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Siachen reality check for troop pullout

New Delhi, June 8: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked for a first-hand account of Indian and Pakistani military positions and he will be given a briefing by the army on the Siachen glacier during an aerial survey on his trip to a base camp and to Kargil this weekend, a senior defence ministry source said here today.

“Clearly the Prime Minister is mulling over a decision and he has decided that he must acquaint himself with the place better before taking that decision,” the source said. There is a definite de-escalation in Siachen with the ceasefire holding good since November 2003.

The official line is that Singh is going to Siachen to boost the morale of the troops.

The Prime Minister had asked for a briefing on the spot and took the initiative for the “learning experience” despite the detailed assessments he has been given with visual representations in the operations room of the ministry of defence at least twice since he took over, sources said.

The first was in June last year shortly after he had been sworn-in and the second was just last month when he gave the political brief to the defence secretary, Ajai Vikram Singh, before he left for Islamabad for talks with his Pakistani counterpart.

Manmohan Singh will be the first Prime Minister to visit Siachen and that in itself is a statement loaded with political intent. He took the initiative and asked for arrangements to be made after being declared medically fit to undertake the journey, but has been asked to acclimatise for a day in Ladakh.

He will be in Ladakh on June 11 and June 12. Singh will be accompanied on the trip by the chief of army staff, General Joginder Jaswant Singh.

He will also sit in for a briefing in Leh by the army’s 14 corps. The 14 corps’ area of responsibility covers the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen and the Line of Actual Control with China.

The Prime Minister has made it plain that he ranks the possibility of disengaging in Siachen high on his list of priorities in the drive to build peace with Pakistan.

In visiting Siachen ' and setting a record ' he is taking his interest in the issue beyond the structural limitations of bureaucratic-level dialogue.

During his trip, the Prime Minister will be shown the hardship and briefed on the dangers of pulling back troops.

In Siachen, the army maintains its high-altitude posts 365 days a year. The 1999 Kargil war broke out because the army was vacating some posts in winter, which were then occupied by Pakistan army-backed regulars and irregulars.

A pullout from Siachen without acknowledgement of the ground positions can lead to a Kargil-type situation.

The army has consistently maintained that the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) at Siachen will have to be authenticated by India and Pakistan before it can consider a pullback of troops.

The 72-km-long Siachen glacier is in the eastern Karakoram range. It lies between Aksai Chin, which is claimed by China, and PoK’s Baltistan.

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