Monday, 30 May 2011

Army watches as Siachen dialogue resumes


As the two defence secretaries meet today, we wonder whether what was bought with blood and guts will be bartered for a later regret.







By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th May 11

On a moonless night in Siachen, in May 1987, Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande’s thirteen-man patrol silently climbed towards Quaid Post, a 21,153-feet high pinnacle near the crucial Bilafond La pass that was held by 17 Pakistani soldiers. Quaid had to be captured and Pande was fixing ropes on the near-vertical, 1500-feet ice wall just below the post, to assist a larger follow-on force in making a physical assault. As the jawans fixed the ropes, gasping for breath in that oxygen-depleted altitude, the Pakistani sentries just a few hundred feet above heard them. Gunfire rang out killing nine Indian soldiers, including Pande. But the four survivors could tell their unit, 8 Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (8 JAK LI), that the ropes were fixed.

Capturing Quaid post was vital being the only Pakistani post that dominated key Indian positions at Bilafond La. Realising its importance, Pakistan named it after Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The post, commanded by Subedar Ataullah Mohammed, was held by commandoes from the elite Special Services Group.

With the ropes in place, 8 JAK LI helicoptered an assault team to Bilafond La. Since the Cheetah helicopter can only ferry a single passenger in those extreme heights, and because of frequent blizzards, it took 25 days for the team to gather. On 23rd June, sixty-four soldiers, commanded by Major Virendar Singh, began the attack, all night they searched in waist-deep snow for the rope fixed by Pande’s patrol. Unable to find it, they fell back to base.

The next night a silent cheer went up as the rope was found. In single file, with their rifles slung across their backs, the first section (10 men) started the ascent to Quaid, crossing en route the bodies of Pande and his patrol, still roped together in death. Halfway up, the Pakistani defenders spotted them and opened a murderous fire. Pinned to the ice wall and unable to fire back --- their weapons had suffered “cold arrest”, jammed solid from the minus 25 degree cold --- the assault team sheltered in craters formed by artillery shells. There they spent the entire day exposed, frozen, hungry and under Pakistani fire.

At nightfall on the 25th, the attack began anew. Now the neighbouring Indian posts ---Sonam and Amar --- also fired at Quaid, supplementing an artillery barrage. But each metre gained was paid for in blood; every Indian casualty needed four comrades to ferry him down. A brief rest, a cup of tea, and the four helpers were thrown back into battle.

“By any measure, we should have dropped from exhaustion”, said Major Virendar Singh, describing the events to Business Standard. “But Pande had to be avenged, and the relentless firing from Quaid reminded us of what we had to do.”

By daybreak on the 26th, it became evident that capturing Quaid post would need a daylight frontal assault. With the entire army brass’ attention riveted on this unfolding drama, the brigade commander, Brigadier Chandan Nugyal, radioed Virendar, promising him fire support from every artillery gun in range if he could finish the job.

“I knew we would not last another night on a bar of 5-Star chocolate. We fixed the attack for noon”, says Virendar.

After a massive barrage of artillery fire, Virendar closed onto the post with his 8-man assault party. Simultaneously, another small team outflanked Quaid from below and cut the ropes that the Pakistanis used. Subedar Mohammad knew the game was up. Four defenders jumped off the post, preferring instant death in the abyss below to being shot or bayoneted in combat. The two who remaining were quickly killed. By 3 p.m. the Indian assault party staggered onto Quaid.

“We had no strength to celebrate. At 21,000 feet, nobody does the bhangra, yells war cries, or hoists the tricolour. Ultimately, sheer doggedness wins. If we had once hesitated, Quaid would still be with Pakistan,” recounts Virendar. An admiring army awarded a Param Vir Chakra to Naib Subedar Bana Singh of the assault party and renamed Quaid post Bana Top; and a Maha Vir Chakra and 7 Vir Chakras to other bravehearts of 12 JAK LI. Virendar, who was severely wounded by an artillery shell after Quaid post was captured, won a Vir Chakra, as did Lieutenant Pande.

