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Samadhan Vilas Patil asked: Is Siachen deal with Pakistan in India’s interest?

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  • Reply: It is argued by peaceniks on either side that the Indian military’s presence in the Siachen region at the cost of nearly Rs. 3000 crores per annum is too costly and unaffordable from the point of view of the debate on development-versus-defence. The alternative is demilitarisation with a bilateral agreement not to reoccupy the heights at any cost and eventual delimitation or demarcation. Demilitarisation is much easier than demarcation, which will take long and protracted negotiations. The basic issue of lack of trust which is coming in the way of resolution of Siachen will not be addressed by withdrawal and may not lead to delimitation.

    Moreover, with the geo-strategic importance of Siachen increasing at the moment because of the expanding footprints of China in the Gilgit-Baltistan, any resolution of the issue emphasising on demilitarisation of the region will hurt India’s strategic interests. Demilitarisation will mean vacating the military posts from Saltoro which gives Indian army an advantage at the moment. Even if Pakistan were to recognise Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), the strategic costs of withdrawal will be much heavier for India than for Pakistan. Indian military is distinctly unprepared for such an eventuality. At a time, when Pakistan is finding it difficult to maintain its forces in the Siachen sector, from a realist perspective, it hardly makes sense for India to make these strategic concessions. Defence analysts in India believe that the cost is not unaffordable while the experience gained by Indian troops in high altitude warfare is invaluable.

    In view of the above, any argument for resolution of Siachen issue with Pakistan, leading to complete withdrawal of Indian military from the Siachen heights, will have to be carefully analysed.