DEMILITARIZING SIACHEN?

With the February 3 avalanche and with the passing away of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad (or Hanumanthappa, the way you spell this brave son of Mother India’s name) today, another round of debate on ‘demilitarising’ Siachen has started intensifying.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit said today – “We strongly feel that the time has come to ensure that more lives are not lost due to harsh conditions in Siachen.”

He was referring to an idea (or a proposal) mooted by Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the UN General Assembly September last.

And he is not alone. In fact, whenever any tragedy happens in the Siachen area, such calls start making inroads, from India and Pakistan, but only to die down later – because India cannot trust Pakistan – because Pakistan cannot be trusted with its military’s aversion and hostility towards India – and because it has been a hard fought and won battle there at Siachen – with China still lording over the Aksai Chin region. Besides being rich in mineral resources, the whole Siachen region is also important to keep a keen eye on movements on Pakistani and Chinese sides and across Baltistan and Shaksgam valleys.

And because it is Pakistan that made the blue ice caps of Siachen a battlefield in 1984 triggering a response from India to retake what was its righty.

Before that, Siachen was serene and aesthetic – like its vast expanse of white snow and nature’s music – with the fact that avalanches are a reality of snow laden mountain caps across the world – before or after 1984.

Pakistan forced us to wade into that territory when it disturbed that calm.

And since then, it has been a continuous battle for survival for Indian soldiers there – putting efforts to be able to coexist with nature – and its fury for trespassing through this virgin territory.

In the last three decades, India has lost around 900 soldiers in Siachen, mostly in tragedies like avalanches or due to other threats of inclement weather. But over the years, we have learnt to live with nature there, minimizing loss of lives every passing year – with increasing scientific and defence prowess of India.

While Pakistan, the country that is in a poor strategic shape in the Siachen area, in fact being forced out to the lower hills on the other side of Siachen, continues to lose its civilians and soldiers in greater numbers with the huge 2012 loss that saw some 140 civilians and soldiers losing their lives in an avalanche.

While demilitarization of Siachen makes sense for India and Pakistan both, it’s almost like imperative for Pakistan – the country that began the whole Siachen war zone stuff – like it has disturbed peace and tranquillity in Jammu & Kashmir by exporting and supporting terrorism there since the late 1980s.

India incurs some Rs. 5 crore (less than a million) per day in keeping Siachen supplied – that is nothing when we see India’s defence budget, yes but it would be really tough for Pakistan, a much smaller economy with a flurry of domestic problems. We cannot how much it costs for Pakistan there.

Bur the cost involved here is the ‘human cost’.

And Indian soldiers like Hanamathappa and nine others who lost their lives in February 3 avalanche are ready to sacrifice here with the human cost involved – as long as India doesn’t get sure about Pakistani and Chinese designs. We have paid the price with some 900 lives and we cannot let that go – by trusting two treacherous neighbours – Pakistan and China – the countries that have been historical adversaries of India – and have backstabbed India multiple times.

India is seriously working to maintain good relations with Pakistan and China but while China’s economic concerns can be trusted, Pakistan’s mercurial Army, that has been traditionally and existentially anti-India, can never be trusted. And we all know it is the Pakistani Army, and not its political establishment, that decides which way the country would go.

The whole nation was praying for Hanamanthappa. The whole nation is in a state of shock and is paying tribute to the ten bravehearts who lost their lives in the avalanche.

To keep Siachen safe and in India’s control would be the best service we can do to them, like Bana Singh, the Siachen hero, who captured a strategic post from Pakistani in 1987 which was later renamed as ‘Bana Post’ in his honour, said (in a Hindustan Times report) – “It’s tough to survive there but the moral and strength of an Indian soldier keeps him going. Weather adversaries shouldn’t make us think of ever pulling out of Siachen”.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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