Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

About the author
Gentleman crusader
List of articles
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

General Kayani has also got the genesis of the problem wrong though he rightly asserts that both sides are paying a high price in blood, treasure and environmental costs

Facts vs Bluff on Siachen

Siachen glacier has no intrinsic strategic value. Both India and Pakistan should withdraw or redeploy once there is clear acceptance of the 1949 CFL-cum-LOC.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 22 April, 2012

There has been a flurry of interest after General Kayani declared that India and Pakistan must live in peaceful coexistence as defence without development is neither viable nor acceptable. Hurrah! He saw all issues as capable of resolution and Siachen as an urgent starting point. This impassioned appeal followed the tragic death on 7 April of 138 Pakistani troops in an avalanche “while on Siachen”. He said “everyone knows why the army is here … because in 1984, the Indian Army occupied the area and in response to that the Pakistan army was sent in”. The facts are otherwise.

General Kayani has also got the genesis of the problem wrong though he rightly asserts that both sides are paying a high price in blood, treasure and environmental costs. Pakistan’s solution calls for an Indian withdrawal from the glacier. India in turn is willing to accept a mutual pull back and redeployment of troops to agreed positions provided Pakistan acknowledges the present “Actual Ground Position Line” (AGPL) that it holds. These are the proffered “solutions”. The Indian Army, however, fears that Pakistan could renege on the agreement and send troops dressed as “mujahideen” to occupy Siachen as it brazenly attempted to annex Kashmir in 1947 and again in 1965 and the Kargil Heights in 1998.

The Siachen “solutions” overlook the problem. The critical date is not 1984 but July 29, 1949, when the Cease-Fire Line Agreement was signed in Karachi by ranking military representatives of India and Pakistan and the UN Military Observer Group. It delineated the entire CFL, demarcating over 740km on the ground. With the CFL increasingly running through high mountains and glaciated areas as it traversed north, it often followed a directional path in the absence of clear landmarks. Thus, finally, “Chalunka (on the Shyok River), Khor, thence North to the glaciers”, passing through grid reference NJ 9842.The segment, beyond NJ 9842 was not demarcated, being an elevated glaciated, unexplored and unpopulated region that had seen no fighting. A plebiscite was soon to follow and the matter, it was assumed, would soon be settled.

The delineation of this segment of the CFL was, however, unambiguous: NJ 9842, “thence north to the glaciers”. If every one of 30 or more earlier directional commands were meticulously followed in tracing the CFL, there was no reason whatsoever for any departure from this norm in the case of the very last command. “Thence North”, could only mean due north to wherever the boundary of J&K State lay. The very next section crucially directed that the line be drawn “so as to eliminate any no man’s land”. Therefore, the Line could in no way be left hanging in the air.Certain sectors along the CFL were also to be demilitarised but if deployed, troops would remain “500 yards from the cease fire line…”

The CFL was ratified by both sides and deposited with the UNCIP. It was revalidated as the LOC after Simla, and incorporated the military gains made by either side in J&K in the 1971 war. In the Kargil-Siachen sector, all gains thereby went entirely to India which acquired the Turtok salient just south-west of NJ 9842.
Earlier in 1956-58, during the UN-designated International Geophysical Year, an Indian scientific team led by the Geological Survey explored the upper Nubra and Shyok Valleys, mapped and measured the Siachen and other glaciers and publicly recorded its findings.

No protest followed. Why? Locate NJ 9842 on a detailed physical map of northern J&K and draw a line “thence North” and much of Siachen will be found to lie on the Indian side of the CFL. Pakistani military maps (ref. Musharraf’s Memoir, “In the Line of Fire”, Free Press, London. 2006), depicting Pakistan’s military positions during the Kargil operations, situate the entire Siachen glacier on the Indian side of the delineated line, NJ 9842, “thence north to the glaciers”.

All Pakistan, UN and global atlases depicted the CFL correctlytill around 1967-72. By then Beijing had commenced its creeping cartographic aggression in Aksai Chin and in 1963 signed a boundary agreement with Pakistan which unilaterally ceded the 5000sq km Shaksgam Valley to China. Thereafter, Pakistan started extending its lines of communication eastwards and began licensing western mountaineering expeditions to venture east of K2. It was emboldened to extend this “eastward creep” when, between 1967 and 1972, the US Defence Mapping Agency, an international reference point for cartography, began extending the CFL from NJ 9842 to a point just west of the Karakoram Pass, unilaterally hardening what was possibly no more than an extant World War II air defence information zone (ADIZ) line into a politico-military divide. World atlases followed suit. So did Pakistan, which followed cartographic aggression with moves to occupy Siachen. Getting wind of this stratagem, India, pre-emptively occupied the glacier in March 1984.

In a US Institute for Peace conference on J&K in Washington in 1991, delegates were delivered a map at their hotel without the mandatory credit line regarding its origins. It was headed “The Kashmir Region: Depicting the CFL/LOC, Siachen and Shaksgam”. This showed a hatched triangle NJ 9842-Karakoram Pass-K2, and Shaksgam in the north, with a legend reading, “Indian occupied since 1983”. The conference organisers disowned what it surmised was “possibly” a CIA map that might be treated as “withdrawn”! The map not only confirmed Pakistan’s claims but labelled India an aggressor.

As one present, I “protested” to friends in the US State Department and informed the Indian Embassy and the MEA at home to no avail. Years later, US Ambassador David Blackwill said the US Defence Mapping Agency had got its lines wrong and that the impugned maps would be amended. Nothing ensued.

Any unqualified redeployment from the Siachen glacier without asserting the correct delineation of the CFL/LOC from NJ 9842 “thence north to the glaciers”, will mean accepting the Pakistan claim and throwing the August 1948 UN Resolution and derivative 1949 Karachi Agreement into the dustbin. Dr Manmohan Singh’s 2005 peace formula would sanctify the LOC as an evolving international boundary,rendered porous as “mere lines on a map” across which movement and commerce increasingly flowed to bind the peoples of J&K and India and Pakistan together in friendship and cooperation. This is the only viable win-win solution for all in and over J&K. But unless the LOC is firmly anchored to a northern terminus, it will dangle loose and surely unravel, leaving everything for grabs.

Siachen has no intrinsic strategic value. Both sides should withdraw or redeploy from there once there is clear acceptance of the 1949 CFL-cum-LOC. Thereafter the triangle NJ 9842, K2 and the Karakoram Pass can be designated an International Glacier and World Weather Park, hopefully with Shaksgam as a partner, to study and measure climate change. India should therefore welcome Kayani’s second thoughts and pursue it without getting snow-blinded regarding the facts, larger perspectives and the national interest.

The implications of the Siachen “dispute” are simply not understood, its background and genesis is not known and the proffered solutions a trap. Muddle-headedness and indifference reign supreme across governments and parties. When will we wake up?

back to the top


See also

11-C Dewan Shree Apartments, 30 Ferozeshah Rd, New Delhi 110001, India