The “Glaciers Issue” & General Musharraf

"The Indian Army undertook actions in 1984 because Pakistan had resorted to cartographic aggression. The actions our forces undertook were quite unique; involved considerable loss of life in the initial actions, in repelling Pakistani assaults, and in the subsequent retention of positions."

The “Glaciers Issue” & General Musharraf

Editor's Note:                                                

The recent demise of Gen Parvez Musharaff triggered the mind of the author to recall what he wrote over a decade back and reproduce the same for the benefit of interested readers. This piece written in retrospect on the 'Glaciers Issue', its link with Gen Parvez Musharaff has been well narrated by Gen. Satish Nambiar to give  the reader an accurate historical perspective to the happenings on the Glaciers Issue, its military importance for Indian forces, the deliberations and briefings that took place at the highest levels of both countries - India and Pakistan.


On hearing the news item last night about the demise of Pervez Musharraf, I cannot help but recall something I had penned about a decade or so back, in which I had made a detailed reference to him. This morning I managed to dig it out and am reproducing it for those of you that are interested.


In recent weeks there has been some animated discussion about the 'Glaciers issue'. A personal account may be useful in placing things in perspective. With an added narrative on the questionable credibility of General Musharraf.

A few months into the UPA-1 dispensation in 2004 I received a call from the Prime Minister’s Office to say that Dr Manmohan Singh would like me to meet him for a discussion on security issues. On further enquiry it emerged that he desired to hear my views particularly on the “Glaciers Issue” in context of the ‘first-hand’ knowledge I had in dealing with the issue in my capacity initially as the Additional Director General Military Operations, and later as the Director General Military Operations, from mid-1989 to early 1992; which included discussions with Pakistani counterparts as the Head of two Defence delegations for talks with them: in April 1991 in New Delhi where we negotiated an agreement (which still holds) on exchange of information between the two countries on conduct of military exercises and aircraft flights in the proximity of the border, as also communications between naval vessels at sea; and in September 1991 at Islamabad, where we negotiated an end to hostile action between the two countries on the Line of Control in the Poonch Sector.

At the time the call came from the Prime Minister’s Office, I was the Director of the United Service Institution of India (a position I held for twelve and a half years from 1st July 1996 to 31st December 2008, when I stepped down at my own request). I cannot recollect the exact date but it was well before JN Dixit, the then National Security Adviser, an old friend and colleague, expired (he passed away in early January 2005).

I duly presented myself at the Office of Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh in South Block at the appointed date and time. It was indeed an honour and a privilege to meet someone I had met earlier (when the Congress party was out of power), at meetings convened by Mani Dixit at the IIC Private Dining Room for informal discussions on security issues. Dr Manmohan Singh was his usual gracious self, and asked me make myself comfortable; just the two of us (no note-takers or advisers).

We commenced discussions without much ado. He asked me for my frank and forthright views on the “Glaciers Issue”, which was at that time one of the ‘stand alone’ aspects under discussion with Pakistan. I therefore conveyed my views without any inhibitions. The contents of the points I made to the PM are as set out in the note appended below. These had in fact been communicated by me formally to JN Dixit the National Security Adviser, a couple of weeks earlier, on a request he made to me. After my meeting with the PM, I handed over a copy of the note to him; as it had apparently not yet been shared with him by the NSA Mani Dixit.
It may be a matter of interest to also append a note that I sent to Mani Dixit’s successor as the National Security Adviser, another friend and colleague, Mike Narayanan, in February 2007; which is self explanatory.

On conclusion of our discussions on the Glaciers issue, just as I was preparing to excuse myself, the Prime Minister asked me whether I had ever met General Musharraf, who was then the President of Pakistan. Somewhat taken by surprise at the change of track, I informed him that I had in fact briefly met the Pakistani General a couple of times. The Prime Minister then asked me what I thought of him: whether in my assessment, he was a person the Prime Minister should conduct serious business with, as it were. As it happened, I had little hesitation in expressing my opinion, which was that I did not consider General Musharraf a person to be trusted. Somewhat surprised, Dr Manmohan Singh asked me what prompted me to give such a spontaneous and unequivocal response. I informed the Prime Minister that I was one of the few senior officers in the Armed Forces to have not only engaged with Pakistani counterparts on the battlefield in 1965 and 1971, the then Cease Fire Line in Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1960s, but also with many of them while in Service away from operational situations, commencing in 1968 with a Pakistani counterpart at the Staff College in Australia (who incidentally went on to become the DG ISI under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1992), in London where I was the Military Adviser at our High Commission in the mid-1980s, as the Director General Military Operations in 1990-92, and after retirement, on a number of Track-2 initiatives held in Delhi, Islamabad and other parts of the world. I apprised the Prime Minister that, in the process, I had developed good personal rapport and working relationships with a number of Pakistani counterparts, and through inter-action with them was, among other things, able to supplement my personal assessment of individuals like General Musharraf.

