INDIA : GOVERNMENT SET TO REPEAT STRATEGIC BLUNDER OF AKSAI CHIN IN SIACHEN?
by Dr. Subhash Kapila
In this authors book India s Defence Policies and Strategic Thought. A Comparative Analysis. .former President Nixon of the United States was quoted to highlight how India had in its policies been indifferent to adhering to the balance of power concept and how India was inclined to marginalize its far flung peripheries.
The pages of history are littered with the ruins of countries that were indifferent to erosion of the balance of power. Losses on the periphery where a countrys interests appear marginal, never seem to merit a response or warrant a confrontation with the enemy. But small losses add up. Expansionist powers thrive on picking up loose geopolitical change. When it comes, it usually takes place under the worst possible circumstances for those on the defensive.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, oblivious to the crucial strategic significance of Aksai Chin (North Ladakh) gifted it away to China. India rues till today this Himalayan blunder in strategic terms. Nehru hid the fact of the Chinese annexation of Indian territory for nearly eight years. He later justified the loss by terming Aksai Chin as a desolate area where not a blade of grass grew.
Half a century later, not learning from the Aksai Chin strategic blunder, the present government seems set to repeat history. Going by the utterances of his National Security Adviser, India seems set to gift away Siachen to Pakistan on the plea that the Prime Minister wants to make the area as mountains of peace.
Today, Siachen too is being strategically marginalized and compromised again for political reasons. At issue is whether Indian Prime Minister can marginalize strategic peripheries for political gains or mileage?
Siachen, like Aksai-chin is not Indian loose geo-strategic change which any Indian Prime Minister can put in a political juke-box.
The strange thing about the Siachen debate, currently underway, is that the Indian Army has not requested or advised that it cannot continue with the commitments of Siachen Sector defence. The debate emerged in the media, it seems with inspired inputs from the establishment, that the defence of Siachen is a costly affair and hence needs demilitarization. That this inspired reporting has linkages with the Prime Minister's visit to Pakistan cannot be denied; the strategic costs are immaterial.
The subject has a long history and debate between India and Pakistan , and it would take a whole book to do justice. However for the benefit of the readers of this website, the issue is being addressed by throwing light on some salient factors as under:
* Strategic Significance of Siachen Sector
* India s Sell-out to Pakistan on Siachen.
* Can Pakistan be Trusted on De-militarisation of Siachen?
* India s Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry Strangely Silent on Siachen Issue..
* Indian Army Has Serious Objections to Political Compromise on Siachen.
* Pakistan s Questionable Position or Not Formally Authenticating AGPL on Maps.
* India Has No Strategic Compulsions to Justify a Climb-down on Siachen.
* United States Pressure on India to Climb-down in Favour of Pakistan .
Strategic Significance of Siachen Sector
In civilian minds, the common misperception is that Siachen Sector, only comprises of Siachen Glacier and that de-militarisation of the Siachen Glacior should be no big deal. It is not so.
What is at stake in the de-militarisation of the Siachen Sector is that Pakistan wants India to give up the entire Saltoro Ridge, a long ridge extending nearly 120 KM (on which runs the AGPL) from the border of India with Pak ceded Chinese territory in the North to Indias Kargil Sector (East)
The strategic significance of Saltoro Ridge and the Siachen Glacier can be said to be as under for India :
* India has strategic and terrain domination over Pakistan s so-called Northern Areas (J & K territory merged into Pakistan ) and Pakistan-ceded Kashmir territory to China .
* Blocks routes of ingress to the vital Ladakh Sector.
* It provides a strategic wedge to prevent further Pakistan-China geographical link-up
* Acts as a strategic pressure point against Pakistan s military adventurism against the Kargil Sector.
* Indira-Col the Northern most part of Siachen directly overlooks Chinese occupation that was illegally ceded by Pakistan to China. Having a foot on the ground here is the only way for India to legitimately and effectively dispute Chinese illegal presence here. (Input received from a reader as feedback on this paper.)
With such strategic significance, any statement de-emphasising Siachens strategic significance is both puerile and sterile.
If Siachens strategic significance is being de-emphasised on grounds of financial costs, logistic challenges or hazards to life and limb, then why not de-emphasise equally difficult regions on India s other frontiers?
India s borders define its nation hood and its sovereignty. Their defence and integrity cannot become debates on a cost-benefit ratio. Further, the costs of re-deployment and de-militarisation would outweigh the costs of maintaining present positions as all the defensive and logistic infrastructure in-situ will have to be destroyed. on pull back of troops.
India s Sell-Out to Pakistan on Siachen :
Going by media reports and statements of the National Security Advisor. Mr. M.K Narayanan, India is virtually on a sellout to Pakistan on Siachen.
