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No cold comfort

The Indian Army is entitled to give its opinion on whether or not it should withdraw from the Siachen glacier.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2006 04:54 IST

The Indian Army is entitled to give its opinion on whether or not it should withdraw from the Siachen glacier. The government must consider these views with utmost seriousness since the army has paid a huge cost in terms of men and material to hold on to the icy heights. It must also take into account the views of other concerned parties such as the government of Jammu and Kashmir. But having done this, the responsibility for the final decision rests with the Union government, and the army’s job will be to follow orders, whatever they are.

The Siachen glacier problem is a true leftover of history. Both India and Pakistan simply forgot to delineate the Line of Control for 70-odd km of its northern extremity. The result was a bout of shadow-boxing with the use of mountaineering teams in the early Eighties and a showdown which India won when it pre-empted a Pakistani occupation of the glacier in March 1984. Since 1986, both countries have sought to settle the problem through dialogue. A lot has been written on how India resiled from an agreement to withdraw. In 1989 and 1992, India and Pakistan agreed to ‘work towards’ a comprehensive settlement. Pakistan saw this as a done deal while, as a matter of abundant caution, India wanted Pakistan to record the positions they would withdraw from, so as to rule out any temptation to cheat later. A reason for this was the vociferous, yet baseless, claim that the Pakistan army was in control of at least some part of the glacier. This has since been reinforced by the Pakistani claim during the 1999 Kargil war that the established Line of Control was hazy in that sector.

There is a kind of a chicken-and-egg situation here. While the Siachen withdrawal will do a great deal to promote India-Pakistan trust, it is lack of trust that prevents the agreements from being implemented. The government could consider a unilateral recording of positions on the glacier with GPS receivers, in the presence of neutral observers, and pulling back. Pakistan must be told in no uncertain terms that any violation of the agreement will have negative consequences for the larger India-Pakistan relationship. As for the strategic significance of the glacier, its only value is in denying Pakistan control of it.

First Published: Nov 14, 2006 04:54 IST