Should the Saichen Sector even be discussed?
The Siachen Sector is enclosed by the Soltoro Ridge in the west and the Karakoram Range in the north and east, while the Indo-Pak faceoff is over domination of the Soltoro Ridge, which India holds. At the same time, it is pertinent to mention that the sector has even more difficult borders with China, which are unmanned. The Indian sector enclosed by the Karakorams and the Soltoro Ranges, is the only piece of real estate over which India has operational control, and by virtue of its shape and location, this acts as a strategic wedge between Pak and China as can be seen on the map. Since both of India’s protagonists have converging interests in the region, the importance of this narrow wedge, juxtaposition between them remains invaluable for India.
Since both of India’s protagonists have converging interests in the region, the importance of this narrow wedge, juxtaposition between them remains invaluable for India.
It also needs to be reiterated that the triangular standoff that exists in the sector, is only one component of the larger India–Pak-China conflict and therefore cannot be seen in isolation. Chinese military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan, adds to the volatility and raises the importance of India’s hold over this strategically invaluable ‘frozen waste land.’ It is also pertinent to highlight that the Shyok River Axis connects Aksai Chin to Gilgit and therefore offers a shorter, easier and direct route between Chinese held Aksai Chin and Pak held Baltistan. This therefore offers a lucrative objective with strategic overtones in the Sino-Pak collusive games that can be played out against India in the future.
Thus while it is reiterated that there is no strategic mandate for a discussion on the subject, there are three basic questions which need to be answered before any decision can be considered by India. First, ‘can demilitarisation be verifiable and accountability apportioned? Second, does demilitarisation mean that Pakistan accepts the Indian interpretation of the LC/AGPL running along the watershed of Soltoro till the Karakorams. Third, will the potential safeguards guarantee that China, who already controls the Shaksgam Valley and occupies Aksai Chin, will not make her own moves southwards? India needs these answers before any ‘self-defeating’ decision is takenon the future of the sector; till the time there is no alternative mitigating these factors, it is strongly recommended that this be taken off the diplomatic agenda. Connected to the above is another issue that merits taking a diplomatic initiative.
The Line Joining NJ 9842 and the Karakoram Pass
The US Air Force had been using the Peshawar airbase for under-taking U-2 spy missions during the Cold War. In order to facilitate navigation and as a matter of practical convenience, American Aeronautical charts started linking the two defined points in the sector and this translated as a straight line extending from NJ 9842, the last defined point of the LC to the Karakoram Pass, the only recognised point on the Sino-Indian border, a distance of 140 kms. By default, this (navigation) line placed the territory to its north under Pakistan occupation. This come to light in 1962, when Americans using the same charts, made innumerable landings at Leh, in support of India in the Sino-Indian war. However, not only was the issue glossed over, but even the opportunity provided by the 1963 Sino-Pak border (illegal) agreement of Shaksgam remained unused; perhaps as a result of the recent debacle.
While the Shimla Agreement again provided the opportunity to rectify this ‘omission,’ for inexplicable reasons, the Indians again let the matter rest. Around that stage, many nations, taking a lead from the USA and Pakistan, started showing this ‘navigation’ line as an extension of the LC between Indian and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in their maps, which was never the case and the absurdity of drawing straight lines as frontiers in mountains where the international practice is to delineate boundaries along the watershed, was never pointed out forcefully. The correction of this historic anomaly even at this belated stage needs focussed attention. Given the direction of the US-India strategic partnership is taking, resolution of this issue and correction of international maps would further their common cause.
While the Shimla Agreement again provided the opportunity to rectify this ‘omission,’ for inexplicable reasons, the Indians again let the matter rest.
Recommended Stance against Pak sponsored Incidents/Intrusions
In principle, the Indian counter strategy should aim to nullify/mitigate the ‘P’ factor in the Sino-Indian-Pak equation. This can be done by taking a pre-sumptive stance against Pakistan’s military activism and put her on the defensive-both diplomatically and militarily. This should be backed a clear call that New Delhi reserves the right to react to provocations, especially those emanating from the ‘disputed’ territory of J & K. At the same time, internationally acknowledged terrorists and criminals must be hunted down and there is no need for India to be apologetic for her actions taken in pursuance of ‘natural justice.’ In consonance with the above, India needs to take a firm stance against the spectre of terror emanating from Pakistan and this must include the option of undertaking ‘punitive pre-emptive retaliation’ within its operational gamit, since following a ‘reative’ policy has failed India on many occasions. If this strategy can be executed effectively using a combination of means, its backlash would cause Pakistan’s terror mechanism to ‘self-destruct,’ and in so doing balance/degrade the ‘P’ factor in the Sino-India strategic equation. It is reiterated that the desired end state is neither war nor the destruction of Pakistan as a political entity – it is to mitigate the factor of terror and retard the proliferation of militancy. The end game being to engage Pakistan positively and to facilitate her re-entry as a contributing politico-economic entity of South Asia.
It is postulated that only by exhibiting national will and the resolve, with demonstrable actions on the ground would the desired result be achieved in Islamabad and in doing so, also send the right signal to Beijing. This is the call of the hour and Keren and Samba could well be the harbingers of further violations of India’s national integrity and territorial sovereignty, which in the times to come could pose a even greater danger to India’s national security.