Siachen Talks fall victim to Indian obstinacy
June 17, 2011
The peace process initiated between India and Pakistan following Vajpai – Musharraf joint communiqué of January 2004 and considered “irreversible”, ran a ground after November 2008 terror attack in Bombay, which India blamed on Pakistan.
The recent Wikileaks refer to US diplomatic cables, according to which Indian army, and just not the political leadership, has been responsible for the deadlock on the issue. There is particular mention of Army Chief J. J. Singh, who maintains that “army cannot support a withdrawal from Siachen”.
There were a series of meetings between prime ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of international meetings to break the stalemate and resume the process. It was finally in Thimpu at the time of SAARC Summit last year that Gillani and Manmohan Singh agreed to carry the process forward. The US and international community also put considerable pressure on Islamabad and Delhi to resume complete range of bilateral talks as provided in the composite dialogue. Accordingly talks on Sir Creek were held last month, followed by Delhi meeting on Siachen that concluded on May 31, without a break through, as expected.
During the lat 22 years, the Siachen issue has been examined in detail and all the technical data discussed by Pakistani and Indian military commanders.
The Siachen heights were under the control of Pakistan since 1947, but in 1984, India occupied it in violation of the 1949 Karachi Agreement and the Simla Accord. Since June 1989, specific proposals have been discussed between the military commanders of the two countries. India has declined to accept the 1989 understanding and Pakistan’s position that the areas west of the Line of Control (LoC) joining point NJ9842 of the LoC are on its side, while India regards the LoC as stretching along the Saltoro watershed.
In 1989 an understanding had been reached for the disengagement of troops to the 1972 position, when the Simla Agreement was signed. Pakistan insists that the talks should move forward, stating that the 1989 agreement should serve as a basis for talks. India, however, maintains that Pakistan authenticates the troops’ position and has stuck to its demand. It is instructive to more that the 1989 agreement had neither mentioned the issue of authentication, nor was it discussed during earlier talks held between 1989 and 1992.
Since than the dispute has claimed 2,000 lives in the armed conflict and has cost Rs20 million a day to India to keep its occupation on a height of 2,000 meters where “not even a blade of grass grows”, according to General Ziaul Haq. The intermittent fighting stopped in 2003 with a ceasefire, which is still holding on.
The talks held in Delhi were 12th in a series and were held after 4 years. The talks were led by the defense secretaries of the two countries, and remained inconclusive on the modalities of a proposed demilitarization. The two sides agreed to meet again in Islamabad in near future.
While Pakistan insists on maintaining the pre-1972 troop positions as agreed in the Simla agreement. India wants Pakistan to authenticate 110 km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) along Siachen Glacier. Pakistan has declined Indian demand. To ensure forward movement in the next round, however, Pakistan has submitted a ‘non paper’ containing some fresh ideas, which India has agreed to “study” and discuss when both sides meet in Islamabad.
It may be recalled that Pakistan had proposed a “schedule of disengagement”, and a detailed plan was submitted to India after the May 2006 round of talks. The Indian foreign secretary in November 2006 confirmed that the two countries were examining “a common set of ideas”. Foreign Minister Khurshid Ksuri during the January 2007 visit of his Indian counterpart to Islamabad had disclosed that “a lot of work had already been done” and the “issue could be resolved within a couple of days”. However, these expectations proved futile.
The joint statement claimed that “a frank and cordial atmosphere contributed to an enhanced understanding of each other’s position on Siachen and presented their positions and suggestions”, towards resolution of the issue. A diplomatic statement that in plain words would be described as a failed exercise. The fact that until last year, there have been twelve rounds of talks on the issue, none making any headway, clearly establishes that India is just not interested in a positive outcome and considers the status quo in its interest. It continues to carry on the dialogue process to counter any impression abroad that India is opposed or reluctant to hold negotiations for the solution of contentious issues.
The failure of Delhi talks, has again demonstrated the lack of political will on part of India to improve the climate and create atmosphere conducive to good neighbourly relations. All observers agree that the Siachen conflict is the most absurd one as there is no relevance between the strategic value of the heights and the enormous expenditure and loss of human lives in the present face off. More soldiers have been killed by frost-bite than fighting.
The cable also noted that Gen Singh’s position on the issue “is reflected in the Foreign Ministry as well”: India would not make a deal on demilitarisation without Pakistan signing a map laying out Indian and Pakistani troop positions before withdrawal. The primary purpose of this would be to justify action if Pakistan reneged on the withdrawal agreement.
Any deal, the cable implied, could only come after a go-ahead from the army: “The most telling signpost indicating the Indian government is preparing the country for (a deal) would be Gen Singh publicly adopting a neutral (or supportive) position on a Siachen deal to signal in advance that the army is on board, and that the Government of India no longer needs to point to army concerns to explain why a deal is not possible.”
The cables further reveal that “Indian army has historically had a role to play” in Siachen. Quoting an Indian official, the cables mention that Indian army has drawn a line with its political leadership. It has told the government of India that withdrawal was tantamount to ceding the area to Pakistan due to the difficulty of retaking it should Pakistan occupy it,” as per a cable dated September 2008.
The Indian mindset, both of political leadership and army, is conditioned by a strong latent distrust of Pakistan. This hostility and morbid outlook is reflected in the comment that India can afford Rs3000 crore every year on its Siachen adventure as it is a small sum in the overall context of Indian defence budget. However, the huge outlay would bleed Pakistan, given its precarious economic situation.
The US assessment is right on the mark: “An agreement on Indian Siachen is unlikely any time soon because the Indian army and the hard-line in the Congress Party would not be able to trust Pakistan enough to withdraw, regardless of how much Pakistan is willing to concede.”
In the light of wikileaks disclosures it is apparent that inane statements routinely repeated on the conclusion of each round that, “The talks were held in a candid and constructive atmosphere and the two sides remain committed to resolve the issued in a positive manner”, are made. Pakistan must serve a notice on India and tell the international community that it will not remain a party to this charade anymore. The talks should be held within a timeframe and must be result-oriented. The current peace dialogue must deliver or be abandoned.