The Ninth Round of negotiations on Siachen ended on 27 May 2005, again on an inconclusive note. It is apparent that the two sides are sticking to their positions. The resolution of this dispute is not all that difficult, provided Pakistan accepts the ground realities.
In brief, the ground realities are that the Indian Army has been in occupation of the Saltoro Ridge, which constitutes the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) since 1984. All India wants is that this reality should be formalized, by delineating this line, before any shifting of troops takes place. Pakistan has been shying away from accepting the ground reality, perhaps with an ulterior motive of occupying it at some future date! It wants Indian troops to withdraw to positions that existed prior to the occupation of the Saltoro Ridge in April 1984.
The discussions are scheduled to resume in the near future. There are many in both countries who think that it is in India's interest not to belabour the issue of delineation because of reasons like the continuation of the momentum of the peace process; the heavy cost India is incurring in human, material and monetary terms; the realization that 'not a blade of grass grows there'; and that in any case the area has no strategic value. Please do not believe one word of such homilies. National interest is much too important to be sacrificed on such grounds. This aspect will be clear once we recapitulate the details of the dispute.
The Line of Control (LoC), delineated after the Shimla Agreement of 1972, stops at Point NJ 9842, immediately south of the glaciated areas, as did the earlier Cease Fire Line (CFL), delineated by the Karachi Agreement of 1949. The area to the north, being highly inaccessible, was not delineated, but the direction of the LoC beyond NJ 9842 was unambiguously stated as "thence north to the glaciers".
In the late 1970s and 1980s, some international maps wrongly depicted the Siachen Glacier area as part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), by showing a dotted line joining NJ 9842 and the Karakoram Pass to the northeast. This mistake was a direct result of the line depicting Air Defence Information Zone (ADIZ) markings, which provide zoning boundaries for air controllers and do not delineate borders, being shown inadvertently on US maps. Pakistan took full advantage of this cartographic mistake and started giving permission to international expeditions to operate in the area. It also published its official atlas in 1985, including this area in POK. So much for cartography!
Now, a bit about geography. The Siachen Glacier lies directly north of NJ 9842, between the Saltoro Ridge, (which is the AGPL, as well as the watershed) to its west and the Karakoram Range to its east. Pakistan is not occupying any part of the Siachen Glacier. Its posts are on the western and southern slopes of the Saltoro Ridge at much lower heights.
The entire area east of the Saltoro Ridge, up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), acts as a wedge between areas illegally occupied by Pakistan to the west (POK) and by China to the east (Aksai Chin). This essentially is the importance of the area and the reason for its occupation in 1984.
Pakistan has no real locus standi in the Siachen area. Its claim on cartographic grounds is not sustainable, as is its other argument that the occupation by India is against the provision of the Shimla Agreement, which states, "neither side shall alter the LoC unilaterally." Our position is unambiguous, as no alteration of the LoC has taken place, since the LoC ends at NJ 9842!
India has clearly stated that once the delineation of the AGPL is carried out it would be amenable to any reasonable proposal for the management of this area. Many proposals are on the plate, like converting the area into a peace park, setting up a Siachen Science Centre, joint management of expeditions, environmental research, and so on. However, unless the first action of delineation is carried out, they are all non-starters.
I am in full agreement with the leaders of India and Pakistan that a solution to what is called the Siachen Dispute must be found. It is not a difficult task at all, provided the ground realities are first accepted. The Indian Army has been in occupation of this area for 21 years. It has fought battles which are truly remarkable at this highest battlefield of the world; it has shed blood and has suffered terrain and weather-related fatalities; its soldiers have not only conquered the enemy but also the weather and it has kept the enemy at bay, despite all its stratagems. Are we to just up stick and come back? Surely, the nation will not accept it.