The recent clashes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have now ignited a series of debates over the failure of the previous governments to secure the country’s national interest, especially along the borders.
Since last few days, the strategic blunders committed by the past governments, especially during the Nehruvian era have once again become a talking point, reminding us the cost that our country has paid due to the lapses committed by previous regimes, especially by the Congress party.
The indifference of the Congress party over critical national security concerns, especially during the UPA era would have cost us another important strategic asset. The Siachen glacier, which has immense strategic value to Indian security forces to keep an eye on both the Pakistan and China along the northern borders, was almost gifted to Pakistan by the Manmohan Singh government in 2006, but only to be stopped by the intervention of the then National Security Advisor (NSA) MK Narayanan.
In his book “How India Sees the World”, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has revealed how India and Pakistan had nearly agreed to an agreement to not only de-militarising the Siachen Glacier but also agreed on the mutual withdrawal of troops from the area. The UPA government had also proposed a joint-monitoring mechanism of the Siachen area to check the incursions once troops are withdrawn from the heights.
According to Saran, India and Pakistan had nearly come to an agreement on de-militarising the Siachen Glacier at least three times before – in 1989, 1992, 2006. Interestingly, the two prior discussions pertaining to Siachen, once in 1989 and 1992, had also taken place during the Congress rule.
The book states that the first agreement was reached during the Rajiv Gandhi era in 1989 to de-militarise the Siachen area, which according to Saran, did not materialise due to Pakistan’s disagreement over the deal. Again in 1992, during the PV Narasimha Rao government, an attempt was made to the mutual withdrawal of forces from the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). However, the Congress government had taken a political decision not to further the talks on Siachen issue and left it to the next round of talks.
UPA government had agreed to withdraw troops form Siachen glacier
Shyam Saran, who was the Foreign Secretary in the First Manmohan Singh government, in his book revealed that, in 2006, he along with his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan had struck a deal on orders of Congress government to take back Indian troops and give away the Siachen Glacier to Pakistan.
In his book, Shyam Saran even records that the two sides had even agreed on authenticating ground positions of the troops before the deal fell apart. Sharan further writes that Manmohan Singh wanted to settle the deal with Pakistan by handing over Siachen glacier for which all stakeholders consented.
“To give the document additional strength, we insisted, and the Pakistani side agreed, that both the agreement and the Annexure will be signed and that the main agreement will explicitly declare that the annexure had the same legal validity as the agreement itself,” writes Sharan.
“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked me to work on this agreement but had also insisted that I obtain a consensus on it form all the key stakeholders in our own system. I did many rounds of consultations, both at the senior bureaucratic and ministerial levels in the ministries of defence, home and finance (whose members are part of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).”
The former Foreign Secretary then writes that the then Army Chief JJ Singh and all chiefs of the Intelligence Agencies were brought on board. The deal was even consented by the Indian Army and mentioned its finer points, including current positions of the forces of the two countries, the positions to which they would withdraw, a schedule for redeployment, and a joint monitoring mechanism to prevent mutual intrusions. All this would have been recorded in an annexure to the main agreement.
After the initial examination and agreement to it by all the relevant stakeholders of the security establishment, the draft agreement was then presented to the Cabinet Committee on Security, the final decision-making body on the issues of national security.
NSA MK Narayanan objected to the deal on Siachen with Pakistan
But it was during the CCS meet, the NSA MK Narayanan raised serious concerns about the deal and argued about compromising the National security of the country.
“When the CCS meeting was held on the eve of the Defence Secretary-level talks, the then national security advisor (NSA) launched a bitter offensive against the proposal, saying that Pakistan could not be trusted, and that there will be political and public opposition to any such initiative and that India’s military position in the northern sector vis-à-vis both Pakistan and China will be compromised,” Shyam Saran reveals in his book.
The former Foreign Secretary added that General Singh, who had happily agreed to the proposal before, had now decided to join Narayanan in rubbishing the deal of the UPA government to cede control over Siachen glacier. It was only after MK Narayanan raised concerns, the Chief of the Army also agreed that the Siachen deal was not safe and would put India in grave danger, the book reads.
In the meeting, then Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, however, stayed quiet and played safe in front of NSA chief as they did not endorse such a deal that would provide an opportunity to Pakistan to re-occupy the heights of Siachen. The then PM Manmohan Singh, who desperately wanted to pass the deal, remained mute after NSA and Army Chief raised concerns and defied with the order.
In the meetings, NSA Naryanan also suggested that that the issue of Siachen should be taken off the agenda in the India-Pakistan talks on the border issue. At this step, it is said that Pranab Mukherjee himself supported de-militarisation of Siachen glacier and added that Rajiv Gandhi himself had agreed to include Siachen in the India–Pakistan dialogue.
It is also pertinent to state that addition to Shyam Saran’s memoir, a Wikileaks report had also exposed how the UPA government under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had decided to give away Siachen glacier to Pakistan despite the Indian Army had opposed the move citing long-term national security implications.
The shocking disclosure made by the former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran only highlights the complicity of the Congress party in dealing with the issues critical to national security. The Congress party, which has a long history of gifting territories to hostile neighbours – China and Pakistan, would have perhaps lost another major chunk of land to Pakistan by their ill-advised decision to de-militarise Siachen Glacier.
However, thanks to the then NSA MK Narayanan, the strategic glaciers were saved from another occupation, which is one of the highest battlefields in the world enabling Indian security forces to keep a vigil on the rogue armies of Pakistan and China.