BLOOD POL­I­TICS ON SI­ACHEN

Could PM gift away to Pak­istan what Army has won?

India Today - - FRONT PAGE - By Gau­rav C. Sawant and Shiv Aroor

On the morn­ing of May 2, 2012, of­fi­cers of the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions direc­torate in Army Head­quar­ters held a clas­si­fied brief­ing for mem­bers of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sory Board in Delhi. The pre­sen­ta­tion was on the strate­gic dis­ad­van­tages of de­mil­i­taris­ing Si­achen Glacier. Now, they want to brief the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Shivshankar Menon, and Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh.

The Army, guided by its chief Gen­eral V. K. Singh, has pressed the panic but­ton on Si­achen in the wake of the UPA Gov­ern­ment’s lat­est peace ini­tia­tive with Pak­istan. On April 30, De­fence Min­is­ter A. K. Antony told the Lok Sabha that the Gov­ern­ment was hold­ing mean­ing­ful di­a­logue with Pak­istan to de­mil­i­tarise the Si­achen Glacier. De­fence sec­re­taries of In­dia and Pak­istan will meet in Islamabad later this year to pre­pare the ground­work. The In­dian Army, which won the bat­tles for Si­achen, is de­ter­mined to pre­vent politi­cians from sur­ren­der­ing what sol­diers won through blood and sac­ri­fice.

Antony was, as usual, only fol­low­ing Man­mo­han’s peace script. Way back on June 13, 2005, ad­dress­ing the sol­diers at the Si­achen base camp, the Prime Min­is­ter had said: “Si­achen is called the high­est bat­tle­field, where liv­ing is very dif­fi­cult. Now the time has come that we make ef­forts that this is con­verted from a point of con­flict to the sym­bol of peace.” Sources in the Gov­ern­ment say the Prime Min­is­ter has en­dorsed the Si­achen talks on de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion. For him, they say, the world’s high­est bat­tle­field— and a snow­capped sym­bol of In­dian Army’s en­dur­ing sac­ri­fice— comes with­out the bag­gage of Jammu and Kash­mir and for­ward move­ment ( read de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion) would mean cre­at­ing the right at­mos­phere for talks de­railed by the 26/ 11 Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks. De­mil­i­tari­sa­tion is his CBM ( con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sure) of­fer to Pak­istan. Cyn­ics sug­gest that he, too, has be­come a vic­tim of the No­bel Peace Prize syn­drome, trapped by the de­sire of tem­po­rary per­sonal ap­plause at the cost of na­tional in­ter­ests. It is his ticket to his­tory.

Si­achen, 21,000 feet above sea level, is the world’s largest moun­tain glacier. Tem­per­a­ture plum­mets to mi­nus 50 de­grees centi­grade. But it is the In­dian Army’s per­ma­nent site of vigil. In 1984, In­dian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies pro­vided con­crete ev­i­dence about the Pak­istani Army’s plan to oc­cupy the Sal­toro Ridge which lines the south- west flank of the Si­achen Glacier. Pervez Mushar­raf was then the Skardu Brigade Com­man­der and the of­fi­cer in charge of the op­er­a­tions. On April 13, 1984, the In­dian Army launched the he­li­borne Op­er­a­tion Megh­doot. Moun­taineers of

the Ku­maon Reg­i­ment were dropped on the Sal­toro Ridge to oc­cupy the com­mand­ing peaks. Within 48 hours, the Pak­istan Army too launched an op­er­a­tion. Bat­tles were fought in ex­treme high al­ti­tude and cold cli­mate but the first oc­cu­piers re­tained the edge. It is this ad­van­tage the In­dian Army is just not pre­pared to sur­ren­der on a plat­ter to Pak­istan. The cost of main­tain­ing troops there for In­dia is roughly Rs 5 crore a day. The mer­ci­less peaks have taken a heavy and con­stant hu­man toll. Pak­istan mil­i­tary spokesman Maj- Gen Athar Ab­bas told The New York Times on April 14 that about 3,000 Pak­istani sol­diers have died in Si­achen since 1984. And about 90 per cent of them from weather- re­lated causes. On April 18, Pak­istan’s Army Chief Gen­eral Ash­faq Pervez Kayani, pained by the death of 140 Pak­istani sol­diers in an avalanche at Gyari base, spoke of the need to solve the out­stand­ing dis­pute. “Both coun­tries should sit to­gether to re­solve all the is­sues, in­clud­ing Si­achen,” he said. “Pak­istan de­ployed its forces on the Si­achen Glacier in re­sponse to the In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion of a part of the glacier. The sol­diers are do­ing their duty to de­fend the coun­try and it is for the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to find a so­lu­tion,” he added.

