‘Siachen has no strategic position. Both countries should demilitarize’
Greed and sense of insecurity are the two worst psycho cases where a person or in some cases the whole nation is driven with an insatiable desire that seek infinite acquisitions and protections. Leo Tolstoy has very beautifully depicted this tendency in his short story “How much land does a man need?” It talks of a man who is permitted to select as large tract of a land as he can on one condition; before sunset, he has to get back to the spot he begins his selection from. The man, pursuing for a largest piece, dies before reaching the agreed spot and all he gets at the end is a small piece of land suitable for his grave. The Siachen tragedy may not fit well into the morale of this story but one can draw some inferences from it. However, the question is; “which country behaved like this greedy man – Pakistan or India?” The common consensus is that it was India that occupied the Siachen heights first and Pakistan missed the game by one week only. How sad! All these years the icy barren land of the Siachen Glacier remained a patient spectator showing no reacting to the molestation of its peaceful environment. The soldiers from both the countries kept dying and getting incapacitated to satiate one plausible goal - keep this futile land under their control. Then came the day when Mother Nature couldn’t bear with this ongoing violation of its echo system and down came the glacier that buried alive nearly 150 brave soldiers and civilians. Question raised; “who to blame for this tragedy?”
Ejaz Haider, in his column “Siachen – the facts” (Express Tribune of 13 April 2012) proved India as the aggressor by saying: “It was Pakistan’s clear understanding that the area, according to the 1972 delineation and demarcation of the LoC, belonged to her.” Is it true? According to some other sources, the 1972 Simla Agreement did not clearly mention as to who controlled the glacier, merely saying that from the NJ9842 location the boundary would proceed "thence north to the glaciers." Since this area was not demarcated at the time of partition, the US Defence Mapping Agency prepared a Tactical Pilotage Charts in 1967 covering the area from NJ9842 east-northeast to the Karakoram Pass and showed it as a Pakistani territory. Could this agency be considered as an authority to allot a piece of land to any country? I doubt it.
Another questionable reference in Ejaz Haider’s column is an excerpt from a book, Pakistan Leadership Challenges, that says; “General Jahandad realised that “whoever succeeded in occupying the passes first” would be the winner because dislodging him would be almost impossible. As Corps Commander, his assessment to the GHQ was: “Next year (1984), India is most likely to pre-empt the occupation of the main passes of Baltoro Ridge” [italics mine]. These italics raise a doubt on an earlier claim by the writer that the area belonged to Pakistan. Why would a country, Pakistan in this case, think of occupying a land that belonged to her? Simultaneously, what led General Jahandad Khan to say in 1984 that India would most likely try to pre-empt the occupation if the area was already demarcated back in 1972 as a Pakistani territory? These contradictions are more supportive of the idea that the area was not properly defined and both Pakistan and India tried to take advantage of an ambiguity and thus fallen prey to their insatiable desires of pursuing a game that resulted in deaths, environmental degradation, and a huge monetary loss to both of them.
Was it simply an ego-driven conflict or some strategic gains were attached to it as well? On 14 April 2012, a report in The Express Tribune quoted Brigadier (Retd) Javed Hussain as saying: “Siachen has no strategic position. Both countries should demilitarize.” Nawaz Sharif also came out with a very bold suggestion asking Pakistan to withdraw its troops first and avoid making it a matter of ego. Although this gesture of Nawaz Sharif didn’t abode well with the Chief of Army and some ex-generals and politicians, it did convey a message of the futility of this whole war game. The timeline of major events at Siachen begins from 1984 when India captured Bilfond La pass. Later in 1986, it captured 21,000 ft high Qaid Post from Pakistan as well. There were some more skirmishes and operations in 1987, 1990, 1992, 1998, and 1999 that couldn’t bring any remarkable achievements to Pakistan. Kargil war was also a part of the same efforts.
Is the Pakistan Army alone responsible for the continuation of this futile war? Pakistan army chief has already conveyed his willingness for peace talks and demilitarization. India’s reaction was no different either. But these peaceful gestures couldn’t go well with some sections of the society. The former chief of JI, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, denounced the pull-out proposal, sensed a conspiracy in it, and claimed that Siachen belonged to Pakistan. The conclusive lesson of Ejaz Haider’s column “lower the guard and be prepared to face the consequences” found an additional explanation when Qazi Hussain Ahmed said; “the pull out would amount to surrender the Siachen to India.”
Would the voices of peace and demilitarization prevail over the voices of war and militarization? Answer to this question has to come from the majority of the people and especially from those who hold sway over the people’s opinion. The ANP has already rendered its support to the position of PML-N while the JI is sending opposite signals. The soldiers from both the countries are looking towards their leadership to know what fate awaits them. Amidst this rhetoric, the Siachen Glacier is again watching silently and hoping that the hostilities in the area may not escalate to the point where natural disasters become unavoidable.