In strategy, emotional response to an event is unwarranted. To be lured by the words of a shrewd adversary who is engaged in a continuous war against you is akin to surrendering to his strategy without fighting. The olive branch extended by General Ashfaq Kayani to demilitarise Siachen is indeed a crafty manoeuvre to achieve what Pakistan has failed to achieve in Siachen for the last three decades through force. In large part, this has been brought about by the tragic death of about 120 Pakistani soldiers in an avalanche on the lower slopes West of the Saltoro Ridge. Today, Pakistan is finding its position on the feature increasingly untenable. It must be noted that there are no troops on the Siachen Glacier. The Glacier remains under India’s control by the fact that Indian troops are deployed on the Saltoro Ridge which is to the West and which dominates the Glacier. In simple terms, whosoever controls the Saltoro Ridge controls the Glacier. Pakistani troops are deployed further West on lower slopes and have no access to the Glacier.
Robert Greene famously stated that a military leader’s actions rather than his words determine his intent. Therefore, we should not read too much into what General Kayani says. Rather, we should look into the actions of the Pakistan Army and its leadership and take our cue from there. The actions of the Pakistani Army and its intelligence agency in J&K and in the Mumbai massacre of innocent people in November 2008 do not in any manner inspire confidence. It would hence be a bad strategy to believe what the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan establishment say as of now. Their statements are a result of the strenuous times the Pakistani state is going through in dealing with their own internal challenges caused in full measure by their self created terrorist infrastructure which they still preserve on the grounds of its being their strategic assets.
While there is no gainsaying the desirability of giving peace a chance, the moot question remains: can there be peace when proxy war is continuing in Jammu & Kashmir? The flash point between India and Pakistan is in Kashmir and not on the Saltoro Ridge. Merely withdrawing troops from the Ridge would not result in any tangible improvement in India-Pakistan relations except to give the Pakistanis a concrete feeling of victory in taking something from India through suave diplomacy which they have consistently failed to achieve through force. In any case, why should India be sensitive to Pakistan’s counter insurgency commitments in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and other disturbed areas of their country? As a military strategy, it does not make much sense to move on Siachen without any forward movement on the complete question of India’s concerns in Jammu and Kashmir.
India had two leverages to counter Pakistan’s proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir. The first was an active Line of Control (LOC). The Indian Army could engage the terrorists from within Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), right from their launch pads if accurate information was available. An active LOC imposed caution on the terrorists and resulted in the neutralisation of many of them even before they could cross the LOC. However, subsequent to the cease fire agreement signed in 2003, this leverage was no longer available. While signing the cease fire agreement, in hindsight it is apparent that provisions should have been made for punitive actions against Pakistan, in the eventuality of their continuing to push terrorists across the border. In the absence of any such agreement, Pakistan continues its proxy war against India without any fear of reprisals. We thus handed over an advantage to Pakistan by agreeing to sign the cease fire without taking appropriate guarantees against infiltration and subversive activities in J&K from Pakistan.
India’s second leverage is on the Saltoro Ridge on the West of the Siachen Glacier. India can afford to keep her troops on the Saltoro Ridge and the cost is one India can bear. In any event, the cost of keeping troops on the Ridge is not much different to keeping troops at similar altitudes in other parts of the border. Pakistan however is feeling the heat and is finding it difficult to bear this cost. Also, Pakistani troops being located at lower heights are subjected to frequent avalanches as seen by the latest incident in which over a hundred people lost their lives. The necessity to demilitarise Siachen for Pakistan is thus far greater than for India. Should India allow Siachen to be demilitarised, it could potentially pose a different sort of challenge for India. The increasing presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit Baltistan is one such challenge. The other is the fact that Pakistan cannot be trusted to surreptitiously occupy the heights of the Saltoro Ridge presenting India with a fail accompli. It would be difficult if not well nigh impossible for India to regain the heights thereafter. Also, taking care of Pakistan’s concerns on the Glacier may well enable them to step up their subversive activities in J&K. That is going to be a huge disadvantage for India. Pakistan cannot be handed over this advantage till proxy war in J&K continues to persist. The minimum guarantee that India would require is a verifiable dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure within POK and the handing over of the perpetrators of the 26/11 massacres to India.
India should wait till 2014 when US troops start withdrawing from Afghanistan. The real intent of Pakistan will emerge post US withdrawal and not under the present circumstances. Any peace deal with Pakistan needs to be holistic, to include all areas of Jammu and Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan. Piecemeal resolution will give advantage to Pakistan at the cost of own leverages. Delinking Siachen from Kashmir will be a strategic blunder and this must not be allowed to happen. India’s military and strategic community must not be befuddled by General Kayani’s suave diplomacy which is simply a ploy to maintain leverage over the Siachen Glacier which they have consistently failed to get through the employment of force. Let us not become prisoners of our own strategic miscalculation. If Pakistan is sincere and earnest in its peace initiative, the start point is not Siachen; it remains closing the terrorist camps and bringing the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorists attack to justice. Should Pakistan take such elementary steps, it would do much to reduce the existing trust deficit. Only then can the peace process move forward. We must not allow Pakistan to dictate terms to us. Let us remain resolute and strong.
The Author is a defence analyst
Views expressed are personal