According to the joint statement issued at the end of the talks, the two sides agreed to "continue their discussions with a view to resolving the Siachen issue in a peaceful manner". Unless Pakistan reviews its rigid stand on delineation of the AGPL, the Siachen conflict will remain an intractable issue.
It is senseless to be fighting on Siachen, the world’s highest and coldest battlefield. No one understands this better than the Indian Army, which was, in 1984, asked to rush to the glacier by then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Despite several attempts to disengage from the icy heights and withdraw to agreed positions, as a prelude to the demilitarisation of the battle zone, India and Pakistan have failed to reach an agreement. The Pakistan army’s Incursion into Kargil district in 1999 has hardened the Indian stance further.
The genesis of the Siachen conflict lay in the inexplicable decision, after the 1971 war, of the Line of Control (LoC) demarcation committee to limit the demarcation of the LoC up to map reference NJ 9842. Beyond this point, the agreement stipulated that the LoC was to run “thence north to the glaciers’. Whether the Siachen area has major strategic significance is debatable. Considering the fact that Pakistan had, under an agreement of March 1963, illegally ceded to China 5,180 sq km of territory In Pakistan-occupied Kashmir just north of the Siachen, India’s defence policy planners should have been extremely careful during the LoC demarcation negotiations.
During the 1970s, Pakistani maps and several important world atlases started showing the LoC running in a northeasterly direction from NJ 9842 towards the Karakoram Pass. Soon, Pakistan turned its cartographic aggression into a material one by permitting mountaineering expeditions to go to the Siachen area. Its army followed up by sending reconnaissance patrols.
Based on inconclusive intelligence reports of the Pakistan army’s plan to surreptitiously capture the Siachen ridges during the summer months of 1984, the Indian army launched a pre-emptive push to the snowy wastes in April that year, and now physically holds most of the heights on the Saltoro Range west of Siachen Glacier, Including Indira Col, the highest point, and Sia La, Bilafond La and Gvyong La, the major passes.
Twenty years after the conflict began, neither side has been able to formulate a convincing rationale for fighting at heights of 18,000-20,000 feet — mostly higher than the Swiss Alps. It is well known that the Indian Army has suffered more casualties due to extreme cold climate and pulmonary oedema caused by a prolonged exposure to high altitude conditions than those resulting from enemy action.
The daily expenditure on maintaining troops at Siachen is approximately Rs 3 crore, as all supplies have to be transported by helicopters.
Hence, there is huge interest in India and Pakistan, and among the international community, for the demilitarisation of the Siachen area. The two countries have been discussing this thorny issue at least since June 1989, when both the armies are reported to have “agreed to redeploy to pre-Shimla positions”. However, the agreement floundered on the issue of joint inspections. In November 1992, the P V Narasimha Rao government is said to have backed out at the last minute due to lack of political consensus on the issue. In November 1998, Pakistan rejected India’s proposal to accept and authenticate present positions and allow bilateral monitoring after withdrawing troops.
the latest round of talks between the Indian and Pakistani defence secretaries was held on August 6, 2004. According to the joint statement issued at the end of the talks, the two sides agreed to “continue their discussions with a view to resolving the Siachen issue in a peaceful manner”.
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced at the Siachen Base Camp during a visit on August 13, 2004, that ‘military personnel (of the two countries) will meet to discuss the demilitarisation exercise and report back to their respective governments.” Referring to the issue of demarcation of the Actual Ground Position Line (AGIPL), he. said that “Delineation should first be done on the ground and then it should be reflected on the map so that any violation by either side could be proven.”
The greatest stumbling block to demilitarisation 1s Pakistan’s stubborn refusal to allow demarcation of the present positions on the ground and the map. From India’s point of view, that is the first step to eventual withdrawal of troops and demilitarisation. Unless Pakistan reviews its rigid stand on delineation of the AGPL, the Siachen conflict will remain an intractable issue. Only then can the two armies graduate to pulling out their troops. The natural sequence for a final settlement will be a permanent ceasefire, demarcation of the AGPL on both ground and map, an implementable joint verification agreement, redeployment to mutually agreed positions and, finally, an agreement to resolve the dispute.