Defence Minister Parrikar clarifies India’s Siachen stand, but more issues need examination

By P C Katoch

Defence Minister Mohan Parrikar on 26 February categorically ruled out India withdrawing from Siachen. Amongst the reasons mentioned by him, the most significant was when he said, "I know we have to pay the price and I salute our armed forces personnel. But we have to maintain this position. We have to man the strategic position. The position is very important from the strategic point."

Yet you find the paid media headlining “Parrikar: Can’t trust Pak, won’t vacate Siachen” as if trusting Pakistan is the main issue, which it is not. The question here is mischievous perception building by the media, another example being reports about army troops being airdropped during the recent Jat agitation, which is a malicious lie that the public at large would not know.

Earlier, a question was raised about Siachen in Rajya Sabha referring to army casualties in the recent avalanche at Sonam and recommending withdrawal be discussed with Pakistan, perhaps for scoring brownie points ignoring or failing to understand scores of articles, recent and past, highlighting the strategic importance of the Saltoro Ridge and the region. But then political naiveté is hardly new with new landmark reached with the statement in Parliament, “Shouting anti national slogans, is not anti-national.”

Defence Minister Parrikar clarifies India’s Siachen stand, but more issues need examination

Representational image. PTI

It is interesting to see that various political parties from time to time have what may be termed as education capsules for office holders of their party including Members of Parliament. But whether such education stints include anything about strategy or national security is an open question. It may amuse readers that some years back, a prominent Think Tank in New Delhi with concurrence of the then government planned out a ‘Strategy Capsule’ for the Members Parliament of various political parties. 40 vacancies were allotted. On the first day, 40 MPs attended. Next day, 50% went absent. But the cake was on the third day when only one MP turned up and after listening for one hour said “Aap jo kahte ho hamen to samajh nahin aata (what you say, I cannot comprehend)” and walked off.

In an environment where the military continues to be kept out of strategic security formulation, the hierarchy needs to examine how to deal with educating the polity especially when we haven’t articulated a cohesive national security strategy. Random, foolish statements by office bearers provide undue cannon fodder to our enemies, one prominent example being the Home Minister during the erstwhile UPA II regime stating in the Parliament “We have no jurisdiction in the area” in wake of a 19 kms deep Chinese intrusion in Eastern Ladakh, albeit given his background it is quite possible that he did not know the difference between ‘no jurisdiction’ and ‘no administration’, and probably meant the latter.

Getting back to the Siachen issue, it simply is a non-issue. Those talking of withdrawal are working for an agenda that is inimical to Indian interests. As regards concern about casualties, Defenc Minister Parrikar also clarified the issue in Parliament that so far 915 people have lost their lives in the last 32 years in Siachen, which comes to 28 lives every year, and that this too has now been reduced to 10 per year.

But the issue here is not about casualties or lack of trust with Pakistan. The real issues here are that you do not give up strategic regions to let threats to you national security enlarge, which is more than crystal clear in this case. Besides this being Indian Territory where is the question of withdrawal in the first place.

Not one of the pseudo peaceniks with an agenda calling from withdrawal from Saltoro Ridge has made any suggestion where would be our next line of defence, at what cost, quantum of troops needed and what will then be the per year casualty rate contending infiltration and enemy action compared to holding the Saltoro Ridge with one Brigade where enemy cannot see our troops. Let one pseudo peacenik come out with such a plan, along with how the enlarged China-Pak collusive threat would increase the threat to our national security, just for theoretical interest. Merely taking shelter behind “it is doable” is enacting the proverbial ostrich. Interestingly someone had proposed some year back that we come down from Saltoro Ridge and hold heights around Siachen Base Camp. This would give Pakistan a chance to bypass the new positions, reach Leh in conjunction China, and retrieve some ignominy of the 94,000 prisoners taken by India in 1971 by forcing our troops holding heights around the Siachen Base Camp to surrender or be wiped out.

The task of the army is to defend the borders and beyond. Those who show concern about army casualties should be looking for ways to reduce army deployment in internal security. With India having strength of 1.7 million armed police including the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), has their employment been examined dispassionately; how many are on extraneous duties not in their chatter? Take for example the National Security Guard (NSG). The CCS paper sanctioning this force had categorically stated that Army will provide manpower for first 10 years only, beyond which Police was to raise its own specialists. But 32 years have gone by and the CAPF continue to man the Special Ranger Groups (SRGs) which are required to man the only the cordon while Special Action Groups (SAGs) manned by the Army tackle the target. So the concept continues that the CAPF sit back and watch the fun while the SAGs act especially, besides there has seldom been any chance when the SRGs have been moved anywhere when the SAGs employed in action.

Recently, there were reports that some CAPF on deputation with NSG have been relieved from VVIP security duties, which is not part of their charter. But the question is how many are still employed on such duties? Besides, does public know that CAPF personnel of NSG get two and a half times the daily allowance while on VVIP security?

Army has been involved in counter insurgency for years and this will continue, but internal security duties are different from counter insurgency. When the Army is called out for internal security as in the case of the recent Jat agitation, the MoD is supposed to be compensated for the expenses incurred, even if it is book debit.

Is this happening or has it been given the quiet burial over the years? As for combating foreign sponsored insurgencies, we will continue to bleed till we adopt a pro-active sub-conventional approach. Next, the President has expressed need to review the IPC that has remained unchanged for past 155 years in view of the sedition debate in Parliament. Such a review should include the deliberate and agenda driven reporting in media that impinges on national security, which cannot be clubbed with freedom of press.

Those showing concern about army casualties should be talking about this. Defence Minister Parrikar’s statement should hopefully put to rest the agenda driven peaceniks ranting about Siachen but we would do well by examining the other issues mentioned here.

The author is former Lt Gen of Indian Army.

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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2016 20:15:01 IST

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