There are no two opinions about the need and desirability of peace between India and Pakistan. It is the attainment of this that is the problem. Different panels, groups and Track 2s and Track 3s have, over the years, discussed all that can be done to lead to peace and normalcy. But nothing substantial has emerged from such endless talks at various venues.
Invariably, the Siachen Glacier issue is cited as the one that is urgent, resolvable and doable as an important confidence building measure (CBM). If the two countries could unlock this then there would be a cascading effect on the relationship. The issue seems to have been discussed recently at one of the think-tank meetings where the main participants were from the armed forces of the two countries. A series of meetings had earlier been organised by the Atlantic Council of the US and the University of Ottawa. There are two documents doing the rounds. One on India-Pakistan Military CBMs and the other called the Siachen Proposals.
The documents read like an official agreement on India-Pakistan Military CBMs. True, there has been some forward movement and the list appears impressive as it discusses various military issues. But Saltoro is more than just a military issue. It is a strategic issue that involves various other matters. Here is why.
Earlier, in an article in this newspaper titled The Height of Folly on May 11, 2006, I had begun by saying “The story doing the rounds in Delhi is that in another exhibition of generosity, India is about to withdraw from the Saltoro Ridge (commonly referred to as the Siachen Glacier) in the interest of peace but without securing the country’s strategic interests.” One fears something similar is in the air once again.
There are some important questions we need to ask ourselves. Is the Saltoro Ridge not important in the context of a China-Pakistan collusion north of the Line of Control (LoC) and into the Karakoram Pass? If the Saltoro Ridge is part of territory that belongs to us as defined by the agreement that states the Cease-Fire Line (now LoC) runs north towards the glacier from point NJ9842, then what are we negotiating with Pakistan? Are we negotiating to demilitarise what is in our territory? Is this part of a general CBM to Pakistan? If so, what is it that Pakistan has done to give us comfort on terror, counterfeit currency and on handing over wanted terrorists? Where is the evidence of Pakistani goodwill and resolve on other issues? If the answer to the first three questions is yes and the remaining three is negative, then we have a problem.
As usual, the Indian side seems more willing to concede ground than the Pakistanis. This is because the Indian psyche seems to feel that adhering to the official position is following a hard line and there is need for independent approaches. Therefore, so goes this logic, there is need to be more accommodating to the Pakistani positions. While discussing the Military CBMs it is mentioned that there was an agreement on joint patrolling and non-opening of new posts. This is wonderful news, but what about the tunnels that might have been dug under the border fence? We discovered one, which does not mean there are not others along our long border or on the LoC.
As for Pakistani CBMs for India are concerned, trade concessions or visa concessions are not CBMs. This is being done by Pakistan for itself. There is a problem in granting India transit rights to Afghanistan or with the Urdu nomenclature of most-favoured nation (MFN).
The main CBM that India needs is with regard to terrorism. There has never been any forward movement on this. There has not been any move to even acknowledge the presence of Dawood Ibrahim whose daughter is married to the son of one of Pakistan’s most famous cricketers, Javed Miandad. Or Masood Azhar or any of those involved in the 26/11 Mumbai terror carnage. This, along with the issue of counterfeit currency emanating from Pakistan, was raised by one of the Indian participants, Mohan Guruswamy at one of the previous sittings. One understands that even the Indian contingent gave only half-hearted support to this demand. The irony is that we are preparing grounds for a climb down just four years after Mumbai 26/11 without any satisfaction on this issue.
The reference to the need to exchange advance intelligence and report movement of or sharing information on cross-border movement, sharing databases and so on are naive at best. Pakistan and India do not even agree on what is terrorism and who is a terrorist. Pakistan equates itself or has been allowed to equate itself with India as a victim of terrorism slurring over the reality that Pakistan is a victim of its own terrorism and India has been a victim of Pakistani terrorism.
Military CBMs may be essential but they cannot be the final word. There has to be strategic salience that encompasses the entire issue. The wording of the Siachen proposal is flawed when it describes Siachen as a “dispute”, and adds in bold italics “notwithstanding the claims of each country” and both sides agree to “withdraw from the conflict area while retaining the option of punitive action should the other side renege”.... Thus, we now have an acceptance that it is a dispute, a conflict zone and that each side can take punitive action. It is now a matter of time when this document will become the basis of future negotiations and mark our climbdown from these strategic heights.
Saltoro is strategically important for us and we need to put it on the table last after we have received satisfaction on vital security interests like terrorism. Exhibitions of intent rather than declaration of intent is needed.
Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing
The views expressed by the author are personal