Indo-Pak Affairs

China fear makes India harden Siachen stand

NEW DELHI: China was the unspoken but ominous presence in the South Block room when the two-day talks between India and Pakistan on the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region ended on Tuesday with no significant breakthrough in the long-standing dispute.

According to Indian daily, China’s expanding strategic footprint in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, in fact, seems to have led India to harden its stand, which till now was largely about Pakistan providing iron-clad guarantees to “authenticate” the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) along the Saltoro Ridge, on maps and on ground.

India remains open to discussing the “modalities” for the verification of the AGPL and the proposed demilitarized zone but would “insist on map coordinates, obtained through aerial or satellite imagery, and other methodologies to show the relative positions on the ground”. Till it gets them, troop disengagement, withdrawal and the final demilitarization of the glacier is not on the cards, the daily said.

Some may scoff at the strategic significance of the forbidding glacial heights but the Indian Army, which beat the Pakistan Army by just a whisker to occupy most of the dominating posts in the region in April 1984, has repeatedly drilled it into the political leadership, report said.

For one, the Army is clear that if Pakistani troops occupy the heights vacated by it, then dislodging them from there would be virtually impossible. For another, if Indian soldiers had not been sitting atop heights ranging from 16,000 to 22,000 feet, Pakistan from the west would have long joined up with its “all-weather ally” China from the east through the Karakoram Pass to threaten Ladakh.

The ever-growing presence of Chinese personnel, including military engineers, in PoK on the pretext of civilian infrastructure development in recent times has only served to accentuate these concerns.

So, at the end of the 12th round of defence secretary-level talks on Siachen, despite the “good atmospherics” and “enhanced understanding of each other’s position”, there was no perceptible movement towards bridging the “trust deficit” between India and Pakistan.

“Both sides agreed to continue discussions in a meaningful and result-oriented manner. They agreed to meet again at a mutually convenient date in Islamabad,” said the joint statement, which also appreciated the fact that the ceasefire along AGPL was “holding since November 2003”.

But platitudes apart, and despite PM Manmohan Singh’s desire to convert Siachen into “a mountain of peace”, India seems to have adopted a go-slow attitude to ascertain how things pan out on other disputes with Pakistan.

Indian soldiers, after all, occupy almost all the dominating Saltoro heights, sitting as they do 2,000 feet above the Pakistan positions. The Army has also stemmed its massive hemorrhage of earlier years in the world’s highest, coldest and costliest battlefield with better infrastructure and logistics in place. Harsh weather-related casualties in the treacherous terrain, initially very high, are next to negligible now, say officers.

“What is the hurry? The over Rs 3 crore it takes per day to sustain our troops in Siachen is not prohibitive. If Pakistan could violate the well-defined Line of Control during the 1999 Kargil conflict, what is the guarantee they will respect the AGPL? That is why we have been insisting on foolproof authentication of the AGPL,” said an official. -Online

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Mubashar Nizam

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