The Siachen issue

Published: March 12, 2012

The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air-vice marshal

Somewhere in 1984, India did the ‘Kargil in reverse’ on Pakistan. Till then, Siachen had remained an undemarcated region because of its impassibility and the Line of Control (LOC) stopped considerably short. Most mountaineering expeditions to the region were routed through the Pakistani territories. Fearful that Pakistan might move into the area and occupy some vantage peaks, India pre-empted to do exactly the same and set into place the longest conflict at the highest altitudes in the history of warfare. Trust South Asia to indulge in platitudes of unmatchable quality even when fighting wars. The rest, as they say, is history.

While Pakistan has maintained that the natural boundary, or the ceasefire line — subsequently renamed the LOC — must go North-East to the Karakorum Pass from the point where the current demarcation ends (MJ9842), India, on the other hand, had held that the line travelled vertically North from that point. India’s claim would have placed the Karakorum Pass just across from the Indian controlled areas; an eventuality both China and Pakistan would resist. The 1972 Simla Agreement merely located the boundary ‘thence north to the glaciers’. But then, India moved to annex the series of peaks along the Saltoro Ridge, which travels exactly North-West eating further into 3,000 Square kilometres (Kms) of the Pakistani territory.

Pakistan, holding heights lower than those in possession of India, tried a few times to dislodge the Indians but found the going heavy. Both sides now remain entrenched into hardened bunkers, physically and mentally. The area is in the phase of strategic and tactical stagnation, with the 70 Kms long glacier under the arrogated control of India. Where man or beast feared to tread, there are now oil pipelines and logistics tracks that criss-cross the region.

Consider the consequences: as the glacial melt advances under the weight of the two armies occupying those heights, there is an established danger of both India and Pakistan rapidly galloping towards the ignominy of water-stressed nations. The existing per capita per annum water availability in Pakistan is only 1,200 cubic meters, while that for India is 1,700 cubic meters; below 1,000 cubic meters and the categorisation changes to being water-stressed. Water-stressed societies lead to enhanced poverty, disease, malnutrition and are forced into mass migrations. This creates societal instabilities which no force is able to hold against. Strife and war ensues. We need to reclaim the glaciers from the armies to restore their status as the water reservoirs of the river systems of both India and Pakistan. These river systems sustain life in South Asia as most habitations exist around these water systems or their extended distributaries.

This is then what the Bangkok meet agreed on: there is little strategic significance of the Siachen region (indeed the significance lies in the socioeconomic domain of a shared resource); without prejudice to each country’s territorial claims in the area, and without diluting in any manner their stated positions, the two sides recommend to their officialdom a joint recording of the respective force positions along the Saltoro Ridge and those occupied by Pakistan below that ridge and exchange such records. Subsequently, the region must be demilitarised under a verifiable regime and reverted to its status of 1984-ante. Even if other more enterprising initiatives as turning the glacier into a ‘peace park’ do not materialise — and those shouldn’t because we need to save this all-important-feeder for our water needs from any human intervention — there should be joint monitoring and responsibility for securing the glaciers in the North. This actually is a much broader compulsion given the vulnerability of sizeable chunks of Indian and Pakistani population centres to the sustenance of the Indus River Basin.

In the last round of official discussions between the two sides, there reportedly has been a slight regression in the Indian position. If earlier India insisted on authenticating the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), their revised stance is to convert the AGPL into an extended LOC. This is India’s maximalist position. A negotiated settlement in the longer term interest of saving the two societies from turmoil will indeed be via media. The group’s recommendations based on a common understanding of the underlying determinants and vulnerabilities suggest that via media. The Pakistanis pointed to an implicit authentication of the AGPL when positions are recorded and exchanged.

The emphasis needs to be on finding work around methodologies to obviate irritable protractions. Also, common resource needs to be jointly protected and cared for. It is time to change the way we think.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2012.

Reader Comments (51)

  • John B
    Mar 13, 2012 - 12:15AM

    A well articulated parallel thinking. The reservoir of both nations prosperity is on the Himalayas and military posts are only temporary solutions until the meeting of minds take place.

    PAK claims on the Siachen is also ill defined based on old US cartography and India position is also based on ill demarcated boundary lines. PAK donation of part of the Kashmir territory to China complicated the matter, to say the least.

