You Too Can Give Suggestions To Solve Siachen

Do you feel like doing a strategic analysis of Siachen issue but cannot figure out where it is on the map? Do you feel like calling for solutions to Siachen but do not know the difference between Karakoram highway, Karakoram pass and Karakoram mountain range? Fikar not. Here is a map yours sachly made for you (click on it for a bigger map and opportunities for bigger strategic analysis)


And here is information about the Karakoram pass ripped off from Wikipedia:

The Karakoram Pass is a mountain pass between India and China in the Karakoram Range. It is the highest pass on the ancient caravan route between Leh in Ladakh and Yarkand in the Tarim Basin. ‘Karakoram’ literally means ‘Black Gravel’ in Turkic. The Karakoram pass falls on the boundary of territory controlled by India (Jammu and Kashmir region) and China (Xinjiang Autonomous Region).

Now go forth and embellish your tweets with profound observations like “India should withdraw to the Nubra valley, and Pakistan to Skardu”.

A Laymard’s Guide to the Siachen Problem

The origins of the Siachen problem can be traced to the Simla agreement of 1972. That agreement demarcating the Line of Control between India and Pakistan did not demarcate where the line of control went and simply stated that it went “North”. This left a great strategic ambiguity as to whether “North” meant North or if it really meant East, thus creating confusion as to whether Siachen Glacier belonged to Pakistan or India.

Even in the presence of this ambiguity, there was relative peace between 1971 and 1979, when Pakistan was busy with coups and hangings. After taking charge in 1978 through a peaceful coup, Zia-ul-Haq  wanted to repair the image of Pakistan army severely dented in the 1971 war. To make up for losing 57,000sq miles of East Pakistan, Zia wanted to capture the 1000sq miles of Siachen, where there was no deployment of either Indian or Pakistani soldiers (Siachen is a icy waste where not a single blade of grass grows just like Aksai Chin, which also has nothing except strategically important passes connecting Tibet). Pakistan started giving licenses for mountaineering expeditions for tourists. In accordance with the tradition of gracious subcontinental hospitality, each of these expeditions were accompanied by representatives from Pakistan army and supplied by helicopter. Coincidentally, the terrain and logistics routes were also mapped. Simultaneously, the Indians were playing cricket in Antarctica to practice getting acclamatised to the cold. But an all out war on Siachen would have to wait. The reasons were two fold: (1) The treacherous Indians, in a display of ungentlemanly behaviour, had attacked across the international border as a retaliation for Pakistan attacking across the line of control in 1965. Indians did not limit the war to the line of control respecting the strategy drawn up by Pakistan’s generals to keep the war limited. So any war on Siachen had the potential to flare up as a major border war (2) Pakistan did not do very well in a major border war and could win only a silver medal after coming in second in that competition.

1984 brought the Nuclear test at Lop Nor in China. Co-incidentally, for presumably unrelated reasons, Pakistan gained the confidence that a conflict along the undemarcated line of control would not flare up into a larger border war. Preparations were made for another mountaineering expedition into Siachen by buying Arctic gear from a shop in London, which was unfortunately run by a RAW agent, who promptly informed the Indians. This set off a race to Siachen, where Indian soldiers and Pakistani soldiers trekked to Siachen, but Indians beat the Pakistanis by 4 days. Yes, all of 4 days. A war followed. In those heights, fighting consisted of not dying in the cold air or lack of oxygen and the side which did not freeze to death won. Indians with their short, dark bodies required less food and oxygen, (each Pakistani soldier on the other hand, needed the food and oxygen of atleast 8 Indian soldiers) survived longer and won. The Indians advanced all the way upto the Saltoro ridge west of Siachen glacier and occupied the 3 major passes into the glacier — Sia La, Gyong La and Bilafond La — thus completely cutting off all approaches to the glacier and and making it impossible for the Pakistan army to even reach Siachen.

Which leads to current status of Siachen problem where India has all of Siachen and Pakistan has a problem with it.

Several attempts were made to dislodge the Indian Army, the most ferocious in 1987 by the then Brig. Gen. Pervez Musharraf who had raised a SSG unit in Khaplu for mountain warfare. The attack proved futile and led to a huge loss of life on the Pakistani side and in a subsequent counter-attack Indians captured even more territory. Musharraf subsequently turned his attention to Gilgit and won a major war against the Pakistani Shias in Chitral, killing hundreds. Buoyed by this victory, Musharraf returned for a major assault in 1989 on Siachen but it fared even worse than the 1987 assault. Readers would know that Mushrraf would later go on to become COAS and to complement his bigger rank, distinguish himself by losing in a bigger way in Kargil, but would eventually win in the 1999 war in Islamabad. The Islamabad war consisted of an assault by the forces commanded by General Musharraf on the forces commanded by Ameer-Ul-Momineen Nawaz Sharif. That short war involved precise military maneuvers to capture PTV headquarters, an assault on the airport, capturing all the roads leading to the Parliament and the eventual capture of the Parliament itself, leading to the unconditional surrender of all Senators, MNAs, the Judiciary and the Constitution. Losing against India but winning against Pakistan seems to be Musharraf’s speciality, but I got ahead of myself.

