Pragmatic | Indian Army hasn’t stalled Siachen resolution

The devious motive behind spreading this canard about the Indian Army

A lot of noise is being made in some Pakistani newspapers over the US embassy reports (via Wikileaks) that the Indian Army has stalled a deal between Pakistan and India over Siachen. The main evidence is this paragraph from a cable of September 2008, released by the US embassy in New Delhi:

On Siachen, he [MEA Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) T.C.A. Raghavan] reported that the Indian Army has drawn a line with its political leadership. It has told the GOI that withdrawal was tantamount to ceding the area to Pakistan due to the difficulty of retaking it should Pakistan occupy it. Instead, the GOI is attempting to “soften” the issue by proposing joint military projects such as environmental clean up or trekking. There has been no Pakistani response to these suggestions, he noted.[Link]

This context is better understood by reading another cable from the US embassy in New Delhi, released just before the tenth round of talks on Siachen in May 2006. It points out the Indian Army’s stance on the subject.

Gen. Singh reiterated to reporters in Delhi on the first day of the May 2005 talks the importance the Indian military places on an agreed and authenticated Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) demarcating the positions currently held by Indian and Pakistani troops as a precondition to Indian Army buy-in for any deal; his position on this, which is reflected in the Foreign Ministry as well, has not publicly shifted. Mapping the currently held positions would give India future justification for limited punitive action, should Pakistan renege on an agreement to withdraw its forces. Authentication will also prove that the Indian Army is in possession of the main glacier and ridgeline, versus Pakistan holding the Lower Saltoro Ridge. Mapping positions could also affect a future agreement on alignment of the LoC (and perhaps a soft border) north of marker NJ9842, which is the last codified point on the LoC per the 1972 Simla Agreement.[Link]

The map below will help understand the situation as it exists on Siachen.

Courtesy: Rediff

It would be worthwhile to recollect the position taken by Pakistan in the mid-1980s when the Siachen issue was nearing a resolution.

At the end of a series of meetings between the two sides, Pakistan agreed to a line going Northwards from NJ 9842 roughly along the heights of Saltoro to the Chinese border as the continuation of the LAC, giving up all claims to any territory to the East of it. The agreement made the Saltoro range the effective border between J&K and Pakistan occupied territories of the State. This meant the giving up by Pakistan of claims to territory within the tangential line from NJ 9842 to Karakoram Pass. The Indian side would also be giving up points occupied to the West of the glacier but that involved no tactical or strategic loss since the commanding heights would continue to remain with India.

The Pakistani side also conveyed the sense that in due course the LAC could become a permanent border. They were also ready for troop reductions, up to two divisions worth, provided there was a matching response from India. Freeing of trade was the only major issue on which Pakistan showed itself unwilling to make any compromise.

Actual demilitarisation of Siachen was to follow the formal acceptance of the extended LAC by the governments of the two countries through discussions between their military authorities.

Since the tentative agreement between the two interlocutors involved a substantive compromise on the Pakistani position, the Pakistani side was asked to confirm their understanding of the extended LAC on a map. In due course a Survey of Pakistan GHQ Rawalpindi map, with the proposed extended LAC marked on it, was received by India.[IDR]

This is the crux of the problem now. Pakistan needs to agree on demarcating the positions currently held on ground, which it is not keen on doing at all. After the positions have been demarcated, they will need to be jointly verified and then guaranteed by international observers. Thus, the mapping of current positions at Siachen has to be the start point of any discussion on resolving Siachen. This is what the chief of the Indian Air Force has also stated yesterday:

“The main issue over Siachen is that there is no clear marking of what we call the AGPL (Actual Ground Possession Land). Nobody knows where it runs. Each side has its own ideas. We are at present at an advantageous position, by occupying certain heights where attacking is very difficult for anybody. If both sides have to vacate this position, that line (AGPL) needs to be marked and, I would say, internationally approved, only then we will feel safe. Because once again going on to that position will be very difficult. So until this problem is sorted out, the talks between the two countries will not progress forward.”[DNA]

After the Kargil misadventure, when Pakistan tried to cut the main Siachen supply line, there is little likelihood that India can afford to blindly trust Pakistan about vacating its positions on Siachen.

“There is no question of a deal without authentication,” MEA Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) Dilip Sinha told us recently (Ref A). Sinha had previously noted to us that there was no trust in Delhi regarding Siachen “post-Kargil” and that “1989 and 1992 are in the past,” referring to two prior occasions when a deal on Siachen appeared imminent. Former Defense Secretary NN Vohra similarly harkened back to when he led the Indian delegation in the 1992 Siachen talks, saying that the two sides were “an hour away” at the time from signing an agreement, but that was not the case after the Kargil war.[Link]

There is little disagreement in India on this among the political parties too. For example, the BJP’s publicly held position in support of the deal is:

– Inviolability of the confirmed AGPL
– A Pakistani commitment not to reoccupy military positions subsequent to a pull-out
– No Pakistan Army terrain advantage over the Indian Army after any demilitarization
– A timetable to clean up the glacier of accumulated waste and military hardware[Link]

A couple of other points merit consideration here. Siachen is not a financial drain on India and forms a minuscule part of the defence budget. Having suffered 540 fatal casualties at Siachen, Indian Army hasn’t suffered a single fatal casualty at the Glacier for last eight years. More importantly, the ceasefire between Indian and Pakistan armies has held across the AGPL since 2004, and the Glacier is thus not that different from many positions occupied by the Indian Army in the Batalik-Kargil-Dras sector on the LoC. There is thus little incentive for India to move out of Siachen without an iron-clad guarantee from Pakistan. The start-point of any such guarantee, to drive the point home at the cost of repetition, has to be the authentication of the positions presently held by both the sides.

Notwithstanding the media reports, this is also the official position of the UPA government. The then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a written response to a Parliamentary question on May 11, 2006 replied:

“There is no decision at present to pull out troops from Siachen area. India’s position on this issue is that authentication of the presently held positions has to be the first step before any redeployment of troops is considered.”[Link]

What is the hullabaloo about then? It is not about Siachen or the way ahead towards finding a solution to Siachen. The intention is more devious. As this Dawn edit and FP piece by Basharat Peer show, the whole idea is to mirror image India and Pakistan by equating the behaviour of their respective armies. By depicting Indian Army as an institution not within civilian control of the political executive at New Delhi, the obvious ploy is to justify the rogue behaviour of the Pakistan army which exclusively runs the foreign and security policies of that failing state.

It is important to nip this myth in the bud lest it gets undue credence. Indian army has not stalled the resolution of the Siachen dispute. There has been no progress on Siachen because Pakistan army refuses to authenticate the current positions on the glacier. Indian Army has not been, and is not the mirror-image of Pakistan army. And more importantly, modern India is not the mirror-image of current-day Pakistan. Those trying to hyphenate the two countries and societies can take a break.