I briefly recounted the occasions on which I had met General Musharraf. The first time at a conference of former Heads of Missions, Force Commanders, and senior country representatives of troop contributor countries to UN peacekeeping operations, convened at the UN Headquarters in New York in November 1994, that I was invited to, in my personal capacity, a couple of months after I had superannuated from the Indian Army. Then Major General Musharraf attended the conference in his capacity as the Director General of Military Operations at the GHQ Pakistan Army. In my capacity as the Director General Military Operations of the Indian Army, I had dealt with two of his immediate predecessors in that assignment, Jehangir Karamat, who went on to become Chief of the Pakistan Army and was later Pakistan’s Ambassador to the USA, and the late Major General Jamshed Malik; with both of whom I had developed most satisfactory and mutually rewarding, professional and personal links. The second time I met General Musharraf was as a member of an Indian delegation of politicians, media persons and retired professionals, that visited Islamabad and Lahore in mid-2003 at the initiative of the South Asia Free Media Association. Members of the delegation called on him at the Presidential Office and were individually introduced to him. The delegation then had a brief formal session with him, and later an informal inter-action with him over tea and snacks. I found it somewhat disconcerting that when introduced to him, General Musharraf did not acknowledge having met me earlier. But what surprised me even more was the fact that when Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, also a member of the delegation, was introduced, General Musharraf did not acknowledge knowing him despite the personal inter-action they had as Directors General of Military Operations in their respective Headquarters at the same time. This, more than anything else was, in so far as I was concerned, a reflection of the lack of character in the man.

It is another matter altogether that I had occasion to meet him again when I was invited to attend a conference on United Nations Peacekeeping at the Pakistani National Defence College in 2007. The occasion of the conference was used to inaugurate the Pakistani National Defence University at the premises of the National Defence College. The inauguration was done by General Musharraf in his capacity as the President of Pakistan. I had a brief inter-action with him at the event, and though he again did not acknowledge having met me earlier, he took time off to ask me to convey to the Indian establishment in New Delhi that he was prepared to do engage in negotiations.

I have dwelt on this episode in some detail because, besides the fact that I had conveyed my candid opinion to the Prime Minister, as it happened, a couple of weeks after that meeting, the Head of the Government’s Psychological Research Institute based in Delhi called on me at the United Service Institution of India as he had been tasked by the Prime Minister’s Office to do a detailed profile study on General Musharraf. Needless to say, he recorded all that I had to say on the subject of General Musharraf. One is not aware of the follow-up action taken. But have, ever since, been somewhat more charitable in my views of the establishment in the knowledge that those who run the country not only obtain views on matters of national security, but also take follow-up action they consider appropriate.


Strategic Relevance

Much is made of the strategic relevance of the Glaciers Area to the security of our positions in the Ladakh Sector. However this is as much in order to deter our establishment from making any unilateral concessions to Pakistan, as to convey to the Pakistani establishment that no compromises can be made on this issue. The objective position can only be that strategically the area has only marginal security significance to our positions in Ladakh. No large scale operations can be sustained against us either by the Chinese or the Pakistanis that we cannot effectively deal with through interdiction by our Air Force. (This statement is nevertheless contingent on the fact that we have the political determination and will to counter any adversarial moves in the area without procrastination and political expediency).

Even so, it may be useful to recall that there is considerable symbolic importance to the area. The Indian Army undertook actions in 1984 because Pakistan had resorted to cartographic aggression. The actions our forces undertook were quite unique; involved considerable loss of life in the initial actions, in repelling Pakistani assaults, and in the subsequent retention of positions. This should obviously not be perceived as having been in vain.

Demilitrisation, Verification And Monitoring

Before assessing the implications of demilitarisation of the area it would be useful to understand what exactly demilitarisation implies in this context. It would mean that a zone to a designated distance on each side of the existing ground positions along the SALTORO Ridge would be kept free of the militaries not only of the two countries but also free of any other type of armed elements, para-military or civilian. To that end all such forces would be withdrawn to pre-determined areas away from this demilitarised zone. It is imperative that this arrangement be subjected to joint verification in the first instance. After which a mechanism for the conduct of joint monitoring on an agreed periodic basis including by aerial means, needs to be put in place. It is eminently desirable that this arrangement be also be made subject to challenge inspections to be carried out jointly when suspicion is aroused on either side.

