Siachen: Overview, Demilitarisation and Track IIs



  • Five significant mountain ranges in the J&K state, from east to west:
    • Karakoram Range
    • Ladakh Range
    • Zanskar Range
    • Great Himalayan Range
    • Pir Panjal Range
  • other minor mountain ranges that branch off these significant five: Deosai Mountains, Saltoro, and Baltoro, etc
  • Karakoram (meaning Black Gravel in Kyrgyz language) Range ends at the Pamir Knot in Central Asia.
  • The sub-ranges of the main Karakoram Range are referred to as muztagh. For example: Siachen Muztagh, Rimo Muztagh and the Sasser Muztagh in the Eastern Karakoram lying to the east and south of the Siachen glacier.
  • Kashmir valley lies between the Great Himalayan Range and the PirPanjal Range.
  • The Zoji La pass on the Great Himalayan Range gives an access from the Kashmir valley to Leh in Ladakh through Drass and Kargil.
  • 75-Km long and, 1000 feet deep, on an average, 4.5 Km wide Siachen (“a place of roses” in Balti) Glacier is the second largest outside of the two polar regions
  • It is situated on the eastern Karakoram Range, between the Saltoro Range in the South and West and the main Karakoram to the East.
  • Saltoro Range, whose northernmost tip is Sia Kangri (7422m) at less than 5 Kms north of Indira Col (which incidentally is the northernmost point of India today)
  • A few kilometres to the east of the easternmost tip of this glaciated region is the strategically important and all-weather Karakoram Pass (5540m) which has been part of the centuries old Silk Road to Yarkand and beyond.
  • It is near the Karakoram Pass that the world’s highest airfield, Daulat Beg Oldie, is located on the Indian side.
  • Karakoram Pass can be reached from Nubra Valley through Sasser Pass and Daulat Beg Oldie.
  • the ~6000 Sq. Km. Shaksgam Valley (China & Pakistan refer to this area as Trans Karakoram Tract) that Pakistan ceded to China in 1963 to enable it to construct the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar to Pakistan.
  • Turkestan La pass from Siachen opens into the Shaksgam Valley. Earlier, China had also constructed its National Highway No. 219 whose construction started in c. 1951 as soon as Communist China established its suzerainty over Tibet . This Highway connected Tibet and Sinkiang (now Xinjiang) surreptitiously through India’s Aksai Chin (a length of 230 Kms).
  • For China it is the communication artery linking Sinkiang and the Ari District in Tibet
  • Further north of the Baltoro is the Rakaposhi Range and then the famous Khunjerab Pass through which the Karakoram Highway reaches Pakistan from China. For these reasons, Siachen is also refrred to as the tri-junction of India, China and Pakistan.


  • Conflict began in April 1984 but the Siachen confrontation is part of the legacy of Partition and Pakistani aggression.
  • While most positions were delineated as per the 1972 Shimla agreement, the boundary line was specified to only a point called NJ 9842. The agreement stated that after this point, the boundary would proceed “north to the glaciers” without specifying which nation would have control over which area.
  • It was found by the Indian Army that reconnaissance mission was being carried out and it found that foreign expeditions were being undertaken in the area.
  • In 1984, India took pre-emptive action by sending its troops to these glacial heights because it feared that Pakistan was trying to occupy the Saltoro Ridge and violating the basic principle on which the old Cease Fire Line (CFL) was demarcated

Track II

The Atlantic Council in Ottawa has sponsored a Track II dialogue between delegates from India and Pakistan with the purpose of improving relations between the two countries. Three meetings have been held thus far in Dubai, Bangkok and Lahore. On the Indian side, the group is led by a former head of the air force, and includes former high-ranking civil and military officials and a representative of the media.

