By ASIF HAROON RAJA
IN EARLY hours of the morning on 7 April 2012, an extraordinary avalanche struck Battalion HQ of 6 NLI regiment located in Gayari sector of Siachen Glacier. 135 officers, JCOs, men and civilians paid out of defence establishment got buried under 1000 meters wide and over 25 meters high landslide. Round the clock rescue operation is in progress since the day of tragic occurrence despite bad weather and poor visibility. No stone is being left unturned by more than 500 troops employed in digging and excavation works. 18 days have passed but so far no luck. Every Pakistani is deeply anguished over this tragedy.
90 km long and 50 km wide Siachen Glacier situated between Karakorum in the north and Hindu Kush in the west came into limelight when Indian military launched ground cum airborne operation codenamed Meghdoot and clandestinely occupied three major passes Sia La, Gyong La and Bilafond La of the Soltoro Ridge in April 1984. India had been planning for this venture since 1981. Since the whole of Siachen Glacier was administratively under Pakistan’s control, it impelled Pak Army to rush forward and block Indian advance west of Gyong La. Since then both sides are locked up in mortal combat. Several daring attempts were made by Pak forces to retake captured heights but failed because India had the advantage of higher ground. India controls about two-thirds of the glacier in the shape of inverted triangle measuring 3500 sq km, which encompasses three passes while Pakistan holds the Gyong La Pass, which overlooks Shyok and Nubra River valleys. Shyok feeds into the Indus. Indians are on a higher plane and conveniently placed to roll down but impassability of terrain and grit of Pakistani defenders has kept them restrained.
For 28 years, troops have been serving in that hostile terrain and severe weather conditions and defending the Motherland. More men have died as a result of terrain and weather hazards than from enemy action. On the average, 100 casualties take place on Pakistan side and 180 on Indian side each year. Over 8000 Indian and Pakistani soldiers have died between April 1984 and April 2012; 5000 suffered by Indian Army and 3000 by Pak Army. Yet both sides stubbornly hold on to their positions and continue to fight and die on the roof of the world, which is the highest and costliest. No soldier in the world would have been put to such harsh test of human endurance and for so long. Pakistan spends about Rs 15 million a day to maintain a brigade group (4000) at Siachen Glacier, which makes Rs 450 a month and Rs 5.4 billion a year India spends Rs 50 million a day, Rs 1.5 billion a month and Rs 30 billion a year to maintain its seven battalions (7000 troops). India has so far spent $13.5 billion including $3.5 billion incurred on operation Meghdoot.
So far twelve rounds of negotiations have taken place between the officials of two archrivals starting 1985 to settle this issue but to no avail. June 17, 1989 talks had broken the ice and both sides agreed to settle this issue. India consented to demilitarize Siachen by using the term ‘relocating its forces’ instead of the word ‘withdrawing’, well away from disputed heights. Future positions were to be determined on ground in conformity with Simla Agreement. ‘Present positions’ didn’t figure out at all. The agreement was endorsed by PMs of both countries. However, in the 1992 talks, India at the behest of Indian military backtracked on the plea that current deployment to be first authenticated by Pakistan by marking the positions on maps before redeployment could be carried out.
Obviously Pakistan couldn’t have obliged India since it would have meant legitimizing Indian aggression in violation of Simla Agreement and giving reason to India to make illegal claim over it in its future negotiations. India maintained this stance in 1994 talks as well despite Pakistan having shown flexibility to record existing positions on an annexure but with a caveat in the main text of the agreement that it would not be misused by India to lay legal claim over the vacated areas. It is an open secret that India wants to convert captured territory as a contested region similar to disputed Kashmir.
Indian military argued that without authentication both on maps and written text, it would impel Pak Army to capture strategically important Soltoro Ridge, which overlooks Karakorum Pass, where borders of China, Pakistan and India meet. As such, India uncompromisingly maintained that demilitarization would take place only when Agreed Ground Position Line (AGPL) is accepted. Real reason behind the change of heart was that Indian military didn’t want to lose strategically important Soltoro, which not only helps India in denying Pakistan-China access to reach other, but also in dominating Gilgit-Baltistan and safeguarding Tibet. Kargil conflict in 1999 further hardened the stance of India. Ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) at the initiative of Pakistan and recommencement of Composite Dialogue in 2004 leading to several rounds of talks on all disputes including Siachen up till late 2008 failed to settle any of the disputes because of India’s unbounded obstinacy.
