Siachen Demilitarization: Some Thoughts
by Harpreet on 26 Sep 2017 4 Comments

So Shyam Saran has written a book that has again started a cacophony of opinions on demilitarization of #Siachen! Sharing some thoughts of my own, to add to that cacophony. Firstly, the battlefield is NOT Siachen. It is the Saltoro Ridge further to the west of the glacier. This is a fact which needs to be put on record.


That said, the genesis of the conflict in Siachen is worth studying. Nitin Gokhale’s book on the same [Beyong NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga] is an excellent read. In short, the Shimla Accord delineated the LoC till Point NJ 9842 and, assuming areas further North to be too inhospitable, left the issue by saying that the LoC would thereafter run ‘northwards along the glaciers’.


Things stayed calm until the late 1970s, when Pakistan started granting clearance to mountaineering / trekking expeditions in Siachen on its own. This was accompanied by ‘Cartographic Aggression’, wherein Pakistani maps suddenly started showing their territory ahead of NJ 9842 with a straight, north easterly line joining the point with the Karakoram Pass.


Then in the early 80s, own agencies informed the government of the day that Pakistanis were busy shopping for high altitude gear, with an intention to occupy Saltoro Ridge and enforce their claim line. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to move in, and the army flew in a bunch of tough Kumaonis to occupy strategic heights / passes on the Saltoro Ridge. The timing was perfect, it pre-empted the planned Pakistani operation by mere weeks.


Pakistan moved in soon, to occupy some un-held areas on the Saltoro, and trying to evict the Indian army.


Bloody clashes followed before the positions of both sides stabilized. The Indian army was in possession of almost all strategic and dominating heights on the Saltoro, less one sore spot – The Quaid Post – a post so important that the Pakistanis named it after their father of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. And then they lost it to a diminutive Khalsa, Bana Singh, in 1987!


A certain Brigadier Pervez Musharraf of the Special Services Group (SSG) was tasked to retake it. He threw in his best, and lost them all. Bana post continues to fly the Tricolour to this day.


Fast forward to the previous decade. Weather related casualties were, and continue to be, at an all-time low. Most of the men out of the 800+ as is being touted by the usual suspects were lost in the first two decades or so. Of late, the Indian Army is comfortably dominating the battlefield. The Pakistanis know that dislodging the Indians from this area is impossible. Thus began the chant of ‘global warming’, ‘pollution’, etc., ironically from a country that gives a damn about its own forest cover.


The dream of the previous Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh to convert Siachen into a ‘Mountain of Peace’ was replied to by the Army with a single statement – ‘Let Pakistan authenticate its and our positions on a map jointly signed by both nations.’


This was a pre-requisite of the Army which basically told its government that once we withdraw, if the Pakistanis come and sit on the Saltoro, then don’t ask us to recapture it again, because we will be unable to do so.


They were right. Kargil had happened less than a decade ago, this DESPITE the Line of Control mutually agreed to in 1972!


The bottom line is – You cannot trust Pakistan to stick to its word. (Apparently, Shyam Saran’s book brings in some more details). But regardless of that, I still wonder why the Pakistanis have steadfastly refused to exchange authenticated maps of their and our positions on Saltoro, if that is what they had indeed agreed to, as is being hinted?


Is it because we don’t know where they are placed? Or is it because the Pakistani Army has continuously lied to its own people that it is THEY who dominate Indians in the Siachen battlefield? Some points to ponder upon before the idiotic (IMO) calls for demilitarization.


Bottom line: Let us not let the sacrifice of hundreds of our best go waste because someone somewhere would rather trust the Pakistanis on their word, instead of their past record.


In the end, just one question from me to the worthies about Siachen: Would be glad if someone can answer me:-


“After staying at high altitude Army posts in Siachen, got convinced that the cost of deployment was too great - #ShyamSaranAtThePrint


My response [on Twitter]: Wonder if any of the worthies have done any homework on the cost of vacating Siachen.. Always two sides to a coin!


In conclusion, I have no reason not to believe General JJ Singh, former Chief of Army Staff, when he says that the Army had its reservations. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed to turn Siachen into a ‘Mountain of Peace’, I remember the army asking for authentication of respective positions by the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army before any thought was given to a withdrawal.


This was covered by the media as well, if memory serves right. So yes, while they might have been broadly in agreement (I use the word ‘broadly’ with some reservations), when it came to specific mechanics, the Army put down certain conditions on which Pakistan simply did not want to oblige. If I remember correctly, part of the withdrawal issue spilled over in the time of Gen VK Singh as well.

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