Indian posts across Siachen, like Bana Top, many of them won at similar cost, will be on the negotiating table today and tomorrow, as the defence secretaries of India and Pakistan meet for the 12th round of dialogue to resolve the Siachen dispute. The Pakistan Army --- for whom Siachen represents a stinging defeat at the hands of the Indian Army --- wants to erase that memory by “demilitarising” Siachen. It wants both sides to vacate their positions and pull back to an agreed line, well short of the glacier. But the Indian Army has little trust for its Pakistani counterpart after the Kargil intrusion and years of fighting terrorism. It asks: how do we know that Pakistan will not reoccupy Siachen after we withdraw? How can you assure us that we will not have to capture Bana Top again?

During 11 previous rounds of dialogue New Delhi had demanded a signed map from Pakistan, showing its forward troop locations, as a prerequisite for a Siachen settlement. Pakistan demurs, ostensibly because that would “legitimise” India’s “intrusion” into Siachen. Rawalpindi’s refusal to authenticate its positions has scuttled all previous dialogue. The reason for that reluctance, the Indian Army believes, is that a signed map would clearly show how badly Pakistan was beaten in Siachen. Although Pakistan terms it “the Siachen dispute”, its forward-most positions cannot even see the glacier. From 13th April 1984, when an all-volunteer Indian force was helicoptered to the Bilafond La pass, India’s complete control of the Saltoro Ridge has shut Pakistan out of Siachen.

Over the years, at enormous cost in dead and injured, the Indian Army has developed enormous skill at surviving at “super altitudes”. In the 1980s, casualties from frostbite and altitude sickness ran in the hundreds. By the end of the last decade, they were down to 20-22 per year. During the last eight years, nobody has died. Today, barely 10-12 soldiers are evacuated annually.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has termed Siachen “a mountain of peace”, and has tended to view it as a bargaining chip in the larger dialogue process with Pakistan. For the Indian Army, though, Siachen symbolises a superhuman feat of arms, sustained over decades. Generals today recall that the blood-soaked capture of the strategic Haji Pir Pass in 1965 was undone at the negotiating table in Tashkent. And many wonder whether history is about to repeat itself.

34 comments:

the terminator said...

Col Shukla,
It is articles such as yours that remind Indians as a whole and in particuar the babooos in MOD what price the jawans have to pay for the soverignity of the nation.

Our political leaders who do not have an inkling of the dangers the jawans face are only too eager to fritter away our gains for personal political milage and expediency. They fail to realize that COMPROMISE at every turn does not make for good statesmanship or the promotion of goodwill. Unless it is reciprocal compromise and goodwill are just non-existant words in a terrorist nation.

Hope MMS in his eagerness to portray himself as a peace loving PM does not fall for the treachery of the Porkis. Hope he does not sell India for personal glory.

kittoo said...

There are no words to say anything. Our Jawaans earned Siachen with their blood, fighting for each inch, in that icy hell. And our Manmohan is so blinded for personal glory that he doesnt care for that blood. As is the history of India in past 800 years, the sacrifice of thousands will be ruined for the personal glory of one, and naught will be achieved. Jai Hind no?

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Shukla,

Could you please take some time and answer that quiz "how did uncle sam take down OSL", been waiting for an answer for quite some time now.

Cheers,
Bharath

Anonymous said...

I can just summarize in few words "BLOODY POLITICIANS", while they plunder and stash for their kids our Army men die not sure even their kids will get education or food.

panic said...

Who are they (Pakistan) to Dictate Terms to us.Can we Dictate Terms with China the same way regarding Akashe Chin??
Under no circumstances, we should give away our Advantage.
If they want us to Vacate Siachen, let them Vacate P.O.K(Pak Occupied Kashmir).
If they are not ready to do so, why are we wasting our Time in all these useless talks.
If G.O.I gives up Siachen, one thing is for shure, nor does the People of India or the History is going to forgive them.
VINASHA KALE VIPAREEDA BHUDDI.

Anonymous said...

It would be foolishness of the utmost order to retreat from Siachen.Have all the agreement you want, ceasefire,no hostile actions on Siachen, etc etc BUT do not withdraw,

Promises by Pakistan are not worth toilet paper.Does anyone remember there was a Shimla Agreement on Kashmir.Does Pak ever follow it.In fact,it is dismissed as an agreement made under duress by Pakistan.
Pakistani polity is unpredictable.One agrees and the next paki general will come along and renege on it claiming that smaller Paksiatn has to use all means to secure itself or a Zia type may come along that promises to non-muslim India need not be honored.
There is no need to be under pressure for peace and certainly India is not obligated to be GENEROUS as the bigger party.It almost as if we are to feel guilty of our own national interests.

