Mainstream, VOL LIV No 14 New Delhi March 26, 2016
On ‘One Death: Several Questions’
Monday 28 March 2016
I would like to offer some comments on the Political Notebook by B.D.G., entitled “One Death: Several Questions”, that appeared in the Mainstream issue of February 13, 2016.
One. B.D.G. writes that “the Indian Army is at a strategically advantageous position” at Siachen because it occupies the “top of the glacier” while Pakistani troops are “down below”. It is true that Indian troops occupy positions that are higher than Pakistani positions, but those are on the ridge line between Siachen glacier and the mountains to its west, and that is a tactical advantage required to maintain control of Siachen glacier itself.
Two. The strategic advantage is occupation of Siachen glacier to deny link-up of Pakistani-held Gilgit with Chinese-held Aksai Chin. This is important since there is presence of China’s PLA in Gilgit, and such a link-up will compromise the security of the Shyok and Nubra river valleys, making it easy for the Pakistan-China axis to pose a credible military threat to Leh and the Indus river valley.
Three. B.D.G. writes : “For India the strategic importance of Siachen is that it lies above Khardungla“. This is completely misleading since Khardungla is on the Ladakh mountain range, and is more than 100-km to the South of the southern (low) end of Siachen glacier.
Four. B.D.G. states: “The only way out is for Indian and Pakistan to agree to leave Siachen alone and remove their respective troops.” Firstly, Pakistani troops are not on Siachen glacier at all, but the Pakistani Army has been making out to its own population and government that it is facing Indian troops on the glacier, to justify its presence. Secondly, if Indian troops leave their present tactically commanding positions—won with much sacrifice of life and limb—it will leave these positions open to stealthy occupation by Pakistani troops and make India lose its present strategic advantage of preventing the link-up. Thirdly, once the Pak-China link-up between Gilgit and Aksai Chin is established, armed conflict to defend the Indus valley will involve Indian troops engaging Chinese troops, and this will widen the conflict to India’s military and political disadvantage.
Yes, the Siachen conflict is costly in terms of the life and limb of Indian soldiers, besides of course the financial and economic costs, but if India’s territorial and political integrity is to be maintained, India will have to bear these costs. Therefore, the nation needs to look after its military genuinely by restoring its rightful status, which has been steadily downgraded by bureaucratic machinations, including most recently by the shabby treatment regarding the One-Rank-One-Pension and the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations.
It is true that peace between India and Pakistan is highly desirable. But if there is to be a withdrawal of troops, let there be talks between India and Pakistan to first stop all Pakistani-sourced cross-border militancy and terrorism, and then commence de-militarisation beginning with borders with Gujarat and proceeding northwards, with constant monitoring to prove Pakistani sincerity. The doubt on Pakistan’s sincerity is because India has been deceived more than once in the past and the price has been paid by India with the lives and limbs of its soldiers.
These comments are intended to place the questions raised by B.D.G. in perspective, so that readers get their facts right.
Mysore Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd.)
B.D.G. responds to the above letter by writing: “My comment on Siachen was based on the following:
‘I took over as Corps Commander in August 3, 1983. In September-October, I briefed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi about the strategic importance of Siachen and Pak design to capture Khardungla and dominate Leh by bringing artillery and rockets etc. in Nubra valley and then link up with the Chinese at Aksai Chin.’
— Lt. Gen. P.N. Hoon, GOC, 15 Corps