Siachen has been in the news recently due to the avalanche which took away precious lives who guard our country. Many news editorials came up with the prescription to demilitarize Siachen. In light of this the debate is indeed quite relevant and a through analysis of it thus called for.
Before delving in to the various aspects of Sicahen , it in necessary to understand what demilitarization is all about.
Demilitarization of an area implies withdrawal of the opposing military forces from the designated area with an agreement that neither side would undertake any military activity till the resolution of the conflicting territorial claims. Thus, demilitarization necessarily entails withdrawal by both the sides from the disputed area. The area becomes a de facto frontier between the two nations.
In this prospect if you recall the events of Kargil , it was also an agreement between India and Pakistan forces to withdraw from certain difficult terrains in the wake of winter.However, once India withdrew from Kargil and other sector , the military adventurism was started by Pakistan , which ultimately resulted in Kargil war and loss of many valuable lives.
So , the real issues here is even though India has extended many confidence building measures for the past 4/5 decades, yet it has not been reciprocated by Pakistan . The military clout that runs the Pakistan establishments and their military policies have primary objective is not to establish peace but to engage in different activities that do harm to India, whether it is through proxy war or tacit support to terrorists.Given the history , trust is not an option.
War itself has significance influence not only on the psyche of citizenry but also on economy and is best avoided. The only way to avoid war with any rouge state is to build deterrence.For eg- If Indian forces had not withdrawn from the Kargil and other bases in the region in the winter of 1999 , the chances of military adventurism and the subsequent war could have been deterred.
Hence, if we learn anything from history , it is not to repeat the mistakes again.If we have an advantage from military stand point , it should not be given away merely for political reasons without proper assessment of future implications.
Having said that , Siachen , itself is a subject matter that have multiple angles.
Most of India’s military policies are reactive in nature and built as defense mechanisms.Siachen is no exception.Once Pakistan started it’s Siachen adventurism , India in order to secure Kashmir launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984 . It was a reaction too.India would not have sent troops if the conflict had not been escalated in the first place.
Now that India , controls and has significant advantage in Siachen , hence it must not be given away just because of editors of certain newspapers thinks its good thing to do.Of course, India wants to do good things and is neither assertive about its capabilities nor flexes its military muscle beyond requirement or without reason. But we do not live in a ideal world , and just becasue we are good that does mean other will be good to us.
If we let go off our strategic strengths , it will be the greatest provocation for war.Weakness is the greatest provocation for violence.And demilitarizing Siachen would be a significant strategic weakening.
Often , the policy makers of India contemplate two front war – that is, if we are engaged in a war with Pakistan in west, there are chances that we may have to fight a war with China – leading two front war and most of our military policies are designed to deal with two front war.Two front war may be hypothetical at this point ,but the danger of it looms large over Indian policy makers.In this context , Siachen would be a real advantage as a operation base giving India the high ground not only to monitor the Karakoram highway but also the much hyped China -Pakistan Economic corridor.In case of a war , the communication channel can be disrupted and Siachen can act as the choke point.
The other aspect of Siachen and the main reason for promoting idea of demilitarization is due to the following reasons :-
1)It is a difficult terrain and military personnel undergo significant stress to guard it
2)The region is the highest battlefield in the world and the dangers of climatic accidents and health injuries such as – frost bite, snow blindness, depression etc are real , leading to casualties.
The above two are the main reasons that support the cause demilitarization.But , as we learned from history , if after demilitarization leads to military escapades that ultimately result in a war then there will be a greater number of loss of life.From causality stand point, it is better to avoid war than to demilitarize and then fight a war.The health hazards can be easily avoided by inclusion of certain standards, protocols ,military gears and building few strong and safe bases in Siachen itself. How to survive and avoid casualty at this high ground with sub zero temperature is purely a problem of science and technology , thus proper inclusion and adaptation of the technological solution can minimize the damage to a great extent.
Moreover ,as is apparent, the concept of demilitarization entails two major essentials. One, it presupposes that both sides have their military presence in the said area/zone. Two and more frighteningly, it implies that both sides agree to settle their mutual claims at a later date through non-military means. In other words, it declares the area to be a disputed territory.
In the case of Siachen, Pakistan has no presence on the glacier – not even a toehold. The entire main glacier (76 km by 2-8 km) and the subsidiary glaciers are in India’s control. As a matter of fact, Pakistan cannot even have a peek at them as all the three main passes (Sia La, Bilafond La and Gyang La) are under India’s occupation. Pakistani positions are well west of the Saltoro Ridge. Hence, if Pakistan is not present on the glacier, how can the question of its withdrawal arise? If that be so, demilitarization of Siachen would mean unilateral withdrawal by India and accepting it to be a disputed zone. It will amount to forfeiting the territory which is rightfully under India’s absolute military control.
Pakistan is adept at achieving through negotiations what it loses in war. Indian soldiers shed blood to gain military ascendency, only to see their hard fought gains being lost through the misplaced zeal of some self-proclaimed advocates of peace. Their current suggestion of demilitarization of Siachen is an extension of the same subterfuge.