To give up Siachen on some vague Pakistani promises would be betrayal of the nation and our forces in the highest order .I would rank it to treason.

Anonymous said...

The major difference between 1965 Haji pir fiasco & present is that we did not have such strong media. We expect patriots like you to not let the GOI get away this time.
For Nobel intension, pun intended,we cannot have people pay the price in blood later.

ABID said...

Dear Ajai Sir,
After spending few years in yielding expertise at the cost of casualties, the Indian Army has now stabilized itself at Siachin. It is not costing more soldier life in sustaining at the peaks, albeit, we are reaping higher ROI( return on investment):
1. We surely control the glacier which will certainly leave us invulnerable in case of future hostility.
2. Sense of superiority in Indian Forces.
3. Low esteem and a sense of disgrace in Pakistani forces.
Control of Siachin is totally non-negotiable, as we just cant handover our strength on a plate to a tyrant. Let there be thousands of Secy. level meeting, but we shall not budge.
If we want to be renowned as 1st Class Fools, then we can trust Pakistan and go for demilitarizing the Siachin, as we have suffered KARGIl.
Let's hope, India shall learn from its past disasters and trusting our beloved neighbors, who always backstab us.
Atleast, we shall give some respect and value the sacrifices of our soldiers. They were also the sons / brothers / husbands of someone... who live in silence and pride now, because their family have served the nation.

Anonymous said...

Well written. Hats off to the pongos for a superhuman job done on the Siachen battlefield. As somebody who has flown CAP over the inhospitable terrain of the glacier, and seen the Indian Army painfully trudging their way into action from a snug cockpit high above the Kargil sector, I have nothing but admiration for the PBI of the Indian Army. No other fighting force in the world would have cheerfully followed their officers up those heights and into the face of sudden death. This is something no civilian, let alone bureaucrat or politician, can comprehend and truly appreciate. I have no further words to express my emotions. Jai Hind, Jai Jawan.

Vidyut said...

Timely reminder of the price we have paid for that bargaining chip. It is the role of a soldier to risk life for his country, and many sacrifices are rendered futile in strategic maneuverers. But natural. If every death meant a possession, no dispute would ever be resolved, once people on both sides died. On the other hand, we must not forget that it is a price paid in blood. It isn't something easily replaceable in history, geography or human cost. While it is the fate of Armies to risk lives in the interest of their nation, there must be enough respect to not squander that effprt.

If Siachen truly brings peace, it is worth all the lives lost on both sides. But do we really believe Pakistan in these matters? Does anyone? Do even Pakistanis believe their Army will not try to capture? Then, I hope we don't turn this into a show of generosity.

kshitiz said...

Heloo Ajay.Saw ur report on NDTV..good to see u more frequently these days..U fumble at times.last time on pak china nexus report too.lol.but for people like me who are following your articles for a very long time.its very pleasing to see u on screen.A suggestion-please make those reports in a signature style not in that rehtoric news reading style..content must have a punch and depth so that it has an impact..otherwise its just a news which nobody care..jai hind

Manne said...

Let me start by saying that I care a lot for every drop of sweat that an Indian jawan sheds in training.

That said, let me now say that I do not care how many dead and injured we have because of Siachen. If Pakistan wants it and we have it to our advantage then irrespective of the cost we would do well to hold on to it. Plain and simple!

Every babu, MoD, PM, WKK dork who doesn't 'get it' needs to travel to Bana Post to understand this.

- Manne

Anonymous said...

If there is even a whiff of a compromise, I might actually start believing the far right who indirectly say the PM requires a spine transplant.

Whether we wish to admit it or not nations are built on blood, guts and glory. And so is this nation and siachen is an important part of it.

Siachen speaks of valour,grit and determination of the armed forces. but also holds the then military and political leadership in positive light.

If siachen is negotiated all the neighbours will think everything from walong to sir creek from DBO to rameswaram is negotiable.

prasham said...

Siachen is one of the most proud achievement of Indian Army, and I hope the baboos on table will not forget this.

