IN­DIA CAN­NOT AF­FORD TO GIVE UP SI­ACHEN

Pak­istan is a se­rial vi­o­la­tor of bi­lat­eral agree­ments

India Today - - SATISH CHANDRA - Satish Chan­dra GUEST COL­UMN

Si­achen had no mil­i­tary pres­ence from ei­ther side till 1984 when In­dia, pre- empt­ing a Pak­istani move by 48 hours, oc­cu­pied the high ground in the area con­sti­tuted by the Sal­toro Ridge on the western wall of the 76- km- long glacier. The im­per­a­tives of ter­rain make it im­pos­si­ble for the other side to dis­lodge who­ever is in oc­cu­pa­tion of the Sal­toro Ridge through di­rect as­sault.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s visit to Pak­istan and the con­clu­sion of agree­ments with it, par­tic­u­larly on is­sues as sen­si­tive as Si­achen, would be un­wise un­til it gives us sat­is­fac­tion on ter­ror and aban­dons its in­im­i­cal ap­proach to­wards In­dia. Though the de­lin­eation of the 1949 Karachi Agree­ment Cease­fire Line and later the 1972 Simla Agree­ment LOC stopped short of the Si­achen area at point NJ9842, the def­i­ni­tion of the Line clearly placed this area on the In­dian side of the align­ment by use of the words “thence north to the glaciers” through NJ9842. Pak­istan projects the LOC as mov­ing not north to the glaciers but north- east to the Karako­ram pass.

Both In­dia and Pak­istan have, since the late 1980s, been ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the area and with­drawal of forces to spec­i­fied agreed po­si­tions. An agree­ment has, how­ever, proved elu­sive as Pak­istan has been un­will­ing to au­then­ti­cate the Ac­tual Ground Po­si­tion Line ( AGPL) which would de­tail the ex­ist­ing lo­ca­tion of the forces of the two sides in the area. Given Pak­istan’s pro­cliv­ity to vi­o­late its un­der­stand­ings with In­dia, it would be im­pru­dent for us to give up our in­sis­tence on Pak­istan’s au­then­ti­ca­tion of the AGPL. In­deed, some In­di­ans have ar­gued that apart from au­then­ti­ca­tion, strin­gent safe­guards, puni­tive clauses and guar­an­tees must also be in­cluded to ob­vi­ate the pos­si­bil- ity of Pak­istani per­fidy. There is sound logic for this ap­proach as Pak­istan’s lo­ca­tional ad­van­tage in the area would en­able its forces to seize a demil­i­tarised Sal­toro Ridge in just 48 hours, while this would take over a week for In­dian forces.

There is also a com­pelling case that the changed cir­cum­stances of the day de­mand that we aban­don the quest for an ac­cord on Si­achen. In this con­text, it may be re­called that when such an agree­ment was orig­i­nally mooted in the late 1980s, we were suf­fer­ing many ca­su­al­ties in the area which is no longer the case. Fur­ther­more, while we could, at that time, have ad­dressed Pak­istan’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the Sal­toro Ridge in vi­o­la­tion of an un­der­stand­ing with us by bring­ing to bear our su­pe­ri­or­ity in con­ven­tional arms else­where, the pre­vail­ing nu­cle­arised en­vi­ron­ment makes this far more dif­fi­cult to­day.

Above all, the strate­gic im­por­tance of the Sal­toro Ridge should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Fail­ure to do so will pre­vent us from dom­i­nat­ing the North­ern Ar­eas and the Shaks­gam Val­ley. Should Pak­istan oc­cupy the Sal­toro Ridge, it would lead to Sino- Pak link- ups north­wards to­wards the Shaks­gam Val­ley and east­wards to­wards the Karako­ram Pass as well as put in grave jeop­ardy our de­fence of the Shyok and Nubra val­leys.

In these cir­cum­stances, re­ports that our Army chief- des­ig­nate is ex­pected to en­dorse Man­mo­han Singh’s in­cli­na­tion to con­cede to Pak­istan’s de­mands are wor­ri­some. Fol­low­ing Asif Ali Zar­dari's re­cent visit to In­dia, a re­cip­ro­cal visit by Man­mo­han Singh in the next few months is a strong prob­a­bil­ity. In or­der to make the visit a “suc­cess”, a clutch of agree­ments would need to be signed. Si­achen is likely to be the cen­tre­piece. The writer is for­mer deputy

na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser

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