The tragedy has changed po­lit­i­cal hearts in Pak­istan. For­mer prime min- is­ter Nawaz Sharif spoke of the need for Pak­istan uni­lat­er­ally with­draw­ing from Si­achen. “Let’s not make it a mat­ter of ego. Pak­istan should take the ini­tia­tive,” Sharif told re­porters at the Skardu air­port on April 17 af­ter vis­it­ing the avalanche site. But ground sen­ti­ment was still strong enough to force Sharif to deny the state­ment. Prime min­is­ter- in­wait­ing and Pak­istan Tehreek- e- In­saf leader Im­ran Khan told IN­DIA TO­DAY: “Pak­istan and In­dia should si­mul­ta­ne­ously with­draw troops from Si­achen.”

Such sen­tences were mu­sic to Man­mo­han’s Delhi. Min­is­ter of State for De­fence M. M. Pal­lam Raju was quick to wel­come Kayani’s state­ment. Sud­denly, the Prime Min­is­ter’s de­sire to con­vert Si­achen into a moun­tain of peace got fresh im­pe­tus from across the bor­der. Twelve rounds of talks have al­ready been held be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan on Si­achen, with no sub­stan­tive head­way. Pak­istan re­fuses to rat­ify the Ac­tual Ground Po­si­tion Line ( AGPL) be­cause that will prove to its peo­ple that its army was never on the Si­achen Glacier. The In­dian Army is on the Sal­toro Ridge and Pak­istan is at least two to seven kilo­me­tres from the glacier. But sources in the Gov­ern­ment say the Prime Min­is­ter is con­fi­dent of over­com­ing the hur­dles on the road to de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion.

Since 1984, the two coun­tries have been jock­ey­ing for the heights. Mushar­raf mounted an op­er­a­tion in Kargil in 1999 to avenge Si­achen but failed, suf­fer­ing over 700 ca­su­al­ties. There was a cease­fire dur­ing Ramzan in 2003, which con­tin­ues. Pak­istan has tried des­per­ately to force In­dia out, and failed mil­i­tar­ily. It now wants to win through di­plo­macy what it could not do on the bat­tle­field.

The sta­tus quo, In­dia be­lieves, is bleed­ing Pak­istan more. For the In­dian Army, Si­achen is not ne­go­tiable. “There is no rea­son for with­drawal from Si­achen at this stage. Both tac­ti­cally and strate­gi­cally, hold­ing those com­mand­ing heights is to In­dia’s ad­van­tage. Pak­istan has given no rea­son for In­dia to trust it. The chief ( V. K. Singh) is very clear in his mind. If or­dered to with­draw troops, he would seek an or­der in writ­ing and give his opin­ion that he op­poses with­drawal in na­tional in­ter­est in writ­ing. Af­ter that, it is the Prime

“GEN V. K. SINGH IS CLEAR. IF OR­DERED TO WITH­DRAW TROOPS, HE

WOULD SEEK AN OR­DER IN WRIT­ING AND GIVE AN OPIN­ION OP­POS­ING WITH­DRAWAL IN WRIT­ING,” SAYS AN ARMYSOURCE.

Min­is­ter’s decision,” a highly placed source in Army Head­quar­ters said. When for­mer for­mer chief of Army staff Gen J. J. Singh came un­der pres­sure to ac­cept with­drawal from Si­achen, he went public say­ing it was not in na­tional in­ter­est, sources said. “The present chief will not go public but at the same time he will not let na­tional in­ter­est be com­pro­mised at the al­tar of po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship,” the source added.

In the wake of the Prime Min­is­ter’s peace over­drive, the Army, through its re­tired gen­er­als, is try­ing to cre­ate aware­ness about the ground re­al­i­ties and the need to hold on to the Sal­toro Ridge. The Army is draw­ing a laun­dry list of Pak­istan’s de­ceit since 1947 and will share it with “vet­er­ans” to “ed­u­cate the coun­try”. “Pak­istan has vi­o­lated ev­ery writ­ten agree­ment and ver­bal com­mit­ment since 1947. Why does our Prime Min­is­ter want to close his eyes to hard facts and trust Pak­istan blindly?” asks Lt- Gen Ravi Sawh­ney, for­mer di­rec­tor- gen­eral of Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence. “What are the guar­an­tees that Pak­istan will not oc­cupy the heights va­cated by In­dia? Months af­ter the Lahore peace process in Fe­bru­ary 1999, the Pak­istan Army vi­o­lated the Line of Con­trol and oc­cu­pied sev­eral In­dian posts in Kargil. And the Kargil in­tru­sion was the vi­o­la­tion of the Line of Con­trol signed and ver­i­fied by both armies and gov­ern­ments dur­ing the Shimla Agree­ment of 1972,” says Gen­eral Ved Prakash Ma­lik, for­mer chief of army staff.