India right from the First Round of Siachen Talks has maintained that no Indian re-deployment of troops in Siachen or the de-militarisation will take place, unless the following conditions are met:
* Pakistan agrees to de-lineate the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in Siachen Sector.
* The AGPL de-lineation would then be authenticated on maps, to be signed by senior military officers of India and Pakistan .
* AGPL authenticated maps to be then exchanged by both countries.
* Pakistan would cease cartographic aggression and project the AGPL in all its maps, like the LAC is done up to NJ-9842, i.e. AGPL becomes the extension of the LAC from NJ-9842, northwards , to the border with Pak-ceded Chinese territory.
* Thereafter, formation of ground rules for both sides for the area to be de-militarised..
* Then only as a last and final step, both sides will discuss redeployment and de-militarisation of this sector.
The above position has consistently been maintained by India . Pakistan in August 1989 (Rajiv Gandhi-Benazir Bhutto talks) tried to give a spin that agreement for redeployment had been reached, in Islamabad . The next day, India s Foreign Ministry, through its spokesperson. Aftab Seth, categorically contradicted the Pakistan assertion.
India s former Foreign Secretary Late Shree J N Dixit (then Ambassador to Pakistan and lately India s National Security Advisor) had reflected on the above in his book on Pakistan . Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance as follows as to why talks could not make progress.
The meeting between military commanders of India and Pakistan on the issue of Siachen took place as scheduled in August. While mechanical and operational aspects of the arrangements for mutual withdrawal or redeployment of troops were more or less finalized.
First, while agreeing that troops would be redeployed at mutually agreed points, they refused to confirm cartographically the points from which their troops would be withdrawn."
"Second, they said withdrawal would be subject to India generally agreeing that the line of control or notional line determining jurisdiction of each country, should be drawn tangentially north-eastwards to the Karakoram range, from the northernmost grid reference point clearly identified in the maps, NJ9842."
"The objective was clear. They (Pakistan) not only wanted India to vacate its strategically secure position on Siachen, making the area a no mans land but also wished to lay claim to several thousand square miles of Indian territory South and South-Westwards from Karakoram ranges to establish future legal claims on the area. One had come to an Impasse
Shockingly for the nation, and to its surprise, the Indian media carried reports attributable to the National Security Adviser (part of points) on Siachen as follows:
* Pakistan can now sign the Siachen Agreement without authenticating by the military commanders, the AGPL on maps.
* The AGPL positions would be attached as an Annexure to the agreement (presumably again without formal authentication)
* India is not laying down any conditions
The above seems to be the consequence of the secret parleys between the Indian National Security Advisor and Pakistan PM Shaukat Aziz in Dubai recently.
This strategic climb-down from India s well articulated and established position smacks of a possible sell-out It seems that the PMO has by passed or ignored the recommendations of India s other policy making organs of the Government.
Can Pakistan Be Trusted on De-militarisation of Siachen?
India must first come to a definitive conclusion that Pakistan can be trusted with the de-militarisation of Siachen. The very fact that Pakistan is unwilling to formally authenticate the AGPL in the proposed agreement, betrays Pakistan s intentions.
The Pakistan Army and its COAS, General Musharraf cannot and should not be trusted by the Indian political leadership. General Musharrafs credibility is plagued by his dismal record as follows:
* Masterminded the Kargil misadventure. Kargil Sectors major stretch had stood virtually demilitarized till 1999 when Pakistani troops occupied formidable heights in Indian territory to cut off Ladakh. Indian Army had to re-capture these heights at great cost and now held throughout the year. as the consequence.
* Repudiated the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Accord, the latters man thrust was on nuclear CBMs.
* Terrorism and proxy war against India continues unabated, despite his repeated assurances.
India s Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry Strangely Silent on Siachen Issue:
This issue should have been the natural preserve of both these vital ministries. One cannot but help coming to the conclusion that they have been asked to keep clear of the subject and let the PMO handle.
Indian Army Has Serious Objections to Political Compromise on Siachen
If India is accepting Pakistan s conditions that it will not authenticate formally the AGPL in Siachen on maps to be attached to any agreement and if India accepts the Annexure bit, it is a sad day for the Indian Army.. The dominating heights on Saltoro Ridge was captured by the Indian Army at a great personal cost. A military pull-back from Saltoro Ridge on political grounds and the possible re-occupation by Pakistani forces of positions vacated by India, thereafter, would be the ultimate irony.
India , like in the past, would be repeating the mistake of selling away its military gains and victories at the negotiating table for dubious political gains from the military ruler of Pakistan , dubbed by the Washington Post as a liar.
The Indian Army Chief of Army Staff, General J J Singh, within the constraints of being a serving soldier, could not have stated it better and firmly the Indian Armys strong feelings on the issue.
