India undertakes a rebalance of military forces and fire power to the northern borders with China amid the continuing troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh, the Army has a new target on its radar screen: Tibetology

The Army is now fine-tuning a proposal for its officers to study Tibetan history, culture and language on “both sides” of the Line of Actual Control and the international boundary as part of the measures being discussed to “counter the propaganda and spread of influence by China”, say sources.

The Tibetology proposal was first initiated in the Army commanders’ conference in October, and is now being “further analysed” by the Shimla-based Army Training Command (ARTRAC) on the directions of General MM Naravane.

ARTRAC has identified seven institutes that offer postgraduate courses in Tibetology where Army officers can go on “study leave”. It has also been recommended that officers can also be sent to these institutes for “small capsules” on Tibetology.

They are Department of Buddhist Studies (Delhi University), Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies (Varanasi), Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Bihar), Visva Bharati (West Bengal), Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education (Bengaluru), Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (Gangtok) and Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies (Dahung, Arunachal Pradesh).

“Army officers are generally well-versed with Pakistan. But a similar expertise on China and the Chinese psyche is lacking. Officers who really understand China are very few in number. Tibetology fares even worse. These deficiencies need to be plugged,” an army officer has said.

The Army needs to assiduously build expertise on both China and Tibet in terms of “linguistic, cultural and behaviour patterns”. This will require “language and sector specialisations”, with selected officers being posted for longer tenures along the LAC instead of the western front with Pakistan. “Just a two-year course in Mandarin will not make an officer a China expert,” he added.

India, of course, has largely refrained from playing the so-called “Tibet card”, which constitutes a major red-line for China, over the years. Some experts even contend New Delhi “lost” the leverage in 1954 itself when it inked the trade agreement with Beijing, which recognised the “Tibet region” as part of China.

A signal, however, was recently sent by the public acknowledgement of the role played by the Special Frontier Force, a covert special unit that recruits from the Tibetan community exiled in India, during the military manoeuvre to occupy heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso-Kailash range area in end-August. “Either way, if you want to use Tibet as an issue in India-China relations, then expertise in Tibetology will be critical,” said an expert.