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The Siachen Dream Of Nawaz Sharif

India, as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, is going to ignore the four-point proposal, including demilitarisation of Kashmir and unconditional withdrawal of forces from Siachen by both the countries, made by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week. Sharif called it “peace initiative” with India, but hidden within his proposal was Pakistan’s intention to internationalize the Kashmir issue. To begin with, he wants India and Pakistan to formalise and respect the 2003 understanding for a complete ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir, but this formalization must come with increased monitoring by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). As is known, the role of UNMOGIP became redundant after India and Pakistan signed the Simla Agreement in 1972 following the end of the 1971 War. India has maintained since then that the Simla Agreement defined the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.  However, the UNMOGIP has continued to function owing to the fact that UN is yet to pass a resolution asking for the end of its mandate. Pakistan keeps filing complaints to UNMOGIP about alleged ceasefire violations by India, but India does not do so, as it holds the UNMOGIP’s mandate has lapsed since the Simla Agreement.

Sharif’s second proposal for “restraint” by both countries from “use or the threat of use of force under any circumstances” is also intended to draw the world’s attention to Kashmir. If Pakistan is able to convey that use or threat of use of force is a major problem on the Line of Control, it will be able to convey that there is a festering problem between the troops of the two countries on LoC. That way the world might be persuaded to intervene to resolve the border issues between the two countries. As it is, it is not India that creates problems on LoC. It is the infiltration of terrorists and the tactics undertaken by the Pakistani military forces to provide cover to them to facilitate their intrusion into India that has been causing violence along the LoC. The restraint in the use of force by India could be judged dispassionately only if there is restraint in the use of force by Pakistan for helping intrusion of terrorists in India.

As far as Sharif’s demand for withdrawal by forces of both countries from Siachen is concerned, India is never going to accept it. Till 1984, neither India nor Pakistan had military forces in the area. In 1984, Indian forces took control of nearly all of 76-km long Siachen and its tributary glaciers, almost 3,000 sq km of area, in an operation named Operation Meghdoot. Between 1984 and 1999, frequent skirmishes took place between India and Pakistan in Siachen. India today also controls, apart from Siachen and its tributary glaciers, the five main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier – Sia La, Bilafond La, Gyong La, Yarma La and Chulung La. Pakistan merely controls the glacial valleys immediately west of the Saltoro Ridge. Pakistan has no presence in Siachen. What does the proposal for withdrawal of the opposing armies from the Siachen glacier mean when Pakistan has no presence at all? Sharif’s demand amounts to demanding India’s unilateral withdrawal from Siachen. India will not give up military control of Siachen for the strategic advantages it provides to it.  Perhaps India might agree to pull back its army from Siachen if the 110-km long AGPL (Actual Ground Position Line), marking the current position of the Indian and Pakistani forces, is delineated, demarcated and authenticated. Pakistan’s intention is to get India to vacate the areas it controls and then engage in bilateral negotiations to draw the line of control afresh in Siachen. India will never agree to Pakistan’s demand as that would mean giving up areas Indian forces have come to control.

Sharif’s fourth proposal suggesting demilitarization of Jammu and Kashmir tries to rake up an issue that has also found support among human rights groups in both the countries. The idea is that demilitarization of Jammu and Kashmir is essential to find a lasting solution of the dispute. India should pull out its military troops from the state and Pakistan should simultaneously pull out its military troops from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. However, the issue is not as simple as it seems. Demilitarization is unlikely to usher in peace, goodwill and mutual trust. Pakistan’s demand for demilitarization of Jammu and Kashmir would come with a revival of the demand for a “plebiscite” in Jammu and Kashmir. Behind the demand for demilitarization, Pakistan will work with its proxy groups in India to stoke the fire of separatism. India would not have needed to keep military troops in J & K had Pakistan not waged its proxy war.  India could think of demilitarizing Kashmir if Pakistan ceased promoting terrorism.

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