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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dispatch from Dharamsala

November 21, 2008

By Maura Moynihan
Radio Free Asia (RFA)
November 18, 2008

Eight rounds of dialogue between Tibetan envoys and Chinese Communist
officials have failed. What will happen next?

DHARAMSALA -- November is glorious in this remote north Indian hill
station. The air is pristine, the mountains aglow, the hotels
perpetually overbooked.

In the 1990s, Dharamsala, traced upon mountain cliffs above the
Kangra Valley, home of the Dalai Lama and seat of the Tibetan exile
government, surpassed the Taj Mahal as the most popular tourist
destination in India. The global traffic converges in McLeod Ganj, a
circular bazaar of Punjabi shops, Tibetan restaurants, Internet
cafes, Buddhist shrines, and bookstores, filled with travelers and
pilgrims of every variety.

Yet most visitors reclining in hotel gardens with a cappuccino and
the Hindustan Times, amid prayer flags and temple spires, seem
placidly unaware of the fractures crackling through this Tibetan
exile universe.

On Nov. 17, hundreds of delegates gathered in Dharamsala for the
"Tibetan Special General Meeting" convened by the Dalai Lama to
address the crisis in Tibet. Eight rounds of dialogue between Tibetan
envoys and Chinese Communist officials have failed.

The Dalai Lama is in despair, unable to rescue the six million
Tibetans living under Chinese rule. He is vilified by the Chinese
Communist Party, and admired but abandoned by world leaders who are
unwilling to provoke China's displeasure by making the case for the
political rights of the Tibetan people.

The Dalai Lama has summoned his people to Dharamsala to assess his
Middle Path approach, which seeks "genuine autonomy" for Tibet within
the Chinese state. The meeting commenced on Monday morning at the
Tibetan Children's Village with statements by Karma Choephel, speaker
of the Tibetan Parilament-in-Exile, and exile Prime Minster Samdhong Rinpoche.

The Dalai Lama didn't attend, which shifted the media focus away from
the world's most famous Tibetan to the status of his captive nation.
The function was twice suspended for lengthy tea breaks in the garden
where the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Chushi Gangdruk resistance
group passed out fliers.

Journalists clustered round Tenzin Tsundru, Jamyang Norbu, and Lhadon
Tethong -- activist-intellectuals, proponents of Rangzen, or
independence.  By lunchtime it was clear that the meeting had induced
a tangible shift in the parameters of debate and power through the
presence of those who pose a legitimate challenge to the notion that
autonomy is plausible in a totalitarian state.

Many Tibetans are now openly critical of the exile government's
adherence to the Middle Path. This was formerly unthinkable; to
criticize the exile government was formerly deemed a supreme betrayal
of the Dalai Lama himself.

In 2006 a senior Tibetan official who questioned the efficacy of the
autonomy principle was vehemently censured by his peers for alleged
disloyalty. But the exile government was unprepared for the crisis
that erupted in Tibet last spring and the wave of global outrage that
drowned the Olympic Torch relay. When Samdhong Rinpoche ordered
Tibetan activists to suspend all protests, the activists respectfully
replied that they would not follow this order. Men and women were
being jailed and slaughtered in Tibet, and the demonstrators refused
to lie mute.

Not 'a united entity'

For decades, Dharamsala bar talk invariably veered into a circular
discussion of the fate of Tibet, usually ending in drunken platitudes
and the occasional fistfight.  On Monday night the cafes and pubs in
McLeod Ganj teemed with restless energy, anger, and impatience. Now,
conversation at the Hotel Tibet bar swirled with a new urgency and
purpose with the celebrated author and Rangzen champion Jamyang Norbu
holding forth at a corner table.

Can nonviolent activism plausibly reform a Communist government that
subjects its citizens to torture and incarceration for simply
refusing to denounce the Dalai Lama? Does China's intransigence
reveal fear or confidence? And will Tibetans resort to violence if
pushed too far?

This week, advocates of the Middle Path must confront this crisis of
confidence. Tibetans are weary of living as refugees in fragmented
settlements scattered across the Indian subcontinent. They will Go
West if they must, but they want to go home to Tibet, and some are
ready to fight for Tibetan liberation. The constraints of tradition
and protocol are loosening.

On the walk back to McLeod Ganj after the Monday meeting, a Tibetan
scholar remarked: "The future of the Dalai Lama and the future of
Tibet are two very different things. They can no longer be conflated
into a united entity."

Maura Moynihan, a writer and musician, has been a consultant to the
Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, America's largest Himalayan and
Tibetan cultural institution. She worked for many years as a refugee
consultant in India and Nepal and recently completed a master's
degree in political science at the New School.
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