New Delhi: India and Pakistan in the past have held 12 rounds of talks without solving the issues related to demilitarisation of Siachen. The main issue that prevented an agreement in the last rounds was that Pakistan did not agree to authentication of the present positions of troops of both the sides on the ground. Pakistan did not want to officially acknowledge the existing positions of India or Pakistani troops for some dubious reasons. India demands authentication so that Pakistan cannot claim any time in future that certain areas were always in its possession to justify new claims.
The forthcoming round of talks with Pakistan will bring problem Siachen to limelight once again. We should go a step further in these talks instead of seeking a temporary solution of withdrawal of troops of both countries from Siachen, we should insist on finally deciding what would be the alignment of line of control if extended on the ground beyond Pt 9842 where it now terminates -the Shimla Agreement said that beyond Pt 9842 line will be deemed to run North to Northern glaciers till the borders.
The line was not marked on any map since the area could not be surveyed by any easy means available at that point of time. The dispute arose when it was discovered that Pakistani maps showed the imaginary line beyond Pt 8942 running northeast to Karakoram pass and that Pakistan was permitting foreign mountaineering expeditions through this area.
The Pakistani claim line was based on some World War Two American maps meant to guide their aircraft carrying supplies to China, across the Himalayan-Karakoram hump, an alignment that enabled Pakistan to claim the entire Siachen glacier region. It is obvious the main dispute can be finally settled only once the alignment of LoC beyond Pt 9842 is finalised, vacation of Soltoro Ridge cannot be considered a final solution of the problem.
India occupied more than 3,000 km of new territory in a swift operation that surprised the Pakistani forces in Siachen in 1984. India presently has complete control over all of the 80 kilometres or so long Siachen Glacier and as well as the three main passes on the Saltoro Ridge, Sia La, Bilafond La, and Gyong La overlooking the glacier. Pakistan only controls the glacial valleys below the Saltoro Ridge with no foothold on the Soltoro Ridge.
For Pakistan, surprise occupation of dominating heights of Siachen by India was great loss of face and the Pakistani army never forgot it. Pakistan troops made several attempts to dislodge Indian troops from the Saltoro ridge when general Musharraf was the in charge of this sector as a brigadier, but every time they were driven back with heavy losses.
Later as army chief, General Musharraf sent infiltrators across the LoC in Kargil in a bid to isolate and cut off Indian troops deployed in Siachen. This time though he surprised the Indian army but could not hold on to occupied positions because of a determined and spirited counter attack by Indian troops. Considering the past history we have to be extremely cautious before signing any treaty on demilitarization with Pakistan merely to earn its goodwill.
In case Pakistani Army occupies the Saltoro ridge in violation of the agreement any time in future it will not be possible to evict it without a large scale war. The deployment of combat troops by China in Gilgit- Baltistan region and the latest joint ventures between China and Pakistan in this area point towards long term joint Pakistan- China plan for this region.
Permanent military barracks and other military infrastructure are being constructed here for stationing additional Chinese troops. In this situation, we can no longer consider the demilitarisation of Siachen in isolation.
The current Pakistan army chief has for the first time shown interest in demilitarisation of Siachen glacier in the wake of the disastrous avalanche in which a very large number of Pakistani soldiers lost their lives. On our part, we should put certain preconditions for demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier, these may be as under:
• Reopening of the case against Hafiz Saeed for planning and executing terrorist attack on Mumbai.
• Moving out of Chinese combat troops from the entire disputed region of Gilgit-Baltistan.
• Termination of the lease reportedly given to China in Gilgit-Baltistan region.
If our troops are pulled out from the glacier region and its base areas it will provide a new link between China and Pakistan across the Karakoram Pass, it will also increase the danger of a surprise attack jointly by Pakistan and China to occupy this region and pose a direct threat to Leh. In these circumstances we cannot afford to vacate our positions from the Saltoro Ridge or its base areas unless the above named conditions are met. If the Chinese military build up continues in this region we will, on the other hand, need to strengthen the entire region to obviate the possibility of a surprise attack across this region.