The process of withdrawal of military forces should not pose problems as all the preparatory work in regard to the positions to which forces are to be withdrawn on both sides have already been discussed and general agreement arrived at. The only aspect of disagreement in this regard relates to the exchange of maps reflecting the Actual Ground Position Line about which the Pakistanis apparently have some reservations. This is not something we should compromise on because delineation of the demilitarised zone is contingent on clarity in this regard. In fact, in so far as positioning of our forces so withdrawn is concerned, we need only keep nominal forces in the agreed positions behind the demilitarised zone in context of the responses suggested should there be violation of the agreements in this area.

Civilian Activity

It would be useful for us to recognise that in the early years, either by default or by design, or both, Pakistan was well ahead of us in exploiting the area for mountaineering expeditions and adventure activities. Most such activity by foreigners prior to assertion of our presence in the area in 1984, was sponsored through what was an International Himalayan Expeditionary Centre (IHEC) or some such organisation, set up by the Pakistani authorities West of the Saltoro Ridge in an area North of Sia La.

Consequent to an agreement on withdrawal of military forces from the area and its demilitarisation, we may insist on a reciprocal presence of a civilian organisation on our side (in the present Base Camp area) for coordination of expeditionary activities. However it would be best both in terms of confidence building measures and also as a means of discreetly asserting our claim over the Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir without seeming to do so, for us to suggest that the IHEC be made a joint centre for coordination of all sub-continental and foreign expeditions and adventure in the area. It could even be made a hub for joint environmental activities.

Violation Of Agreement

Whereas I have made the above recommendations for dealing with the dispute in the Glaciers Area in an amicable manner, I would be less than honest if I did not express what in my view is the reservation that most of us no longer in military uniform, or those still wearing it, now hold. Our perception is that the political establishment in our country is not likely to take the decision that violation of an agreement on the Glaciers by Pakistan be treated as an act of war and dealt with accordingly, on our terms. For any agreement on the Glaciers issue to carry credibility within our military, our general public, as also internationally, it is essential that the political leadership find a mechanism whereby they are able to convey quite clearly that any violation of an agreement by Pakistan will entail-
1. Declaration of war.
2. Freedom to engage in military operations at places of our choosing with all available means at our disposal.
3. Suspension of all other agreements arrived at.

The Bottom Line

Allow me to stress that should we arrive at an agreement on the Glaciers issue, the option of directing our military forces to launch operations for the recapture of positions on the Saltoro Ridge should be treated as closed unless this is part of an overall offensive against Pakistan and undertaken with overwhelming air, missile and artillery support that would not entail unacceptable casualties to our land forces.

Resolution Of ‘The Glaciers Issue’

Further to the note I sent you on the above subject some time back (a copy of which I enclose for ready reference), allow me to make a couple of points in context of the contents of media reports pertaining to negotiations with the Government of Pakistan.

Some reports I read some time back indicated that General Musharraf and some Pakistani authorities have given assurances that Pakistani forces would not occupy “The Siachen Glacier” subsequent to an agreement on demilitarization of the area arrived at between the two countries.

In the note I sent earlier I have given my views on the major issues, particularly regarding the imperative need to ensure delineation of the existing ground positions as part of any agreement. I shall not repeat myself.

However, if the media reports have any truth, it is important to note that should we arrive at an agreement on demilitarisation of the area and pull-out from the positions now occupied by our troops, Pakistan does not have to “occupy” the Siachen Glacier to dominate the area. They only need to occupy the Saltoro Ridge that is now occupied by our troops in order to dominate the Glacier. To preclude the possibility of being overtaken by semantics later, any agreement we arrive at with the Pakistanis should, besides ensuring delineation of the current ground positions, provide for a specific assurance that “PAKISTAN WILL NOT OCCUPY THE SALTORO RIDGE LINE AFTER IT IS VACATED BY OUR FORCES”.

Furthermore the assurance should make it clear that when reference is made to the fact that “Pakistan will not occupy the Saltoro Ridge” it includes military and para-military forces and also civilian agencies. Unless of course the agreement provides for joint civilian presence in the area.

I am sure you will be able to get a more detailed briefing on these nuances from the Ministry and Army Headquarters.

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