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July16, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Kuldip Nayar

Pak may challenge Siachen control

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief must have anticipated the storm his unilateral withdrawal of forces from Kargil would create in Pakistan. Otherwise, there is no explanation for the meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet he called on the eve of his departure to Washington. The three service chiefs were present.

Sharief's purpose for the meeting may have been to tell the public in Pakistan that he was associating the military with whatever he was trying to do. He may also be giving a message to the military that it was as much part of what was decided at the meeting as anyone else was.

The meeting reportedly approved a three-pronged strategy to deal with India: to have an all-time high military preparedness; military-to-military contact to find solution to the on-going conflict (including the withdrawal), and, to pursue a high-level diplomacy to tell the international community that Pakistan would like to de-escalate the situation through dialogue.

How Pakistan deals with the situation which has developed to its disadvantage is its own business. The strategy adopted by the Defence Committee does not concern India. What bothers it is the view at the meeting that India should 'concede' to resolve the issue by pushing back its increasing infantry formation on the Line of Control. How does Islamabad expect any gesture from India? There is no trust, much less goodwill, left.

Obviously, Sharief has not achieved what his government's Defence Committee thought he would in America. However, Pakistan may create difficulties on the interpretation of the Simla Agreement. The agreement signed after the Bangladesh war in 1971 was a pledge by both sides to settle their differences by peaceful means, respect each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, avoid interference in each other's internal affairs and refrain from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of each other.

Annexes to the agreement, initialled by representatives from both countries, included detailed maps which delineated the LoC in all sectors, except for the Siachen glacier area. This has been under India's occupation for more than a decade. And this may give Pakistan an opportunity to stoke fires. Its spokesman has already said that ''at that time (1972) no Indian troops were present in the Siachen glacier area and India occupied that region in 1984."

The Simla Agreement specified that "neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further should undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line."

In the wake of infiltration along the Kargil sector, the Pakistan authorities had claimed that the LoC around Kargil is not clearly defined. This claim is contrary to the Simla Agreement. But the Siachen glacier was not demarcated on the maps signed by both sides. New Delhi's stand is that Siachen is well beyond point NJ 9842 where the LoC ends.

If America insists on the restoration of the 1972 position, it will mean that Siachen should become a no-man's land. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government cannot afford the withdrawal of forces from the Siachen glacier for it will be seen by the people as a retreat. This cannot be a happy situation for the ruling group when elections are around the corner.

When the glacier was occupied in the first instance, it was done on the basis of reports that Pakistan was making preparations to take it over. The Pakistani forces were, indeed, surprised to see the Indian army already camping at the glacier.

America may be willing to guarantee no-man's land status to the glacier. This is the impression I got from United States Under Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth in April at Washington when I met him. Still it is too early to say whether Washington would take up the Siachen glacier question with New Delhi. Sharief may have even discussed it during his three-hour-long talk with Clinton.

No doubt, the Simla Agreement is the bedrock of relations between India and Pakistan. But the latter has never implemented it in the spirit it was signed. It has violated it even in letter by training, arming and pushing infiltrators into India.

What the agreement was expected to achieve was normalcy. But it never came. When D P Dhar, Indira Gandhi's personal envoy, went to Islamabad a few weeks before the Simla conference, he told his counterpart Aziz Ahmed that India was interested in "a durable peace" in the subcontinent.

He spelled it out in a draft he submitted: "One, renunciation of conflict and confrontation and adopt a policy of ensuring peace, friendship and cooperation; two, non-interference in the internal affairs of each other; three, settlement of disputes by peaceful means and, four, non-use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of each other."

Of course, when the Simla Agreement was signed, the four points were amalgamated into the declaration as: "The two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations."

Had Pakistan followed the bilateral approach, the two countries might have sorted out their problems. But Islamabad chose another way. It began to internationalise the Kashmir issue and it raised it at every conceivable forum. Sharief traveled all the way to Washington to tell what he could have conveyed to the next-door New Delhi directly.

By dragging in Clinton on the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from Kargil, Sharief has not gained anything except media attention. Nowhere has America fallen in the trap of involvement which Pakistan had laid. Washington made it clear that it was not an intermediary.

Clinton, in fact, rang up Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to inform him about the discussions he had with Sharief. The joint statement makes it clear that America wants India and Pakistan to sort out their problems through dialogue. Once again Sharief has been told that Kashmir is an issue between New Delhi and Islamabad and that America will not interfere.

Alas, all this was reiterated in the Lahore Declaration. The question that Islamabad has to answer is why it violated the declaration and sent its troops on the Indian side of the LoC if at the end it had to reiterate its faith in the Lahore Declaration itself. It must accept its defeat.

Pakistan should realise that it cannot take Kashmir from India through force. It failed in 1948 and 1965. It has again failed in 1999. This time even the world opinion is against it. New Delhi's stand that Pakistan must vacate aggression has been vindicated.

Whether Islamabad admits it or not, the Pakistani forces have found the Indian army tough and dedicated. Its leaders said the Indian army could not fight. Even some newspapers made fun of it. The manner in which it wrested from the hands of Pakistani forces the heights on which they were entrenched shows courage and bravery of high order. Pakistan casualties have been rather high. An Opposition leader, Khursheed Shah, has said in the Pakistan National Assembly at Islamabad that "at least 1,300 mujahideen" have been killed. He meant the Pakistani soldiers.

Kuldip Nayar

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