No change to Siachen policy, says the army chief
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sep 12
Chief of the Army Staff, General Bikram Singh, today issued a reality check to those who argued that he would be more receptive than his predecessors to a settlement on Siachen with Pakistan. In New Delhi today, the army chief flatly declared that the Indian Army should continue to hold on to that strategically valuable area.
“The army’s view (that Siachen holds strategic value) has not changed at all. It is very important and we must continue to hold that area. That is what we have maintained always,” said General Bikram Singh.
Early this year, during the deeply divided last months of former army chief General VK Singh’s tenure, sections of the Indian media had reported that General Bikram Singh would support the prime minister’s wish for an early Siachen settlement. An English language daily had reported that Gen Bikram Singh would “lead the reversal of the Army's position in order to help Dr (Manmohan) Singh achieve his dream of leaving a ‘peace mark’ on Indo-Pak relations.”
But, today, Gen Bikram Singh stated: “We have lost a lot of lives in those areas (Siachen). A lot of blood has been shed to occupy those positions (on the Saltoro Ridge). Those positions are of strategic importance to us and we have given our concerns to the government. Now it is for the govt to decide.”
Since April, when an avalanche buried alive some 130 Pakistani soldiers in Gyari, in the Siachen sector, Islamabad has pleaded for an early demilitarisation of the entire Siachen sector. But New Delhi’s position remains consistent. Through 13 rounds of Siachen talks led by the two countries’ defence secretaries, India has demanded the authentication of ground positions and their delineation and demarcation, as a pre-condition for negotiating a mutual withdrawal. This would constitute documentary insurance against Pakistan sending up troops after a mutual withdrawal, to occupy the dominating heights on the Saltoro Ridge that are currently held by India.
Pakistan has resisted this sequencing, including at the recent 13th Defence Secretary dialogue in Islamabad. Islamabad has indicated its willing to authenticate ground positions, but not to include those in the main body of a Siachen Agreement.
The army chief made it clear that, while the final decision would be the government’s, the army would not be a silent party to an unfavourable settlement. “Negotiations are done at the government-to-government level…. We have given our concerns to the government,” he said.