The Gyari incident is the single biggest peacetime loss of men for the Pakistan Army. The Pakistani media, both mainstream and what is now styled as social, is questioning the futility of this war. Since the avalanche struck the battalion headquarters of 6 NLI a day before President Zardari were to travel to India on a private visit — some commentators have now decided to put multiple official constructs on it — among the arguments supporting his decision to not postpone the visit despite the tragedy was the one that he could get a resolution from India on Siachen or at least get the process of withdrawal started!
These are generally good, pious sentiments. In a world of simple consciousness, before Man ate the Forbidden Fruit, there was no conflict. But Man has moved to the state of self-consciousness since then. He builds grandly, paints, creates music, pens poetry, organises societies, appropriates land, increases possessions and competes for them, accumulates wealth, creates laws, develops norms and, when necessary, kills or gets killed. All this and more he does because Man is the only animal with the desire and the capacity to create surplus, never satisfied with only meeting his basic needs. It is also this which, as Hegel argued, involves a competitive struggle for selfhood.
Man then, and all he does, individually and in a collection, is governed by the paradox. What makes him create Faberge eggs is also what makes him fight. In dealing with war, Romans got the paradox of strategy bang right with si vis pacem para bellum (if you want peace, prepare [for] war).
From this emerges the complexity that trounces simple, Garden-of-Eden-variety goodness. Forget interstate relations and ask policymakers the difficulty of formulating policies even within an in-group we now call a state. Step out of the in-group and deal with the out-groups and the degree of difficulty goes up many more notches.
The challenge then is to strive towards reducing conflicts while understanding clearly that reaching there is not always a function of nonviolence and peace. States move towards peace for any of the three reasons: one scores a clear, decisive victory; both have a negative incentive, i.e., the cost of conflict begins to get prohibitive; both have a positive incentive, i.e., the equalities of dividends of peace are so weighed in either’s favour that neither wants to disturb the balance.
Pious wishes have no place in this scheme. That’s the lesson of history.
Losing men is not easy. War is not a joke. Forget the violence generated by other weapons men have to face. Just the incoming rifle bullet with a muzzle velocity of 800-900 metres per second requires a heart that few are born with or can develop. Yet, collections develop interests, just like families, clans and tribes that go beyond individuals.
Back in July 2003, then Indian defence minister George Fernandes stood up in the Lok Sabha and informed the house that while India lost 527 soldiers in Kargil, it had lost 798 personnel during Ops Parakram and until 2003 without a single hot encounter with Pakistan, barring some artillery duels. Nearly 300 or so were killed just in mine laying and demining accidents.
Siachen is a conflict that should be resolved. Everyone says this. So why doesn’t it get resolved? Because the terms of resolution are disputed. The line in the 1972 agreement that beyond NJ9842 the LoC should continue “thence north to the glaciers” has been at the heart of the problem since India moved into the area in 1984 and occupied the higher peaks on the Saltoro Range.
For those who think and argue that India and Pakistan are fighting over a wasteland, I cannot do better than to produce a quote from Vikram Sood, a former RAW chief:
“The Indian Army climbed to the Saltoro Ridge in 1984 to cut off Pakistan’s plans [sic] to access beyond Saltoro to the Karakoram Pass. This would have enabled Pakistan access to Tibet and also threaten Ladakh. Pakistan and China would have access to each other through the Khunjerab Pass on the Karakoram Highway via Xinjiang and to Tibet through the Karakoram Pass. The Saltoro Ridge provided Indian forces with strategic heights looking into… Gilgit and Baltistan. Such an advantage must not be given up for some obscure short-term political gain without a document to establish one’s credentials (italics mine).”
As for the expenditure of both sides, while India’s is still way more than Pakistan’s, it is way less for it than what it initially was for two reasons: over the last 28 years, India has managed to create infrastructure and forward logistics points as well as acquired equipment that makes it much less hazardous (in relative terms) and costly for it to maintain troops in the area; secondly, with a booming economy, its cost has drastically come down in relative terms. Pakistan, which already had the advantage of interior lines because we occupied the lower heights of Saltoro and area west of the Saltoro range — blocking a potential Indian sweep towards our areas — has also reduced costs over 28 years. The ecological cost has steadily mounted of course.
Pakistan didn’t start this conflict. Pakistan has wanted to end it. A possible agreement is already there. The elephant in the room is the Indian army. It wants the Actual Ground Position Line marked and documented before it would withdraw. We cannot do it because we maintain that India aggressed and should not have been where it is. Agreeing to document the AGPL would amount to accepting India’s ingress. It would also mean that India could, whenever it so wished, move back in. Neither can we unilaterally withdraw and leave our areas, especially through a downward sweep, at the mercy of India’s intentions.
India has no incentive to withdraw and it is unlikely to, visits, private, state, and private-styled-state notwithstanding. Nor is Siachen the low-hanging fruit, as the Americanism goes, that can be picked before other issues are resolved. The desire for peace is commendable but it must be tempered with reality. Someday, when interdependencies are created, perhaps. A trade regime that can lead of investments has the potential to take the two sides there. That may just be the strategy of the indirect approach to ameliorate the overall situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.
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