A recent article in a prominent Indian daily last week talked of non-state actors who bring nations closer and the Ottawa Dialogue; the now well known issue of ‘Demilitarization of Siachen’. This has been promptly put on a blog by participants of Track II saying “Track II Explained”. But this can hardly be end of the story. There is plenty that is ‘unexplained’ about this particular Track II.
There is no doubt that Track II processes have their relevance and they do have government level interaction, briefings and debriefings.
Much has happened since the India-Pakistan Track II agreed to a proposal to ‘Demilitarize Siachen’ in September 2012 and the press release by the Atlantic Council of Ottawa hit the web on 02 October 2012. Acquiescence by the Indian members of the Track II to withdraw from Siachen was naturally met with amazement and shock in India. Prior to this agreement of the Track II at Lahore in September last, articles and TV discussions came up portraying that Siachen was strategically irrelevant. The government chose to remain tight lipped and continues with that stance albeit in the aftermath of furore post the Atlantic Council of Ottawa press release, a panel consisting of two members of the Track II Team under a former Ambassador and Secretary MEA (who had nothing to do with the Track II Team but is known to be close to the political hierarchy) made efforts to justify withdrawal from Siachen at India International Centre but were shocked at the unanimous opposition from the audience including from a former Army Chief and journalists. Why this former Ambassador and Secretary MEA tried to justify the proposed withdrawal from Siachen and on whose instructions remains a mystery.
There is no doubt that Track II processes have their relevance and they do have government level interaction, briefings and debriefings. To this end, they do provide significant inputs that facilitate the Track I dialogue while not being binding on the latter. This is an accepted norm. Track II dialogues can also be at multiple levels, even simultaneously. However, this particular Track II agreement raises several questions that require clarifications and transparency.
Interaction with the participants reveals that none of them is aware as to how they were selected, who sponsored them and who the Indian coordinator was. The Co-Chair described the status of the Track II Team as a “Private Body”, later changed to “Group of Private Individuals” over whom he had no control. Significantly, Indian members of the Track II Team comprised eight former Indian Military officers out of the total eleven members. While the meetings were held over a period of months, one member stated in an article that for once the bureaucrat members were in the backseat and the former military members in the forefront. Surprisingly, not one of the former eight military officers had served in Siachen and the team made no effort to visit the area under discussion despite months of parleys. This raises a question mark on the motive of the Indian coordinator who gave these names to Atlantic Council of Ottawa. Was it by design?
Surprisingly, not one of the former eight military officers had served in Siachen and the team made no effort to visit the area under discussion despite months of parleys.
The Indian Co-Chair of the Track II Team maintains that the MEA briefing made no mention of Siachen and no questions were asked by any members with regard to Siachen. The logic being given is that the Track II Team took upon themselves to work out “HOW” Siachen can be demilitarized without going into “WHY” and “WHEN”, which is laughable. Forget net assessment, every young military officers know how a military appreciation is done, what its nuances are and what factors need to be considered to arrive at the logical course of action.
The logic, therefore, can hardly be bought; a body of “Private Individuals” working out without any higher direction whatsoever ‘HOW” Siachen should be demilitarized. Who was the driving force in this body of private individuals on which the Co-Chair admits he had no control and what was the motivation? What are the participants hiding? Why has the Indian Co-Chair clammed up and refusing to take any questions? Additionally, if only “HOW” was being looked at then vital issues like Pakistan sponsored terrorism and the China factor were obviously not discussed or discussed in most perfunctory manner.
The press release by Atlantic Council of Ottawa is totally silent on China. Terrorism is supposedly discussed but was it discussed in relation to Demilitarization of Siachen – that this will facilitate Pakistan launch Kashmir Valley like proxy war in Ladakh with dire consequences to our national security? It is not without reason that Musharraf had declared “There will be many more Kargils”.
The vehemence with which the participants were articulating that Siachen has no worthwhile strategic significance has blown off with the wind especially after the anger faced during the hurriedly organized panel discussion at the India International Centre in early October 2012. Participants now admit individually that Siachen (read Saltoro Ridge) indeed has great strategic significance, admitting this even in interactions with military wings of political parties post the public furore. What then was the motivation for our Track II Team to ignore the strategic significance of the Saltoro Ridge particularly with China sitting in our territory in Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin and Pakistani and US media indicating Pakistan is leasing out Gilgit-Baltistan region to China for 50 years, plus the fact that withdrawal from Saltoro would open the floodgates of infiltration into Ladakh by Pakistan’s state sponsored non-state actors.
Why was the Track II Team ignoring the reality of the strategic significance of Siachen? Why was the advice of every former Army Chief and the present one that India should not withdraw from Siachen ignored?
A former military officer cum journalist participant even as late as 12 April 2012 was passionately vindicating India’s right to hold on to Siachen on national TV; that India should never withdraw from Siachen because of its strategic significance. What happened in just five months to make him do a 180 degrees turn. Why was the Track II Team ignoring the reality of the strategic significance of Siachen? Why was the advice of every former Army Chief and the present one that India should not withdraw from Siachen ignored? What was the role of the Indian coordinator and his mentors in making the Track II Team adopt such stance? What are the participants hiding?
