Delhi Round of Indo-Pak Talks - I Siachen

18 Nov, 1998    ·   153

Suba Chandran gives a brief overview of the origin of the problem and the result of the recently held Indo-Pak talks on the issue. Commenting on the possible solutions to the issue he concludes "mutually accepted monitoring system or/and co-operative aerial overflights have been suggested as solutions. The first involves a third party that will never be acceptable to India and the second involves mutual trust which both the sides do not have. The Siachen issue can only be solved however through mutual trust."

The second round of Indo - Pak talks started in the first week of November 98 at New Delhi . The issues covered were as follows: Tulbul navigation Project / Wular barrage, Siachen, Sir Creek, Economic and Commercial co-operation, Terrorism and drug trafficking, and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields. Discussion on Siachen held on the second day of the talks, failed to result in any agreement between both the sides



Siachen is a glacier 76-km in length with a width of 2 km to 8 km, between two ranges - Karakoram in the east and Saltora in the west. Starting from point NJ9842 in the South, the glacier runs in a north western direction flanking several towns in POK close to the Saltora range, and in a north eastern direction it extends up to the Karakoram pass, thus forming more or less a triangular shape.



The dispute started in April 1984, when the Indian troops launched Operation Meghdoot, which brought most of the area under the control of India . Pakistan made many unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the Indian troops from their posts. There have been six rounds of negotiations on Siachen prior to the current talks. Though, both the sides came close to solving the issue in 1989, they are yet to arrive at a solution to date.



One of the major reasons for this failure has been the absence of a defined boundary between India and Pakistan demarcating the Siachen glacier. The 1972 agreement specified the northern most point of the LoC as the one defined by the cease-fire line of 1949 Karachi Agreement -- NJ 9842. This resulted in differing interpretations by both the countries of its further demarcation northwards. India interprets  the extension of the CFL from this point to the North upto another point Indira Col , whereas Pakistan interprets the line to run North East from NJ982 to the Karakoram pass.



In the current round of talks both India and Pakistan put forward their proposals which were rejected by each other.



India's proposals: a) Comprehensive Cease-fire in the Saltora range region; b) An immediate freeze of the ground positions from both the sides to defuse tension and atmosphere of confrontation in the area; c) Discussion on modalities under an agreed framework after the cease-fire; d) Establishment of bilateral monitoring mechanism such as flag meetings, meetings with formation commanders at periodic intervals and the establishment of a hotline between divisional commanders; e) Authentication of the existing ground position of troops in Saltora range beyond NJ9842. One significant aspect of the current proposals from the Indian side is India 's emphasis on the term Saltora range instead of Siachen. All four proposals from the Indian side only mentioned Saltora. Pakistan rejected all these above Indian proposals.



Pakistan's proposals: a) Implementation of 1989 "agreement" between India and Pakistan (according to which India and Pakistan are to redeploy their forces to mutually agreed positions held when the cease-fire was declared in 1971); and b) a Cease-fire only if it involves the monitoring of such a cease-fire by a third party like the United Nations Military Group in India .One significant aspect of Pakistan's stand during the current round of Siachen talks was the linking of the Siachen issue with the "core problem" of Kashmir. India rejected both the stands of Pakistan .



What are the motives behind each other's proposals? India 's emphasis on the Saltora range arises from the ground reality that the Siachen glacier is totally under India 's control. Thus it appears that India is delinking the Siachen glacier from the scope of the talks, since India considers Siachen to be a  misnomer. The issue at stake is Pakistan 's attempts to dislodge Indian troops from the Saltora range bordering  Pakistan occupied Kashmir . Pakistan agreeing to this would mean accepting India 's hold over Siachen. The other proposals of India are also based on similar lines that - we will have what we possess and you have what you possess. Let there not be any fresh attempts to alter the status quo. Pakistan will not agree to such proposals.



For India Pakistan's proposals are not acceptable because of the following reasons. Firstly, India rejects Pakistan 's position that there was an "agreement" on Siachen between both the countries in 1989. During a prior round of talks on Siachen in 1992, India denied that there was any final agreement and stated that both sides had only agreed "to carry forward the process of discussions, which had remained suspended since June 1989". Secondly, India would never agree to have  third party mediation on any  bilateral issues between India and Pakistan .



What is the strategic significance of Siachen? Why should India and Pakistan fight for an area whose average temperature is minus 35 degrees Celsius and whose height rises up to 22,000 ft? For some in India , Siachen is strategically important because it adjoins the 4500 square kilometers of Kashmir ceded by Pakistan to China unauthorisedly in 1963. Secondly, if Pakistan holds this area, it would have been able to threaten the Nubra valley and even Leh. For some in Pakistan , India would advance gradually from Nubra into Khaplau and Skardu and thus cut away Baltistan from the Northern area and will cut off Pakistan from direct link with Pakistan .



However, the importance of Siachen has been exaggerated. As some point out the area has no obvious military value and the "Pakistanis cannot get into Ladakh along the Siachen route and neither can the Chinese. Nowhere has a road been built on a glacier".



How Siachen issue could be solved? Mutually accepted monitoring system or/and co-operative aerial overflights have been suggested as solutions. The first involves a third party that will never be acceptable to India and the second involves mutual trust which both the sides do not have. The Siachen issue can only be solved however through mutual trust.