Subsequent intermittent attacks till the mid 90’s were futile as well, which led to one logical conclusion: Siachen could not be won by attacking Siachen, Indian supply routes to Siachen would have to be cut much further south, somewhere along the demarcated line of control. But this war had to wait. A war across demarcated Line of Control (as opposed to war across the actual ground position line or AGPL) had the potential to flare up as a major war across the international border and … well you get the idea.

1998 brought the nuclear tests by India as well as Pakistan. Co-incidentally, for presumably unrelated reasons, Pakistan gained the confidence that a conflict along the demarcated line of control would not flare up into a larger border war. (The Lop Nor tests only gave the confidence that conflict along the undemarcated line of control would not flare up into a larger border war. This has to do with deep strategic reasons involving just having a nuclear bomb vs having a weaponized nuclear bomb). A mountaineering expedition of Mujahideen who were fighting for freedom against Indian oppression in Kashmir occupied the Indian positions in Kargil during the winter* and threatened the Indian supply lines to Siachen, leading Musharraf to brag (actual quote)

‘I have a Stinger on every peak…we shall walk into Siachen to mop up hundreds of dead Indians in the cold’

While the freedom fighters had full moral, political and diplomatic support from Pakistan army, they had only weak artillery support and worse, they committed a major blunder of not securing complete air support. Thus they were ultimately beaten back, mainly due to Indian air and artillery attacks. Ten years later in 2009 after Musharraf was sent packing, it was discovered by COAS Kayani that they were not Mujahideen at all but belonged to the Northern Light Infantry. Why they called themselves Mujahideen and how exactly they were oppressed by India in Kashmir is a mystery to many to this day. Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail has a few thoughts for everyone vis-a-vis the importance of air support in Kargil while freedom-fighting and you can read it in his blog, but I digress.

Subsequent events of 9/11, a bad economy, Americans in the region, and military build up by both India and Pakistan meant that Siachen issue could not be solved by military adventures, leaving no option but to solve it using talks. Which leads us to the present day:

Pakistan should convince India that Siachen is taking a heavy toll on both sides, consuming valuable money and resources, which could be better spent on Ballistic missiles, Artillery and Nuclear bombs which both India and Pakistan desperately need. Repeated attacks aimed at recapturing Siachen has caused casualties on both sides. The men fighting a futile war in Siachen could be redeployed to fight a futile war elsewhere — in Balochistan, Swat or even Gilgit where the Shia problem still persists. But the talks are at a deadlock: To withdraw from Siachen, India has started to place demands that Pakistan should validate the Actual Ground Position line agreeing that North is in fact North, and not East**. This is unacceptable to Pakistan, especially because if North is in fact East, the Karakoram pass connecting to Tibet falls under Pakistan’s claim. But if the North is in fact North, then all attempts by Musharraf would have gone in vain. More importantly, the all weather friends may not be pleased that Pakistan gave away a pass into Tibet to India. So in many ways, Siachen is about the territorial integrity of China, about which there can be no compromise by Pakistan.

So the conflict endures in the face of obstinacy by both sides, where Pakistan’s principled position stands as firm as the mountains and Indian’s hearts are as cold as the Siachen glacier. This problem can only be solved in some non-rocky non-icy place — the warm sandy beaches of Thailand by track-2 participants.


* Before Kargil it used to be the case that Indian and Pakistani soldiers retreated to warm base camps during winter. Now thanks to Kargil, they man their posts in the cold all year round, even in winter. On the positive side, the soldiers report that Siachen does not feel much more cold and miserable when compared to the Kargil heights in winter.

** This demand is meaningless. Even after agreeing where the Line of Control was, the NLI/Freedom Fighters/Mujahideen occupied Indian camps in Kargil. So it is absurd to assume that agreeing on AGPL in Siachen is a guarantee against NLI/Freedom Fighters/Mujahideen occupying the Saltoro ridge. So why make this demand anyway?

