A low-risk option to test Pak army’s sincerity

EVER since General Kayani, the Pakistan Army Chief, made a statement seeking peaceful co-existence with India and pushed for the demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone, the commentary that has been published on the subject in India has been mostly negative. Some of the views are ultra-jingoistic and deserve to be discarded as there is no scope for jingoism in international negotiations. Other opposition to demilitarisation is primarily on two major issues: firstly, that the Pakistan Army cannot be trusted to honour the demilitarisation agreement; and, secondly, that China and Pakistan will gang up and join hands at Siachen and threaten Ladakh from the north.
Apparently, the finer nuances of the demilitarisation process have not been clearly understood. The demilitarisation agreement between India and Pakistan will be a legally binding international agreement. It will lay down a step-by-step process to turn the Siachen conflict zone into a demilitarised zone (DMZ). The first step will be authentication of the present deployment positions. This will be followed by disengagement from the AGPL and, finally, the movement of troops, guns and war-like stores to previously agreed positions. The step-by-step demilitarisation process will be mutually agreed by the two DGMOs and approved by the political authorities.
The demilitarisation agreement will be without prejudice to either country’s stated position on the extension of the Line of Control (LoC) beyond NJ9842. This reference on military maps is the point up to which the Cease-Fire Line was jointly demarcated under the Karachi Agreement of 1949 and the Shimla Agreement of 1972. In fact, a Joint Commission will be appointed to negotiate the extension of the LoC beyond NJ9842. This commission will begin its work simultaneously with the commencement of the process of demilitarisation. However, an agreement on the extension of the LoC beyond NJ9842 cannot be a prelude to the commencement of demilitarisation, as some analysts are suggesting. Such a condition, if imposed by India, will make demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone a non-starter and both sides will be forced to continue to maintain their present deployments with all the attendant costs.
As part of demilitarisation, the disengagement and redeployment of all military forces to agreed positions will be verified independently by national technical means (satellites, air photos and electronic surveillance) as well as physically through joint helicopter sorties. Subsequent monitoring of the DMZ will also be similarly undertaken. No military activity will be permitted in the DMZ. In addition to mutually agreed physical monitoring being conducted jointly with laid-down periodicity, both sides will have the right to conduct surprise inspections of suspected military movements. A joint monitoring centre (JMC) will be established. This could be set up near Chalunka, where the LoC passes over the Shyok river and road access is easily available. The JMC will be jointly manned by Indian and Pakistani personnel and will have communications with the controlling HQ on both sides. Updated satellite photos and streaming videos from helicopter and UAV sorties will also be regularly available. All joint verification and monitoring activities will be controlled from here.
As both verification and monitoring will be transparent joint activities, it will be ensured that the process of demilitarisation is completed to the mutual satisfaction of both India and Pakistan. Alleged violations of the demilitarisation agreement will be jointly verified. The demilitarisation agreement will contain a clause permitting both sides to take any action that is deemed appropriate, including the use of military means, in case the agreement is violated by the other side. Unauthorised military movement will not go unchallenged. The intruding personnel will be targeted by helicopter gunships and the fighter-ground attack aircraft of the Indian Air Force, as also by armed drones. In case any bunker that is vacated by Indian troops is occupied by the Pakistanis, it will be destroyed by using precision strike munitions. Under these circumstances, even if the Pakistan Army has intentions of attempting to occupy vacated Indian bunkers, it will not succeed in doing so.
Small enemy patrols intruding surreptitiously into the DMZ will not be able to survive beyond a few days in the high altitude wilderness. They will need sustained helicopter support for ammunition, rations and fuel for warming. Supply helicopters will be easily detected and shot down. Large-scale intrusions of platoon to company size will be neutralised by air-to-ground strikes by the IAF with quick reaction reserves - that will be maintained in a high state of operational readiness in Ladakh - being employed for ‘mopping up’ operations. Hence, it will be militarily impossible for Pakistan to ‘hand over’ portions of the DMZ to China or to gang up with that country to jointly threaten Ladakh. Those who are imagining such linkages are seeing phantoms and vastly overstating the threat.
The joint working group constituted to draw up a demilitarisation agreement should be headed jointly by the two DGMOs and their staff assisted by MoD officials and diplomats. They should meet at the Attari-Wagah border and prepare a draft demilitarisation agreement that addresses the apprehensions and concerns of both sides. The draft agreement should be thoroughly debated in both Parliaments and among civil society luminaries, including military veterans. Of course, it has to be remembered that it will be impossible to reach an agreement if all possible objections were to be removed first.
The demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone will not only act as a huge military-to-military confidence-building measure, but will also test the Pakistan Army’s sincerity and will be an opportunity for that army to prove that it has actually had a change of heart at the strategic level in wanting peace with India. It is a low-risk option to test whether the Pakistan Army can be trusted, and India must not lose the opportunity to do so. However, India must draw up a demilitarisation agreement that takes care of all political and military apprehensions and make it clear to the Pakistan leadership that no military violation will be tolerated.
The writer is a Delhi-based defence analyst.