Defence Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan held on 11-12 June 2012 at Islamabad for resolving the Siachen issue ended on expected lines with both nations sticking to their often stated traditional stands. The joint statement issued at the end of these talks piously affirmed the common desire of both the nations to continue talks in the future to “make serious, sustained and result-oriented efforts for seeking an amicable resolution of Siachen.” Rhetoric in diplomatese often hides the wide chasm in not only differing perceptions of nations but camouflages, in a suave manner, their distinctly different strategic and tactical interests.
The Saltoro Ridge is just not a tactically important feature for Indian hawks to satiate any militarily grandiose inclinations but importantly prevents the convergence of enemy forces…
For Pakistan, Siachen represents, historically, a military failure to have the Indians pre-empting them and occupying the redoubtable Siachen Massif namely the Saltoro Ridge in 1984. But a Siachen demilitarisation today, as the Pakistanis are propagating, will present them an opportunity for not only occupying the formidable Saltoro Ridge but consolidating and further enhancing their military deployments in the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in ever enlarging collusive efforts with its mentor China. That this otherwise entire glaciated inhospitable region lies at the fulcrum of India’s very vulnerable Sub Sector North in the Aksai Chin region to its east, the Pak illegally ceded to China, Shaksgam Valley to its north, the restive Gilgit-Baltistan (erstwhile Northern Areas of POK) to its immediate west and the Leh-Kargil garrisons of India’s Ladakh frontier to its south and south west, gives Siachen an unparalleled strategic importance which Indian defence planners can disregard only at the nation’s peril. The Saltoro Ridge is just not a tactically important feature for Indian hawks to satiate any militarily grandiose inclinations but importantly prevents the convergence of enemy forces from the Aksai Chin, the Karakoram Highway(KKH) and Gilgit-Baltistan in this bowl and thus is a critical military buffer separating the two “ all weather friends,” China and Pakistan. Amazingly, some peaceniks in our country underplay the strategic importance of this region for reasons best known to them.
India does not have to react whatsoever to Pak Army Chief Gen Asfaq Kayani’s recent statement on the Siachen demilitarization after 150 Pak soldiers were unfortunately buried in an avalanche on the much lower Pak occupied western slopes of the Saltoro. For to any military planner, it was a great googly bowled by Gen Kayani to the Wagah candle- brigade we have in our country. India must analyse its Siachen policy holistically bearing in mind the newer ‘Great Game’ being played by Pakistan in these regions in collusion with the Red Dragon whose footprints are ominously enlarging since the past two years or so. That Pakistan has indulged in perfidy vis-à-vis India on many instances in the past, especially in J&K may be pardoned by some in our country but cannot by those who are charged with the defence of the nation. It must be well understood by all that India is paying much less a price, including in nature attributed casualties, than Pakistan in defending its snow clad frontiers notwithstanding the cardinal that price can never a factor when it comes to safeguarding one’s own sovereignty. Pakistan’s stubborn refusal to even authenticate the current deployments of troops in Siachen is but a manifestation of its devious intentions.
Since the last couple of years or so, the Chinese centre of gravity in land operations has been increasingly getting oriented towards J&K and this is the sector where China and Pakistan could together plan to attack India if the need for them ever arises.
Importantly, India will do well to monitor the ever enlarging Chinese footprint in its northwest regions for now India will have to manage another front on its troubled peripheries with both China and Pakistan in unholy concert. As we delve deeper into the happenings of the last two years in Gilgit-Baltistan, it will be amply clear to all that in keeping with its long-term objectives, China’s growing assertiveness in South Asia is not only manifesting itself in Afghanistan, awaiting the exit of US troops by 2014, but right across India’s north west periphery in the area of Gilgit-Baltistan and the rest of POK as also Balochistan which is up in arms against its own government. Since the last couple of years or so, the Chinese centre of gravity in land operations has been increasingly getting oriented towards J&K and this is the sector where China and Pakistan could together plan to attack India if the need for them ever arises. Meanwhile deliberate preparations for such an eventuality by them have been in motion since the past few years. It must be stated to China’s eternal credit that while it makes all the right noises diplomatically and for world consumption on measures to increase trade, bilateral relations et al, it simultaneously—-almost religiously— unabated continues its military build-up determinedly in the pursuit of its strategic objectives. Thus China’s expanding footprints in Gilgit-Baltistan necessitates in-depth and speedy analysis by India.
Noted South Asia scholar Selig Harrison was the first to break the news in August 2010 in The New York Times by stating that an estimated 7000-11000 Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers were deployed in Gilgit-Baltistan in the guise of engineering personnel and civil labour. Pakistan, off course, unconvincingly stated that China had sent “a humanitarian team” to Gilgit-Baltistan to assist in flood relief operations! Harrison succinctly termed this development as the unfolding of a “quiet geopolitical crisis”. This ominous development was subsequently confirmed by the previous Indian Army Chief and other senior Indian Army officers. Chinese mining companies are making inroads into Gilgit’s mineral rich region also. Meanwhile, China is going full steam ahead in its massive infrastructural investments in POK keeping its strategic objectives in mind. Apart from dams, bridges, hydro-electric projects it is also widening the 1300 km Karakoram Highway which connects Kashgar in China’s restive Xinjiang region with Gilgit-Baltistan and Abbotabad in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunwa region with the overall aim of linking the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway which extends up to Rawalpindi also. Reportedly 22 tunnels have also come along this alignment which could be used as missile storage sites—thus another front in India’s north west has come up for contention.
The Sino-Pak nexus has advanced far beyond their nuclear and strategic missiles collaboration as China now moves to establish itself permanently in some of the frontier regions of Pakistan.
Meanwhile a far more alarming development has been reported a few months back by a US based think tank, The Middle East Media Research. Confirming earlier apprehensions that Pakistan was seriously considering handing over Gilgit-Baltistan to China on a 50 years lease, it claimed that Chinese personnel have assumed de-facto control of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. While briefing US lawmakers, it further opined that the area would end up like Tibet and East Turkestan if “China’s unwarranted interventions are not challenged.” A well known Kashmiri researcher Dr Shabir Choudhry who has toured Gilgit-Baltistan, subsequently expressed in UK that this region had the makings of becoming a battleground between Pakistan and China on one side facing the US and India on the other side. He further stated that the Chinese are opening banks and building permanent accommodation for themselves– all indicative of a long haul in the region. Noted Pak journalist Amir Mir of The News has recently opined that “While Pakistan wants China to further enlarge the huge naval base at Gwadar, the Chinese are more interested in building military bases in Pakistan’s northern areas.” The Gwadar Port will be useful for China only if it has connectivity by land/rail with the Chinese hinterland and thus China’s keen interest in ensuring a permanent presence in Gilgit Baltistan. Reliable reports indicate that China and Pakistan are shortly going to unveil a Plan for the Joint Military Management of Gilgit-Baltistan, a development which has ominous military implications in the long run for India.
India has to seriously factor, in its security calculus, the newer nuances of the growing Chinese footprint in its strategic north western region especially the credible collusive threat from Pakistan and China in tandem. The Sino-Pak nexus has advanced far beyond their nuclear and strategic missiles collaboration as China now moves to establish itself permanently in some of the frontier regions of Pakistan. The strategic convergence of the two nations will only grow for the Chinese it’s a win-win situation as it will continue to use Pakistan as its proxy, a low-cost yet high dividend proxy against India in its strategic hegemonistic objectives in South Asia. Thus it will only be militarily prudent for India to speedily endeavour to be adequately prepared for a two-front war.