Harris Ali Akakhail
On 3rd August 1983, General officer commanding(GOC) of Indian army 15th corps General P.N Hoon briefed prime minister Indira Gandhi and unequivocally told her that the strategic importance of Siachen glacier is vivid for Indian defense policy and Pakistani designs to capture the 12 month snow bound glacier is about to be materialized. He articulated well and proper while stating that Indian army must mobilize in advance and with immediate effect to save Leh . Right after this depiction and deduction uttered by Gen. Hoon to his prime minister, Pakistan out of sheer curiosity tested waters on 21st August 1983 when a protest note from northern sector Commander of Pakistan army was handed over to his counterpart in Kargil sector stating that, the line of control moves north-east from point NJ-9842 and joins the K.K (karakoram pass) while all the area West of this extended line belongs to Pakistan. This bolt from the blue cemented Gen. Hoon conviction that Pakistan if not taken care of, would initiate an adventure and advance into the Siachin glacier.
Indeed, Gen. Hoon and his superior northern army commander Lt Gen M.L Chibber grossly misunderstood the goodwill gesture by Pakistan to vouch permissions to interested foreign expeditions for climbing the glacier heights from the Pakistani side. The matter could have been resolved there and then by communicating to Pakistani D.G.M.O over the hot line but ambitious designs on the part of Indians led to a disaster. Irrespective of knowing the fact that Pakistan army, whoese war doctrine revolves around having a defensive posture would never pull up a stunt to cross over a 70 kilometer harsh glacier and set up a camp right at the heart of Indian held Karakoram Passand laya claim to whole of Siachen glacier or move eastward from point NJ-9842 towards Nubra valley to threaten Leh.
As if, it would have been a success, Kashmir and Siachen glacier would have been under immense pressure as of complete chaos in in Indian Punjab. At the end of the day there was no fun in crossing over Siachen and engaging Indians it would have been a futile exercise to exhaust Pakistani armed forces. Aforementioned brief is substantiated by Lt Gen(r). M.L Chibber in an interview when he states, “India’s military occupation of Saltoro passes in spring 1948 was meant only to deter the Pakistanis from getting there first. The Indian Army had no plans for permanent occupation. At the end of the day, the Siachen conflict was a mistake.”
If one studies the Karachi accord of 1949 signed between Indian and Pakistani army under the observatory eye of united nations commission for India and Pakistan and on the basis of the factual position as of 27 July 1949, even a mundane mind can draw a conclusion that point NJ-9842 was the last point of the cease fire line (C.F.L) that was to be demarcated. Beyond that it was no one’s land because of the harsh glacier. So accordingly the ceasefire line was to run vaguely towards north and joins Sino-Indian border.
Since early 60’s the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency began to show C.F.L from point NJ-9842 towards northeast thus joining Karakoram Pass on the Chinese border. Indians claims that this was intentionally done to appease Pakistan as by following the practice many mapping agencies followed suit and later in 1970s and early 1980’s severalmountaineering expeditions applied to Pakistan to climb high peaks in Siachen glacier which aggrieved the Indians more.
To be on a safer side of the recorded history, first encounter over Siachen and adjacent areas can fairly be marked between the two sides in 1983. When hide and seek was played at Baltoro ridge between Pakistani special forces (SSG) men and Indian ladakh scouts. Since then it was no turning back as under the garb of territorial integrity it was imperative for both the armies to move in at Siachen first and achieve surprise.
Immediately, general headquarters(GHQ) at Rawalpindi and South-Block Delhi went into deep deliberations as how to lay claims over the three main passesthat gives entry to Siachen glacier namely Blafond La, Sia La and Gyong La, starting from point NJ-9843 which is itself surrounded by three distinct glaciers, Gyong, Urdelop and Korisa.
India did achieve surprise in this regard and were holding all three passes by mid of May, 1984.
While Indian army was scaling Saltoro range and deploying around 3 battalions all over the three major passes to siachen, they missed grievously or in other words providence came to the help of Pakistan army that Dansum was left unoccupied. Its importance can be gauged from the reality that all three major passes on the Saltoro Range — Sia La, Bilafond La and Gyong La — meet at Dansum and by this strategic importance it makes it an excellent base to defend Saltoro range and the glacier itself. Indians still repent badly of not occupying it as by doing so they would have threatened Khapalu and later in negotiations with Pakistan would have been in a strong bargaining position to trade ‘land for peace’.
All said and done, Siachen glacier imbroglio could have been negotiated between the two varying sides but it became a political jargon and politicians on both sides made it a yard stick for petty political gains as they babbled on the top of their lungs over the issue in the later half of 1980’s. A friendly Middle Eastern country holding her sway over Pakistan and India did intervene to push for a peaceful accord over the glacier and settle it down once and for all. General zia-ul-Haq and Rajeev Gandhi did show positives gestures in that regard. Meanwhile hard points were hammered out for that purpose but Zia’s plane crashed and it did crashed with itself the peace overtures.
Track 2 diplomacy, ministerial level talks, visits of presidents and prime ministers to the glacier and so on and so forth, all trials and tribulations have failed massively as both parties did not move an inch of iota towards settling down the dispute. The impasse lies at the point where Indians hardly pull out of the notion that they occupy all the passes running north-west of point NJ-9842. So why to pull out of the gains attained after sustaining heavy casualties of her forces and expenditure while Pakistan does not even have a foot-print over the glacier. While Pakistan demands that Indians move back to a pre-conceived line running north frompoint NJ-9842.
Today India spends around Rs. 20 million a day to keep her troops well nourished at the glacier to sustain the harshness of weather and equipped with state of the art weapons. On the other hand Pakistan is spending close to Rs. 5 million for the same exercise to be practised Pakistan enjoys a better infrastructure in regard to roads and her observations posts being very close to base camps.
If sanity did not prevail and situation on ground remains the same as of 2003, with no fire worth of a bullet exchanged between the two varying sides than indeed Pakistan is in a better position to keep her troops west of Saltoro range with expenses at a rudimentary level because of her developed lines of communications while if we flip the coin it is to be observed that Indian army lines of communications are too stretched up and so the expense curve rises steeply on the graph of expenditures and human loses too asthey literally have to hop over almost the entire glacier to stack up inventories for their troops at the igloos.
(Harriss Ali Akakhail is commentator on ‘security of Pakistan’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)