If Siachen is back on Indo-Pak agenda, it is good news

News: Recently, the Indian Army Chief, General Naravane, in his press conference reportedly made a reference to the possibility of “demilitarisation of the glacial region” in Siachen.

He said that Pakistan would have to first authenticate respective troop positions along the 110-km long actual ground position line (AGPL) in the Siachen-Saltoro Ridge region for any talks on demilitarisation to take place.

The army chief’s remarks are significant because it is a departure from the uncompromising position that has been current in the recent past.

What is the historical background of the Siachen glacier issue?

Ceasefire Agreement: India and Pakistan signed a Ceasefire Agreement in 1949 after their first armed conflict over Jammu and Kashmir soon after their independence in 1947.

The ceasefire line was drawn up to a point known as NJ 9842 on the map. Beyond this, the agreement stated, the line would run “north to the glaciers” leaving an un-demarcated zone right up to the border with China.

This formulation was repeated in the agreement on the Line of Control in 1972, which followed the Simla Agreement of 1971 in the aftermath of the Bangladesh War.

This was an act of omission on India’s part. The line beyond NJ 9842 was not demarcated on maps in 1972.

Operation Meghdoot: In the later years of the 1970s, this issue came to the front, when official US maps began to show the LoC as extending right up to the Karakoram Pass on the India-China boundary.

The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Main News
Source: Tribune

It implied that the Siachen glacier fell under the actual jurisdiction of Pakistan. The Chinese followed suit.

As a result, roughly 2,300 sq km of territory in this glacier zone came to be shown as under Pakistani control.

In response to this encroachment, the Indian Army launched what came to be known as Operation Meghdoot, in 1984, to occupy the Siachen-Saltoro ridge.

Pakistani attempts to dislodge the Indian troops from the heights did not succeed, though they did occupy and fortify the lower reaches on their side.

What were the steps taken to resolve the issues wrt AGL delineation?

Rajiv Gandhi – Benazir Bhutto Meeting: In December 1988, it was agreed that the two sides would hold talks to resolve the Siachen issue through mutual troop withdrawal.

However, there was no final outcome because Pakistan did not agree to map the actual ground positions of the two-armed forces from where they would withdraw.

Bilateral defence secretaries-level talks under the Narasimha Rao government: An agreement in principle was reached in 1992, when Pakistan reportedly agreed to the Indian proposal. However, later, PM Narasimha Rao took a decision to defer its actual signing to a later date, but then this did not happen.

Foreign secretary-level negotiations,2006: The following resolutions were agreed:

There would be a formal agreement on mutual but phased withdrawal and joint monitoring of the demilitarised zone.

There would be an annex which would record the current locations of the forces deployed by the two sides and the locations to which they would withdraw.

There would be a schedule of withdrawals in different phases.

However, the proposed agreement was dropped again due to opposition from both sides.

Source: This post is based on the article “Pakistan gets serious” published in Livemint on 15th Jan 2022.

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