    There are ample precedence in the world on the management of common reservoir, and the great lakes treaty between US states and Canada is a good example. For the system to work however, the common entity should be free of political influence, managed by scientific panel of experts, must be accepted by both sides without any reservation.

    A treaty similar to Indus water treaty is a good start, but if PAK really wants to move on her long term concern, she has to yield it to India as the burden of adherence will be on India’s shoulder. PAK domestic politics is not in her favor to take the lead.

    A clearly defined boundary alone is not going to the solve the problem, since what happens in one side also affects the other.

    Recommend

  • Cosmo
    Mar 13, 2012 - 12:34AM

    “Fearful that Pakistan might move into the area and occupy some vantage peaks, India pre-empted to do exactly the same and set into place the longest conflict at the highest altitudes in the history of warfare.”

    So why have you not elaborated on why and what kind of fear did India actually had? Siachen is still quoted as one of the marvels of intelligence gathering by any country. Indian intelligence sniffed in advance the Pakistani preparation towards capturing Siachen, based on Pakistans commercial deal to obtain high altitude war gears. So what say now, was that intelligence no correct?
    I know this cant be refuted as this event is documented in detail by various local and foreign sources.

    I ask what was the imminent danger to Pakistan before it took on Kargil operation? Mushy did a major back stabbing after Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • let there be peace
    Mar 13, 2012 - 12:35AM

    many countries depend on oil from Arab countries. should Arabia be jointly owned by these outside countries ? I don’t see any other argument in Pakistan’s (i.e. self proclaimed ‘outsiders’) favour in this article.

    Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 13, 2012 - 12:40AM

    So Siachen justified the disaster in Kargil? Was that pay-back time?

    How many brave fighting men did you sacrifice there? I heard a figure of some 4,000 that were left behind and India returned them to us in body-bags.

    I don’t know if ANYONE made it back from Kargil but if they did I thought the motto was: “never leave your fallen comrade behind”.

    Sorry. i know this is not about Kargil — which I hope you will talk about some day even though you are an AVM. But that might be a good thing as an “outsider” and I would value your comment.

    Forget about Mush being charged with the murder of Bugti and BB. He should be charged with the slaughter of our brave men in Kargil.

    Even a dumbo like me when it comes to war strategy knows that any “plan” must have an exit!?

    Recommend

  • fahim
    Mar 13, 2012 - 12:50AM

    Every country has the right to play according to their own national interest… India is doing the same. China is equally building massive dams on Indian and Bangladesh rivers, and spoiling the mountains in Tibet. I think the fault is still with us, since our maverick leaders in past has played so many misadventures and started conflicts by making first provocative move, no one trusts Pak today. Forget India, even Afghan, Iran, Saudi, US and china doesnt trust us and on our international commitments. Unless we improve our credibility, we are not in a position to ask others believe us.

    Recommend

  • Babloo
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:41AM

    I am pleasantly surprised at the writers views. Regarding Siachen, what he is advocating , “authentication of Indian position in Siachen by Pakistan” , has been India’s position for last 25 years on Siachen. India wont vacate them until Pakistan acknowledges Indian control of them and implicitly agrees to not violate that. Its great to see Mr Shahzad, sees the logic and rational of de-militarizing Siachen.
    However, Mr Shahzad is wilfully wrong in trying to equate Kargil with Siachen. In Kargil, Pakistan violated the Simla accord and the agreed LoC to occupy Indian territory , which Indian army subsequently liberated. In Siachen, India occupied a territory , which was unmarked and both sides have different interpretaions.

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Mar 13, 2012 - 3:01AM

    Are we finally admitting the fact that after Gen. Ayub surrendered 3 rivers to India (Sindh Tas agreement) another Gen Zia surrendered yet another source of water to India?

    Recommend

  • Mahinder Singh
    Mar 13, 2012 - 3:18AM

    The Siachen victory should be solely attributed to RAW. Kudos to them.

    Recommend

  • MIlesToGo
    Mar 13, 2012 - 3:57AM

    Kasabs are more scary then water shortage.

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Mar 13, 2012 - 4:31AM

    @Author
    Saner voices like yours deserve an audience on both sides of the divide.

