News Analysis | Not possible to demilitarise Siachen

Not an ideal scenario in view of stand-off in Ladakh and Chinese build-up: experts.

January 13, 2022 09:37 pm | Updated January 14, 2022 09:22 am IST - NEW DELHI

An aerial view of army camp at Siachen Glacier.

An aerial view of army camp at Siachen Glacier.

We are “not averse” to demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier but the pre-condition is Pakistan has to accept the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), said Army Chief Gen. Manoj Naravane on Thursday raising a fresh debate over the world’s highest battlefield with experts saying it may not be ideal in the backdrop of the standoff in eastern ladakh and Chinese build up. In contrast to the present comments, the Army chief had two years back termed Siachen as a point of “collusive threat” between Pakistan and China and so “we should keep control”.

However, with the standoff in eastern Ladakh and massive build up and expansion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in sub-sector north which is very close to the Karakoram range and Soltoro ridge, several serving officials and experts noted it will not be possible for India to vacate the crucial positions on the glacier.

At the annual press conference, Gen. Naravane said, “We are not averse to demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier, but the pre-condition is to accept the AGPL. Pakistan has to accept what are their positions and has to accept what are our positions.” He said this is “quite parallel” to what is happening in eastern Ladakh. “You have to first disengage, only then you can de-escalate or de-induct, which is another way of saying demilitarisation.”

Gen. Naravane said the situation had occurred again due to a unilateral attempt by Pakistan to change the status quo. The Line of Control (LoC) had been delineated to a point called NJ 9842, and thereafter, the understanding was that it will remain unoccupied. But Pakistan had made an attempt to occupy territory and “we were forced to take our countermeasures”, Gen. Naravane said. Since then, the two countries’ forces have been face-to-face all along the glacier, he said.

Siachen and Sir Creek have long been termed “low hanging fruits” in the past for resolution between India and Pakistan and the two countries have held 13 rounds of Defence Secretary-level talks on Siachen, the last one in June 2012.

Since the May 2020 standoff in eastern Ladakh, there has also been massive build up by China in the Despang plains which lies close to the crucial Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road linking the sub sector north on one side and the Siachen glacier on the other side.

Former Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda said the Indian Army has not been averse to a disengagement at Siachen but it has not happened due to a reluctance by the Pakistan Army to accept the positions that are occupied by the Indian army. “Now the situation has completely changed with the PLA aggression in the sub sector north in eastern Ladakh. With the Siachen sector facing threats from both west and east, there is perhaps no question of any disengagement from Siachen,” he told The Hindu .

Stressing on the importance of the glacier in January 2020, Gen. Naravane had said, “That is one area which faces the western and northern fronts... we should not lose sight that it’s one place where collusivity can happen. So we should keep control.”

Elaborating, he said as far as land borders were concerned Siachen was where China and Pakistan were the closest. “So the chance for collusivity here is the most. Here and in Shaksgam valley.”

On April 13, 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot to capture the 76.4-km glacier on the Saltoro ridge pre-empting Pakistan’s move to occupy it. The operation on the world’s highest battlefield continues till date, making it the longest continuing operation of its kind in the world.

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