Siachen: Indian military behind impasse
Siachen is indeed a military issue or dispute between Pakistan and India, but it is also environmental issue of grave concern for international community, as continuous military activities have been cause of enormous meltdown with catastrophic effects on weather pattern resulting into floods in Pakistan. In second week of September 2007, the Indian Army had unfolded plans to take tourists trekking on Siachen glacier. Pakistan had then launched a strong protest with India, and the Indian army had to abandon the idea, what it said, for the time being. After Gyari incident where Pakistan lost 125 soldiers and officers, there was change in the public mood on both sides of the border who realized the infecundity of keeping their forces on the world’s highest battlefield. Despite favourable public opinion after Gyari incident about resolution of Siachen issue, Indian political leadership while accepting so-called professional advice from their military establishment felt it expedient to stick to their stated position during Pakistan-India Defence Secretary level talks on Siachen held in June 2012.
At 6300 metres (20800 feet), India controls the glaciers since 1984, and the analysts reckon that India is spending approximately $1 million a day, where soldiers are left to stare and shoot each other across the line. The fact remains that the human body continuously deteriorates and with temperatures 70 degree below zero, the inhospitable climate and inclement weather have claimed more lives than the exchange of gunfire. The settlement of Kashmir is an unfinished business of subcontinent’s partition, and India and Pakistan had at least two wars over Kashmir. Earlier, there was Ceasefire Line between India and Pakistan, and the Line of Control (LoC) was redesignated when the Simla Agreement was reached after 1971 war. At the time, the LoC over Kashmir was drawn, the demarcation ended at the Siachen, as it was understood to be Pakistan’s territory otherwise they could have continued to demarcate beyond that point.
In 1984, when Pakistan military was preoccupied on the western front since Soviet forces’ invasion of Afghanistan, Indian army occupied the Siachen. Both countries had entered into negotiations maybe a dozen times, but India insists on only enhancing trade relations whereas Pakistan wants that the core issue of Kashmir be resolved first. In 2004, India and Pakistan started the composite dialogue but nothing concrete came out on Sir Creek, Siachen and Kashmir. After 9/11, India had tried to take advantage of preemptive paradigm adopted by the US, and more than once Indian and Pakistan forces were face to face on the borders. But the fear of nuclear attack makes adventurism less appealing. In the face of this eidetic reality, both countries being nuclear states should resolve the dispute to avert disaster, as war is not option for them. Even before India and Pakistan detonated nuclear devices, both countries were reportedly reached a near agreement in 1992 on Siachen dispute.
But the deal was never inked because of the Indian political leadership’s lukewarm approach and Indian military’s resistance. The text of the 1992 negotiating drafts reproduced by The Hindu recently showed just how close the two sides were to such a resolution two decades ago. The Hindu reported that “Pakistani delegation offered a proposal that met India’s demand of recording existing ground positions before withdrawal of troops from a proposed zone of disengagement. The talks that year, the sixth round both countries held on the issue, had taken place in New Delhi from November 2-6, 1992. Pakistan’s proposal of indicating in an annexure the areas the armed forces of the two sides would vacate and redeploy to found immediate acceptance among Indian officials”. The Indian delegation was led by N.N. Vohra, then the defence secretary and now Governor of Indian Held Jammu and Kashmir said: “We had finalized the text of an agreement at Hyderabad House by around 10 pm on the last day”.
“Signing was set for 10 am. But later that night, instructions were given to me not to go ahead the next day but to conclude matters in our next round of talks in Islamabad in January 1993. Of course, that day never came”, Mr. Vohra added. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister at the time and the BJP’s campaign against the Babri Masjid was in high gear. Siachen quickly receded from the government’s list of priorities. The 1949 ceasefire agreement delineated the Line of Control until point NJ9842, after which, it said, it would run “thence north to the glaciers”. In 2005, the two sides were once again said to be nearing agreement to demilitarize the region, but again Indian military prevailed over the civilian government by insisting that India would lose the strategic advantage over Pakistan and China. According to an agency report, in 2007 then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee while commenting on the dialogue had said that Pakistan was not willing to agree to an Indian proposal on the methodology of demilitarization. He said both sides agreed in principle to withdraw from their positions, India wanted the troop positions delineated and authenticated in document.
That point besides, the settlement of Kashmir is an unfinished business of the partition and independence of the sub-continent, and India and Pakistan have remained at daggers drawn for over six decades. If Kashmir dispute, which is the core issue, can be resolved, both countries can divert substantial funds from defence to social sector to improve the lives of the teeming millions. Anyhow, it has been failure of Pakistan’s foreign policy and apathy of the international community that despite the United Nations Security Council resolutions giving Kashmiris the right of self-determination have not been implemented. The problem is that when Pakistani nation stands divided vertically, horizontally as well as diagonally on ethnic, sectarian and regional lines presenting a scene of a divided house, its enemies will feel emboldened and take advantage of its weakness. India has acknowledged that there is a dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, but Indian leadership continues with the litany of ‘sanctity’ of the Line of Kashmir.