times that PLA asked resistance fighters to surrender and not to listen to the Americans. But fighters were fighting for their land and the CIA was helping them in their purpose. The question that why the CIA is helping them, is it for their own purpose, or if they really wanted to help them? never struck the heads of the resistance fighters as long as they were getting arms supply to fight for their motherland.

Tibetans are the people who say a prayer even when they kill an animal but when they killed the Chinese their lips didn’t open up for prayer. They found no sin in killing those who are trying to destroy their religion. The only thing they bow down to was their profound culture and religion.

Situations were getting desperate in Tibet and the Dalai lama decided to escape from Tibet. Aided by resistance fighters he escaped from Tibet under the nose of the PLA and crossed the Indian border and reached India on 30th March 1959. He was welcomed by Nehru. The escape of the Dalai Lama triggered tens of thousands of refugees following him.

In 1959-60 CIA again sent some more trained resistance fighters but this time from Nepal and they decide to set a base camp at Mustang, Nepal. Now all the operations of resistance fighters against the PLA will be planned and organized here at Mustang. They did some successful ambushes on PLA. Americans started to order them which was very much despised by the fighters. Fighters always did what they felt is right to do. They provided all the ground-level intelligence possible. There was a time when the Xinjiang-Lhasa highway was completely under the control of resistance fighters. Not even a single Chinese vehicle could pass through the highway.

All this continued and in 1969 Richard Nixon becomes the president of the U.S and the CIA suddenly cut down the supply of arms. This was obviously because of changes in the foreign policy of the U.S.
Fighters were very disappointed by the fact that their only ally has betrayed them. They felt that they have been deceived. But in the end, it’s all about national interest.

In 1974 under Chinese pressure, the Nepalese army sent troops to Mustang to demand the surrender of fighters. It could have been another unnecessary bloodshed, so the Dalai lama intervened he asked the fighters to surrender. He sent a message in his own voice to the fighters. He told them to continue their fight but with peaceful means. Fighters were disheartened by this. Some of the fighters committed suicide there and then. They found suicide as a better option than dropping their weapons. As Ato Chadak (one of the resistance fighters) narrates how one of his leaders said, “I’d rather die than surrender my weapons” and afterward he cuts his own throat with a dagger. And this marked the end of a war between some brave Tibetan fighters and a notorious communist power.

All the surviving fighters, refugees, and their families today live in Nepal and the Himalayan region of India. It ended with a failed resistance movement to save their motherland and a failed attempt by Americans to counter communism. Fighters didn’t really care if the CIA was helping them or whatever their motive was, but they were still thankful for the arms supply by the CIA. There are many more instances of these proxy wars between communists and capitalists. It’s an unending game. It happened before It’s happening now and will happen in the future.


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