Why we must ignore Basit's statement on de-militarisation of Siachen

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Bleeding ulcer or a useless fight over an icy barren land is what many have termed the Siachen Glacier as. Ten soldiers laid down their lives guarding the glacier recently. Lance Naik Hanumanthappa who survived however lost the battle on Thursday throwing an entire nation into a pall of gloom.

In the midst of all this came a statement from the Pakistan High Commissioner, Abdul Basit in which he said that de-militarisation of the Siachen Glacier is the best option to avoid loss of lives on both sides.

Also read: India-Pakistan reunison can end Siachen tragedies, says Retd Air Marshal

Basit's comments must be ignored

It is easier said than done and several persons in the Indian army that we spoke with ask whether Basit can ensure that his government be trusted.

Why India cannot let go of Siachen?

Siachen is at a very strategic location with Pakistan on the left and China on the right. Major General Sheru Thapliyal points out in his book, "Strategic Importance of Siachen that the conflict here arises from an incompletely demarcated territory on the map of this region.

After the India and Pakistan war in 1971, the Shimla Agreement was signed, but there was no clear mention of who would control the glacier.

With Pakistan on the right and China on the left, Pakistan re-interpreted it as the North Eastwards to claim an area beyond the Saltoro Ride and beyond Siachen as its own.

Pakistan was aware that this would give it direct connectivity to China apart from a strategic advantage over the Ladakh region. In the early 1980s Pakistan sent an expedition to the glacier with an intent of taking control over the region.

This began a tussle as India was aware that this expedition was carried out with the blessings of the Pakistan government. It was in the year 1984 that India launched a military operation and took control of the Siachen Glacier.

Also read: Why George Fernandes also deserves credit for Hanumanthappa's gritty fight

Talks of demilitarisation have failed

There have been more lives lost due to the weather. In fact it is the weather that it is the biggest enemy for both countries in this region. There have been talks on various occasions to demilitarise the region.

Among the various suggestions that were made the two countries had even spoken about joint patrolling and an international peace keeping force. However all attempts to strike a deal at the Glacier have failed.

Officials say that there was a time when there would be a gentleman's agreement that when the weather turns extremely bad, both sides would withdraw forces temporarily.

However, that agreement does not stand today with India saying that there have been instances of Pakistan sending back forces when the temporary agreement was in force. This has only ensured that the Glacier is manned all through the year irrespective of how bad the weather is.

India says that if the de-militarisation has to take place, it cannot be achieved only through talks and statements. Action has to be taken on the ground and the maps too will have to be re-drawn. There was a draft agreement on this issue signed in 1989 between Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto.

Further Dr Manmohan Singh in 2005 had said that he would like to convert it to a mountain of peace. However all attempts have been futile.

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