M A I N   N E W S

Day 2: Siachen fog
No pull-out, says India
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 15
Even as India and Pakistan held the Secretary-level talks here to resolve various contentious issues, Defence Minister A.K. Antony today asserted that there would be no demilitarisation of Siachen glacier, which had been under India’s control for almost 20 years, till the time Islamabad accepted ground realities.

The issue came up prominently at the two-day Foreign Secretary-level talks held here.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an international conference, he said India would not withdraw troops from the world’s highest battlefield till Pakistan accepted the ground positions held by New Delhi.

The statement from the Defence Minister came a day after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee categorically said Arunachal Pradesh was “our territory”.

Responding to the statement by Chinese envoy to India Sun Yuxi, claiming Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of China, the Defence Minister followed suit and said there was no question of India giving up even an inch of its territory.

The assertion from the Defence Minister came within days of the Army pointing out to a group of journalists that demilitarisation of Siachen would be the biggest blunder India could commit. The Army had said that the glacier was vital for the defence of the country. “We have control over 12 of the tactically important peaks on the glacier. Besides, we have the advantage in Nubra and Shyok valleys and if India vacated the glacier, it would weaken the Army’s control in the region.”

The Army is of the view that if the glacier is demilitarised, the enemy will be able to dictate terms to New Delhi in this strategic region as India’s hold on Siachen is of great disadvantage to Pakistan.

India took control of Siachen in 1984 by launching Operation Meghdoot. Pakistan had initially sent in mountaineering expeditions to the glacier when India responded by sending an Army team to hold the glacier. Later, another team was sent to the glacier by the Army and since then the whole glacier had been under the control of the Indian troops much to the complaints from across the border.

Experts are of the view that the control over Siachen eliminates the possibility of Pakistanis linking up with the Chinese to pose a threat to the Ladakh region and that the Army’s assessment should be the deciding factor for any redeployment. The experts were of the view that Islamabad was not dependable and like Kargil, India might have to put in greater efforts later to reoccupy the heights if there was any move to the region by Pakistan.

The glacier acts as a wedge between Shaksgam Valley under the Chinese control and Baltistan under the Pakistan control. Being in control of these heights offers Indian Army the advantage over Shyok and Nubra valleys and dominating positions on Saltoro Ridge provide the Army with an advantage over the Pakistani force located almost 3,000 feet below.

Experts say there cannot be any arrangement with Pakistan in Siachen without involving China. Beijing has made it clear that as far as Shaksgam Valley dispute is concerned, it will negotiate only with the country that has control over Siachen and the armed occupation of Saltoro Ridge anyway thwarts Pakistan’s designs to ingress into Ladakh.

The Army is of the view that if India pulls back without achieving anything, it will be a strategic blunder.



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