Note: A press release of this Track II process proposed a demilitarisation of the Siachen area, a “UN Zone of Peace”. This has come under heavy criticism from various experts in India. Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh released a statement that he was against the dilution of the AFSPA and asserted that Siachen was strategically important. The Indian thinktank IDSA also rubbished the proposal. All the arguments point twoards strategic importance of the area, lack of reciprocation from Pakistan despite the multipronged peace initiatives, the fact that Pakistan continues to have an interest in the area (It is on record by Pakistani army officers that India preempted the Siachen occupation, the Kargil operation’s strategic intent was also to make the IA withdraw from Siachen), hence they cannot be trusted to uphold the demilitarization from their side.

Responding to criticism and allegations, Peter Jones of the Ottawa Dialog defends and elaborates on the Track II process in the editorial “Non-state actors who bring nations closer”:

  • The term “Track Two Diplomacy” was first coined by Joseph Montville in 1981, who noted an increasing number of unofficial conflict-resolution dialogues taking place around the world.
  • It is not a diplomatic process. Diplomacy is reserved strictly for those who represent the state. People engaged in Track Two do not represent the state and should not try to.
  • It is simply a mechanism to bring together people from different sides of a conflict to talk about issues and try to develop new ideas.
  • Track Two processes have been highly active, with mixed results, from the Oslo process in the Middle East, to the informal talks which helped break the impasse in Northern Ireland, to the first contacts between the African National Congress and the former government of South Africa.
  • Referred to by a number of terms including: “Controlled Communication;” “Inter-active Conflict Resolution;” “Circum-negotiation;” “Multi-track Diplomacy;” “Inter-active Problem Solving” and many others. Each has its subtle nuances.
  • They emphasise small, informal dialogues, which the literature refers to as “Problem Solving Workshops,” between people from the various sides of a conflict, which are often facilitated by an impartial “Third Party;”

  •  though the dialogues are unofficial, it is generally expected that the participants will be able to influence the development of thinking in their societies on the conflict
  • the dialogues are not meant to debate the current positions of the sides, but rather are workshops where the participants step back from official positions to explore the underlying causes of the dispute in the hope of jointly developing alternative ideas
  • the dialogues are conducted quietly and the “Chatham House Rule” is applied to create an atmosphere where “outside-the-box” thinking can flourish and participants are not afraid to propose and explore ideas that could not be entertained by an official process or one in which exchanges might be repeated in the press.
  • A key to successful Track Two is that the participants be able transfer the ideas developed in such meetings into the official sphere.
  • Thus, Track Two often enlists as participants people who have connections to the official world (often retired senior officials). The objective is to have people at the table who have credibility in the official world and are familiar with how things are done there, but who have also the luxury of being able to think “outside the box” as they are no longer officials themselves.
  • “Autonomy Dilemma.” This dilemma holds that, on the one hand, reliance on influential elites means that results can be more easily transferred to the official process (because the Track Two participants are trusted and have access), but “outside the box” thinking may be in short supply. On the other hand, gathering a really autonomous group which has few connections to government can lead to more independent thinking, but the ability of such processes to transfer their results to the inner sanctum is limited because the participants are not known or trusted by officials.
  • The question of how close a Track Two should be to official diplomacy also causes confusion between genuine Track Two and so-called “Backchannel Diplomacy.” The two are often used as synonyms for each other, but they are different, and should be kept conceptually and practically separate. Backchannel diplomacy is essentially official talks between governments, but conducted quietly and at arms’ length. But the key is that those around the table are under instructions from their governments and are sent there by governments to discuss an issue. Track Two, as noted, features influential people, but they are not there on behalf of their governments or with any instructions and should never act as though they are.

In essence, the informal nature of Track II diplomacy allows serious and potentially dangerous issues to be discussed in an open, non-official forum.

Another Track II is the Chaophraya Track Two dialogue — it brings together specialists from various fields, some of them former government officials, for a candid exchange on India-Pakistan issues.

  • Most participants were emphatic that the two countries must insulate the gains of the dialogue process — such as trade and visas — from such incidents, or else there was no point in expending resources to make some progress, only to be dragged down, and then have to start all over again.
  • Given the stability in India-Pakistan relations over the last year or so, until last week, this would have been a good time for a frank discussion between the two countries on Afghanistan, and for New Delhi to highlight its own concerns, how it sees its own role in bringing regional stability.

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