Politics of glacial graveyard

By K.N. Pandita,

Tragic death of 140 Pakistani soldiers who got eternally buried in the avalanche graveyard at Siachin reflects the horror of mounting military guard on the world’s highest battle field of nearly 5400 meters above sea level.

There is hardly a day when a couple of Indian or Pakistan soldiers guarding the treacherous heights of Siachin do not get killed not by enemy fire but by the murderous blizzards over the Himalayan scalp with mind-boggling speed of over 300 kms per hour. Pakistan COAS Kayani visited the site of the graveyard, found in person absolute helplessness of mortals in retrieving the dead bodies despite offer of all possible rescue operation by the Indian counterpart. He has suggested demilitarization and withdrawal of troops by both countries.   

Prior to him Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan President also hinted at a re-think about the continuance of mounted vigil atop Siachin where military posts of three countries meet. There are others in Pakistan who have spoken about the madness of troop deployment at a place where death stands with yawning jaw to devour the guardsmen. Mian Nawaz Sharief, the former Prime Minister, has advised home authorities to work towards demilitarization of the glacial site.

More than a dozen talks exclusively restricted to Siachin demilitarization have taken place over the years between the two countries so long at loggerheads but without any sign of defreeze. There is the intention and the urge to demilitarize the abjectly uninhabited and desolate heights but then there is the ego and the suspicion combined with much hyped strategic interests that elude a mutually accepted solution. Both sides realize that to be there on the glacial graveyard is madness. Yet they pose to have a method in madness. The point of divergence is this. Pakistan wants that both sides abandon their posts at the treacherous heights and having done that, withdraw from the entire ridge area and leave the area as something like no-man’s land. India takes the position that the present position on the glacial posts should be recognized and endorsed not only by the two sides but also with an international body as facilitator of negotiated settlement.

The flaw in Pakistan’s stand from India point of view is that if there is no formal recognition and inscription of present position, and the posts are left vacant, there is every possibility that either Pakistan or China would take the time by forelock and occupy the posts. If that happens it will be difficult rather impossible for Indian troops to eject illegal occupation and restore the position.

Pakistan’s argument is that India pre-empted Pakistan’s designs in 1984 and “illegally occupied” the glacial sites against the spirit of Shimla Agreement.
But the fact is that in the Shimla Agreement, the line beyond Soltoro was left un-demarcated and hence no-man’s land. By insisting on simple demilitarization without conditionalities means that Pakistan wants to reserve the right to strike and occupy the posts vacated by India. One who is in control of Siachin is also in control of strategic link to China.

India has reasons to doubt the intentions of Pakistan Army because it has been trying to create trouble now and then just to test India’s patience or ability to defend her farthest and highest point on north-eastern border. Not only that, the Kargil misadventure of Pervez Musharraf was specifically undertaken to dislodge India from Siachin and thus gain access to the strategic watershed lying beyond the glacier with links to China. Incidentally Pervez Musharraf had mostly deployed the armed legions of Lashkar-e Taiyyba with a sprinkling of some tacticians from Pakistan Army. The personnel of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry were also deployed in Kargil war to give it the cover of so-called “freedom fighters of Kashmir”.

Pakistan has the urgency to inch towards demilitarization of Siachin. General Kayani is faced with the wrath and displeasure of the families, kith and well wishers of the buried-alive soldiers in the glacial graveyard. Resentment is bound to mount as days pass by and internal crisis deepens further. Secondly, nearly three lakh Pakistani soldiers are engaged in fighting the PTT in the Frontier and Waziristan. Each day records dozens of killing on either side with no signs of an end to hostilities. Political dissent in Baluchistan is on the rise and sectarian clashes in Karachi and other parts of the country show no relent. To meet all these challenges, Pakistan needs enhanced security bandobast. Therefore she wants disengagement of troops on eastern front.
Siachin demilitarization does not directly and necessarily jeopardize security of more strategic areas meaning eastern border of West Punjab. Pakistan can try to convince India that India’s solid contribution to curbing the rising graph of PTT terror in Pakistan would be to let her disengage substantial force from Siachin for tactical re-deployment against the PTT. It could even solicit American role in eliciting the concession from Indians in Siachin. However, the US is aware of cast iron nationalism of the present Indian COAS, General V.K. Singh, and, as such, may not vouch for a commitment of sorts. But the General will be laying down office next month, and uncertainties dogging policy planners in North Block could take any unpredictable direction.

We cannot rule out the role of China in these efforts even though known for its subtleties. Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan region and her covetous looks at Sino-Indian border in eastern Ladakh are severely hampered by India sitting atop the heights of Siachin. Dislodging India from Siachin may be prompted more by China than Pakistan when looked from the prism of regional strategies.

It is obvious that India cannot lower the guard over Siachin though, of course, in terms of severe drain on men, material and expenditures, this white carnivorous glacier will continue to take the toll of two sub-continental nations. The key to the resolution of Siachin lies in Pakistan going by her own logic of things and not trying to hoodwink India by rattling the made-in China saber.

Comments are closed.