Friday, April 27, 2012

Why quitting Siachen will be disastrous:SIACHIN – NO SELLOUT PLEASE

By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi  (DNA-Mumbai 24 Apr 2012)

Following the 1947-48 war between India and Pakistan, the Cease Fire Line (CFL), was delineated under the Karachi Agreement of 1949, only up to a point on the map known as Point NJ 9842. The area to the north, being highly inaccessible and glaciated, was not delineated, but the direction of the CFL beyond NJ 9842 was unambiguously stated as “thence north to the glaciers”. The same thing happened when the CFL was replaced by the LoC after the 1971 war.

In 1984, having received hard intelligence that the Pakistani Army was about to secure the area, the Indian Army in a pre-emptive move had occupied the Saltoro Ridge, which constitutes the watershed and runs parallel to the length of the Siachin Glacier on its western side. It has been called the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) since then. The Pakistani Army made many attempts to throw us back, but all such attacks were repulsed. Having failed militarily, Pakistan decided that negotiations were a more pragmatic option. Discussions held so far have been unsuccessful as Pakistan has been insisting on their terms for a resolution, which are not acceptable to India.

The last highly audacious attempt at dislodge us from Siachin was made by the Pakistani Army in 1999, when Kargil and surrounding areas were captured by the Pakistani Army, with the aim of cutting off our supply routes to Ladakh and secure Siachin by this indirect stratagem. However, once again the bravery and courage of our troops saved the day and the Pakistani Army had to suffer an ignominious defeat.

Another pertinent fact that must not be lost sight of is that in 1963, Pakistan had unilaterally and illegally conceded the Shaksgam area, north of Siachin, to China. 
Since early April, following the major avalanche in the area occupied by the Pakistani Army, an orchestrated attempt is being made to bring the issue back in focus. A fair amount of media hype has been created, but it is based more on emotions and less on hard facts. There is need to understand the nuances of this dispute in totality, so that a pragmatic decision is taken and there is no sellout.

            During the various rounds of talks between India and Pakistan, many myths have been created by spin doctors and those who are bent on getting the Indian Army to vacate the area. These need to be discarded. The important myths and realities are discussed below.

Firstly, the contention that Siachin and Saltoro have no strategic value is patently wrong. The reality is that if the Saltoro had not been occupied by our troops, Pakistan from the west and China from the east would have long since linked up, with the strategic Karakoram Pass under their complete control. The illegal ceding away of the Shaksgam Valley by Pakistan to China has completed the encirclement of this crucial area. It is only our occupation of the Saltoro, which has driven a wedge between the two. By our control of Saltoro, we have also retained the option of negotiating with China about the Shaksgam valley at the appropriate time.

Secondly, the Pakistani stance that since India is the aggressor, it should vacate the area, is a travesty of truth, as what our troops did in April 1984 was to occupy  our own areas; no border or line was crossed as the entire area, not having been delineated, belongs to India. 
Thirdly, it is stated that unnecessary casualties are being incurred on account of the treacherous terrain and climate. This is no longer the case with us, as the Indian Army has learnt its lessons well and we do not have such casualties any more. Fourthly, an additional reason stated is that four to five crores is being spent everyday on our troops there. While the figure may be disputed, should sovereignty be measured in this manner?

The Siachin issue is important for the peace process, but there are many others that are more important and pressing, which need to be resolved first. We seem to have fallen for the Pakistani ploy of looking at Siachin as a separate issue, unrelated to the LoC, when de facto it is an extension of the LoC. Pakistan’s compulsion on the issue must not translate into a sellout by India, for it will be an unmitigated disaster if it happens. After all, the trust deficit with Pakistan remains, as it has taken no action on the concerns of India, like stopping support and assistance to the Jihadi insurgents, punishing the guilty of the Mumbai Mayhem and the continued sheltering of criminals like Hafiz Saeed and others.

The most important point we have to keep in mind is that while it suits Pakistan to get our troops to vacate the commanding heights of the Saltoro Ridge, we would lose them permanently if we do so, as regaining them would be militarily extremely difficult. Despite this, if there is a compulsion to resolve the issue, then the first action must be to delineate the AGPL, before any shifting of troops takes place. Pakistan has so far refused to accept this, perhaps with an ulterior motive of occupying it at some future date!

Pakistan has been proposing that both sides should withdraw to positions that existed prior to the occupation of the Saltoro Ridge, but this must not be accepted as our troops will take longer to return to their positions, should this become necessary, on account of the difficult terrain on our side. There is also a need to work out a detailed joint mechanism to ensure that the terms of the resolution are strictly adhered to.
The writer is a former Vice Chief of the Indian Army.

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