Demilitarisation of Siachen

The Siachen conflict is one among the several territorial disputes between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had approved the occupation of the Saltoro Ridge, west of the Siachen Glacier, by the Indian Army in the summer of 1984, to pre-empt Pakistani plans to do the same. The Pakistani army hastily scrambled to dislodge the Indian troops, but were beaten back and had to be content with establishing its posts on the lower western slopes. The positions held by Indian and Pakistani troops on the Saltoro Ridge are called the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
For two decades the two armies fought at the world's highest battlefield, as they jockeyed for tactical advantage. Both suffered casualties—battle and medical—because of icy conditions and rarefied air at super-high altitudes, between 18,000 and 20,000 feet, which often caused pulmonary oedema and severe frostbite. In fact, medical casualties far outnumbered battle casualties. A mutually observed cease-fire is in place since November 25, 2003.
The stand-off between the countries began because the Cease Fire Line (CFL, Karachi Agreement, 1948) and then the Line of Control (LoC, Shimla Agreement, 1972) were demarcated only up to map the reference point, NJ 9842, and not up to the international boundary, as the glaciated area beyond this point was uninhabited. According to the Karachi Agreement, the CFL is deemed to extend ‘north to the glaciers'. Pakistan's demand is to extend the LoC beyond NJ 9842 in a straight line up to the Karakoram Pass, which lies in a north-easterly direction. India wants the LoC to be extended along the Saltoro Ridge, which is a natural geographical feature, and lies in the north-north western direction and is closer to the stipulation in the Karachi Agreement.
As the Siachen conflict imposed heavy costs on both sides, gradually it dawned on both the nations that they could resolve the issue only through negotiations. Both countries realised that demilitarisation of the Siachen conflict zone without prejudice to each other's claims should precede the negotiations for demarcating the LoC. The two sides came close to signing a demilitarisation agreement first in 1989 and then in 1993, but backed out at the last moment. Resolving the Siachen conflict is one of the issues in the resumed Composite Dialogue Process between the two countries, and several rounds of talks have been held at the level of defence secretaries.
The major area of disagreement is over authentication of the present deployment positions. India insists that the present positions along the AGPL should be authenticated by Pakistan, as a prelude to demilitarisation, so that there is a reference point in case the demilitarisation agreement is violated in the future. Pakistan disagrees on the grounds that authentication will legitimise ‘India's aggression and violation of the Shimla Agreement'.
At a Track-2 meeting held in September 2012, sponsored by the University of Ottawa and the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, the Pakistani side accepted the appointment of a joint commission to demarcate the LoC beyond NJ 9842, and agreed to record the present positions. They, however, demanded that demilitarisation should be an irreversible package deal to be executed within the agreed time frame. The Track-2 agreement has offered a pragmatic road map. It is up to the Union government to take forward the process of demilitarisation when the political conditions are appropriate. 
Kanwal is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of India-Pakistan Track-2 initiative on the Siachen Glacier.