Musharraf admits in his autobiography that India pre-empted the occupation of Saltoro Ridge by Pakistan – Pakistan’s planned move was obviously for strategic reasons and not to establish a winter retreat. The fact that Pakistan launched the Kargil intrusions to cut off and grab Siachen has been pooh-poohed by many in India. Now Lieutenant General, Shahid Aziz, former Corps Commander of Lahore recently wrote about Kargil in his blog saying, “The whole truth about Kargil is yet to be known….. It was a total disaster….. We didn’t pre-empt anything; nothing was on the cards. I was then heading the Analysis Wing of Inter Services Intelligence ……Our clearly expressed intent was to cut the supply line to Siachen and force the Indians to pull out…… There were no mujahideen, only taped wireless messages, which fooled no one. Our soldiers ……… the boys were comforted by their commander’s assessment that no serious response would come…. Cut off and forsaken, our posts started collapsing one after the other, though the General (Musharraf) publicly denied it.”
Here, the fact that the Track II agreement is only a proposal and not binding on Track I is not the issue. That Pakistan considers its high powered Track II Team as good as Track I is also not the issue. The issue is that for eternity, Pakistan will quote this military heavy Indian Track II having agreed to withdraw from Siachen. More significantly, this can also be exploited by the politician-bureaucrat mafia within India that is working at cross purposes to India’s national interests. Why are we calling slimy Musharraf time and again for leadership summits when he is a fugitive in his own country and has been stabbing us repeatedly? Why are the anti-India Hurriyat members given access to the Pakistani Embassy including every time some Pakistani official comes to Delhi? Why is the this bunch given visas to go and meet the mullah-terrorist Hafiz Saeed when India has been exhorting Pakistan to indict him as the mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008? Why is the IB funding the Hurriyat, with what purpose and why without reference to the Army?
It may be recalled that the FBI caught on to Ghulam Mohammed Fai only in 2011 after he had already pumped in some $350 millions funded by the ISI into US over several years for moulding perceptions in Pakistan’s favour with regard to Kashmir.
Why is the Centre mute to anti-India activities in states, one example being total inaction on non-bailable warrants issued against Akbaruddin Owaisi way back in 2009? Why has the government been fooling the public since 2010 saying the Maoist insurgency will be over in two-three years? Coming back to Siachen, why such a decision was taken by the Indian members of the Track II Team and with what motivation remains a question mark.
As per the Atlantic Council of press note, militaries of both India and Pakistan held several rounds to boost confidence building measures, these meetings having been held in Dubai (20-21 November 2011), Bangkok (23-25 February 2012) and Lahore (23-25 September 2012) and that additionally, working group meetings took place in Chiang Mai (21 April 2012) and Palo Alto (30-31 July 2012). These were followed by the meeting in question in Lahore on 23-25 September 2012. Given the five star culture of such meetings, the expenditure involved would have been enormous. Were the decisions of the participants influenced advertently or inadvertently?
It may be recalled that the FBI caught on to Ghulam Mohammed Fai only in 2011 after he had already pumped in some $350 millions funded by the ISI into US over several years for moulding perceptions in Pakistan’s favour with regard to Kashmir. Obviously, ISI would have transferred such funds through several fronts and not directly. In the instant case of the Track II, an agreement to withdraw from Siachen without any governmental direction to the effect (as maintained by participants) and in direct contrast to military advice not to demilitarize raises serious questions. Silence and lack of transparency only reinforce apprehensions.
What exactly has Pakistan done to deserve this largesse – killing and threatening Panchayat members in J&K, failing to punish perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack, continuing its proxy war to destabilize India, arming Indian Maoists through the LeT, blatantly denying ISI and LeT links despite solid evidence given by David Headley in 2011, what? Hopefully, the recent barbarianism by Pakistan at least should open the eyes of the blind men. Yet, participants of the Track II have been harping that Demilitarization from Siachen is “doable”. Well, so are whole of Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and much more – all doable if one is prepared to pack up one’s bags, move back and vacate our own territory.
Silence and lack of transparency only reinforce apprehensions.
Coming back to the Track II, a much wider debate on the above issue is definitely warranted. To this end, the United Services Institution of India offered its premises to the sponsors of the Track II for holding a discussion on the issue along with the Track II Team, giving them opportunity to also interact with a wide cross section of scholars, diplomats, military personnel etc. However, this has been declined by the sponsors saying “the process is well established and it would be disruptive to change it now”. Strangely, all meeting of this Track II have been held abroad including at Lahore in Pakistan. Was this by design to not let the Indian public get the whiff of what was cooking?
The Indian public deserves answers including whether we have moles in the establishment working for foreign intelligence agencies, which is not new. An open public debate including with the sponsors and the Indian members of the Track II Team is certainly warranted, not on a pliable TV channel but at an autonomous Think Tank like the United Services Institution of India. While the sponsors may shy off the suggestion, what about a wider debate within the county minus the sponsors? Will the government at least speak up now with Pakistan having bared her fangs?