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The Rediff Special/ A K Verma
How Zia's death killed a Siachen pact
June 30, 2006
In the troubled relationship between India with Pakistan, there have been very few occasions when the latter sought a genuine end to some of the problems.
Siachen belongs to this rarest of the rare category.
In 1997, General Zia-ul Haq seized power in Pakistan and made himself president and the chief of the army staff. The combined offices made him unquestionably the most powerful individual in Pakistan.
Zia-ul Haq is remembered in history as a political murderer and the initiator of the Islamic thrust in Pakistan's politics. Few will credit him with having a core interest in the well being of the people of Pakistan.
However, the reality, strange as it may appear, was quite to the contrary.
In his time, the Pakistani defence services were consuming almost 48 per cent of Pakistan 's annual budget. The funds available for development, education and health were, therefore, very small. Zia-ul Haq was convinced that the situation would not change unless the outlay on defence was significantly reduced.
The deployment at Siachen was identified as one of the major cause of wasteful expenditure. But for him to succeed in cutting that expense, Indian cooperation was crucial.
Zia-ul Haq was able to enlist the support of his Corps commanders for making an approach to India. But such a pathbreaking effort could not be made through normal diplomatic channels. Yet a very high level intermediary was necessary to convince the Indian government that the exercise was not frivolous.
Zia-ul Haq zeroed on a very senior government leader of a Muslim country, well disposed towards India, to convey his message to India. He received an immediate favourable response from New Delhi.
During the discussions that followed between high-level interlocutors from both sides at neutral locations, the Pakistan side explained the background of their move and proposed that resolving the Siachen issue be given topmost priority.
Pakistan recognised the Line of Actual Control, LAC, in Jammu and Kashmir up to point No 9842. The agreement signed between the two countries drawing the LAC had stated that the line of demarcation between the two countries from this point would run roughly northwards but no delineation of this on maps had taken place.
Pakistan had subsequently claimed all the territory in Jammu and Kashmir from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass as within its territorial jurisdiction.
This was a unilateral claim, unrecognised by India. The claim was also belied by the facts on the ground. All the territory in control of Pakistan was on the western side of Saltoro range of the Siachen Glacier whereas the areas claimed were substantially on the eastern side of the glacier (map).
On the other hand the Indian Army occupied a good chunk of territory on the western side of the glacier. At the end of a series of meetings between the two sides, Pakistan agreed to a line going northwards from NJ 9842 roughly along the heights of Saltoro to the Chinese border as the continuation of the LAC, giving up all claims to any territory to the east of it.
The agreement made the Saltoro range the effective border between J&K and Pakistan occupied territories of the State. This meant the giving up by Pakistan of claims to territory within the tangential line from NJ 9842 to Karakoram Pass. The Indian side would also be giving up points occupied to the West of the glacier but that involved no tactical or strategic loss since the commanding heights would continue to remain with India.
The Pakistani side also conveyed the sense that in due course the LAC could become a permanent border. They were also ready for troop reductions, up to two divisions worth, provided there was a matching response from India.
Freeing of trade was the only major issue on which Pakistan showed itself unwilling to make any compromise.
Actual demilitarisation of Siachen was to follow the formal acceptance of the extended LAC by the governments of the two countries through discussions between their military authorities.
Since the tentative agreement between the two interlocutors involved a substantive compromise on the Pakistani position, the Pakistani side was asked to confirm their understanding of the extended LAC on a map. In due course a Survey of Pakistan GHQ Rawalpindi map, with the proposed extended LAC marked on it, was received by India.
The GHQ map was seen as proof of Pakistan's bonafide intentions as of that moment. Exercises then commenced to bring the historical understanding to the public domain. The Pakistani side was eager to demonstrate that it was turning a new leaf in India-Pakistan relations. One spectacular episode, totally uncharacteristic, says it all.
The period was also the era of manifestation of Sikh impatience in Punjab with the Government of India. Sikh dissatisfaction was also stoked by Pakistan.
