July 2005 By A. R. Siddiqi INDIA’S army chief General Jogindar Jaswant Singh is reported to have offered to pull out his troops from the dizzy heights of Siachen. The general is said to have already proposed a “roadmap” to his government to convert the Siachen glacier into a “mountain of peace”, in deference to the wishes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This is a dramatic and a welcome change coming as it does from the first Sikh Indian army chief, reportedly a hawk. Only last month, when secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan happened to be in progress in Islamabad, Gen Singh appeared on television to declare that the only solution acceptable to the Indian army would be one based on the actual ground position line (AGPL), Gen Singh?s own formulation.

General Singh made up for his lack of eloquence with the firmness of his tone and expression. His telecast warning almost threw a spanner into the works of the official talks, which ended somewhat abruptly leaving everyone wondering about the future of the CBMs between the two countries.

In his latest statement, Gen Singh has spoken unreservedly about converting Siachen and the controversial Saltoro ridge ? west of the glacier ? into a demilitarized zone. It is from this chain of high mountain peaks that the Indians control the glacier. The logic of India?s persistent refusal to vacate the Saltoro ridge is thus reversed by Gen Singh?s draft plan for demilitarization.

It is to be noted that demilitarization or disengagement will not by itself amount to a waiver of the claim by either party to the territories under their occupation. A demarcation line on operational maps will be delineated to indicate the respective areas for future reference and review. In view of the essentially non-strategic nature of the areas involved, there should be only a remote possibility for such an exigency ever to arise once the demilitarization is effected and mutual trust restored. In the opinion of a Pakistani expert on international law, Siachen may well be declared as ?terra nullis? (territory belonging to none) to ward off any question arising about its ?legal status? while demilitarization is under way and even thereafter, if necessary.

Yet another option available to the parties concerned could be international arbitration. After the war in the Rann of Kutch in May 1965, the dispute was referred for international arbitration. This option, nevertheless, should be invoked only after a collapse of the two-way process. The Kutch experience had been hardly to the satisfaction of either party, if only for the long hiatus between the initial referral of the dispute for arbitration, and its eventual settlement about four years later. Pakistan had to make do with 350 square miles of the northern Kutch as against its original claim to 3,500 square miles.

Siachen came into the picture in 1984 when Gen Chibber of the Indian army walked over into an area thinly-held by the Pakistan Army. Until then Pakistan exercised control over the glacier mainly for the issue of visas and transit permits to foreign mountaineers.

Various atlases and route maps showing Siachen on Pakistan?s side were rarely if ever disputed by India until Chibber?s forces intruded and occupied parts of the Saltoro range to the west.

Siachen does not figure either in the April 1948 agreement delimiting and demarcating the ceasefire line (CFL) or in the Shimla Agreement of 1972 delineating the Line of Control (LoC). The LoC was drawn on the basis of the areas in actual possession of India and Pakistan in the state of Jammu and Kashmir after the 1971 war. Only territories along the international border lost or gained through the war were swapped together with POWs.

As delimited by the military commanders, the LoC at its last point on the map was marked as NJ 9842. This is around 78 kilometres short of the Siachen Glacier, and remained undemarcated until Chibber?s forces entered to turn it into disputed territory and a zone of perpetual tension, frequent gun duels and the source of some actual engagements between the two armies. According to an Indian analyst Bharat Bhushan, the ?descriptive explanation? of the boundary line beyond NJ-9842 ? ?thence north to the glaciers? ? has created confusion. ?India believes that the boundary would go north through the nearest watershed, the Saltoro ridge. Pakistan draws a straight line from NJ-9842 going northeast to the Karakoram pass. The former interpretation gives control of the glacier to India, the latter to Pakistan,? he says.

In sum, however, there would be hardly anything more exhilarating and gratifying than coming down to earth after an arduous, steep climb up the dizzy heights.?The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.