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Demilitarization of the Siachen Glacier

The Siachen Glacier was a no-land man's to the southeast of the Karakoram Tract and at the far northern end of the Line of Control, which divides Pakistan's Northern Areas from Indian-controlled Kashmir. Previously, both countries' armies had sent patrols to the glacier. Pakistani cash was the legal tender in the settlements on the glacier's outskirts. Mountaineering trips to the glacier had also been held in Pakistan.

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The Hindustan Times, 13 January 2022: The Indian Army Chief, while addressing a press conference in New Delhi, expressed that India was “not averse to the possible demilitarization of the Siachen glacier, but the precondition for that is to accept the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). Pakistan has to accept what are their positions and what are ours, and both of us have to sign on the dotted line before any kind of disengagement takes place”.

The AGPL  divides current positions of Indian and Pakistani military posts and troops across the entire 110 kilometers (68 mi) long front line in the disputed region of Siachen Glacier. The 1949 Karachi Agreement and 1972 Simla Agreement did not mention who controlled the glacier, merely stating that the Cease Fire Line (CFL) terminated at NJ9842. Under the 1972 Simla Agreement, the Ceasefire Line was converted into the LoC but the ambiguity of the boundary beyond NJ 9842 remained.

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Contrary to what the Indian Army Chief stated at his press conference

In 2006, India and Pakistan had nearly reached an agreement on authenticating the AGPL. India backed out of fear Pakistan will reoccupy the Glacier (Saran, 2017).

Siachen glacier was a no man’s land located to the southeast of the Karakoram Tract and at the extreme northern end of the Line of Control that separates Pakistan’s Northern Areas from Indian-held Kashmir. In the past, armies of both countries had been sending patrols to the glacier. In the villages located on the periphery of the glacier, Pakistani currency was the legal tender. Pakistan had also been hosting mountaineering expeditions to the glacier.

In the early 1980s, a Pakistani advertisement for procurement of high altitude Mountain Gear in a foreign mountaineering magazine prompted the Indians to launch a brigade-size operation to seize Siachen. The Pakistan Army was found napping. As a result of its operation, India gained over 1,000 square miles (3,000 square kilometers) of territory in this area.

Presently, India controls the entire 76 kilometers (47 miles) long glacier and two of the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier- Sia La and Bilafond La. Pakistan holds Gyong and Bilafond glaciers to the west and Gyong La Pass, which dominates Shyok and Nubra river valleys and Indian Army’s access to Leh district.

Indians themselves were not able to give a convincing justification as to why, in 1984, they invaded the desolate glacier. The arguments forwarded by them so far are?

  1. According to the 1949 Agreement, as interpreted by the Indians, Siachen was a no man’s land and thus belonged to India.

2. Pakistan was provoking India by sending mountaineering teams to the glacier.

3. According to Arpil (2016), Pakistan’s occupation of the Siachen up to the Karakoram Pass would lead to their domination of Nubra Valley and the route down to Leh. This is an invalid argument because the  Pakistan Army controls Gyong La Pass, which dominates Shyok and Nubra river valleys, and the Indian Army’s access to Leh district.

4. The Indian occupation of Siachen creates a formidable wedge between Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin.

5. Occupation of the glacier was essential for the defense of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO). India maintains a landing ground at DBO for rapid deployment to block the KKH in a future two-front war with Pakistan and China.

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The author wants to help the Indians by creating a stronger case for them for the occupation of the Siachen glacier. For this argument, the author will perform the role of the Devil’s Advocate. He thinks that the Indians occupied the Siachen glacier because:-

  1. Back in 1984, India had been stopped from playing any role whatsoever in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union, India’s ally, was being drubbed in Afghanistan by the Pakistan-backed Mujahideen. For India, it was time to vent its anger (and that of its ally) by needling Pakistan in an unexpected area.
  2. The Sikh militancy in east Punjab, sponsored by Pakistan to interdict India’s line of communications to the IHK, was another big irritant for India for which it wanted to repay Pakistan in kind.

Why does India want to resolve the Siachen conflict now?

  1. Prohibitive human and material costs to deploy troops on the Glacier.

2. India does not want to further provoke China in the Ladakh region. According to Panag (2020), “China has been aggressive along the LAC in Ladakh because it believed New Delhi was building all-weather roads through the same route that the Indian Army used in 1962 to reach Galwan Valley, thereby threatening Aksai Chin”.

3. By holding Siachen, India is presently threatening the Chinese- controlled Shaksgam valley. To ward off any threat from the opposite side, both China and India have deployed their armor on their sides of the Depsang Plains (The bottleneck between the Siachen Glacier and Aksai Chin). If China closes the bottleneck in an armor operation, the Indian occupation of Siachen will become untenable and northern Ladakh will be squeezed between the Siachen Glacier and the Aksai Chin Plateau.

4. Occupation of Siachen does not prevent China and Pakistan from attacking Ladakh-there are better approaches available.

 

Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.