The government hasn’t spoken about it. The opposition seems to be oblivious to the goings on. The print and electronic media have chosen to remain silent. But the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank in its Press release on 02 Oct 2012 announced that a group of retired senior officials, military officers and diplomats of India and Pakistan “have agreed on a proposal regarding the demilitarization of the Siachen area”. The project it appears had been “jointly organized by the University of Ottawa and the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council”. No one seems to know if this Track 2 effort had been undertaken at the behest of Government of India, Pakistan or some other third party. However one of the team members has confirmed that the team had received briefings in New Delhi from Government officials. It appears that India and Pakistan have been engaged in military-level Track 2 talks for the past 12 months, with the delegates of the two sides meeting in Dubai, Bangkok and finally in Lahore in September. Smaller “sub-group” meetings in Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Palo Alto (California) have also featured in the Track 2 process. All these meetings, the move of both the teams back and forth would have cost some money. Who footed the bill? Was it India, Pakistan, Atlantic Council, or the University of Ottawa? What was the interest? Is it a normal practice in diplomacy for a foreign think tank sponsored Track 2 team consisting of individuals selected by the sponsoring agency to be briefed by Government officials? Is it appropriate for the team to go to an inimical foreign country and agree on demilitarization or to agree on the modalities for demilitarization of an area which it had been holding for years without the Government deciding on the very basic question whether to withdraw from the position or not? Or has the Government taken a decision to withdraw from Siachen without taking the Parliament or the opposition into confidence? Which of these are true? The people of this country have a right to know the truth. Three countries have interest in areas in and around Siachen. This aspect will have a major bearing on the strategic importance of Siachen and India’s decision to demilitarize the area (See map). The areas concerned are the Northern Area, Gilgit, Baltisatan, Saltoro, Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin. The Gilgit and Baltistan located to the immediate west of Saltoro is a part of Pakistan with majority Shia population. Pakistan is actively considering a proposal to lease the region to Beijing for 50 years.The Sakshgam valey immediately to the North of Saltoro has already been ceded to China by Pakistan illegally. Xinjiang lies to the immediate North of Sakshgam. Aksai Chin which is occupied by China lies to the South East of Sakshgam Valley. The Nurba Valley and Ladakh leading to J&K are hemmed in on three sides by Baltistan, Sakshgam Valley and Aksai Chin. If the proposal to lease the Gilgit – Baltistan area goes through and India withdraws from Siachen, all the three areas right up to Xinjiang will be under Chinese control. The Karakoram Highway which runs through these areas connects China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Northern Areas across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass. China and Pakistan are also planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends up to Rawalpindi. The Karakoram Highway passes through an area where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan come as close to each other as 250 kms and has its own strategic importance and significance to India. Looking at the map in the context of the above, does anyone have any doubt as to which of the three countries would benefit the most by vacating Saltoro? Is Pakistan trying to help their all-weather friend to be able to dominate the entire area to the North of our areas of interest? Saltoro ridge acts as a separator between Pakistan (Baltistan – Gilgit) and China. Do we want them to link up by demilitarizing the area? Doesn’t vacating Saltoro threaten the security of Nubra Valley? The entire country believes that the Military is occupying Siachen because it belongs to it and rightly so. The 1972 Shimla Agreement clearly stated that from the NJ9842 the boundary would proceed “thence north to the glaciers.” This implies that Saltoro ridge is well within Indian Territory. Is it necessary for a country to go and sign an agreement with a neighboring country for unilaterally withdrawing its forces from its own territory? What are the compulsions warranting India to concede to Pakistan’s demand for withdrawing from Saltoro ridge? Even assuming that the agreement provides adequate safeguards against Pakistan occupying Saltoro ridge after India’s withdrawal, does the agreement provide any guarantee against China occupying the Saltoro ridge and threatening India especially after the Baltistan – Gilgit areas have been leased to it by Pakistan? Would we not run into another mess should China choose to say that it has nothing to do with the agreement signed between India and Pakistan? Withdrawal from Saltoro and Siachen would threaten Ladakh and will expose important mountain passes that are gateways to Ladakh and onto Kashmir to the aggressor including terrorists. Will that not require establishing a fresh defence line along the Ladakh Range to successfully defend our areas of interest? What will be the requirement of troops for such a venture and at what cost? Has an appraisal of the military requirement in the event of demilitarization of Siachen been obtained from the Army Chief? How will such a withdrawal impact our security in relation to the Karakoram Highway? As experienced in the past, aren’t issues such as cross border terrorism in J &K, terrorist training camps across, funding and arming terrorists in J&K to destabilize the country much more serious than Sir Creek or Siachen? Why then are we being soft on Pakistan by agreeing to unilaterally withdraw from Siachen while Pakistan continues to aid and abet terrorism right inside our country? Has Pakistan done anything in the past to exhibit its sincerity or to be able to trust them? Have we sought any guarantees or quid pro quo in the other major areas of our concern? Is the Government of India prepared to give a guarantee that the Indian Army would not be required to recapture Saltoro ridge should Pakistan or China occupy the position after India vacates it or if Indian soil is threatened? If not, would the soldiers of the Indian Army be forced to shed blood for a mess up by the arm chair politicians and bureaucrats who are least concerned with war fighting or its cost to human life and to the country? Lack of strategic culture and the worth of a non-professional generalist bureaucracy is showing up once again. Were the Service Chiefs parts of the decision making process in whatever role that the Government had played in the Track 2 diplomacy? Isn’t the military a concerned party? Why then are they not part of the decision making process? It only goes to prove that our bureaucrats and politicians would never hesitate to shed your blood for their stupidities and ambitions. Author : Brigadier (retd) V Mahalingam, has held varying command and staff appointments in his 35 years of Army service.