The government appears trapped in a muddle over Siachen. The talks with Pakistan last week continued ongoing discussions aimed at demilitarising Siachen by mutual redeployment from existing military positions. However, there’s one question that must be asked: Even if an agreement is reached at the next round, what will define the Line of Control (LoC) beyond the last certified and mutually agreed grid reference NJ 9842?
The issue is not academic or trivial but real and substantive. The closest India and Pakistan have come to a Kashmir settlement is on the basis of the 2005-07 Manmohan-Musharraf formula. This would render the de facto boundary dividing Jammu & Kashmir along the LoC “irrelevant” by creating a soft border for people-to-people movement from both sides. Unless the LoC is clearly defined, such a settlement will unravel. The current Indo-Pakistan negotiations on Siachen would, however, leave the key issue of defining the LoC unresolved, thereby settling for a mere truce as against a permanent settlement.
India currently sits on an Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) running northwest from NJ 9842; Pakistan claims a line running northeast from here to just short of the Karakoram Pass. The 250 sq km of Indian territory gratuitously brought into contention remains unaddressed, with India conceding a dispute where none exists.
The defence ministry’s position (The Hindu, May 31, 2011) is that the LoC “has not been delineated” beyond NJ 9842, leading to “different interpretations” regarding its further alignment. This extraordinary statement is contrary to the clear terms of the Karachi Agreement of July 27, 1949, which first defined the Ceasefire Line (CFL), rechristened the Line of Control under the post-Simla Suchetgarh Agreement of December 1972 in a bid to give a political stamp to what had until then been a military line.
The Karachi Agreement demarcated the CFL from south to north over a stretch of 740 km through rugged but inhabited terrain up to grid reference NJ 9842. Beyond this lay an uninhabited, little explored, extremely glaciated region in the high Karakoram that had seen no fighting. In the circumstances, anticipating an early settlement to the Jammu & Kashmir problem, this stretch was left undemarcated by mutual agreement but was precisely delineated from “Chalunka (on the Shyok river), Khor (the last habitation in the area), thence north to the glaciers”.
The detailed maps prepared by both sides and certified by the United Nations depicted the CFL going due north from Khor to grid reference NJ 9842. Any possible room for ambiguity was removed by the stipulation that “the ceasefire line described above shall be drawn on a one-inch map (where available) so as to eliminate any no-man’s land”.
A line drawn from NJ 9842 “thence north to the glaciers” (and north does not mean northeast) places the vast bulk of the Siachen glacier on the Indian side. This is clearly depicted in Pakistani military maps, even one used in Musharraf’s post-Kargil memoirs, In the Line of Fire (2005). India has belatedly sought to “interpret” this segment of the LoC as lying along the watershed formed by the Saltoro Ridge, which indeed marks the Actual Ground Position Line we occupy. Such interpretations are unwarranted and dangerous as they open up settled matters.
Why is India in Siachen? After its 1963 pact with China, when it ceded Shaksgam in northern Kashmir to it, Pakistan began extending its road network eastwards and licensing foreign mountaineering expeditions further east to test the waters. From 1967, the US Defence Mapping Agency started tentatively and then more firmly drawing the line from NJ 9842 towards the Karakoram Pass, possibly hardening earlier Air Defence Information Zone (ADIZ) navigation chart lines, marking air control jurisdictions, into a new ceasefire line. World cartographers and Pakistan followed suit. India never protested against this. However, getting wind of Pakistani military preparations to occupy Siachen, India took pre-emptive action in 1984 to establish the current AGPL, spilling across the CFL only in the extreme north around what has been named Indira Col.
One final word. In keeping with the UN designating 1957 as International Geophysical Year, India mounted a major multi-disciplinary scientific expedition to the Siachen region to map the glaciers, geology, flora and fauna etc of this little-known area. These were recorded and find mention in this writer’s Himalayan Endeavour (1962). Siachen should surely be demilitarised, troops redeployed and the surrounding glaciated area converted into a Karakoram Peace Park and locus for international climate change and related scientific studies. However, there is no “dispute” over Siachen. As on the larger question of Jammu & Kashmir, myth has become reality. Satyameva Jayate.