The human and economic costs of sustaining a two-decade long bloody conflict over the possession of the geographically remote and climatically inhospitable Siachen Glacier continues to bleed both Pakistan and India dry despite several rounds of talks between two nuclear-armed neighbours to resolve the dispute. variedly described as a war on the rooftop of the world.

The two-day Islamabad talks between Indian and Pakistani defence secretaries on rosolving the Siachen issue have been so far the latest efforts between two sides to resolve the issue but again that ended inconclusively This was the third dialogue session since the January 6, 2004 Islamabad Declaration that kicked off the normalization process between the two sides. But at the end, a bald statement merely repeated the diplomatic

doublespeak for deadlock: that the two sides held “frank and constructive discussions” and would continue to talk – -without specifying any new date. In real terms, therefore, the position, if it has not actually regressed, remains the same as the one that prevailed when the then Indian premier. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, had come to Islamabad for talks with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in July 1989.

What is the Issue?

Originally known as Saicher gharni

the Siachen means the place of roses (Sia-rose. then-place of). Since April 1984. when the Indian army carried out a clandestine operation code-named “Meghdoot” and established permanent posts at the Siachen Glacier, the two nuclear-armed neighbours have confronted each other militarily for control over the icy wasteland and its approaches in the eastern

Karakoram mountain range. adjacent le the borders of India, Pakistan and China. The longest-running armed conflict between two regular armies in the twentieth century. the Siachen conflict has resulted in thousands 01 casualties from both sides, primarily because of adverse climatic conditions and harsh terrain. This Is despite the fact that the leaderships it India and Pakistan acknowledge the human arid economic costs of the Siachen dispute.

According to careful estimates by Pakistani defence experts, to maintain three battalions at the icy wasteland of Siachen, Islamabad spends Rs. 15 million a day. which makes Rs. 450 million a month and Rs 5.4 billion a year. On the other hand, the deployment of sever battalions at the Glacier costs India Rs. 50 million a day, Rs 1.5 billion a month and Rs. 30 billion a year. On average. the experts say, one Pakistani soldier is killed every third day on the Glacier. Showing

particular and the state of Jammu Kashmir in general. The Indians further believe that China and Pakistan want to occupy the Siachen to secure a common border with China to facilitate a closer military link. Although Islamabad had affected its control over the Siachen Glacier since the 1960’s. it did not establish any permanent post because of the harsh climatic conditions there. However, scouting missions kept climbing to the Glacier from time to time.

Hegemonic Designs of India

The Indians were first to deploy their troops and establish permanent posts at the Siachen Glacier in April 1984. through a major air-mobile operation, code-named “Moghdoot” The Indian army quietly moved an advance unit from the Kumaon regiment to occupy key mountain Passes and successfully established permanent posts at the Siachen heights in violation of all the previous agreements reached

between the two countries.

As a result of operation “Meghdoot”, two out of three passes on the Siachen – Sia La and Bilfond La — came under India’s control, while the third pass — Gyonq La remained under Pakistan% control. The Indian army is permanently Stationed all along the 11O-km long Actual Ground Position Line AGPL). backed by a formidable array of surface weapons, including anti-aircraft guns, missiles and artillery. The Pakistani arsenal is comparable: sniper rifles. machine guns. anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and artillery pieces. Though the two armies used to clash on the Glacier quite often, Pakistan announced a ceasefire in November 2003 as part of a border truce with India. With the installation of the Congress-led coalition government in India. both the countries are once again talking to each other on all the contentious issues, including that of the Siachen.

For the first time since 1990. the two countries decided in 2004 to discuss the Siachen issue at the defence secretaries’ level Pakistan’s defence secretary Lt. Gen. (retd) Hamid Nawaz Khan visited India in August 2004 to meet his Indian counterpart Ajai Vikram Singh, who led his country’s team at the negotiations in Hyderabad House of New Delhi. During these talks, which remained inconclusive, members from both the teams reportedly questioned the terrible waste of human lives in a so-called war of prestige and urged that it must be brought to an end. During the second round of talks hold in Islamabad on May 26,27, 2005, the Indian delegation was headed by Defence Secretary Ajay Vikram Singh while Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Wasim Ghazi led the Pakistani side.

Pakistan’s Proposal Knocked Down by Indians

While Pakistan proposed a negotiated withdrawal at troops from the disputed region to the 1980 position, the Indian side was keen to get the whole area declared as demilitarised zone before vacating it Yet, no agreement could be reached between the two sides, primarily because India’s six-point proposal, starting with cessation of “cartographic aggression” and culminating in the ‘withdrawal of forces”. was dramatically in conflict with Pakistan’s two-point formula of first withdrawing forces and then delineating an extension of the Line of

Control (Lop) beyond NJ 9842 (Latitude 98 degrees East and Longitude 42 degrees north). So divergent were the views on both sides that no meeting point was possible.


Analysts say one way to look a’ the problem is to shrug one’s shoulders and say this un-declared war can go on even as India and Pakistan norma.ise an other fronts. Fair enough. But does this logic  

take into account the plight of the troops on both sides and even the bigger logic of normalization itself? No. There are various proposals. including some very good non­official ones, on the table. It is time both sides got out of the old grooves and began to look at the issue in the larger political context rather than simply in the narrow military sense. A more earnest attempt should be made to at least agree on withdrawal to less harsh and more civilized positions and to pledge that no patrols in uncharted territory will be carried out by either side. This too should be soon as a confidence-building measure.

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