India mulls August pullout from Siachenon April 5th, 2006 at 10:39 pm
Pramod Kumar Singh in New Delhi writes in The Pioneer on April 5, 2006
Feb 2006: NSA-Aziz agree in principle
May: Def Secys to meet
Aug: PM may sign agreement
—- The UPA Government appears to have buckled under US pressure and the persistent demands of Pakistan to completely withdraw its 4,000 strong troops from Siachen, the highest battlefield in the world.
After a secret meeting between National Security Advisor (NSA) MK Narayanan and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Dubai in the last week of February, India has agreed in principle to the phased withdrawal of the Indian Army from its positions.
The NSA is believed to have discussed the matter threadbare with Mr Aziz and also conveyed the seriousness of the Indian Government on the issue.
Well placed Government sources told the Pioneer that the finer points of this highly contentious issue will be discussed in the next round of Defence Secretary-level meeting of the two countries in the first week of May. If all
goes well, the agreement could be inked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visits Pakistan in August this year.
While the details of this visit are being worked out, the withdrawal of the Indian Army from Siachen will top the agenda.
Though Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Defence are not in complete agreement as to the overall proposal, they will be forced to fall in line once the Government decides to go ahead with its demilitarisation plan.
Ever since then prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered the deployment of the Indian Army in Siachen in April 1984, Pakistan has been demanding the total withdrawal of the Indian troops. It has used every trick in its trade to hammer across its argument that Indian Army should withdraw from Saltoro Hills of NJ-9842 mountain peak.
The strategic importance of Saltoro Hills can be gauged from the fact that it takes only four days to enter into Indian territory from Pakistan’s side despite a maze of extremely narrow routes.
Indian Army had further fortified its deployment after the Kargil War much to the chagrin of Pakistan. Officers and men of the Indian Army should be complemented for having effectively checkmated any misadventures from Pakistan in this sector, the sources said.
In the event of Indian troops pulling out of Saltoro Hills, Pakistan would be able to straighten the passage between Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Aksai Chin. Pakistan had also not agreed to accept the actual ground position line (AGPL) since it had set its eye on this strategic terrain.
Most importantly, Pakistan will never agree to authenticate its military-held positions in this area, as it wants to first seek the withdrawal of Indian Army and then exploit it for fulfilling its ulterior motives.
Apprehensions are being expressed that if the peace process between India and Pakistan gets derailed and the Pakistan Army meanwhile occupies key positions in Siachen, India will have to really move the mountains to regain its previously-held positions.