On January 12, three days before the Army Day, Chief of Army Staff Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane replying to a question on his views on the demilitarization of Siachen Glacier said that the Indian Army was not averse to it but the precondition for that was that Pakistan accepted the 110 km actual ground position line north of NJ 9842. The Army chief was responding to questions which were submitted in advance.

Gen Naravane said, “We are not averse to the demilitarization of the glacier but the pre-condition for that is to accept the AGPL. Pakistan has to accept what are their positions and what are ours, and both of us have to sign on the dotted line before any kind of disengagement takes place. What is happening in eastern Ladakh is quite similar…first disengagement, then de-induction and de-escalation, which is another way of saying demilitarization.

While Gen Naravane spelt out the Indian Army’s position on the issue, the matter has become far more complicated for national security planners with Pakistan and China proposing a road connecting Yarkand in Sinkiang to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir through Shaksgam Valley, a 5193-square-kilometres territory that Pakistan illegally ceded to China in 1963. The Shaksgam Valley lies in the Trans-Karakoram range watershed.

Area maps clearly show that Rimo Glacier, Teram Shehr Glacier and the Siachen Glacier are located within the Indian union territory of Ladakh. The adjoining areas of these glaciers are PLA dominated territories like Shaksgam Valley and Yarkand Valley in the north and PoK in the west in addition to the warlike deployments by the PLA in Aksai Chin opposite Daulet Beg Oldi sector in the east. The PLA has a history of aggressive transgressions into what the Army calls sub-sector north and it is adamant in blocking the Indian Army patrols in Depsang Bulge south of DBO with massive brigade-level deployments at Tein Wein Dein (TWD) across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) facing DBO Indian post.

Although the Army Chief is in the knowledge of these facts, the proposed Muzaffarabad-Shaksgam-Yarkand Valley road will not only boost the military interoperability between two iron brothers but also pose a two-front threat to Indian forces in the sub-sector north.

The Indian Army controls the Saltoro Ridge that provides ingress into Siachen Glacier since 1984 post-Operation Meghdoot. Siachen Glacier is located in the eastern Karakoram range, just northeast of NJ 9842, where the Line of Control between India and Pakistan ends. Teram Shehr and Rimo Glaciers are located East of Siachen glacier and south of Shaksgam and Yarkand Valley, where the PLA has deployed nuclear missiles. These glaciers under Indian control not only provide access to Shaksgam Valley and Yarkand Valley but also provide depth to defence of Siachen and DBO sector.

The military situation in the area is quite precarious with China building all-weather access to Pakistan via Karakoram Pass, just 18 km from DBO plateau, and trying to militarily impose India rejected 1959 line on the LAC in Ladakh. All-weather friend of China, Pakistan is proposing the Muzaffarabad-Yarkand Valley road so that it can put pressure on the Indian positions on Siachen in the name of trade with China.

Under the circumstances, it would be militarily prudent for Indian Army to put the demilitarization of Siachen on the back-burner till such time the Chinese PLA agrees to respect the Ladakh LAC and restores April 2020 status quo ante as well as allow India unhindered rights to patrol Depsang Bulge and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector. Faced with a two front threat from iron brothers, demilitarization of Siachen at this point is an unworkable idea.