The Siachen dilemma
"It takes our men 27 days to trek from base camp to the highest post in Siachen," the officer with long experience of service on the glacier told me, "Pakistani troops have an easier time, it takes them only three to four days since they are at far lower altitudes. So time and distance are two critical elements that must be factored into any agreement on withdrawal."
Meaning if it comes to withdrawal, Pakistani forces should withdraw to a point where they would have to cover the similar distance and time as the Indians to reach their positions in Siachen.
Not that he supports withdrawal. With India dominating the Saltoro Ridge, withdrawal is not seen as either necessary or urgent. All armies covet high ground and the Saltoro Ridge has been won and retained at heavy cost since Operation Meghdoot in 1984.
It's the strategic argument against withdrawal which has been debated by many and doubted by some. The army has warned of a "China-Pak pincer movement over the Karakoram Range and the Saltoro Ridgeline into northern Ladakh with a view to capturing Leh."
But no less than a former Siachen commander Gen VR Raghavan is on record as saying "... the (Siachen) theatre of conflict did not offer strategic advantages."
Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, who headed the army's Centre for Land Warfare Studies, says the army's apprehensions are exaggerated. The enemy would need at least three summers to build up enough supplies for a Siachen operation, which would give the Indian Army sufficient warning. Also, since it's not possible to lay a road on shifting sheets of ice, the enemy would have to use heavy lift helicopters in a high stakes and costly logistics operation.
Kanwal believes Leh is better defended from the Turtok sector rather than from Siachen. We should pull out of Siachen, he says, but only after the Actual Ground Position Line is jointly verified and demarcated. With Pakistan unwilling it would seem both sides will continue testing each other's will in bone chilling cold.
More about Surya GangadharanSurya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.
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