    Recommend

  • Hindi hain hum
    Mar 13, 2012 - 6:59AM

    The problem of reducing the stress on the glaciers is easily solved by Pakistan withdrawing its troops from the west of the glacier. Such a step would enable India to reduce its deployment forces to a minimal presence. There is no need to vacate the glacier. I’m sure given that Pakistanis are bleeding heart environmentalists as you represent them to be, they would be willing to do this for the good of the ecosystem that feeds the river systems. Go ahead — make your move.

    Recommend

  • harkol
    Mar 13, 2012 - 10:04AM

    Mahinder Singh: Siachen Victory?? Keeping our armed forced engaged in an unhospitable land for quarter a century for no practical gain is victory?

    Having seen the Himalayan glaciers and having travelled thru them I can empathise with our army men of the tough job of living and protecting those areas. Not even insects can survive there for long.

    There is no sense in Siachen glacier dispute. Both India & Pakistan should agree for Siachen to be left an buffer land that won’t be occupied by either and move on. In case Pakistan violates that agreement, then they can be punished just as they were in Kargil. World won’t look too kindly upon Pakistan if it tries another Kargil.

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 13, 2012 - 10:17AM

    Take the glacier back from India.
    as its belongs to Pakistan
    Pakistan Zindabad!

    Recommend

  • Feroz
    Mar 13, 2012 - 11:27AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    Ahmed Saheb, not only did Mush send Army regulars into Kargill, he deprived them of their dignity by derobing them of their uniform and calling them Mujahidin. This way they were robbed of the protection they were entitled to as soldiers if captured, under the Geneva Convention. When India wanted to return soldiers bodies he refused to accept them saying they are not Pakistani citizens. For that alone he should have been Court Martialed, but he went on to capture Power by overthrowing Democracy to much cheers.
    Pathetic !

    Recommend

  • Elhaan Khan
    Mar 13, 2012 - 11:30AM

    Another example of how our generals fail in every war with India! But still they want us to believe that we should remain a National Security state forever no matter if in the process we keep on losing our territory.Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 13, 2012 - 11:34AM

    @fahim:

    You hit the nail on the head!

    The reasons why no one trusts Pakistan are many, but mostly result from this very silly habit.

    1) Do something illegal or illogical (Kargil etc.).
    2) Deny it outright (26/11) or suggest a conspiracy.
    3) Invent stories to justify actions,
    4) Look for an escape route if nothing works.
    5) Try bullying or terrorizing,.
    6) Look for help either far West or North,
    7) Suggest change of thinking as the last resort (see the last sentence of this article.)

    Interestingly the OBL matter was the only one where nothing worked.

    Recommend

  • Shyam
    Mar 13, 2012 - 12:21PM

    @Bilal
    Take the glacier back from India.

    How? With hot air and bunker bluster?

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:08PM

    @wonderer
    There are 15 succession movements in India today….before pointing finger look at yourself first.
    btw Pakistan didn’t kill Indra Gandhi,,,any idea who did that?

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:37PM

    @To all Indians
    FYI..Pakistan never posted army before 1985 in this region because of the climate, but the main question is that why Pakistan has never seriously tried to take back this glacier, again the answer is climate, Pakistan army maintain positions where temperature is much better where as Indian Army controls all high peaks and suffer high mortality rate just because of temperature.
    so kudos to RAW for finding a way of killing its own soldiers for no reason.

    Recommend

  • sadhu
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:50PM

    ‘It is time to change the way we think.’ What stops you or your country from that. Stop being a problem for every body else in the world. Behave well so that others can have some confidence in you and things can move forward. Show your good intentions by your acts and not by tongue. Nobody in the world, including China (Uighurs probelm), believes you.Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 13, 2012 - 2:17PM

    @Bilal:

    I seem to have annoyed you Sir, but I cannot see why. There is no connection between what I wrote and either “succession movements” or “Indira Gandhi”. I have expressed my point of view and you can counter it with yours.

    Can you tell me what it is that you did not like?

    If you were trying to prove that you know more about India than me, you may bee right, but if you were just in a mood to pick up a fight, I am sorry, you have chosen a wrong person.

    Do tell me what you think about my knowledge of Pakistan.

    Cheers!

