Siachen Surrender: An Expensive Affair
Without a national security strategy we may find solace in non-alignment, but the political bungling in agreeing to withdraw from Siachen will surely be remembered as the gravest strategic blunder of the 21st century by India
Without a national security strategy we may find solace in non-alignment, but the political bungling in agreeing to withdraw from Siachen will surely be remembered as the gravest strategic blunder of the 21st century by India.
THE DYE HAS BEEN cast for another strategic blunder by India in agreeing to withdraw from Siachen, that too without a debate in Parliament. The difference this time is that public focus may be deflected through expectations/ award of a Nobel Peace Prize, the possibility of which may have been hinted by western mediators—playing their own games that our leadership is too naive to discern. What do you make of Canada-US propping up Pakistan (read Kayani) at India’s expense? Why are the Atlantic Council of Canada, Ottawa University, the Atlantic Council of the US and National Defense University, Washington, intimately involved in India-Pakistan confidence building measures (CBMs) not discussing a ‘Peace Park’ astride the Durand Line, resolving crisis in Middle East and Syria? Has demilitarisation of Korea, decreased chances of conflict? How much do we know about the US-China Committee on India and what they discuss? How much did we know of the secret channel between the US and China through Pakistan, chronicled by F.S. Aijazuddin in his book From a Head, Through a Head, To a Head, wherein he describes Chou En-lai’s advice to Ayub Khan to raise a militia to fight a prolonged war behind the enemy (India) lines—manifested in today’s jihadi terrorists. Without a national security strategy we may find solace in non-alignment, but the political bungling in agreeing to withdraw from Siachen will surely be remembered as the gravest strategic blunder of the 21st century by India.
India-Pakistan CBM’s – Siachen Story
After numerous India-Pakistan military CBM meets at Dubai, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Palo Alto, the India-Pakistan Track II at Lahore (September 23-25, 2012) signed an agreement to demilitarise Siachen despite grave reservations by some Indian members—a former ambassador, a three star rank officer each from Army and Navy and even a former Special Secretary of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The decision to demilitarise or rather withdraw from Siachen has apparently been taken arbitrarily at the highest political level disregarding strong objections by successive Army Chiefs, including the present Chief. The agreement mainly includes: setting up of a joint commission to delineate the line beyond NJ 9842; joint authentication of present ground positions; determination of redeployment areas; disengagement and demilitarisation time frame; and cooperative monitoring ensuring transparency. The agreement states that re-occupation cannot be done in a hurry, which is stupid; even discounting India’s lightening heli-borne occupation, some areas of Saltoro have ‘no’ snow during summer and can be reached in darkness, bad weather on foot and remain undetected—are we forgetting Kargil intrusions? Technical surveillance is a misnomer considering the means, terrain and weather. Wasn’t the US with all its technical resources surprised by Pokhran II?
Duping the Nation
How has this happened despite serious objections by the Army? The government briefing to the Track II Team focused mainly on Army’s stand that further talks are taken up after ground positions of both sides get authenticated, which did not imply a total package. Members’ queries as to why we should demilitarise and when does the government want it, were not answered. The strategic importance of the Saltoro Ridge was systematically obfuscated by orchestrating electronic and print media. Government and gullible TV channels and journos (Nira Radia tapes leverages included) were mobilised and selected former uniformed officers (shunted out by Army or given the option to resign or face legal action) put up on TV shows to morph perceptions. A barrage that Siachen has no strategic significance was let loose; a former two star officer even wrote India is holding Karakoram Pass—a blatant lie. National dailies refused to print articles highlighting the enormous strategic disadvantage of withdrawing from Siachen and neither could this be debated by them on TV—government instructions to media houses. Northern Army Commander, an outstanding professional and diehard nationalist opposed to Siachen demilitarisation was proposed to be shifted to Southern Command (to get a pliable replacement) but he refused. Indian team
Why do the CBMs have to start with withdrawal from Siachen? Before taking such a step, wasn’t a discussion in Parliament warranted?
were carefully selected; not one has served in Siachen, no infantry officer (of six Army officers) and the team never visited Siachen despite months of parleys. Political connections of two former uniformed members are well known. They would obviously be rewarded for towing the line blindfolded— possible ambassadorship/governorship to the leader (former Air Force Chief) and a bag of juicy carrots for another former one star of Army. A government official also remarked that the Track II team is as good as Track I.
The sole aim appears to be a Nobel Peace Prize at ‘any cost’ showcasing major achievement before elections. The military cannot open their mouths, veterans opposing withdrawal are denied media forums and the gullible public would be too elated with the peace prize. Government officials unofficially say that they never thought Pakistan would agree to authentication of ground positions as this was their earlier stand, which is rubbish since mediators would have sounded Pakistani intentions well in advance. Heading the Pakistani team, Jehangir Karamat, who is an exDGMO and Army Chief, understands the strategic significance of Saltoro. Not only did Pakistan grab the strategic opportunity, they managed the full works. Atlantic Council, Ottawa, promptly put out the news on the Internet. Shuja Nawaz, heading the Atlantic Council of the US fully-networked with Kayani, was in close touch with Atlantic Council, Ottawa and attended most meetings. The Atlantic Council of the US, an extension of Pakistani Military, is well funded and has expanded with additional officers, courtesy Kayani. The Council manages perceptions in the US public domain including the diplomatic and international community. We need to take a cue and estab- lish think tanks abroad rather than focus on perception management within India, as in the instant case. The line of control between India and Pakistan was originally drawn on a 1:250,000 map with a thick sketch pen without military advice that left a variation of hundred plus metres at any given point besides not always following ridgelines —a source of permanent hostility and acrimony ever since. If the government has set its heart on the Nobel Peace Prize come what may, a flourish of the same thick pen may be used to delineate the line of ground positions, followed by ordering withdrawal.
