The Siachen Imbroglio

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The Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Khurshid Kasuri set the ball rolling on Siachen by proclaiming that there could be a break through on the issue which would pave the way for a substantial agreement at the time of visit of Mr. Manmohan Singh to Pakistan. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, vehemently denied reports that any such agreement was in the offing. The official reaction by the Indian Armed Forces thus remained guarded. The Indian Army’s apprehensions are based on its experience in Kargil in 1999 when Pakistan blatantly violated the Line of Control, upturning the Shimla Agreement of 1972.

In case Pakistan undertakes a similar maneuver in the Glacier after both sides have withdrawn, which is tactically possible given the ease of approach from its side, Indians will find it virtually impossible to reoccupy the Glacier. The human and material costs of having occupied the Glacier have been quite heavy for both sides. The daily costs are also said to be over Rs 4 Crore for India and a relatively lower Rs 1.5 Crore for Pakistan. The Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh had been the original votary of the proposal for conversion of Siachen into a peace park.

An agreement on Siachen along with Sir Creek is expected. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have visited the area and are aware of the operational nuances of the Glacier both from the point of view of security and its human and economic costs. However a substantial resolution would be incumbent on working out a verification of the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) agreement acceptable to both sides and an implicit trust that there would be no violation of the same in the future if troops vacate the positions.

There is a need for pragmatism on both sides in case these thorny issues are to be resolved to mutual satisfaction. Now that the Confidence Building Measures are continuing, there should be time lines set to resolve issues such as Siachen and Sir Creek. The former in particular is tying up a lot of resources of the Armed Forces as well as costing the ex chequer over Rs 1000 Crores per year. Let us hope that good sense prevails in the months ahead.

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.