NEW DELHI- Any hope Pakistan may have nurtured that a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could open the door for a ‘deal’ on Siachen has been dashed, with Indian army chief Gen Bikram Singh being as opposed to the idea as all his predecessors before him.
In his maiden interaction with the press, Gen Singh clearly stated the ground rules on a border agreement. And they don’t include any troop withdrawal from the Siachen heights. “There is no change in our view at all. We must continue to hold that area.”
Pakistan is hopeful of Singh’s visit before it goes to the polls. Singh himself is keen to visit Pakistan, and has not shied away from making his interest known. With this in mind, Islamabad has pushed New Delhi hard this year to do a deal on Siachen. Pakistan has even delayed talks on the Sir Creek issue in order to mount pressure on India for a Siachen pact.
Returning from Iran after the NAM summit, Singh hinted that a Sir Creek agreement was ‘doable’ but he was silent on Siachen. There is little chance of Singh going to Pakistan this year. His position is very different from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had visited Pakistan twice in his five years despite a Kargil and a Parliament attack as well as a disastrous Agra summit between them, a report in Times of India said on Friday.
The political atmosphere in India is fragile enough that a concession to Pakistan would be interpreted as a betrayal. The UPA has already taken several knocks after the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement with Pakistan in 2009. In the forthcoming state elections, political managers fear a PM visit to Pakistan could be battered on nationalistic lines.
There is cross-spectrum acceptance on trade concessions and people-to-people contacts with Pakistan. But there is no room for a concession on Siachen because it ties in with India’s larger strategic outlook, particularly regarding the ‘China-Pakistan nexus’. India’s occupation of the Siachen heights gives it a unique advantage that it does not want to relinquish.
Officials said India’s position on Siachen had neither hardened nor softened for years. But Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had said twice in a month (May) that Pakistan wanted the Siachen issue to be solved and India had ‘toughened’ its stand asking for a demarcation, which was seen here as a pressure tactic. Ideally, a Siachen agreement should be part of a broad agreement of the border, but Pakistan is yet to agree to that.
“We have been consistent on the steps necessary before demilitarisation of Siachen can be carried out. We won’t give up the advantage we enjoy without a very credible, and verifiable, commitment from their side,” a senior Indian Army officer told TOI recently.
Another officer said India had repeatedly pointed out that any demilitarization should be preceded by delineation of Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), authentication of the line and military positions on maps to be exchanged between the two countries, an end to wrong projection of AGPL in each other’s maps, drawing up framework for demilitarization and as final step withdrawal of troops from the glacial heights.
“They are reluctant to agree to our suggestions,” another senior military official said.
The core of the difference between the two sides is this: India wants Pakistan to authenticate positions on the AGPL before any talk of demilitarisation or withdrawal. Pakistan is pushing a four-point plan that includes demilitarisation, withdrawal of troops, delineation and authentication. But India is unwilling to do this.