Some unsavoury incidents involving Sikh soldiers had taken place in Indian Army regiments. In one such incident four Sikh soldiers posted on the Pakistani border had deserted and crossed over to Pakistan.
A few days later, a message was received from the Pakistani interlocutors that as a mark of goodwill, the soldiers would be returned to India. They were to be released on a certain date at a certain time inside a demarcated area, the coordinates of which were given, from where they could be picked up.
These details were immediately passed on to the Border Security Force who nabbed them from the designated area. The soldiers were handed over to the Indian Army and court martialled later.
This grand new era in the India-Pakistan relationship, however, was not destined to last for long.
The generals who had given the green signal to Zia-ul Haq to go ahead with India, started feeling increasingly disturbed at the way things were turning out. They started seeing the peace process with India as catastrophic for their interests, and determined to stop it at any cost.
In August 1988, General Zia-ul Haq was killed in a plane crash. The cause of the crash has never been disclosed but one can speculate whether his elimination was contrived after growing disenchantment with the peace process among the army generals.
Benazir Bhutto who returned as prime minister in the election that followed Zia's death, was prevented from advancing the agenda further.
Since then, many rounds of discussions have taken place over Siachen, but not an inch of new ground has been covered. Pakistan also has reverted to its earlier position that the territory to the West of the tangential line from NJ 9842 to Karakoram must belong to it.
In an interview to Barbara Crossette on May 21, 1991, hours before he was assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi was the first one to disclose the tragedy of the shattered dreams.
The following extract from her report, published by The New York Times on May 22, 1991 says it all:
'"But I know who would have solved these problems with us," he said: "General Zia. We were close to finishing agreement on Kashmir; we had the maps and everything ready to sign. And then he was killed." As prime minister from 1984 to 1989, Mr Gandhi had a good working relationship with President Mohammed Zia-ul Haq, who died in an unexplained plane crash in August 1988. Mr Gandhi said there was evidence that General Zia had been murdered, but he would not say more.'
Much water has flown down the rivers of Pakistan since this ray of hope was squelched. Islamisation, introduced by Zia as a weapon of policy, has grown by leaps and bounds in Pakistan.
The magnitude of its appeal was manifested in the last general election. The Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal, a conglomerate of Islamist groupings, captured nearly 20 per cent of the seats in the national assembly. The MMA also controls the provincial governments of the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.
The psyche and beliefs of this grouping are shared by many in the Pakistani establishment, armed forces and ISI, with the result that the Islamic might in Pakistan overshadows even the military might.
It is this influence which seated the Taliban in Afghanistan and is now trying for their revival there. In their strategic perception India will always remain a foe, meriting no compromise whatsoever on any issue.
Such a hardline approach also sanctifies continuing jihad. International pressures on the Pakistani government have failed so far to deflect the Islamists from what they identify as articles of faith. Their roadmap is for an increased confrontation in the subcontinent.
It is, therefore, difficult to decipher how there can be a movement forward on any significant problem between India and Pakistan, Siachen included. Optimists are perhaps destined to wait in vain.
There are examples galore for the discerning to ascertain which way the wind is blowing.
In the North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan, the establishment of an Islamic State was announced earlier this year for conducting jihad against the West in Afghanistan. Islamists wish to incorporate all the Muslim regions in South East, presently belonging to Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines etc, into a new State to be called Navsitara Raya.
A leading Chechen rebel, Movladi Udugov, chief ideologue of the Chechen movement, recently hinted that it was not enough for the Muslim separatists in the Russian Caucasian region to strive for an Islamic State: their aim should be to set up a worldwide Caliphate.
Such developments should be taken into account while policy is made in India in relation to Pakistan.
In the ultimate analysis it has to be remembered that the Muslims have complexes against non-Islamic entities, which are on the rise, and the weapon of jihad has been used against India several times down the centuries right up to modern times.
A K Verma is a former Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing, India's external espionage agency.
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