In May 2005, as Indian and Pakistani negotiators met amid rising hopes of a peace deal on the blood-scarred Siachen Glacier, the then Chief of the Army Staff Joginder Jaswant Singh made an unprecedented public declaration. A deal would only work, he said, when Pakistan agreed to authenticate the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line dividing the two armies. Less than 24 hours later, the talks deadlocked, ending hopes for an historic deal.
Now, a memoir by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s former media adviser Sanjaya Baru has claimed that a Siachen deal was sabotaged by hawks in government, among them Defence Minister A.K. Antony, General Singh and possibly Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
“I was never sure,” Dr. Baru writes, “whether [Mr.] Antony’s hawkish stance was because he genuinely disagreed with the Siachen initiative or whether he was merely toeing a Nehru-Gandhi family line that would not allow Dr. Singh to be the one finally normalising relations with Pakistan.”
General Singh, and other high military officials involved in the negotiations, however, have told a different story to The Hindu. The Prime Minister, they say, was aware of the military’s concerns, and never sought to bypass them.
“I first began dealing with the Siachen issue as Additional Director-General of Military Operations in 1997,” General Singh recalls, “and my position on it stayed pretty consistent. The Indian Army was in a dominant position. In 2005, my first year as chief, we suffered just two fatalities, way lower than a similar formation in a peace-time location in the plains would on average.”
“There was,” General Singh says, “simply no reason to give up this position of advantage unless the AGPL was authenticated. If Pakistan did not authenticate the AGPL, it could cross it again — and we’d have to send up our boys to die.”