Arguments of expenses and casualties are irrelevant considering similar positions in Kargil, along the line of control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and defences facing China. Siachen is fully stabilised, compared to some other places. Should we then vacate Kargil? What about the brigade minus worth of casualties in counter-insurgency in J&K—should we run from there too?
Pervez Musharraf admits in his autobiography that Pakistan was planning to put a battalion on Saltoro Ridge but the Indians pre-empted that move. If Saltoro had no strategic significance, why would Pakistan: attempt occupation; draw imaginary LoC from NJ9842 directly to Karakoram Pass, make repeated attempts to gain footholds, undertake Kargil intrusions to cut off Siachen; and always harp on demilitarising? Pakistan is at a great disadvantage at the Saltoro Ridge and Pakistan’s disregard of Shia dominated Baltistan, enforced demographic changes, subtle but deliberate conversions to Sunni form of Islam and state-sponsored Shia massacres is turning the situation in Baltistan explosive that can threaten sustenance of Pakistani troops in Siachen. Strategic significance of Saltoro should be seen in relation to: Extension of the line north from NJ 9842 to Dafdar in Taghdumbash Pamir near Beyik Pass (bordering Wakhan Corridor)—north-western extremity of the J&K-Tibet border. Increasing Chinese footprints in GilgitBaltistan coupled with China’s illegal occupation of Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin and the bridge that Siachen provides to these areas, which will provide further China-Pakistan link up. Defence of Ladakh post-withdrawal. Tremendous domination that we enjoy over Pakistani positions.
Fallout of withdrawal from Siachen would be as follows: It will dilute our 1994 Parliament resolution that J&K is an integral part of India. The new defence line will need many more times additional troops than the brigade currently manning Siachen. Floodgates of infiltration into Ladakh will open—terrorists also targeting Ladakh and Zanskar Ranges. This will require raising of more formations and battalions—both military and police forces. ISI has been nurturing Shia terrorist outfits with an eye on Ladakh
since the late 1990s. When Musharraf said, “There will be many more Kargil’s,” it was with the confidence that he will be able to fool India into withdrawing from Siachen. Courtesy Pakistan, we have already witnessed sporadic communal tension in Ladakh. The above will entail expenditure of lakhs of crores of rupees that will eat into already meagre modernisation funds of the Army. Double-crossing by Pakistan is possible in the garb of so-called non-state actors. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the garb of geologists can flood the area. Recapture is out of question—a former Army Chief gave this in writing to the government.
The public and the Parliament have the right to ask the government what exactly Pakistan has done to earn such a trust. Has the antiIndia terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) been dismantled? Has ‘any’ worthwhile progress been made in punishing the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks? Isn’t the China-Pakistan nexus arming, equipping and stoking insurgencies in India? Isn’t the ISI hell-bent on reviving militancy in Punjab? Isn’t the ISI link to assassination attempt on Lt General K.S. Brar adequate proof? Wasn’t the ceasefire continuously breached while Pakistani parliamentarians were discussing CBMs in India recently? Why does every US think tank refer to Pakistan as the most dangerous place in the world?
A Track II agreement should not be binding on Track I discussions especially with ramifications on our 1994 Parliament resolution of J&K being an integral part of India. We should have only agreed to delineate extension of the LC north of NJ 9842; running north to Dafdar in Taghdumbash Pamir near Beyik Pass (bordering Wakhan Corridor) on the north-western extremity of J&K-Tibet border. This should be our stance for the Joint Commission to delineate the line beyond NJ 9842. Authentication of ground positions should have nothing to do with delineation of the line beyond NJ 9842. Only after the LC beyond NJ 9842 is established, further discussion on CBM’s with respect to Siachen should progress. This would be in India’s national interests.
The Real Picture
Indians may gloat in sharing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s moment of glory in expecting/receiving a peace prize but posterity will curse him and his government, as they curse Jawaharlal Nehru for 1962 and his China utopia if withdrawal from Siachen be thrust upon the nation.
Defence analyst and former Pakistani Army officer Agha H. Amin writes, “Utopians in India are jubilant that Pakistan has made peace with India. Nothing in reality can be farther from truth….The real picture of true intentions of the Pakistani military will emerge when the US withdraws from Afghanistan. This will be the time when the Russians, Iranians and Indians will have no choice but to support the Northern Alliance against Pakistan-sponsored Taliban who regard all Shias, Ismailis, non-Pashtuns, moderates Pashtuns as infidels who deserve to be massacred.…Pakistani politicians will remain as puppets of the military that they have been since 1977”. Why do the CBMs have to start with withdrawal from Siachen? Before taking such a step, wasn’t a discussion in Parliament warranted?
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai with his Pakistani counterpart
Jalil Abbas Jilani in Islamabad on September 7, 2012