But there has been a bright history of our leaders on talks with Pakistan. Especially in giving away our treasure of land and blood freely and more willingly. If we want peace we must show our anger, and even have to slap them when needed. Let's hope military proud will not turn into political shame as it has done always.

Ravi said...

I do not think that government will be so foolish as to just demilitarise the Siachen glacier based on mere promise of Pakistani government and its military. I am sure that any way forward will be based on some sensible, on the ground actions on both the side. No Indian government will survive a day if they make any stupid agreements with Pakistan. Moreover, its in India's interest to reduce military presence at Siachen while not compromising its hold in the Area.


Remeber, India is spending $2m / day to maintain its troops at Siachen. Its a lot of money, and if something can be done to reduce this burden on Indian tax payer as well as Indian Armed forces then it should be welcomed by one and all!


Now Indian forces have cutting edge technology, and the kind of resources they can get their hands on, in case of any stupidity on the part of Pakistan are vastly superior to what we had in 1987.

India can, and I think it is already using, space based resources, to monitor any specific region.


I think if we can get Pakistan to agree to certify and acknowledge current troops position, and get them to some sensible on the ground action, which Indian armed forces can agree to, then some sort of forward movement is possible.


We don't want to do anything foolish, but remember, its in our interest to have less, but adequate military infrastructure at Siachen. It will save us some of our brave soldiers, as well as valuable forex, which can be used on military modernization.


However, complete withdrawal is absolutely NO NO!

Anonymous said...

Col....why should'nt there be JASMINE REVOLUTION on this here in India. Plunder India - no problem, but if you plunder honour of our matyrs...certainly you politicians and babus should have not right to continue in power

Sandy Covert said...

Well well well. This one was better than your 3 part series on arjun MBT. You are timing your articles better than Saurav Ganguly hitting the ball...The timing of Arjun series was also exquisite...

Anonymous said...

Col Shukla,

Great article. Please send a copy of this article to the Defence Minister, the Prime Minister and the "real" Prime Minister. Not that they won't sell the country but they will know what they are selling, sorry handing over.

By the way, based on news articles in TOI and elsewhere-India has first asked the positions to be authenticated before we consider de-militatization. So, the chances of us bartering our hard earned gains looks less likely as of now-cross your fingers though.

avtar nijher said...

Even if MMS is keen to seek glory for himself by projecting himself as apostle of peace nation will not let the glacier go out of our hands its part of India as always

Patriotic Democrat said...

We should salute our brave soldiers for the sacrifices they have made.

That said, the job of a soldier is to die for his country. It is for our elected politicians, not our soldiers, to decide what our strategic objectives should be. Leaving these decisions to soldiers could even result in the madness we see across the border in Pakistan, where the Pak Army's strategic obsessions have destroyed that country's security.

I am not saying that the Indian Army would lead the country down a similar path, or that its views should be disregarded. But it is elected politicians -- whether we like them or not -- who have been granted the authority to make policy decisions by the people of India, and it is the soldiers who are expected to implement this policy, sometimes even at high cost.

I do not know whether a Siachen settlement is sustainable or not. I acknowledge that the Army has major concerns about Pakistani reliability. But to contrast "brave soldiers" with "perfidious politicians" is just stupid because it demonstrates ignorance of what has made this country a free democracy.

Anonymous said...

Why not place "Short-Range" and "Long-Range" nuclear missiles in Siachen? That would sufficiently deter Pakistanis and China in particular. Target the Karakoram highway from there. Karakoram Highway, is Pakistan's jugguler, cut it and we have victory over Pak. It is this reason, why Pakistan wants what it wants. If this is achieved, we don't need to discuss Siachen. As for Politicians, it would behoove them to tell Pakistanis that Siachen is non-negotiable. We feel Pakistani interference in Kashmir the same way they feel about India in Afghanistan. Why do they complain? If they have balls, let them fight for Siachen. Send their Jihadis to Siachen. If those bastards have what it takes to seek battle-field glory. I know Pakis are yellow-belly, since they prefer murdering un-armed Hindu civilians, instead of facing directly Indian Armed forces in war.

Mr. Ra said...

We do not have any border or any border problems with Papistan and if there are any border problems with Afghanistan or Iran, then they shall be settled accordingly with top priority.

With the background of ever increasing Talibani presence within Papistan, it will be utterly futile to keep any agreement with Papistan as the Taliban will never be ready to follow them.

