India, Pakistan plan Siachen, Sir Creek
upon discussions during President Asif Ali Zardari's Sunday visit
to New Delhi, India and Pakistan are looking to step up the
dialogue process by seeking to set dates for talks on the disputed
Siachen glacier and Sir Creek marshland.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
is taking a huge risk in trying to hype up public opinion, within
Pakistan and on an international level, in favour of resolving the
Siachen glacier problem with India.
The Siachen glacier suddenly made the news headlines earlier this
month when Zardari came to India for one day to visit Ajmer Sharif
and on the eve of the visit, an avalanche on the glacier killed
more than one hundred Pakistani soldiers. It again hit the
headlines the next day as one of the issues Zardari discussed with
Singh when he hosted the Pakistani leader for lunch before his
trip to Ajmer.
According to Pakistani sources, the sudden visit by Zardari soon
after Pakistan granted the much awaited MFN status to India was to
convince Singh that the Zardari government genuinely wants to
improve relations with India. According to the sources, Zardari
urged Singh that India should now reciprocate by taking a
meaningful step to please the Pakistanis who really want their
government to improve relations with their neighbour through trade
and other exchanges. Zardari assured Singh that his talks in
Pakistan could be turned into a historic visit if the two sides
can sign an agreement on the Siachen Glacier. That, he said, would
genuinely build tremendous goodwill for India among the Pakistani
people as well as with the Army. What he did not say, but was
obvious, was that this would also help Zardari win the next
elections and improve his relations with the Army Chief.
But the problem is that India has too much to lose if it agrees to
the Pakistani formula to resolve the dispute and it may even be
accused of compromising India's security to accommodate Pakistan's
Siachen glacier , in fact, is part of the UN sponsored LoC
agreement between the two sides on Kashmir. And the roots of the
conflict over Siachen lie in the non-demarcation on the western
side on the LoC map beyond Grid Point NJ 9842. Since it was left
unmarked and both sides had their own interpretation of the
direction of the LoC beyond that grid point, it eventually led to
The dispute started in 1984, when the Indian Army captured the two
key northern passes in the Saltoro Range. Pakistan tried a few
times to dislodge the Indian troops from their posts but found it
too difficult because the heights it was holding were lower than
the ones under India's control.
But the defeat on the glacier was never forgotten by the Pakistani
Army. So in 1999, then Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf tried
to avenge the defeat by quietly sending forces to occupy Indian
positions in the Kargil heights that were left unmanned by India
during dangerously cold snowy winters. Pakistan's adventure in
Kargil was aimed at cutting off Indian supply routes to Ladakh and
thus secure Siachen indirectly. The attempt failed but brought the
two rivals close to a fourth war, with both sides suffering heavy
casualties. The Pakistani move in Kargil is etched permanently in
the Indian psyche.
Now Pakistan wants that Indian troops in Siachen glacier should
just withdraw to the positions they held prior to 1984. But the
problem for India is that in 1963, Pakistan unilaterally and
illegally conceded the Shaksgam area, north of Siachen, to China.
So now if India withdraws to the positions it held prior to 1984,
it would mean removing the only bulwark to prevent Pakistan and
China from linking up militarily on the glacier, a move that will
be a losing proposition for the Indian Army.
Even if they are authenticated and marked before the troops are
withdrawn, as India had proposed, it will take third-party neutral
observers to monitor the situation. Pakistan, so far, has refused
even to accept India's demand of authentication of the positions,
and India sees the refusal as a hidden agenda of Pakistan of
occupying them at some future date.
The hurdles are so gigantic that any sudden hype about an
agreement between the two rivals on this dispute might boomerang
against both governments, unless, of course, they find a solution
that will not be perceived in India as a "sellout", and is seen as
a "win-win" solution of the dispute for both.
Ravi M. Khanna is a
long-time South Asia observer. He has headed the South Asia Desk
in Voice of America Newsroom in Washington and published a book,
'TV News Writing Made Easy for Newcomers'. He can be reached at