Facts on the frozen ground - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 11 June 2012

Facts on the frozen ground

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th June 12

Few Indo-Pak issues are as emotive as the Siachen Glacier dispute; a misleading term given that India controls all of Siachen while Pakistan only hankers for it. Each time Siachen is up for discussion articles appear in the Indian media, arguing for “demilitarising” the area in order to “build confidence,” i.e. hand Islamabad a sop that might evoke corresponding generosity. The Pakistan Army badly wants a troop pullback, given the comprehensive mauling it has received and the unfavourable positions it holds. Meanwhile, Indian hardliners argue that, as in Kargil, Pakistan could backtrack from even a signed agreement, occupying Indian positions after our army has climbed down.

Today, Siachen is on the table again, with Pakistan’s influential army pressing for talks after a killer avalanche in the area buried 127 Pakistani soldiers. And The Hindu, a newspaper that advocates concessions in Siachen, published a front-page headline story on Sunday entitled “Siachen was almost a done deal in 1992.” The article, presenting well-known and widely-documented facts as news, “reveals” that a mutual pullback agreement was at hand in the 6th round of Siachen talks in Nov 1992, but “the Indian political leadership developed cold feet,” forcing our negotiators to pull back from the agreement.

Quoting the head of the Indian delegation, NN Vohra, who was then the defence secretary, the article reveals that a scheduled signing ceremony had to be called off overnight, because the Indian government decided to conclude matters at the next round of talks in January 1993.

Newspapers are entitled to their views, howsoever unsound. But it is mystifying why well-known events are being presented as front-page news headlines. In his seminal book, “Siachen: Conflict Without End”, Lt Gen VR Raghavan, then the army’s Director General of Military Operations and a key member of the Indian delegation, has explained why he thinks India’s political leadership changed its mind: growing differences between the Congress and the BJP over the Babri Masjid issue made a political consensus difficult; and the political leadership had second thoughts in view of the violence that Pakistan was instigating in J&K.

But the Hindu article portrays New Delhi as somehow stabbing Pakistan in the back by refusing to sign. Surely nobody can argue that a nation cannot reconsider an agreement up to the time that it actually signs it?

The article incorrectly mentions that, “the Pakistani delegation offered a proposal that met India’s demand of recording existing ground positions before withdrawal of troops from a proposed zone of disengagement.” India has always demanded (and the Indian draft of the agreement published by The Hindu corroborates this) that the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), which marks the dividing line between the two armies, be clearly spelt out in the agreement. Pakistan, however, proposed that the AGPL be buried in an Appendix in the form of a “redeployment schedule.” In 1992, India’s demand had not been met, but it was still (unwisely) considering acceding to Pakistan’s request.

The reason this would be unwise is that a “redeployment schedule” tucked away in an Appendix would never have the authority of a marked map with a delineated and specified AGPL. It cannot be forgotten that the only reason the international community, especially the United States, turned against Pakistan at the time of the Kargil intrusions was because India could present a signed map, on which the two sides had delineated the Line of Control (LoC) in 1972.

Furthermore, when the entire 700 km-long LoC --- extending from Akhnur, near Jammu, to NJ 9842, where Siachen begins --- has been delineated and marked on a signed map, there is no reason at all for the 109 km-long AGPL to be marked in any other way. Pakistan argues that the AGPL was formed due to Indian perfidy (and violation of the Shimla Agreement). But India is on equally solid ground in arguing that the LoC was formed by Pakistani perfidy and violation of J&K’s Instrument of Accession to India.

New Delhi must make it clear that Siachen will never be a handout to Pakistan, or a “confidence building measure” to take forward the Indo-Pak dialogue. Siachen is a vital part of the Kashmir “core dispute”; for that reason, it cannot be a mere confidence building measure.

In addition, any Siachen pullback must be made conditional on a Kargil pullback, where Pakistani perfidy in 1999 forced the Indian Army to deploy some 20,000 soldiers, in conditions that rival Siachen, to prevent Pakistani soldiers from violating the LoC again. The Indian Army has mastered conditions in Siachen; Pakistan clearly has not. The conditions in Kargil are less favourable to us.

