The Indian cyber Gog and Magog tell us that India acted in Siachen because Pakistan had plans to occupy the area. Let me reconstruct the story from the account of Lt-Gen Dr M L Chibber (retd), GOC-in-C Northern Command in 1984.
1978, Gen Chibber is DMO: India notices that Pakistan is permitting mountaineering expeditions into the area. (NB: Pakistan had traditionally allowed expeditions west of the imaginary line that extended from NJ9842 “thence north to the glaciers”.)
“We sent a patrol next year and it was confirmed that Japanese expeditions had visited the Siachen Glacier. So routine patrolling started. Similarly routine protest notes used to be exchanged. The problem precipitated on 21st August 1983 when a protest note from Northern Sector Commander of Pakistan was handed over to his counterpart in Kargil stating that Line of Control joins with the Karakoram Pass, also that all the area West of this extended line belongs to Pakistan. When Army Headquarters saw this and also got information that Pakistan [sic] troops had occupied [sic] Bila Fond Pass, they ordered [the] Northern Command to prevent the occupation [sic] of the Glacier area by Pakistan during the mountaineering season in 1984 (italics mine).”
The italics show that Pakistan was not attempting to alter any ground reality. It was Pakistan’s clear understanding that the area, according to the 1972 delineation and demarcation of the LoC, belonged to her. It is a matter of record that all foreign expeditions coming into the area applied for permission from Islamabad, not New Delhi. Gen Chibber’s use of the word “occupation” for the deployment in Bilafond La was therefore inaccurate. That deployment was the result of Indian patrols that had begun to ingress in the area. Beyond this lies realpolitik. The best account of the run-up to the Siachen conflict is by General Jahandad Khan (Pakistan leadership challenges) and is fully corroborated by Gen Chibber (General Chibber spoke about it in May 2000 when he was visiting Pakistan. For his complete interview and detailed excerpt from Gen Khan’s book, see http://www.defencejournal.com/2000/june/interview.htm)
The initial deployment at Bilafond La was a 10-day sojourn by an SSG company which was asked to withdraw because the personnel had no equipment to survive when it began snowing in the first week of September. Indian troops, comprising the Ladakh Scouts, had camped in the Siachen area. Seeing Pakistani troops they “left their location in a great hurry abandoning all their rations and tentage”.
Increased Indian patrol activity led to meetings in the GHQ to decide the “plan of action for the summer of 1984 when the Indians were bound to come in greater numbers”. Gen Jahandad realised that “whoever succeeded in occupying the passes first” would be the winner because dislodging him would be almost impossible. As Corps Commander, his assessment to the GHQ was: “Next year (1984), India is most likely to pre-empt the occupation of the main passes of Baltoro Ridge with two-battalion strength for occupation and a third battalion as reserve. It would need another brigade to provide them with logistic support. Maximum helicopter force will have to be utilised for logistic support. Their air force will be available for air cover and also air drop of supplies/equipment.”
He estimated that Pakistan would require a “brigade group with a battalion plus to occupy these passes and the rest of the force to provide relief and logistic support. We would also need maximum porter force to carry supplies and ammunition from Goma to the glacier position. All our helicopters force, both Aloutte and Puma, will have to be mobilised for recce and logistic cover. The PAF has to stand-by to provide air cover. I had also cautioned GHQ that this operation will be very costly in logistic support. Our Military Intelligence must be alerted to keep us informed of all enemy movements beyond Leh to forestall their occupation of the glacier area.” However, at a meeting held in December 1983, General Ziaul Haq thought the operation would be on a limited scale. His assessment of both the “quantum of force required” and “the logistic problem of this operation” was incorrect. The Indians were quicker. We miscalculated the timing of the Indian ingress and also failed to notice a brigade-size movement from Leh in the second half of April 1984. By the time our troops arrived, the Indians had already occupied Gyong La in the south “strategically important because it could interfere with the enemy’s line of logistic support”.
Fact 1: India aggressed. Fact 2: We didn’t plan any presence until India began patrolling the area. Fact 3: Our intelligence failed and our deployment was late.
Lesson: lower the guard and be prepared to face the consequences.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2012.