‘Trust but verify’ was the slogan with which the United States sought a deep-reaching arms control agreement with the erstwhile Soviet Union in the Reagan era. Trust is the commodity that is in short supply when it comes to relations between India and Pakistan, and it is the principal stumbling block in trying to resolve the problematic Siachen glacier issue. Both sides have agreed to demilitarise the glacier, which has, since 1984, had the dubious distinction of being the highest battleground in the world. They even worked out the zones to which their forces, currently in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation, will withdraw. What they have not been able to agree on is to authenticate, on a map, the positions they are withdrawing from. The Indian army feels this is vital, if it is to leave its positions on the Saltoro range that dominate Pakistani positions to its west. In the last 25 years, the army has expended enormous blood and treasure to retain those positions against determined Pakistani attacks.
The army’s view is that given the climate of mistrust between the two countries, a mutually-agreed record, of the positions the two armies will withdraw from, will act as a deterrent of sorts in case the Pakistani army decides to double-cross. This is not the usual kind of paranoid fantasy that security establishments tend to suffer. The Pakistani army has an inglorious record of trying to hoodwink its Indian counterparts for quite some time now. Most recently, in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf sought to justify the Pakistani incursion in Kargil on absolutely fictitious grounds that the Line of Control was not clearly delineated in the region. The facts were, of course, that the LoC had been very clearly determined by a joint Indo-Pakistan team in 1972 and authenticated on maps by senior military officers of both sides. In the face of such mendacity, is it any wonder that the Indian army wants to err on the side of caution?
The Siachen problem is not insurmountable. But Pakistan must provide a reasonable explanation as to why it is averse to having the current positions being recorded, prior to the withdrawal of the forces. In the meantime, both sides, of course, need to work on that other vital ingredient -- trust.