Prospects for Peace

Without addressing the internal deficiencies of Pakistan — The various autonomous terror groups which enjoy various degrees of popular and official support, an over-ambitious Judiciary which is reluctant to convict terrorists, an Army which manufactures and uses the pretext of external threats in its power struggle with the civilians, and an intelligence agency addicted to using terror as an instrument of its policy and whose objectives do not align with the long term interests of the state — Pakistan government neither has the credibility nor the capability to deliver on its side of the bargain on any negotiated settlement for peace. Permanent peace with India, US and the world is impossible without demonstrated commitment to stick to Pakistan’s end of the bargain: Any deals which rely on empty promises, platitudes, talking points1, negotiating skill, goodwill, large heartedness, symbolic gestures and nuisance value might buy short-term normalization and a few dollars but will neither achieve permanent peace nor economic prosperity. What it will achieve repeatedly though is a steady employment, fame, importance and travel to exotic location for “track-2” participants. But then, short-term normalization might be the exactly what the various players (Zardari, Army, ISI, track-2 participants) are shooting for at this time to cater to their own short-term needs.

A Background

India’s GDP in 2010 was $1.73 Trillion. Pakistan’s GDP was $0.176 Trillion. In other words, Pakistan’s entire GDP is about the same as a rounding error in India’s GDP, and the gap is widening.

This huge disparity in economic strength has begun to translate into military and diplomatic might. India has won the largest mining contract in Afghanistan worth Billions2. It is inevitable that deals like these will translate to economic and political clout in Afghanistan. This is how Indians will take over Pakistan’s backyard — not by constructing dozens of consulates and training hundreds of RAW agents as some armchair analysts stuck in 80’s Jihadi mindset suggest. This influence is not limited to countries poorer than Pakistan: India-China’s trade volume today is more than a third of Pakistan’s GDP, larger than all of Pakistan’s external debt and is growing fast. It is inevitable that over time, the “all weather friendship” becomes seasonal, starts placing demands and charging its pound of flesh. Pakistan’s relevance, clout and friends in the region are shrinking.

Pakistan economy has internal ramifications as well. If the Army stays out of politics (and if ballots are not stuffed), elections will be fought and won based on the economy. If tomorrow the PPP is able wipe out gas and electricity shortages and reduce the price of petrol, its victory in the next elections is guaranteed. On the other hand, prices of essential commodities will be a central plank of PML-N’s election pitch.

With relations souring with the USA and the consequent reduction in IMF’s enthusiasm in giving out loans, dole outs are not a steady guarantee. This leaves only the option of trade to bolster Pakistan’s economy. Improving trade relations with India shows the political acumen of Zardari. The economy will be bolstered (electricity and fuel deals, export potential). By removing India as an existential threat, the Army’s relevance and eventually their stranglehold over the country will be weakened. Quasi-normal relations with India will also mean blunting the appeal of players like PTI and Difa-e-Pakistan. Zardari’s visit to India should be seen in this light (and as a lesser objective, bolstering Bilawal’s credentials as a PPP leader and Pakistan’s external face).

So will Pakistan-India relationship permanently and irreversibly improve? Unfortunately no.

The Terror Angle

From India’s (and the World’s) perspective, Pakistan’s relevance primarily stems from one aspect: Its nuisance value. Pakistan is relevant to NATO because of its propensity and willingness to shut down NATO logistics routes. Pakistan is relevant to the US because it shelters the Taliban hierarchy and either through collusion or by benign neglect aids Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan is relevant to India because of its ability to export terror. Beyond this, Pakistan contribution to the global scheme of things are few, if any.

Any permanent normalization of relationship with India (and indeed the US) would need to eventually address the terror aspect. Even if Pakistan’s foreign office relies on Indian “large heartedness” and promises of future action to gain concessions, this relationship will be built on a shaky foundation. The next terror attack in India and the consequent domestic compulsions will leave the Indian government no option but to break off contacts and retaliate, resetting the relationship. In recent times, this happened after the attack on India’s Parliament (when BJP was in power), and again after the Mumbai attacks (when Congress party was in power), showing that this is not a party-specific thing in India, but is rather driven by public opinion and political compulsions.

Too Many Jihadis….

There is great reluctance in Pakistan to give up terror as a leverage, because as noted before, it is the only leverage Pakistan has over the world. Even if the Government decides to give up terrorism as a leverage as part of a grand bargain, it cannot: Irrational violence has been decentralized in Pakistan and accountability for abetting terrorism has been willfully destroyed. There are simply too many power centers perpetrating irrational and un-coordinated violence in Pakistan: The Army (responsible for Kargil intrusions), ISI and the various Jihadi Groups (responsible for Mumbai attacks), the Judiciary3, the Taliban (Responsible for attacks on India’s embassy in Kabul) each acting with various degrees of autonomy, with opaque objectives under partial control. Mumbai attacks are a case in point: They were probably perpetrated by the intelligence agencies to flare-up India-Pakistan hostility and reduce the pressure on the Army to fight in the west. Whether this decision was taken while considering the impact on Government’s push to improve relations with India or Army’s preparedness to counter Indian mobilization is not known. In many aspects, this resembles the Kargil intrusions, which was perpetrated without considering the Government’s efforts at normalization and the diplomatic and economic strength of the country, ultimately resulting in Pakistan’s military defeat, an economic catastrophe, a coup and a significant erosion of Pakistan’s credibility and position on the Kashmir issue.

