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Let The Guns Fall Silent In Siachen

By Pavan Nair


Dear Mr President,Mr Prime Minister,

Citizens of both our countries are looking forward to an
improvement in our relations.Indeed some steps are already under way
in this direction.I am taking the liberty of bringing to your notice
an issue which needs your immediate and urgent attention.An issue
which must not be put off for reasons of fixing agendas or dates.An
issue which can be resolved without resorting to lengthy
negotiations.An issue,if resolved,will lead to the immediate
amelioration of the suffering of thousands of soldiers who have been
deployed at punishing altitudes on the Saltoro Ridge.An issue,if
resolved,could become the model for resolving even more difficult
issues between our countries.

I am also taking the liberty of suggesting a solution to resolve
the issue which has been taking a backseat vis a vis the Valley
issue.That the Siachen war has cost our countries many lives and many
wounded is well known.That the war has not achieved any strategic aim
for either side is well documented.That the war has cost both our
countries resources which could be utilized in a better manner is
also well understood.That both countries want a solution to this
problem is obvious-otherwise we would not have had seven rounds of
talks over the years.What is not known is the degree of suffering we
have inflicted on our soldiers over the last twenty years in this
conflict without end.

We have asked our soldiers to serve in an area which causes
trauma beyond the limits of human endurance.The altitude the soldiers
are serving at is the cruising altitude of airliners.Perched on crags
of rock and ice,exposed to the elements,breathing dangerously low
levels of oxygen ,living a degrading and sub human existence,they
carry on without complaint. And they will carry on for another twenty
years if required.They will continue to perform their duty for their
countries.The issue is that as countries which are progressive and
fighting extremism - should we be inflicting such punishment on our
soldier-citizens.There is a strong possibility that all who have
served at such extreme altitudes would have suffered long term injury
to body and psyche.It is possible that over two hundred thousand
soldiers on both sides could possibly have been affected and this
number is increasing by ten thousand every year.The conditions in
winter are even more extreme and hence this appeal to look into this
issue,as yet another winter will soon be upon us.

The essence of this proposal is to remove troops from the area of
conflict on the Saltoro Ridge as well as the uninhabitable Glacier
region without compromising the stated position of either party and
without conferring any tactical or strategic advantage to either
side.It is analogous to asking the contestants to return to their
corners in the ring.It is proposed to create a Human Exclusion
Zone(HEZ) comprising the Saltoro Ridge as well as the Siachen Glacier
System which will result in disengagement of troops and their
deinduction to lower altitudes.

Mr President,you have said that there are issues more important
than cricket and commerce which need to be sorted out first.I agree
with you entirely.In fact,you had mentioned Siachen in your interview
with Prannoy Roy,but it was not discussed.I would therefore urge you
to consider this issue without linking it to any other issue between
our countries.

Mr Prime Minister,you have shown the magnanimity of an elder
statesman.I therefore urge you to continue in the same spirit and
look into the modalities of the proposal suggested below.

1. A ceasefire to be declared by both countries in the area with
immediate effect.

2. India to commence withdrawal from the Northern passes(Indira
Col,Sia La and Bila Fond La) and complete the process within fifteen

3. Pakistan to commence withdrawal from positions opposing the
Northern areas including Conway Saddle,Baltoro Glacier and Bila Fond
Glacier and complete the process in fifteen days to or behind a line
parallel to the Saltoro ridge and five kilometers away from it till
it meets the Line of Control(LOC).This will form the Western Boundary
of the HEZ.

4. Pakistan to commence withdrawal from Southern Areas including
Gyong La and Chumik Glacier to behind the Western boundary of the HEZ
within seven days after the completion of Step 3.

5. India to complete the withdrawal from the Southern Area
including Gyong Glacier within seven days of Step 4.

6. The process of demilitarising the Saltoro Ridge to be
completed by 15 October 2003.No human activity including cattle
grazing or cultivation will be permitted anywhere on the Saltoro
Ridge and the Siachen Glacier.

7. India to commence dismantling camps and facilities on the
Siachen Glacier and complete a withdrawal from the Glacier upto and
including its snout by 30 November 2003.The entire Glacier region
including its tributaries will be included in the HEZ.The Eastern
boundary will be formed by the Karakorum Ridgeline from Indira Col to
the East till the line running East West from the Snout of the
Siachen Glacier

8. A joint commission to be formed on the lines of the Indus
Water Commission to monitor the HEZ.The Commission to include
scientists and environmentalists besides the local military
commanders from both countries to recommend measures to revive the
eco system of the affected area.

Let not militant strikes deter you from a path you have so
wisely chosen.That will amount to playing into their hands.Let the
issue of disputed ownership of an arid wasteland not come in the way
of getting our soldiers down.They have done their duty.Whether
Saltoro/Siachen is inclusive to India or Pakistan or both can be
looked at at some other point in time.We have lost many soldiers on
both sides-many are suffering-let us not delay the resolution of this
conflict anymore.All it will take to implement this plan is a
telephone call from Delhi to Islamabad or vice versa.No protracted
negotiations,no exchange of maps,no bureaucrats,no ministers or
generals.All that has been tried on several occasions in the past to
no effect.

Let us think of a general ceasefire on the Line of Control and
International Border after the Siachen withdrawal. Let us think of
cricket and commerce after we have a ceasefire in effect.Let us think
of other issues after that.In the meantime,let many Noors be
healed.Let diplomatic niceties continue and overflights commence.They
will have some meaning only if we can begin to sort out what is one
of the major issues between our countries.

Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, let the guns fire the final
salute to the fallen in Siachen and then fall silent forever. I
appeal to you to take a decision on this issue without any further

With regards.

A retired Soldier