Any how the article was excellent as always.

KR said...

If a million plus armed men are outdone by a khadi clad gentleman, the forces only have themselves to blame. Better drop everything and organise a dharna in New Delhi.

Heberian said...

Anon @ 13:56

I completely agree with your emotions. I could not fly CAPs because of the PABT long ago, but I know something about how it is on the ground, and how reassuring the sight of you fly boys above was.

Having some intimate ground knowledge about dealing with our neighbours and their proxies, I think it would be utterly foolish if our leaders gave up Siachen (giving up is what it will be, becuase the Pindi will occupy the posts we have built with blood and gold at the first opportunity) without signed maps accepted among the commity of nations. It is not a matter of trust, it is a matter of pragmatism, based on real data.

Unlike all people and peaceniks and arm chair analysts and Praful Bidwai's of our nation, the army knows exactly how desolate and barren and painful a place Siachen is. No one wants to spend 12 weeks up there. The army does it, becuase it knows exactly how the Nubra valley and especially Chalunka will be threatened, if it were not for the blood and guts of our men. wThe army does it, because someone has to do it... so that the Praful Bidwai's and Arundhati Roy's of world can freely go about criticising the army. Maybe Bidwai should spend a few weeks up there just to understand that the army does what it does, not for fun...but to ensure that the nation is secure and that folks like Bidwai can sleep easy. Of Roy, the less said, the better (I did enjoy her book, but the her descent into lunacy ever since has been so treacherously sad).

Sometimes, we have to do things not merely for directly accrued benefits, but because of the signals it sends about our determination and our commitment to keeping every inch of our land secure.

While not given to utopian dreams, I cannot help but wish that Col. Shukla and other like minded people can influence and rouse our people to put a stop to our governments wish to agree with the US demand to make peace and give up something for Pakistan, so that they can be assured of more cooperation with regards to Afghanistan.

We are doing this because the US wants to give something to Pakistan, in terms of "compromise" from India. And we are the bakra. This is not realpolitik by our leaders, this is shameless sacrifice of national pride and the blood of brave men.

Witness the superfast reaction of our government to the 2 G scandal, why? Becuase they realise that the people wont take it easy. Can we, the people, demonstrate and ensure that the government knows that they CANNOT give up our security and honor on the mere words of a nation led by delusional, pathological liars in Pindi. Can we ensure that the blood our men in arms spills for the nation, is not dishonored?

Col. Shukla, can you rouse the people? Can you influence our Hindi channels to rouse the emotions of the masses at this potential betrayal?

Heberian said...

@ Patriotic Democrat-

The Indian Army is a proud institution that knows its exact place in our democracy. It has never, and will never formulate or force policy. However, it is the job of the army to give unbiased, realistic, assesments and data to the government so that it can take informed decisions that are in the best interests of the nation. When the Army is asked to jump, all it says back is "How high,sir?"... even when it knows that it is not the right thing to do, either tactically or strategically. So, rest assured, the army will implement whatever it is asked to.

That said, it is for us, the public, to ask why we are going down this road? Are we doing it for hard, long term benefits? Or are we doing this in order to support the US strategy of getting Rawalpindi to act on the Afghan borders. What will we get in return? Will the Headly trial make the US government force the Pak army to give up support to the "good terrorists" ? Will they reduce the influence of the ISI (by extension, of Chinese strategy) on Pakistan? What are we really bringing all this up for?

You are right, comparing our soldiers with our politicians is wrong. But that is where the public should come in, to raise an outcry against actions that may be mere grandstanding as opposed to well thought out, long term strategy. Our history is replete with examples of "If only..". If only we had seized the moment and acted decisievely in 1972.. if only we had taken out the reactors in the '80s... If only IK Gujral had not undone certain capabilities..

A few years down the line we should not be saying "If only we had not trusted the Pak Army and given up Siachen, we would not be in getting artillery fire on our villages in Nubra and along the Shyok.."

Tell us, which other country gives up its land so easily? What are the benefits to the UK of maintaining the Falklands? Some fish for the fish and chips back in blighty? Then why does the UK not be magnanimous and give up the Falklands to Argentina? Or why does Russia not give up control of Chechnya and Akhbazia? Or why do the Chinese not give back Aksai Chin and stop claiming Arunachal or the Senkaku islands? What about Diego Garcia?

