It is unfortunate for the families of the 129 Pakistani soldiers who perished in the recent avalanche in Siachen. We humans are so helpless against nature. General Kayani must have felt the pain of these soldiers, since, for the first time, he spoke the language of peace. This is welcome, but we must not get carried away by mere expressions, and create a catch 22 situation for ourselves.
Till 1984, Siachen had no military presence from either side, not even during the 1965 or 1971 wars. Mountaineering expeditions towards K2, and other peaks took place from both sides. During the late 1960s, Pakistan started cartographic aggression by showing Siachen as Pakistani territory in their maps. Suddenly, there was a sharp increase in foreign mountaineering expeditions into this area from the Pakistan side. In 1984, India received confirmed information that the Pakistani Brigade at Skardu, commanded by Pervez Musharraf is launching a commando operation to occupy the Saltoro ridge. We pre-empted Pakistan by 48 hours and beat back their attack in a successful Operation Meghdoot. In the next 20 years, Pakistan launched four major and several minor attacks till 2004 when a ceasefire was declared.
With Siachen being the highest battlefield on earth, and with temperatures dipping as low as -50 °C, living in those forbidding heights is extremely difficult. We have suffered over 1,000 casualties in Siachen since 1984, with a ratio of nine to one of non-battle to battle casualties. For the Pakistani Army, living at 12,000 feet and repeatedly attacking our dominating defensive positions, the ratio of battle to non-battle casualties is the reverse. Siachen, being at a strategic point in the triangular intersection of India, Pak and China, has been under India’s control since 1984. We have command over the three strategic passes including Soltoro, thereby having an eye over the military activities of China and Pakistan in the Karakoram region.
Following the avalanche, the recent Indo-Pak peace talks ended in a deadlock over Siachen demilitarization. While this was more than expected, what bothers me more, is that Several Indian newspapers also seemed to support the idea of Indian army demilitarizing Siachen and establish peace. Well, time and again, Pakistan has violated peace treaties with India. The Standstill Agreement in 1947, the Karachi Agreement of 1949, the Tashkent Agreement of 1966, the Simla Accord of 1972, the Lahore Declaration of 1999, and the Joint Statement of 2004 are nothing but jokes to the Pakistani forces.
Can we really trust, that if we evacuate Siachen, Pakistani forces won’t try to capture Saltoro? Pakistani forces can trek to Saltoro in a week, while it will take us three weeks to reach there. In 1999 when Pakistan sent infiltrators to occupy vacated Indian posts in Kargil, across the LOC, they believed that India would be forced to withdraw from Siachen in exchange of a Pakistani withdrawal from Kargil. The handshake of peace needs both hands to be open. While peace in the valley is of absolute importance, it should happen in a step-by-step approach. Won’t loosing Siachen as the first step be suicidal to the peace process itself?