Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh has issued a reality check to those who argued he would be more receptive than his predecessors to a settlement on Siachen with Pakistan. The Army chief here today flatly declared that the Indian Army would continue to hold on to that strategically valuable area.
“The Army’s view (that Siachen holds strategic value) has not changed at all. It is very important, and we must continue to hold that area. That is what we have maintained always,” said General Singh.
Early this year, during the deeply controversial last months of former chief of Army, General VK Singh’s tenure, sections of the Indian media had reported General Bikram Singh would support the prime minister’s wish for an early settlement of the Siachen issue. An English language daily had reported Gen Bikram Singh would “lead the reversal of the Army’s position in order to help Dr (Manmohan) Singh achieve his dream of leaving a ‘peace mark’ on Indo-Pak relations.”
But, today, Gen Bikram Singh stated: “We have lost a lot of lives in those areas. A lot of blood has been shed to occupy those positions (on the Saltoro Ridge). Those positions are of strategic importance to us and we have relayed our concerns to the government. Now, it is for the government to decide.”
Since April, when an avalanche buried alive some 130 Pakistani soldiers in Gyari, in the Siachen sector, Islamabad had pleaded for an early demilitarisation of the entire Siachen sector. But New Delhi’s position remains consistent. Through 13 rounds of Siachen talks led by the two countries’ defence secretaries, India has demanded the authentication of ground positions and their delineation and demarcation as a pre-condition for negotiating a mutual withdrawal. This would constitute documentary insurance against Pakistan sending up troops after a mutual withdrawal to occupy the dominating heights on the Saltoro Ridge that are currently held by India.
Pakistan has resisted this sequencing, including at the recent 13th Defence Secretary dialogue in Islamabad. Islamabad has indicated its willingness to authenticate ground positions, but not to include those in the main body of a Siachen Agreement.
The Army chief made it clear that, while the government will have the final say on any decision, the Army would not be a silent party to an unfavourable settlement.
“Negotiations are done at the government-to-government level…. We have given our concerns to the government,” he said.