Or maybe, we should be like old Nehru, who in his "generosity" and misguided hubris, gave up our seat on the security council to China... and give up all our lands to the Pakistanis and the Chinese based on some stupid peacenik argument?

Just because the forces are brave and have chosen to volunteer to protect the nation, does not mean that they like dying any more than Bidwai and Arundhati. They recommend not giving up Siachen for unemotional, data driven reasons and knowledge of the Pakistani army.

the terminator said...

India should decide once and for all times that even an inch of Indian territory is NOT NEGOTIABLE.

As a prerequisite to all bilateral "peace talks" India should demand that the Porkis dismantle all terrorist training grounds and extradite all wanted criminals especially those who are behind the Bombay and Parliament attacks. As a measure of goodwill the Porkis should cease talking of Kashmere as part of Porkistan. In fact they should be told in no uncertain terms that Porkistani territory which was once part of India should not be handed over to the sneaky, snaky Chinks in exchange for nuclear bombs and missiles.

The above may seem to be TOO DEMANDING but then knowing the Porkis for what they are, can we be accused for being over cautious?

Who can forget the back stabbing of the Porkis? While Vajpayee was having his bus ride to Pakistan for peace talks the Porkis under Musharaaf was mobilising to take over Kargil. It took hundreds of precious lives of the brave and indomitable jawans to recapture Kargil. Kargil should serve as the benchmark to gauge the Porkis duplicity. The icing on the cake of Porkis duplicity was housing Osama in a palatial mansion in a garrison city and nonchalantly feigning surprise when caught with the pants down.

It is a sheer waste of time talking to Porkis. MMS should realize this and decide all current and future talks are just for SHOW to please the international diplomatic community.

If India has learned anything at all from the Kargil episode, it should be to ever vigilant with the armed forces ready for any eventuality whenever any talks are held with the snaky Porkis.

Anonymous said...

Some factual corrections to your article. Quaid Observation Post was named after the company that established the post (in April 1986) and not after the founder of the country. The post was defended by 8 soldiers and not 17! These were Lance Naik Jehanzeb, Seoy Fiaz, Sepoy Sher Ali, Sepoy Allahyar, Sepoy Nasrullah, Sepoy Arshad and Sepoy Zulfiqar, commanded by Naib Subedar Atta Mohammad. Out of these 8, Sepoy Arshad and Sepoy Zulfiqar actually survived this engagement when they leapt off the cliff on orders of Naib Subedar Atta after running out of ammunition.

Broadsword said...

Anonymous 13:18

Thanks for that very interesting input. Would you think it rude if I asked where you got it from?

Thx

Anonymous said...

Col Ajai Shukla, did you serve in Siachen ? We would like to hear your experience at Siachen during your part of stay there..

Kahlon said...

Sir,

With regard to your message @1404 on 31 May 2011.
You can get the information on this link, just googled and found it.

http://www.pakdef.info/pakmilitary/army/siachen/siachen2.html

Kartik said...

Ajai Sir,

Your article illustrates the very reason that India should feel intense pride at the valour and bravery of our Armed Forces. To think that the current PM would be willing to let the blood of our valiant jawans be wasted, that too based on some hollow, worthless promise that a totally untrustworthy nation like Pakistan makes, makes my blood boil. The Pakistani Army and polity have absolutely no basis in trust- they will simply dis-regard any such pact when it suits them. The Shimla Agreement is a start reminder of that. And to give up Siachen Glacier when it is costing the Pakis more than it is costing in in relative terms, and when we are in a position of strength is momumental stupidity.

Please publish this article in some newspaper. The nation needs to know just how big a mistake might be made because one PM wants to be remembered in history as the one who solved at least 1 dispute between India and Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

not another Haji Pir Pass tashkent, please dont repeat it

Vaporizer said...

Most of the times the armies have to face very difficult situation. Such that capturing Quaid post was vital being the only Pakistani post that dominated key Indian positions at Bilafond La.

exerji said...

Brings tears to my eyes. We should all do as much as possible to remember the courage and sacrifices made by these soldiers to protect what India stands for - a country of all faiths, tolerance and respect for all. Very movingly written and brings the images live.