…with too little accountability

In addition to the decentralization of violence, Pakistan willfully lacks any chain of accountability for abetting terror. This lack of chain of accountability has served Pakistan well: In other countries, the government would have been held accountable for sheltering Osama Bin Laden. However in Pakistan, extraordinary evidence is needed to show that the Government (and not one of the several “non-state actors” or “rogue elements” or “retired ISI officers” or “banned groups” or “Intelligence agents acting on its own”) was responsible for sheltering Osama Bin Laden.

While lack of accountability and decentralization of rogue behaviour is useful for deception and perfidy, it weakens credibility and shuts the scope for negotiated settlement based on accountability. In other words, Zardari cannot credibly promise to rein in the terror groups and even if he does, he cannot deliver. Gilani protests the bounty on Hafiz Saeed, because Gilani cannot touch Hafiz Saeed even if he wanted to. If the Government cannot deliver, it is inevitable that some group perpetuates another terror attack on India leading to renewed hostility between India and Pakistan. This is probably neither lost on India nor on Pakistan and both might still embrace after offering some platitudes at the altar of peace — for the short term.


1“Pakistan itself is a victim of terrorism”, “not talking will strengthen the hands of extremists”, “South Asia is a nuclear flashpoint”…

2To get a perspective, this deal is worth more than the entire money promised by the Kerry-Lugar bill and IMF support program put together.

3A Judge once famously asked why the UN ban should be enforced on Hafiz Saeed, in his view, India had not adhered to the UN resolutions on Kashmir.

Another Lone Wolf In The Making

Pakistan used to be good friends with North Korea. Benazir Bhutto visited North Korea in 1993, whose GDP at that time was about $6 Billion. So presumably it was for economic co-operation and trade. The enduring friendship, which was presumably based on shared cultural heritage was taller than the tallest missiles: When bluntly warned by Japanese foreign minister that Japan would support an IMF loan to Pakistan to rescue an economy in shambles (Hey, don’t give all the credit for a broken economy to Zardari) only if they stopped importing missiles from North Korea, Sartaz Aziz firmly reassured the Japanese that he knew of no such thing. Sartaz Aziz also announced a firm commitment to sign the CTBT to the Japanese, but the signing ceremony was held up in some procedural issues after the IMF loans were approved — but I digress.

So when it emerged that Nuclear centrifuges were exported from Pakistan to North Korea, transported in military C-130 planes (about 135 loads), the only possible explanation could be that AQ Khan acted alone without the military or the civilian leadership (who were busy fighting the war on terror and hunting Osama Bin Laden) having any knowledge about it. The foreign minister did not know about it, the Prime minister was ignorant, the Army leadership had no clue and the intelligence agencies who were supposed to provide counter-espionage against the nuclear program was roundly outwitted. AQ Khan single-handedly loaded the planes by himself, flew them to North Korea, and returned it back in the same place before the next morning (after filling petrol so that nobody noticed). Being a Pakistani patriot committed to the defence of Pakistan and all that, he was promptly pardoned after a televised apology on National television.

That brings me to another Pakistani patriot committed to the defence of Pakistan. Professor Hafiz Saeed. Turns out Professor Saeed is quite friendly with the other set of patriots, the Army, and was a guest of honor of the X corps commander for an Iftar party. He is quite friendly with the Judiciary too, which ordered the Government to pay him a stipend during his house arrest. His friendship with the retired ISI folk is well known, so is his popularity with the leader of the Tsunami, who regularly sends his representatives to share a dias with him.

When it turned out that a top Al Qaeda leader, Abu Zubaydah was captured in Faisalabad in a Lashkar-e-Tayyiba safehouse, the US National Counterterrorism Center  observed: Abu Zubaydah was captured at an LT safehouse in Faisalabad, suggesting that some LT members assist the group. This, taken along with the recent news trickling out about Osama’s five safe houses and two government hospital-born children, and a $10 million reward for (capturing/interviewing/convicting/complaining about) the good Professor, one cant help but speculate that the Lashkar had some hand in arranging Osama bin Laden’s hospitality. Which leads to only one possible explanation:

Professor Hafiz Saeed acted alone, without any knowledge of the Civilian, military or Intelligence leadership (who were busy fighting the war on terror and hunting Osama Bin Laden) in assisting Al Qaeda in various ways, including possibly arranging for safe houses for Osama Bin Laden all by himself. Army generals did not bring it up during their Iftar conversations, politicians had no idea and Intelligence was outwitted. Which leads to only one possible course of action reserved for great Pakistani patriots:

Televised apology by Hafiz Saeed and a Presidential pardon for his sins