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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2784

Siachen Strategically More Important Than Kashmir

By J N Raina - Syndicate Features

India will be deluding itself if it feels sanguine that Siachen conflict will be negotiated with Pakistan amicably. The concerns of the Indian Army are huge and genuine. When Pakistan continues to regard Siachen glacier as part of its Northern Areas, which it had forcibly annexed in 1947, will it climb down by any stretch of imagination?

In the first place, what is the exigency to resolve the issue in haste, when the peace process between India and Pakistan is already apace? The Kashmir problem cannot be solved in parts. What is the urgency to find out an out-of-box solution for Siachen, which is legally a part of India? Siachen glacier, the world’s highest icy battlefield, has been the scene of many skirmishes since 1984.

India cannot afford to sacrifice Siachen just to ‘please’ some people, when proxy war is still on; when 59 terrorist camps continue to remain in operation in PoK.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is planning to visit Pakistan shortly, has expressed keenness to settle the issue. He does not want his visit ‘to turn out to be a non-event’. His original visit schedule would have coincided with the Assembly election at home.

Naturally, any sort of deal on Siachen would have been termed as ‘India’s victory’ and helped the Congress to boost its electoral fortunes.

But the visit was finally put off, because the Siachen issue could not be clinched. Chief of the Army Staff, General J. J Singh many others in his establishment expressed concern over Pakistan’s reluctance to authenticate the ground positions as a first step for the deal. Citing Kargil, the Prime Minister’s Office was told that Pakistan will have no compunction to occupy the Indian-held glacial posts, once an agreement was reached. More over Pakistan was not ‘trustworthy’.

Reports are rife that India had considered to ‘drop’ its insistence on the demarcation of posts held, to suit Pakistan and to ‘show progress in the peace process’. Since the peace process is ‘transitory’, according to Stephen P Cohen, the US’s premier South Asian Strategic Affairs analyst, will it be prudent for India to override the suggestions of the Army and enter into an agreement with Pakistan on Siachen separately. Cohen has gone to the extent of saying: “I expect the talks to break down, and hope both sides then draw lessons from why the process failed”. But such lessons have never been drawn, given the nature of governments in Pakistan, which has been mostly ruled by military, barring a few spells of democracy in between.

In which manner can we estimate a country like Pakistan, which has reportedly threatened that it will ‘nuke’ India, even if another country (read Israel) attacks it? It is highly intriguing that ISI had ordered the killing of Indian engineer K Suryanarayan in Afghanistan, as testified by the Taliban. Consider this scenario.

Pakistan, having had its way on the Glacier pact that is no authentication of troops position, moves quickly and occupies Indian positions. Well in such a scenario India will be at a disadvantage. Very little could be done to retrieve the situation, according Indian army experts.

Says Jasjit Singh, Director, Centre for Air Power Studies, “If Islamabad decides to launch an adventure in Siachen, the costs will be heavy, in fact much more than Kargil”. India has been persistently asking Pakistan that maps of the positions last held by both the countries should be endorsed by it, but it is reluctant to do so obvious reasons.

Some Pandits are unwilling to buy the line that India, by giving in on Siachen, can earn Pakistan’s goodwill or even dictate terms on Kashmir. It is a ridiculous argument, they aver. How can we repose faith in Pakistan, which has been dishonest in its dealings with India ever since partition. We have before us the lessons of Kargil war. Even when the war was nearing an end and the enemy was retreating, Pakistan insisted that India should vacate Chorbat La, Siachen and Qamar sectors, “to restore the sanctity of the Shimla Agreement on the LoC”. A few years earlier, the then Foreign Minister Yakub Khan had categorically rejected the Indian claim to Siachen glacier, saying ‘it was part of the Northern Areas’.

The Northern Areas, which comprise the five districts of Gilgit, Ghizar, Zhanchay, Baltistan and Diamir, was forcibly annexed by Pakistan in November 1947. The Areas touch Chinese Sinkiang and Afghan Pamirs in the north and a 480-km-long LoC in the south. From third to 11th century, the area was ruled by Buddhist kings.

In 1993, the “Azad Kashmir (PoK)” High Court upheld the position that Northern Areas was part of undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir politically, legally and constitutionally.

Before initialling the Simla agreement, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had given verbal assurances to India to convert the LoC into an international boundary. He had literally begged of Mrs Indira Gandhi not to make his verbal commitment a part of the formal Agreement, for his ‘political survival’. The Iron lady obliged him but he and his successors backtracked.

When Benazir Bhutto was reminded of her father’s commitment, she simply said ‘circumstances had changed’ and much water had flowed down the Jhelum since then. Those were the days when proxy war was at its zenith. And it led the Pakistan establishment to believe “Kashmir was ripe for separation…. And India did not have political will to sustain Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India,” J N Dixit, India’s former Foreign Secretary, says in his book: “War and Peace”.

Pakistan had even questioned the sanctity of the LoC during Kargil conflict. It had claimed that there existed only a ‘working border’ between the two countries. The objective was to justify the intrusion. Given this track record of Pakistan, should India make a climb down on Siachen? Pakistan made its first attempt on the glacier in early 80s, as it felt the demarcation of LoC could be interpreted to justify the intrusion. India checkmated Pakistan by quickly deploying the army and setting up a network of well manned posts in the Siachen region in 1984.

General Pervez Musharraf was made the Brigade Commander of the Special Services Group in the glacial area and his task was to push back the Indian forces .He was responsible for a major attack on Bilafond La post in September 1987; the attack was repulsed. Will he give in now?

I visited Siachen glacier that year as a member of the press party that accompanied General Chibber, along with former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah. The guns were booming on either side of the Saltoro ridge, while our chopper was hovering over the white icy glacier. It was a memorable day.

- Syndicate Features -

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