    Recommend

  • Nazir Ahmed
    Mar 13, 2012 - 2:45PM

    It was all because of business. Going to the genesis of this human and ecological disaster an Indian tour operator asked his brother who was in charge of Indian Army High Altitude training facility at Leh, to find out if trekking expeditions could be sent to glacier area. This was sometimes in late seventies. The accommodating brother used Indian army trainees to traverse the area and one summer they landed south of Saltoro range into villages. It is then that Pakistan Army had to deploy troops there.
    There is urgent need to remove troops from the area as brought out by the author. I would suggest that in their joint discussions, punishment for the person(s) who caused this tragedy for personal interest should also be suggested. I would also recommend the same for those responsible for Kargil tragedy if and when some government in Pakistan is in a position to do so.

    Recommend

  • zoro
    Mar 13, 2012 - 2:55PM

    Finally the penny dropped !!!!..

    Recommend

  • Nationalist
    Mar 13, 2012 - 2:55PM

    7 pieces, listen India, mark these words..

    Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 13, 2012 - 3:01PM

    @Feroz:

    Thanks for the comment. I think you are absolutely right. That makes it all the more horrific and distasteful.

    And the man boasts about it in his lousy book.

    Recommend

  • Zeta
    Mar 13, 2012 - 4:00PM

    damn the comments sections is infested by the indian trolls.

    Recommend

  • Insaniyat
    Mar 13, 2012 - 7:41PM

    @Bilal

    There are 15 succession movements in India today….

    Perhaps you meant ‘Secessionist’ . And there too, you are way off the mark.According to the Pakistani experts on secessionist movements in India there were 25 secessionist movements in 2001 and India was to split into 26 pieces by 2003.

    before pointing finger look at yourself first.

    This is an excellent advice to follow and may be also to give.

    btw Pakistan didn’t kill Indra Gandhi,,,any idea who did that?

    Yes it was Beant Singh. Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh. While one got killed on the day of the incident itself, the other two were tried and sentenced.
    Any idea who killed Liaqat Ali Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto?
    Can you repeat your advice about ‘Fingers’ and ‘others’ and ‘self’ ,please?Recommend

  • Yash
    Mar 13, 2012 - 8:12PM

    @Bilal:

    i bet u would have been taking pride if ur army controlled the high peaks..whats ur prob??…werent u the one who commented to take the glacier back??…n now u give an excuse…climate..awsm..Recommend

  • Watty
    Mar 13, 2012 - 8:21PM

    The eventual solution to the Siachen issue can best be accomplished by reverting back to the 1947-ante status of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan regions, reunited and integrated with the vast diversity of a secular, democratic republic of India.

    Recommend

  • Wolf Pack
    Mar 13, 2012 - 8:51PM

    Job well done. A very good article…..

    Recommend

  • R. Rai
    Mar 13, 2012 - 8:52PM

    @Bilal:
    Go for it — you leed I be right behind you O brave one

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 14, 2012 - 4:27AM

    @Wolf Pack
    if you are really talking about solution then the Best solution so far in Kashmir history, is the one given by Musharraf to Indians which says “give us the valley which is basically the Muslim belt and keep the rest of Kashmir”.
    second option is the implementation of United Nation resolutions on Kashmir.

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 14, 2012 - 6:58AM

    @Bilal:

    Let us go for United Nation resolutions on Kashmir.

    As stipulated in the UN resolution Pakistan has to first vacate the part of J&K occupied by force after invasion of 1947/48..

    When the withdrawal of Pakistan is complete the plebiscite can be held.

    Ready?

    BTW you have yet to answer my earlier question. Please do it.

    Recommend

  • Mar 14, 2012 - 7:27AM

    @Bilal:
    Take the glacier back from India.
    as its belongs to Pakistan
    Pakistan Zindabad!

    BTW, Pakistan’s tried twice and failed. If you could have, you would have.

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 14, 2012 - 8:32AM

    @wonderer
    Could you copy paste here the 1948 UN resolution Here!

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 14, 2012 - 10:16AM

    @Bilal:

    Copy/paste not possible due to large size.

    For UN Security Council Resolution No.47. India-Pakistan Question, 21 Apr.1948 – Go to this link:

    http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/047/72/IMG/NR004772.pdf?OpenElement

    Then see Page 4, Para A, 1. (a) and (b).

    It will be better if you read the whole thing. You will then know how Pakistan tries to fool the world. Do let me know how you feel.

    Best of Luck!