The strate­gic com­mu­nity is op­posed to the In­dian Gov­ern­ment’s piece­meal ap­proach to peace. They want Pak­istan to stop in­fil­tra­tion, close down ter­ror camps, crack down on ter­ror­ist groups hos­tile to In­dia on their soil be­fore there is for­ward move­ment on Si­achen. In­dia has suf­fered ma­jor ca­su­al­ties on the glacier. Gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics for the past 10 years re­veal that the Army suf­fered 204 ca­su­al­ties in 2000 in Si­achen. It came down to 198 in 2001, 201 in 2002, 187 in 2003, 23 in 2004 ( af­ter the Ramzan cease­fire) and just two in 2005. De­fence Min­is­ter Antony told Lok Sabha that the ca­sual- ties in 2011 were 26. “The Army is well de­ployed in the glacier. Its ca­su­al­ties are low and troops as com­fort­able as the sit­u­a­tion per­mits. Pak­istan, on the other hand, is in dire straits. Its troops re­sent be­ing in those in­hos­pitable con­di­tions and this de­ploy­ment is hurt­ing Pak­istan. Should it deem fit, it can with­draw uni­lat­er­ally. In­dia will not move for­ward,” says Maj- Gen G. D. Bak­shi, for­mer di­vi­sion com­man­der and de­fence an­a­lyst.

“For In­dia, the core con­cern is Pak­istan- spon­sored ter­ror. Has Pak­istan closed the ter­ror fac­to­ries? Has it ar­rested Ja­maat- ud- Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed or Da­wood Ibrahim? Has Pak­istan closed down the mints that print fake In­dian cur­rency notes? Prime Min­is­ter Singh can­not com­pel

the Army to with­draw from com­mand­ing heights based on empty, mean­ing­less words not backed by ac­tion,” cau­tions Ajit Do­val, for­mer di­rec­tor, In­tel­li­gence Bureau.

The strate­gic com­mu­nity calls Man­mo­han Singh’s Si­achen gam­ble “strate­gic hara- kiri”. Why is Pak­istan des­per­ate for In­dia to with­draw, asks Lt- Gen Sawh­ney. “Be­cause the In­dian Army is strate­gi­cally de­ployed to over­look and— should the need arise— in­ter­ject the Pak­istan- China axis in the North­ern Ar­eas. Hold­ing Sal­toro Ridge is also im­por­tant to block routes of ingress in the Ladakh and Kargil sec­tors. It forms a part of for­ward de­fence. The cost of with­drawal and re­de­ploy­ment would be higher than stay­ing where we are,” he says.

The Army has pre­pared a de­tailed pre­sen­ta­tion for the Gov­ern­ment on why In­dia should not de­mil­i­tarise the Si­achen Glacier.

In­dian Army is de­vel­oped on comma- nd­ing heights, cru­cial for moun­tain war­fare.

From its po­si­tion on the Sal­toro Ridge, In­dian Army can mon­i­tor the grow­ing Pak­istan- China move­ment. Pak­istan has re­port­edly handed over large parts of Gilgit and Baltistan to China for de­vel­op­ment. There are re­ports of thou­sands of Chi­nese troops and engineers

IN­DIAN SOL­DIERS PATROLNEAR THE SI­ACHEN GLACIER

MAN­MO­HAN SINGH ( RIGHT) AND YOUSUF RAZA­G­I­LANI IN SEOULON MARCH 27

GEN­ERAL ASH­FAQ PERVEZ KAYANI, Pak­istan Army Chief

Pak­istani sol­diers are do­ing their duty and it is for the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to find a so­lu­tion. Both coun­tries should sit to­gether to re­solve all the is­sues.

AP PHOTO

DE­FENCE MIN­IS­TER A. K. ANTONYATTHE SI­ACHEN WAR MEMORIALIN 2007

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