Sunday, October 28, 2012

Two nations & a glacier 
By Abhijit Bhattacharyya

FIRST thing first; let us note the views on Siachen expressed by two retired soldiers-turned-scholars; a Major-General and a Lieutenant-General. The former finds Siachen to be a “buffer certainly, but strategically irrelevant”. Accordingly, it has only “acquired a strategic ego” but “does not have any strategic significance”. The retired soldier now feels that “the costs of holding glacial heights are huge….Thousands of lives have been lost and roughly 30 Indian soldiers die every year due to harsh weather and killer terrain”. Curiously enough, after stating that “thousands of lives have been lost”, the former two-star general quotes Defence minister Antony’s statement in Parliament in August 2012 to contradict himself “that 846 soldiers have died since 1984”! For the ex-soldier “the bottom line, however, is to bring troops down from Siachen. A compromise has to be hammered out as strategic sense dictates demilitarization”.
The focus of the retired Lt-General who, by his own confession, “has been part of Track II dialogue with Pakistan” is “murky political atmospherics between the neighbours”. Note the ex-soldier’s unique attempt to equate his own country’s enterprise (of which he has been an integral part for close to four decades) as “murky” thereby putting India at par with a Pakistan that has been hostile ever since 22 October 1947 (Kashmir invasion forgotten?). Perhaps the enthusiasm of the new-found status of a Track II diplomat compels the veteran general to seek a “resolution of the problem of  Siachen” as he finds “exciting” a reported “peace overture by the Paki army chief Kayani”.
Post-retirement, the general’s attention appears to have diverted from India’s security to economics as he feels that “for India the estimated annual financial burden of approximately Rs 1000 crore to maintain the desired force levels at Siachen is avoidable”. He refers to it as the “Siachen dispute”.
Understandably, both ex-servicemen are under a magnetic and mesmerizing effect of Aman ki asha (Hope for Peace) slogan of a group of people who have taken recourse to a “trust-development, trade, migration, visa, tourism, commerce and people-to-people contact” with a country which is being eschewed by the world for being the global factory of jihad, terrorism and fundamentalism.
One, however, is not surprised, being a follower of the forces of Indian history and the pathetic (should one say sympathetic!) record of the geographical politico-military history to guard and defend its western and north-western border from Alexander (327 B.C) to Kargil (1999 A.D) and beyond, an area where cross-border terrorists from Pakistan now have put Indian soldiers on tenterhooks.
In fact one is dismayed to find such an unusually high degree of pacifism and withdrawal in the post-retirement psyche of such senior and decorated soldiers of India. The retired officers need to be reminded that to suggest that Siachen is “strategically irrelevant” makes their views look “hollow and irrelevant” because after 35-38 years of practical wisdom on the hostile terrain their views matter for telling the truth and describing the reality with conviction. And not for parrotting the short-term political slogans at the behest of the country’s non-security amateurs.

In contrast with the views of the retired generals, the present Army chief, General Bikram Singh, appears crisp, focussed and clear about Siachen’s “strategic importance to India” as it is vital to hold on to current troop positions on the icy battlefield. General Singh is opposed to any troop withdrawal. “We must continue to hold” as Chinese soldiers continue to be “present in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.
The question, therefore, stands “settled”, albeit temporarily. It is temporary because the image of a pacific India’s vacillation and appeasement politics (which is already well known) will in future cost New Delhi dear. Indeed, border security management has been a case of chronic failure for the Indian ruling class as it has traditionally been adept in dealing with the subject in a cavalier manner. They need to be reminded that  security is not to be confused with, or confined to, the urban centres only.
The territory of India begins with the border and that cannot be left at the will and wishes of God Almighty alone. It hardly needs iteration that no nation in international relations (between sovereign states) can remain vacant or be left as “no-man’s-land” on the basis of “goodwill, good neighbourliness” or for the sake of “peace of our times” etc. The present standoff between Beijing and Tokyo around the remote, sparsely populated and tiny islands in East Asia or the Argentina-UK war over the Falkland Islands in 1982, more than 6000 miles away from London, are only two examples. The advocates of the “Siachen-withdrawal” may argue on the basis of “high altitude casualty” and the resultant “cost-push factor”. Such reasoning betrays a poor understanding of physical geography, geopolitics and the psyche of the hostile people operating around an eternally vulnerable and violent west and north-western frontier.
The psyche of an element of Indian dispensation should also be examined as it appears to play a vital role to re-shape Indian policy, unlike the days of the strategy-minded Indira Gandhi, arguably the main architect whose signal contribution in reshaping the contours of South Asia has not yet been fully understood, appreciated and appraised. In fact, one is alarmed over developments involving foreign affairs with little concern for India and Indians, entities on which rests the foundation, lives and livelihood of 1.2 billion people.
This brings us to the legal and constitutional obligations vis-a-vis the honest intent of India’s leadership to bring about a so-called solution of the Siachen “problem” which has often been referred to as “occupied” by India. Let us, therefore, examine Siachen through the prism of the Constitution and Parliament. For the information of those wanting to “bring down troops from Siachen and compromise on the question of “demilitarization”, Article 1(1) of the Constitution stipulates that “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States” and Jammu & Kashmir (within the territory of which Siachen falls) is one of the 28 states which constitute the “membership of the Union & the Territory of India”. Significantly, while defining the “name and territory of the Union”, Article 1(3)(c) clearly stipulates that “the territory of India shall comprise”, amongst other things, “such other territories as may be acquired”. This means that the Constitution is transparent about “acquisition” of “foreign territories”, should the situation so demand, thereby turning it into a “part of the territory of India” under Article 1(3)(c) and by law admitting into the Union under Article 2.
Since Jammu & Kashmir is a part of India, Siachen automatically becomes a part of the Union of India. Hence any reference to its being “occupied” by India would be void  ab initio. One has a simple question to ask. What is the official, legal and diplomatic stand of the Government of India regarding the cartography, political and physical maps and atlases of the world? Does the Government of India recognize or allow import or print of any map or atlas from any quarters with a “cartographic aggression or error pertaining to Jammu & Kashmir”? Has it ever tolerated any depiction thereof as a “divided territory”? Do the Customs officials  in charge of import of books (included in which were the iconic Encyclopedia Britannica) and maps through the various ports, airports and land stations allow, or have ever allowed and cleared, such distorted maps? Then why this sudden confusion and contradiction between theory (banning and seizing books/maps/atlas) and practice (proposed withdrawal of border guards from one’s own official territory and professed public/national/international policy)? No doubt Siachen is a high-altitude post; but that is what the army of a nation is maintained and meant for; to guard, to maintain eternal vigilance. That is the “price of liberty”, as succinctly expressed by the legendary Professor Harold Laski.
 Indian diplomats and politicians have been following policy of appeasement not only with China and Pakistan but even with our other neighbors.The reason for this is that Indian external affairs experts are following the policy followed by Pt Nehru while as PM who held the Foreign Affairs portfolio all along. He made blunders like referring the Kashmir issue to the UN and handing over Tibet to China on a platter without any quid pro quo!! It was beyond his imagination that in a real world there is a role for military in formulating external policies.This seems to have become a bible for External Affairs Ministry!!Unless this fixation is shed, India will keep following policy of appeasement. It is only the military which is highly professional and trained all along in evaluating security aspects.

Harbhajan Singh
Lt Gen

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