* We have conveyed our concerns and views to the Government and we expect the composite Dialogue between the two countries will take care of all these concerns
* The Government decision will be taken in consonance with the views put in place
* Troops withdrawal is a process when disengagement of the forces from the present position has to be undertaken and that will be followed by demilitarization. We will cross the bridge when we reach it
The Congress Government would be severely answerable to the Indian public, should it choose to ignore Indian Armys mature professional advice. It should learn from Indias military history post 1947, the lessons of ignoring sound professional military advice given to political leadership on crucial security issues..
The tribe of retired senior military officers enlisted by the establishment to advocate its project of de-militarisation of Siachen does not reflect sound military professional advice. They reflect the views of their patrons, both Indian and external.
Pakistans Questionable Position on Not Formally Authenticating AGPL on Maps
Nobody has questioned Pakistan s questionable position on not being ready to formally authenticate the AGPL on maps as part of an overall Siachen Agreement, in view of the past record of authenticating the following:
* Pakistan had formally authenticated the 1949 LOC Line
* Pakistan had formally authenticated the 1972 LAC
The reasons being advanced in the media are simplistic, in that Pakistan would not like to admit that its troops are withdrawing from Siachen when it has all along been projecting to its public that Siachen is with the Pakistan Army. It is public knowledge within Pakistan that their valiant Pakistan Army surrendered at Dacca (93,000 troops), lost territory in 1971 in J&K , leading to a new LAC and was evicted from Kargil in 1999. So that is not the argument.
In view of the above, some additional questions that arise are as follows:
* Siachen is very much part of the J & K issue. How or why Pakistan is willing to negotiate on Siachen, (even with an Annexure) separately when it not willing to accept the LOC as a border?
* Is there some Pakistan-China strategic angle refusing to acknowledge the AGPL by Pakistan ?
* Why is Pakistan willing to negotiate troops withdrawal in Siachen but not delineation of the AGPL like the LOC?
* Is this Pakistani reluctance got to do something with Pakistani merger of Northern Areas (Part of J & K State) with Pakistan ?
These questions need to be deliberated upon:
India Has No Strategic Compulsions to Justify a Climb-down on Siachen
Figuratively and literally, India today has no strategic compulsions to climb-down on Siachen, when it should be Pakistan that should be climbing down on the issue.
India s nuclear and conventional military predominance on the Indian sub-continent is well established. India has some internal security irritants but these can be sorted out without any re-deployment from India s borders. Pakistan s strategic and security situation is grave:
* Pakistan s Western frontiers are explosive
* Pakistan Army is over-stretched on the Western frontiers from Waziristan and Baluchistan facing a very serious armed conflict.
* Pakistan needs peaceful Eastern frontiers with India to enable diversion of Pak. Army to the Western Frontiers.
* Pakistan needs to withdraw troops from Siachen for their redeployment in Balochistan.
This was the opportune time for India to insist that for a Siachen Agreement, Pakistan would have to formally authenticate the AGPL in Siachen on maps to be signed by military commanders of both countries.
It is strange that the Prime Ministers strategic advisers cannot see the strategically opportune opening that is currently available to India vis-s-vis Pakistan and Siachen in particular.
Then why India s climb-down? Are there external pressure form the United States on India to accommodate Pakistan.?
United States Pressure on India to Climb-down in Favour of Pakistan
It is well known that United States has historically been inclined to pressurize India on Kashmir and Siachen, in Pakistan s favour.
What makes the Americans pressure on India on this count, more intense today can be attributed to the following reasons:
* USA badly needs General Musharrafs continuance as military ruler of Pakistan for its own strategic requirements.
* Pakistan is becoming restive under Musharrafs seven year misrule. The Pakistan Army too show signs of the same.
* For Musharraf to continue in power, he has to show the Pakistan Army and the masses, some visible successes or political victories over India .
The last mentioned is a critical American requirement and hence the United States pressure. Musharraf too is pressurising the United States that he cannot deliver results in capturing Osama Bin Laden until India is made to reduce military pressure on Pakistan's Eastern Frontiers
It is a different question as to why a strategically strong India , should succumb to US pressure.
India would be strategically ill-advised to repeat the Himalayan blunder of Aksai Chin in Siachen. There are no strategic imperatives that prompt or warrant a strategic climb-down by India .
Siachen Sector is a critically strategic area that borders what could virtually be called the tri-junction of Pakistan , China and India on the Northern borders. This arises from Pakistan s ceding of J & K state territory illegally to China .
Siachens strategic significance cannot be de-emphasised on a financial cost benefit ratio analysis. Nor is Siachen a geo-strategic loose change that can be given away as political alms under external pressure.
India s political leadership must recognize that in national security affairs, India has been ill-served historically by arm-chair strategists.
In matters of national security and strategic affairs India s political leadership would be well advised to listen, appreciate and respect the advice of its military professional leadership. Siachen is one of them.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email:email@example.com)http://www.saag.org/common/uploaded_fil ... r1778.html