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 14, 2012 - 11:16AM

    @Bilal:

    Just in case you can not open the link I gave you earlier, you can get the necessary information on the following site:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UnitedNationsSecurityCouncilResolution_47

    Please tell this to as many people as you can so that they also know the truth.

    Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Mar 14, 2012 - 11:32AM

    @Bilal:

    Take the glacier back from India. as
    its belongs to Pakistan Pakistan
    Zindabad!

    As Leonidas of Sparta once famously replied to Xerxes of Persia’s demand to surrender weapons,

    Come and get them!!

    Recommend

  • Mar 14, 2012 - 11:55AM

    India has a history of aggression. India has always been the first one to

    India attacked and illegally occupied Kashmir in 1948 (against the will of majority people)
    India attacked and illegally occupied Hyderabad, Junagadh and Munawder (against the wishes of the rulers)
    India attacked Pakistan on international border in 1965
    India instigated trouble in East Pakistan by financing, arming, training mukti bahini rebels. Infiltrating Indian army regulars into East Pakistan and killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians
    India attack on Siachen

    And the list goes on. Shame on you Indians.

    Recommend

  • Vasanth
    Mar 14, 2012 - 1:15PM

    @ Bilal
    There are 15 succession movements in India today….

    Yeah Completely agree with you…. Rahul Gandhi succeeding Sonia, Akilesh succeeding Mulayam, stalin and alagiri trying to succeed Karunanidhi, Son Badal succeeding father…ouf i never knew the count was fifteen

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 14, 2012 - 1:35PM

    @wonderer
    this is the list of All UN resolutions on Kashmir, you are quoting the very first one….
    http://www.kashmiri-cc.ca/un/

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 14, 2012 - 3:42PM

    @Bilal:

    So what? I know this.

    The information you wanted is there as I pointed out.

    Please read as many resolutions as you want, but remember one thing which no one in Pakistan talks about. Pakistan had sent forces into Kashmir, but called them tribals. Before the Plebiscite could be held, all Pakistanis had to get out. They did not. So, no plebiscite.

    Why keep on harping on self determination, and not talk of vacating aggression?

    The IN resolution is dead, and it was killed by Pakistan. Remember this.

    Recommend

  • Shyam
    Mar 14, 2012 - 5:08PM

    @BruteFart

    This is what your textbooks say so it must be true

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 14, 2012 - 6:15PM

    @wonderer
    read carefully all resolutions,
    @shyam
    and whatever you say is that really true……..?

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 15, 2012 - 4:39AM

    @Hindi hain hum
    Seriously…Pakistan don’t really want to control Siachen, otherwize Pakistan army will face same temperature which currently Indian Army is enjoying…

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 15, 2012 - 8:49AM

    @Bilal:

    Already read them. What is your point?

    Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Mar 15, 2012 - 10:54AM

    @wonderer:

    @Bilal:

    Already read them. What is your point?

    Well, it looks like @Bilal doesn’t have a point and probably doesn’t want to concede it to an unbeliever either. At the moment, he is trying to dance around till the moment passes.

    Feels a lot like Kashmiri freedom struggle if you ask me!

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 15, 2012 - 12:34PM

    @Yuri Kondratyuk:

    I think you have a point. Thanks!

    I still feel @Bilal: will accept the truth about the Kashmir problem, even if he does not say so on this blog.

    If only the Pakistani people were to accept the truth about the past, and also what is happening currently, it would be easy for them to accept a reasonable solution of the Kashmir problem. Otherwise I can only see a lot of angry and unhappy brainwashed people not knowing what is good for them.

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 16, 2012 - 8:24AM

    @wonderer
    you said that lets go with resolutions, so if you have read them, what do you think? do you Indian govt is ready to implement the resolutions?

    @Yuri Kondratyuk
    No one is trying to dance around, what do you know about Kashmir? first read the history of this disputed area claimed by China, Pakistan and India, and also what you are trying to prove btw?

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Mar 16, 2012 - 1:39PM

    @Bilal:

    Agreed. Let me know when Pakistan is willing to take the first step by vacating its aggression. Take the FIRST STEP, and the rest will follow.

    Recommend

  • Bilal
    Mar 16, 2012 - 5:07PM

    @Wonderer:
    you didn’t really read it, actually it says “India and Pakistan both should withdraw forces and hold a Plebiscite”.

    Recommend

More in Opinion