Why Any Attempt To Demilitarise Siachen Will Be A Serious Security Threat to India

Posted on February 10, 2016 in Politics

By J Jaykris Gurucharan:

Indian army soldiers muster at the base camp after coming back from training at Siachen Glacier, October 4, 2003. For 18 years, Pakistani and Indian soldiers have clung to Siachen, which lies north of the end of the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir, and just below the border with China. [Siachen is 78 km (48 miles) long and lies at an altitude of 5,400 metres, the world's highest battlefield with temperatures as low as - 60ºC (-76 Farenheit). Picture taken October 4, 2003.] - RTXM8MF
Source: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski.
The recent Siachen tragedy which swallowed up nine brave martyrs (the condition of the tenth is critical) is a thorn pierced deep into our heavy hearts. Braving unbearably hostile conditions and freezing temperatures, unfriendly terrains at a jaw-dropping 19,600 feet above sea level keeps every Indian soldier sleepless for nights worrying about both Pakistan and the harsh environment as well. Such is the courage shown by our soldiers and army personnel and that too with just about 10% of the normal oxygen supply required to survive. There have been reports of pulmonary tumours, loss of appetite, sleeplessness and a wide range of health complications. A soldier can’t hold the trigger of his gun continuously for more than a few seconds and can end up even losing an arm if adequate precautions are not taken.

Unfortunately, these sacrifices have not been done justice to. The Siachen issue is extensively politicised and some critiques have started questioning the government and forcing it to demilatarise Siachen, thereby completely undermining its strategic importance. Several critics want Siachen to be converted into a mountain of peace and are constantly trying to push their ideologies down the throat of the government and civilians alike.

At this Juncture, it becomes imperative to seriously examine the intellectual fallacies of these idealists and the media’s selective journalism of preaching peace. Have these critics forgotten our bitter past. After the 1948-49 operations, the Karachi Agreement was signed where the boundaries were demarcated between Pakistan and India in Kashmir valley. There was a point demarcated as NJ9842 beyond which, it was declared that, no human being could navigate. The same got reiterated after the 1971 war. The line demarcating territory in this region is called the Line of Actual Control (LOC).

Pakistan started navigating the hostile areas beyond NJ9842 and started issuing passes, in effect claiming that they were the owners. Thanks to the efforts of Colonel Narendra Kumar, the mountaineer, we were successfully able to identify Pakistani intrusion in Siachen and its tributaries. After such an herculean task being carried out and countless sacrifices being made, there is pressure to withdraw from the region.

But many have failed to realise that controlling such heights are a huge tactical advantage and this the simple reason why Pakistan insists that the Indian forces withdraw from the Siachen glacier. But any moves to demilitarise the region can lead to negative consequences as we cannot rule out treachery on the part of our neighbours. Any withdrawal from the region will open up the Karakoram Pass through which the China-Pakistan highway passes and further increase China’s access to Leh which is where we have the maximum deployment in the Ladakh region.

Thus, it is clear that any attempts to demilitarise Siachen will in turn pose serious security threats to India and politicising an issue of extreme strategic significance is a very narrow minded approach. It can prove to extremely disastrous. The efforts taken by Modi to visit an ailing soldier in an army hospital is a welcome gesture. It demands appreciation instead of political rhetoric and blindfolded criticism.