Siachen/New Delhi, June 12: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today declared it was his political intent to create a zone of peace in the Siachen Glacier even if talks on disengaging the armies of India and Pakistan were repeatedly hitting hurdles on the path to de-militarising the hardship frontier.
The first Prime Minister to visit the Siachen base camp and to make an aerial survey of the glacier and the Saltoro Ridge, Singh told troops that he wanted to convert the highest battlefield in the world into a “peace mountain”.
The Prime Minister is 73 years old and has undergone a cardiac by-pass surgery. In the rarefied air of Siachen breathing can become difficult. Last year President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was given a tour of the glacier.
“Siachen is called the highest battlefield in the world and living here is very difficult ...(however) now the time has come to make efforts to convert this battlefield into a peace mountain,” the Prime Minister said.
Singh’s visit to Siachen comes within three weeks of the last (ninth) round of defence secretary-level talks that ended, like past discussions, on a promising note but with little progress on the ground.
But the two sides assessed the ceasefire since 2003 positively and committed to keeping the guns silent and talking more. The talks are deadlocked on the question of delineating the military positions. The Indian government, on the insistence of the army, wants Pakistan to authenticate positions. Islamabad is asking for a pullback.
Singh, who had made it clear early in his tenure that a durable peace in Siachen ranks high on his list of priorities with Pakistan, has used his Prime Ministerial visit to emphasise that military compulsions would be kept in mind but would not be the sole consideration in freezing the war.
His intention, he said, was to convert the Siachen Glacier ' which is a symbol of India-Pakistan rivalry ' into “an example of peaceful environment”.
The Prime Minister re-stated that there could be “no redrawing of boundaries” ' a position he has held consistently on the Kashmir question.
“In the pursuit of peace we cannot accept any changes in the established boundaries. We feel, these boundaries are important not only for our security but it relates to the country’s prestige also. For this prestige, Indian soldiers are happily bearing difficulties here. Our efforts should be that such an environment of peace is created wherein nobody feels any threats and there is no scope for conflicts and this place becomes an example of peace,” the Prime Minister said.
New Delhi is engaged with Islamabad to achieve durable peace in Siachen.
An international boundary does not exist in the glacier but the battleline is the actual ground position line that runs along the forbidding Saltoro Ridge for a hundred-plus kilometres. This week a senior army officer, who was in the Indian defence secretary’s delegation to Islamabad, said even if map-making in Siachen was dispensed with in the rhetoric, the Indian army would like the positions of the troops marked on a recognised document, such as a map and/or satellite imagery.
The Prime Minister was briefed by senior army officers on the current situation and was taken on an aerial survey. He told troops that the government would extend more facilities to them in the inhospitable sector.
“I wanted to see for myself as to what your living conditions and arrangements are and what are your problems and what the government can do to address those,” he said.