India offers space for all shades of opinion, including the Wagah candle-lighters who believe that the vicious, vengeful, self-destructive extremism that spreads alarmingly across Pakistan is merely a thin crust, beneath which bubbles a wellspring of tolerance, secularism and democratic liberalism that will burst forth any day, washing away the evil. The fraternal Indo-Pak functions that these idealists organise do no harm and, perhaps, a little good. But when this cuckoo lobby pushes to hand over hard-won territory for “building confidence” with Pakistan, it is time to push back. The only confidence this will build in Rawalpindi is that New Delhi has not learnt the lessons of history.


  1. badly wants a troop pullback, given the comprehensive mauling it has received and the unfavourable positions it holds.

  2. @Ajai sir

    i liked the discussion on NDTV and the facts put up. The need for Pakistan to demilitaize Siachen is laughable to me. Pakistan was first to move towards capturing Saichen, which was pre-emted (thanks to timely intelligence)by our forces after much blood loss.

    Still we believed them and Pakistan did Kargil (thanks to 'no' timely intelligence) and we had to shed lot of blood to regain those heights, though a few peaks are still out of reach.

    Lets adopt a policy as per which Pakistan has to accepts AGPL as part of LOC with India control on the entire glacier till Indira Col followed by delineation and demarcation.

    If Pakistan accepts then we can opt to cut back our troops from Siachen, but this is on condition that Pakistan completely clears the Dansum area as well as demilitarizes the Skardu valley.

    If Pakistan does that then only we can hope of 'trust' growing. As you may know if Pakistan does a Kargil again we will never be able to gain those heights, simply because the geography on Pakistani side allows them to easily come back to areas, whereas India will have to make a impossible effort if its to make a comeback.

    If Pakistan clears the Dansum area and demilitarizes Skardu valley and AGPL as part of LoC then only we can expect something meaningful happening on Siachen talks.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  3. well said...hope someone is listening

  4. The huge disservice done to India by this Punjabi political cabal is less said the better. IK Gujral destroyed the RAW's counter intelligence capabilities believing he can buy peace from his Punjabi brothers across the border by doing this. The whole nation is still feeling the pinch of this historic blunder till date. Now comes another punjabi puttar the great sardar Manmohan Singh. He believes that he can buy peace by giving away the land that was won by the blood of Indian soldiers. Instead of giving away the Siachen lets give away our PM to the Pakis. He can go there and destroy that country and everyone will be happy.

  5. Very nice viewpoint Col.!! Thank you for publishing this.

  6. Major Ikram Saigal ki to aapnay maar kar rakh di.

    Good work.

    -David Benjamin

  7. After what happened to Capt Saurabh Kalia, it is even insane to think that Pakistani's will behave in good faith.

    Infact I should say that we should launch offensive and capture many other smaller Pakistai posts in Siachen whenever there is a provacation like 26/11 or infiltiration in Kashmir.

  8. >>the Wagah candle-lighters

    if they love pakistan so much and believe in it, let them go stay there. why should they try to speak for the rest of india, including indians like me who want nothing to do with a state sponsor of terror like pakistan

  9. Did you read the Hindu article beyond the first 3 lines? Why couldn't you link to it and let readers get some background?
    Because the article makes no mention whatsoever of any backstabbing. It talks about precisely the Babri Masjid issue etc. etc.

    Sounds to me like you had a point to make (which you have every right to) and were just looking for an opening?

  10. Excellent summary.

    Generally, the immature and excitable Indian media is so easy to manipulate.

    So imagine how malleable the Indian media has been for a master manipulator like Pakistan.

    I say give the Pakistani's the big middle finger.

    Best regards


  11. Either our PM is a Version 2 of Gandhiji or is a useful idiot like every other indian politician who means to do well but does more harm.

  12. Wow Ajai, well said "The only confidence this will build in Rawalpindi is that New Delhi has not learnt the lessons of history." Nice ending line....

