Recent events have brought the Siachen dispute back in focus. These are the April 7 avalanche, which resulted in the tragic loss of 127 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians; the hyped luncheon meeting of our PM with Pak President Zardari on April 8; and the statement of General Kayani, the Pak Army Chief, on April 18 that the dispute needs to be resolved. Unfortunately, emotions predominate in all these events.
The facts first. In 1963, Pakistan had unilaterally, and illegally, conceded the Shaksgam area, north of Siachen, to China. In 1984, when the Pakistani Army was about to secure the area, the Indian Army pre-emptively occupied the Saltoro Ridge, which runs parallel to the length of the Siachen Glacier on its west. It has been called the Actual Ground Position Line 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.
In 1999, the Pakistani army’s attempt to secure Kargil was essentially to cut off our supply routes to Ladakh and secure Siachen. However, our troops again saved the day.
Let me now demolish some shibboleths bandied about by those bent on getting the Indian Army to vacate the area. First, the contention that Siachen and Saltoro have no value is patently wrong, as the area has great strategic importance at two levels. 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 Range and Pass under their control. It is only our occupation which has driven a wedge between the two. It would be a monumental folly if we now vacate these positions.
The second factor is the Shaksgam Valley. By our control of Saltoro and Siachen, we retain the option of negotiating with China over the Shaksgam Valley. The Pakistani stance that India is the aggressor, and should vacate the area, is a travesty of truth, as what our troops did in April 1984 was occupy our own areas; no border or line was crossed.
Third, unnecessary casualties are being incurred by both sides on account of the treacherous terrain and climate.
We seem to have fallen for the Pakistani ploy of looking at Siachen as a separate issue, unrelated to the LoC, when de facto it is an extension of the LoC. Pakistan’s compulsion must not translate into a sellout by India, for it will be an unmitigated disaster. After all, the trust deficit remains. Pakistan has taken no action on India’s concerns, like stopping support to Jihadi insurgents, punishing the guilty of the Mumbai mayhem and the sheltering of criminals such as Hafiz Saeed and others.