Pakistan and India had reached a near agreement in 1992 on the Siachen dispute after Islamabad assented to recording the existing troop positions in an annex, but the deal was never operationalised because the Indian political leadership developed cold feet.
Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said recently that it was time the two countries resolved the dispute. He said this during a visit to the region after an avalanche earlier this year on the Pakistani side killed more than 100 soldiers and civilians.
The text of the 1992 negotiating drafts — obtained and reproduced by The Hindu — shows just how close the two sides were to such a resolution two decades ago: the Pakistani delegation offered a proposal that met India's demand of recording existing ground positions before withdrawal of troops from a proposed zone of disengagement.
The talks that year, the sixth round both countries had held on the issue, took place in New Delhi from November 2-6, 1992.
Pakistan's proposal of indicating in an annexure the areas the armed forces of the two sides would vacate and redeploy to found immediate acceptance among Indian officials. The Indian delegation was led by N.N. Vohra, then the defence secretary. “We had finalized the text of an agreement at Hyderabad House by around 10 pm on the last day”, Mr. Vohra, who is now the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, told The Hindu. “Signing was set for 10 am. But later that night, instructions were given to me not to go ahead the next day but to conclude matters in our next round of talks in Islamabad in January 1993”. “Of course, that day never came”, Mr. Vohra added. “That's the way these things go,” he said.
Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister at the time and the BJP's campaign against the Babri Masjid was in high gear. Siachen quickly receded from the government's list of priorities.
The 1949 ceasefire agreement delineated the Line of Control until point NJ9842, after which, it said, it would run “thence north to the glaciers”. In 1984, fearful of adverse Pakistani moves, Indian soldiers moved north and eventually occupied most of the highest points on the glaciers. The ‘Siachen conflict' was born.
The Indian side's proposal dated November 3, 1992 contained the following elements: delineation of the Line of Control north of NJ 9842; redeployment of troops on both sides to agreed positions, but after demarcating their existing positions; a zone of disengagement subsequent to the redeployment, with both sides committing that they would not seek to intrude into this zone; a monitoring mechanism to maintain the peace in the ZoD.
Pakistan's proposal was as follows: Both sides would vacate their troops from the triangular area between Indira Col in the west, Karakoram Pass in the east and NJ 9842; troops on both sides would withdraw to a point south of NJ 9842, to the pre-1972 Simla Agreement positions; neither side shall attempt to alter the status of the demilitarised triangle pending delineation of the LoC north of NJ 9842 by a joint commission.
The refusal to authenticate ground positions and the reference to Karakoram Pass — a point well to the east of NJ9842 and a red rag to the Indians — led to an impasse. As a way out, the Pakistani side, led by its defence secretary, offered the following compromise: “The armed forces of the two sides shall vacate areas and re-deploy as indicated in the annexure. The positions vacated would not for either side constitute a basis for legal claim or justify a political or moral right to the area indicated”.
Mr. Vohra said that by the time the talks concluded, an agreement had been reached which fully adhered to the Indian negotiating brief of troop positions being recorded one way or the other and that the Pakistani proposal that the LoC would run to the Karakoram Pass had been dropped. But the agreement was never signed.
In 2005, the two sides were once again said to be nearing agreement to demilitarize the region, but the deal fell through — Pakistan was no longer interested in demarcating the ground positions. After Pakistan's Kargil adventurism, such a demarcation became for the Indian side a non-negotiable, especially to the Indian Army, along with a mechanism to monitor any intrusions into a demilitarized zone in the Siachen region.
On Monday, the two countries will hold yet another round of talks on Siachen with no sign of a softening of attitudes on either side.