  13. The govt is trying to build a discussion around this as P.M is very keen to give back to his country of birth.
    Let some one tell him of 166 indian souls shot down in mumbai for the simple fact that they were Indians...Let some one tell him of the experience ,the last time we pulled back from our positions, we lost close to 700 men recapturing the peaks in kargil...
    Let some one tell him of the terror campaign and the blood trail of the last 2 decades ...
    Even after all this, if he is is still in true love then what can we say...

  14. As a confidence builder, how about we offer kind of a version of no first use in nuclear attach for Siachen. We can offer no use for attack, unless we are already at war with Pakistan, or are responding to an attack or an act of provocation (the location of attack/provocation does not have to be Siachen).

  15. Well said Sir! I can't believe that our PM said what he did. There is no place for emotional fools when dealing with issue of National interests. Let Pakistanis sink in the morass they created for others.

  16. The POK and Northern Areas have been already highly devastated by the earthquake of 2008. So firstly Pakistan shall return these areas back to India and then talk further about its own merger back unconditionally.

  17. I completely agree with you Ajai especially the comments that India has mastered Siachen where as Pakistan is not,I believe Pakistan Military establishment trying to make use of its civilian government to push for a resolution with India and trying to outsmart India.

    Let Pakistan hand over Dawood and those responsible for 2008 mumbai attacks then we can think about Siachen

  18. Nice article after a long time, with all the facts

  19. A focussed and comprehensive presentation of the situation on ground. It would be best for the self styled doves on the Indian side to understand that this land has been won in Siachin and Kargil with the blood of our bravehearts.Let us not belittle their sacrfices by giving in to an unworthy neighbour.

  20. Very well explained Sir. We keep repeating our mistakes. Pull back will be another one. We did not learn from 65, 71 - on both front- Bangladesh & Pakistan; and now want to sweep the Kargil experience under the carpet. Peace is good, provided it is for peaceful purposes and not for another war to take back our own territory from invaders

  21. When it comes to Pakistan and Bangladesh, foreign policy should be handled by people not from Indian Punjab or Indian Bengal. They are way too sentimental about their "bichrey hue bhai" across the border (never mind that there are really bhai-types across the border). Let the less sentimental, hard-headed South Indians like G. Parthasarathy and M. K. Narayanan and others like them set the tone for any interaction with these two countries. National interests come before any weepy, sentimental personal ties. And btw, I'm Bengali.

  22. @18.39 nice suggestion and that's the way to do it. Even in Tihar jail guards are from South India with zero Hindi skills. This is how it should be. Also, before making somebody PM we should screen them if they are NOBLE PRIZE aspirants. If they are candidate should be dropped than and there. PEOPLE realize it we are a nation because of SARDAR PATEL and pakistan is a cursed neighbor because of womanizer NEHRU. We need people of character and resolve like Sardar Patel no cheeky mama's boy like Rahul.

  23. This is sheer nonsense of Punjabi Cabal and blah blah. Punjab has bore the brunt of all the wars and also the partition. Its easier to say things from behind and saying nonsense.

    Please look into the history and see how many Indian punjabis were butchered during partition.
    It will be great if we stick to the nice discussion initiated by Mr Shukla and refrain from nonsensical issues.

  24. Anon@05.47. You are a twat who understands little of Indian history.

  25. Rajinder Verma17 June 2012 at 06:32

    Facts can be used to profess a viewpoint either way. Let me give you a take. The Pakistani loss at Gayari was only a prelude to what will be a regular fate of soldiers on either side of the AGPL. The effect of the increasing temperatures are to be seen to be believed. One cannot safely walk on the ice after 9:00 am. The gurgling water underneath one's feet is more terrifying than the paradox of the freezing cold and scorching sun. If the oldies are to be believed things were a few hundred meters higher and we had been de-pillaring the place every four five years and it is now being done every alternate year. We will be out of the frozen frontiers within a few years! If we are not careful the shining sun will get us off the Rose Garden by 2016 /2017; when losses on both sides of the AGPL due to avalanches will see exponentila rise. It is a reality, visible on most ridges. The other paradox is - we will simulteneously be pumping water and K'oil for sustainance. There are few sources of clean water on the Glacier, thankfully amoebic/ viral infections are yet to take root but these are round the corner.

  26. @anon14:58 well said!!!


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