Event ReportsPublished on Apr 05, 2005
The Observer Research Foundation¿s (ORF) Institute of Security Studies hosted a roundtable discussion on the ¿Demilitarisation of Siachen¿, on May 4, 2005, at ORF Campus, New Delhi. The discussion was chaired by Gen (Retd) VP Malik, former Chief of the Army Staff.
Demilitarisation of Siachen
The Observer Research Foundation's (ORF) Institute of Security Studies hosted a roundtable discussion on the "Demilitarisation of Siachen", on May 4, 2005, at ORF Campus, New Delhi. The discussion was chaired by Gen (Retd) VP Malik, former Chief of the Army Staff. He is currently President, ORF Institute of Security Studies. A large number of serving and retired armed forces officers, diplomats, academics, strategic analysts and journalists participated in the roundtable.

Several participants questioned the official line that Siachen has immense strategic significance. It was brought out that there was virtually no such significance other than the need to guard against Pakistan's attempts to link up Karakoram Pass with the area in Shaksgam Valley that Pakistan illegally ceded to China in 1963 and through which the Karakoram Highway has been built. While the participants generally agreed on the desirability of demilitarisation, the discussion centred around the need to accurately delineate the present positions of both the sides on ground and map as a start point for the subsequent demilitarisation process. Without delineation, it would not be possible to deal effectively with violations in future. 

It was recalled that the 1998 talks with Pakistan had also broken down due to Pakistan's intransigence on agreeing to exchange and jointly ratify the present positions on ground and map. It was pointed out that Siachen is an emotive issue in Pakistan. A former diplomat said that the Pakistan army finds it difficult to publicly accept the present deployment position because they have told their nation that they are on the Saltoro Ridgeline and that the Indian army is at a position of disadvantage on the lower heights. When the truth comes out, it will amount to a loss of face for the Pakistan army. When Pakistan's Qaid post had been captured by India's Naib Subedar (later Honorary Captain) Bana Singh, PVC, Benazir Bhutto had publicly taunted President Zia ul Haq about it. One of the participants recommended that India should invite eminent map makers and respectable journals like the National Geographic to publish maps and satellite photographs of the area so as to better inform the international and Pakistani public about the present military positions at Siachen.

There was a consensus view that despite the ongoing peace process and General Musharraf's professed change of heart, it would not be prudent to trust the Pakistanis as yet due to their proclivity to launch Kargil-type intrusions across the LoC. Several former Indian army officers emphasised that it would not be possible for the army to take back heights on the Saltoro Ridge if the Pakistan army was to surreptitiously occupy some positions after disengagement and demilitarisation as the terrain configuration, the super-high altitude (above 20,000 feet in most cases) and treacherous climatic conditions preclude successful offensive action. Posts like Bana and Ashok cannot be re-occupied after evicting the defenders. The government will need to understand that in such an eventuality, it will be necessary to open another front across the LoC or even the international boundary to force the Pakistan army to withdraw from the vacated posts that it might grab.

An army officer who had commanded an infantry battalion at Siachen expressed the view that a phased approach to disengagement will help to build confidence. He recommended that the initial disengagement can take place in the area of the Central Glacier, vis-à-vis the Northern and the Southern Glaciers. A former senior army officer recommended that India must first build a viable quick reaction capability tailored for the terrain and climatic conditions obtaining in Siachen before accepting disengagement and demilitarisation as the Pakistanis are well known for attempting "nibbling" actions even along the LoC. 

Implying that India is now a major power, a former diplomat pointed out that India need not fear a Pakistani occupation of Siachen after demilitarisation. A few participants advocated the necessity of going to a third party to provide guarantees that Pakistan will not occupy posts vacated by India. They were of the view that both the sides need to make some concessions in the interest of lasting peace and harmony. However, this was very strongly contested by the majority. Another view was that India had been making too many concessions in order to win brownie points with the international community so as to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and that there was no need to try to resolve the Siachen dispute in a hurry. 

The consensus that emerged was that unless the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) is recognised by Pakistan and delineated in a mutually acceptable manner, there should be no question of falling back from present positions, no matter what the cost. As a first step, the Ministry of External Affairs should publish detailed maps showing the present positions and make them public. It was felt that India should wait for the present cease-fire to hold for a longer period and for greater trust to develop between the two nations and not rush into demilitarisation. A five to 10 years time frame may perhaps be appropriate. The cease-fire should be followed by the process of delineation of present positions, then gradual disengagement by sectors and, finally demilitarization. 

Report prepared by Gurmeet Kanwal, Senior Fellow, Institute of Security Studies, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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