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AUGUST 2013 ISSUE


Not A Mere Glacier
A possible two-front localised war and Chinese threat to Ladakh make it impossible for Indian Army to vacate Siachen
 


The Siachen glacier is a potential two-front war battlefield Disconnect between political and military leadership in India came in public view on 13 June 2005. On becoming the first Prime Minister to visit the Siachen base camp, Manmohan Singh, to the horror of the Army Headquarters said that he desired to convert the point of conflict between India and Pakistan into a symbol of peace. On return, the Prime Minister was given a comprehensive briefing at the military operations branch by the army; he has since maintained a stoic silence on the Siachen resolution, having accepted to be guided by the army’s wisdom, which itself, unfortunately, has not been stellar.

However, India’s strategic community, which remains as removed from military matters as the political leadership, does not have the benefit of the army thinking on Siachen. It, therefore, continues to treat Siachen as the low-hanging fruit ripe for plucking which could bring necessary thaw in relations between India and Pakistan. They are oblivious to the truth that today it is in India’s interest that let alone demilitarised, the Siachen glacier needs to be militarily reinforced after an urgent operational review. Having failed to wrest the glacier by force, Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani has played a masterstroke. The Chinese troops’ presence in Northern Areas since 2009, followed by the 13 April 2013 occupation in Ladakh by Chinese border guards has made Siachen extremely vulnerable for the Indian Army. Ironically, Siachen now actually has strategic and operational significance, something that the army was compelled to conjure up for decades.

The Siachen conflict (Operation Meghdoot) was started by the Indian Army on 13 April 1984 for the wrong reasons without much thought and planning reminiscent of the ‘forward policy’ during the 1962 war when posts in high altitude areas were held without adequate logistics support. The northern army commander, Lt General M.L. Chibber (responsible for the Jammu and Kashmir theatre) who started the war for India is today a deeply religious man, contrite and desirous of peace with Pakistan. Baring his heart, he categorically told FORCE (December 2004 issue) that ‘Siachen does not have any strategic significance. The strategic significance being talked about is all invention.’ It cannot get more honest than this.

So why did India start the conflict? To pre-empt the Pakistan Army in the race to claim the 76km long Siachen glacier in the no-man’s land. The Line of Control (LC) agreed by India and Pakistan after the 1971 war ended at map point NJ 9842 short of the high-altitude glaciated areas in the north. What, in hindsight, could be called a disservice to their nations by the two commanders, who decided to end the demarcation of the LC short of the territorial limits of the two nations, was viewed by them as the limit of human survival. It was mutually accepted in 1972 that as humans cannot permanently survive at high altitude glaciers at 10,000 feet rising up to 22,000 feet, it would be a senseless exercise to physically walk the distance to survey areas beyond point NJ 9842. While the Karachi agreement of 1949 mentioned that the then Cease-Fire Line (CFL) ending at map point NJ 9842 ran north into the mountains, the Pakistani delegation did not give much credence to this fact as they felt that with the CFL becoming the LC, the 1949 agreement had been rendered unnecessary. The LC agreement of 1972 makes no mention of how the military line would run beyond NJ 9842.
 
 
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