The Siachen Glacier dispute arises from a 1972 oversight that ignored the first 76 kms of the 740 km Line of Control (LoC) separating India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. After some shadow-boxing the two sides moved to occupy the glacier in 1984. India moved three months earlier and occupied the heights and when the Pakistani forces arrived in June, it was too late.
Agreements in 1989 and 1992 would have created a zone of disengagement in the region. But the process has been stuck because Pakistan does not want to authenticate the positions their forces occupy. Afraid of a Kargil-like move where Pakistanis disputed the LoC - even though it’s coordinates were jointly determined by surveyors of both sides - India is now balking. Can the Pakistanis be persuaded to accept the Sir Creek model and accept a joint survey to authenticate the positions of the two sides?
Lt Gen (Retd) VR Raghavan, who once commanded the Siachen forces and now heads Delhi Policy Group says that the two are different. "The Sir Creek process is to determine the geography of the area, while any Siachen survey would pinpoint military positions," he points out. Here, the Pakistanis would have a problem, because contrary to their public posture they are nowhere near the glacier. "They are at least 20 kms away [from the Saltoro ridge line], and that too as a crow flies, and their command locations even further off," he adds.
The India-Pakistan talks on a number of disputes are at the "give and take" stage. Whether the two countries are willing to actually lose ribbons of territory they are claiming in Siachen and Sir Creek is not clear. If India concedes the Pakistani position on Sir Creek, it could lose a strip of land of some 200 sq kms extent, in part because the Creek itself has shifted east in the past 80 years. But as Vice Admiral PJ Jacob points out, even "if we lose here we gain."
If India and Pakistan are able to work out their maritime boundary, they can stake a claim to extend their exclusive economic zone from the present 370 to 650 kms under a UN plan, adding tens of thousands of square kilometers to their respective exclusive economic zone. But they must do so by 2009 when the UN Convention on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) deadline ends, or else the area is open to exploitation by any party. The area is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits, but without a settled boundary, the two countries will not even be able to begin exploration.
Siachen, however, has become somewhat more complicated since the mid-1990s says Raghavan because Pakistan’s Kargil operation aimed at turning the Indian positions in Siachen has since ensured that the once "disconnected" dispute cannot be seen as an isolated problem.
It’s a resolution which must now fit into the larger India-Pakistan dispute settlement process, involving tradeoffs requiring the cessation of terrorism and the resolution of the larger Jammu and Kashmir question. In other words, to give any concession, India must feel it is getting an adequate payoff from withdrawing from it’s militarily impregnable positions.