After Mumbai attacks India stalled the dialogue and refused to renew it till as late as mid 2011 despite Pakistan’s repeated requests. Finally when 12th round of talks on May 30-31, 2011 took place, Pakistan in all sincerity put forward tangible suggestions. It proposed joint monitoring of disengagement process, redeployment positions bounded by Gyong, MJ 9842 and Warshi, preparation of two lists – positions occupied in 1984, and future deployment positions. India rejected all the proposals and maintained its inflexible stance that AGPL beyond MJ 9842 must be delineated before demilitarization. This was altogether contrary to the earlier sequence of disengagement, redeployment outside the conflict zone and demarcation agreed to in 1989. In order to justify its inflexibility, India of late has been expressing its growing concerns over increasing presence of China in Pakistan’s Northern Areas. Indo-western media has been floating rumors that Chinese have been allowed to set up military bases. This made-up excuse has given added reason to India to maintain its obstinacy over Siachen issue.
It is crystal clear that India is buying time and is least interested in resolving any of the core disputes which include Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and dams on rivers. It grudgingly agreed to resume talks not to settle outstanding disputes but to promote trade and enhance cultural cooperation through people-to-people contacts which are entirely to its advantage. India is keen to consolidate its MFN status to dominate Pakistani markets, to utilize trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia via Wagah and also to secure its hold over Afghanistan. It however wants to derive all these benefits without ceding anything in return since it is devoid of large-heartedness and intrigue is in its blood. It seems our leaders are all set to grant unilateral trade concessions to India since the US wants it that way.
It is surprising that some of the political leaders, pseudo intellectuals, segment of media, and RAW paid SAFMA and Aman ki Asha having proclivity for India instead of building pressure on India to vacate its illegal occupation of Soltoro ridge, are holding both sides equally responsible for the impasse. Some suggested that Pakistan had been dragging its feet to settle the dispute. Others said Pakistan should agree to record current ground position on a map. They are trying to create an impression as if Pakistan was guilty of defending its territory and are pressing our government to carryout unilateral withdrawal from Siachen. Nawaz Sharif prophesized that he is sure India would follow suit if Pakistan takes the initiative and withdraws the troops.
Some look at Pakistan’s defence budget with contempt. A myth is in circulation that Pak military spends much more than Indian military which is untrue. As per SIPRI, Pakistan defence budget fell from 6.2% of GDP in 1988 to 2.8% in 2009 and that of India from 3.8% to 2.8% of GDP. Pakistan spent $5.685 billion on defence in 2011 as against India spending $44.282. India has made an increase of 17% in its 2012/13 defence budget and allocated $40 billion for defence purchases. Probably anti-military elements have bought the outlandish idea of the US and President Zardari that India poses no threat to Pakistan. Major threat to Pakistan is from India since over70% of its military might is focused toward Pakistan. It has the intentions, military and economic capability and the support of sole super power to opt for a military adventure against Pakistan whenever opportunity comes its way. Those promoting Indian interests at the cost of Pakistan’s interests need to be cautioned.
The tragedy that befell upon 6 NLI can also fall upon any of Army unit of Indian military stationed in a much difficult zone and the disaster could be bigger in magnitude. Gen Kayani has urged India to hasten the process of demilitarization of Siachen Glacier and also settle other disputes so that undue loss of human lives and human sufferings on both sides could be avoided and colossal amounts spent on troop sustenance diverted toward betterment of people’s lives. India’s response has been cautious and lukewarm since it is fancying that given the host of intricate problems in which Pakistan is confronted with, together with Indian sponsored media campaign in the two countries, Pakistan will be amenable to India’s selfish proposals and would carry out unilateral withdrawal from Siachen.
Siachen tragedy should be an eye-opener for the leaders of India and Pakistan and a reminder to the world community to see for itself the cost paid by the forces of two neighbors chiefly because of expansionist policies pursued by India and also because of the backup support provided by the US and other world powers. But for mulishness of India, this tragedy wouldn’t have occurred. While Siachen Glacier is melting fast due to heavy presence of Indian military, diplomatic ice on Siachen is hardening due to India’s intransigence. The world must exert full pressure on India to stop sacrificing human beings at the altar of puffed up egos and vacate the illegally occupied inverted triangle on Siachen Glacier so that both India and Pakistan could divert the colossal amount spent on the maintenance of troops towards alleviation of poverty in the two countries. Pakistanis have not forgotten the unrelenting pressure applied by the US led G-8 countries in 1999 forcing Pakistan to vacate Kargil heights. Why the civilized world is so hesitant to apply same kind of pressure on India, or it has two set of rules and principles?
The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org