The third India-Pakistan war erupted In March 1971. The role of the brave Tibetan soldiers of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) aka Establishment 22 in the nine-month war which culminated in the birth of Bangladesh remains largely unknown.
For Tibetans the story of this storied military unit is an important part of the Tibetan exile history. As it became clear that SFF soldiers would be deployed in then East Pakistan, there was understandable unease among some rank and file as they were uncertain if they should be fighting the war. It took a certain type of leader to explain and inspire. SFF found that leader in Jampa Kalden, its First Dapon, and my late pala. As per account shared by witnesses, my father summoned the soldiers on the eve of departure and gave them a Braveheart-like speech which removed lingering doubts and fears. Under his and the Indian military leadership, Tibetan soldiers fought heroically and helped influence the outcome of the war in India’s favor.
The role of a strong military leader was one of multiple roles that defined a life of epic proportions. Pala’s life journey began as a monk at the Sera Monastery in Tibet; and then as the personal attendant to the learned Gelug master Geshe Jampa Thaye; to an entrepreneur plying his trade between India and an independent Tibet; to a freedom fighter and one of the founding members of Chushi Gangdruk; to a Chinese labor camp inmate; to an escapee who pulled off a daring escape into freedom in India; to the military leader who led a 12,000-strong unit; to an intelligence czar and the Secretary of the CTA’s Department of Security; and finally to a respected community elder.
Though my pala extended the strict monastic and military discipline into how he raised his five children and approached family life, he was a remarkably open person. He made sure that my siblings and I received a good education and tried to instill in us some core values. He taught us about service, working hard, playing by the rules, extending a helping hand to those in need, leading by example, and how respect had to be earned. He saw all Tibetans as Tibetans and never separated people according to their region and sect. He had no patience for lazy, incompetent and showboating types. For someone who never received formal education as his monastic education was curtailed, he held his own amongst his more educated peers. He was guided by an innate wisdom and a strong moral compass. For all his achievements, he led a modest and almost monastic life.
Pala passed away on Christmas Day in 2012. He was like a giant sequoia tree that stood tall, respected by friends and foes alike. So many leaned on that tree and came away inspired by both the thoughts and actions of this remarkable Tibetan patriot that I was blessed to call my father.