BY M G DEVASAHAYAM
In September 2012, the Ottawa based Atlantic Council, alleged to have links with Pakistan’s ISI, announced the signing of an agreement to demilitarize Siachen as part of Confidence Building Measure between India and Pakistan. This agreement was negotiated by a 22-member India-Pakistan Track II team, headed on the Indian side by former Air Chief Marshall SP Tyagi, in its various meetings in Bangkok, Dubai, USA and finally at Lahore. This was despite the clear stand adopted by the Army, Defence Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs against ‘demilitarization’ of the glacier that has huge strategic value for India.
There was something sinister in the whole thing because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been under pressure from the US to pull back from Siachen as a sop to the Pakistan Army who has been threatening to lease out Baltistan/Gilgit to China. It was also known that despite having no actual presence on Siachen, Pakistan continues to claim the territory.
As soon as details of the ‘Agreement’ were put up on the internet all hell broke loose. It went ballistic on the military (serving and veteran) email circuit in which some civilians like me were also part. Lt General PC Katoch, who had commanded the Siachen Brigade during the Kargil War, fired the first salvo through an article in the Fair Observer followed by Kunal Verma (filmmaker and writer) in Gfiles and the Hindi edition of Outlook. The mainstream media kept mum, obviously under orders from PMO!
The just retired General VK Singh’s take on the issue was nuanced and candid:
“Let us first be very clear as to who is asking for this so-called demilitarization. The Pakistanis are not on the Siachen Glacier, but are west of the Saltoro Range. Contrary to what they want their own people to believe, they have a zero presence in Siachen. I wonder if demilitarization will also result in Pakistan withdrawing from Baltistan, pulling back to the west towards the Karakoram Highway?…. It is ludicrous that in such circumstances we are talking of demilitarization and withdrawal. Our troops are well established and administratively well off so what is the rationale to pull them out of the area?”
A set of twelve questions were posed to the Track II team:
- Who appointed the Team and what are their credentials and service record in the Siachen area?
- Who all in the Government briefed the Team?
- Did the Team visit Siachen before inking the agreement?
- Was the decision of the Team unanimous?
- Decision to demilitarize Siachen has grave military consequences. Were the three Service Chiefs consulted on this?
- This issue has serious strategic, deployment, logistics, demographic, displacement, cost and time implications for the Army. Was the matter discussed with the Northern Army Commander?
- After ‘demilitarization’ what additional measures will be required to check terrorist infiltration in Kashmir Valley?
- Is it merely a Track II initiative? If so why were the members briefed by Government officials before the Lahore meet? Were they not told that this team is “as good as Track I”? Does it not make it official?
- NSA is stated to have briefed the leader of the Team and one/two members separately? If so why? To firm up a secret deal?
- The whole process, particularly signing of the Agreement was kept under wraps. Why this secrecy?
- On whose orders did some select members of the Team justify the agreement?
- Why was such a major decision not discussed in Parliament and President kept informed?
ACM Tyagi declined to respond, but Col Ajai Shukla, a Track II member and its self-appointed spokesperson did. He was livid with anger but had no answers to our questions. So he called us all ‘communal scums’ and pointing to me wrote: “Amongst those with the most dubious credentials in this group is you. An IAS officer turned moralizer! What a combination, Sir-ji.” This impotent outburst did not work, PMO made a hasty retreat but Ajai Shukla, the treason-peddler, was offered a high position in Prashar Bharati, but that did not work out! This ‘gentleman’ who has sold his soul says that General VK Singh’s ‘autobiography provides a stunning insight into the mind of an army chief who went rogue’. He then goes on to upbraid co-author Kunal Verma as ‘a long-time military groupie who has been paid crores from the defence budget to write self-congratulatory coffee-table books!’ What a travesty!
Treason seems to be the practiced art of UPA minions and their cohorts. Even abetting virtual mutiny in the Army is game for them. They did it by planting stories in a ‘Delhi based English daily’ in April 2012 suggesting that the serving Army Chief was engineering a coup to overthrow the Government of India. The report deliberately linked movement of some Army units in Rajasthan and Haryana to “June 1984 when some mutineers from Sikh units had moved towards the capital in the wake of Operation Bluestar,” suggesting in a devious manner that the above troop movement was also part of mutiny. Even after a year and a half, this blasphemy is yet to be probed and the seditious/treasonous intent of its perpetrators brought to light! But the ‘fertile brain’ behind this in the PMO was elevated to the rank of Minister-of-State!
The Technical Service Division (TSD) episode was equally bizarre. TSD is a covert operation agency, activities of which are directly related to the safety of the soldiers fighting on the borders, retribution on the enemy and the security of the citizens. By its very nature TSD operation was ‘top secret’. Even the existence of TSD should never have been publicised. Doing so could be treasonous. Yet on March 2, 2012 a leading Magazine published a planted story that inter alia read: “Defence Ministry officials say they are also concerned about the activities of a shadowy unit called the Technical Support Division within MI…Who the targets were and for what purpose, is still not clear.”
Soon thereafter the incumbent Defence Secretary initiated a ‘Board of Officers inquiry’ to go into the working of TSD and received the report in March 2013. In the meantime TSD was wound up. After six months the same daily that ‘leaked’ the coup came out with banner headlines: “Unit set up by VK Singh used secret funds to try and topple J&K government, block Bikram Singh: Army probe”. The leak had come from a former Joint Secretary in the Defence Ministry who was the alter ego of the Defence Secretary. This sad episode has cost the Army heavy in terms of life and reputation and the nation has been repeatedly humiliated. Even then, the high-official behind this treasonous act was seamlessly elevated to a prestigious constitutional position!
Governance is at such nadir today because governments at the centre and states have been banishing the wise and promoting the profligates. By rewarding treason UPA government has descended to despicable depths and has made governance a tragedy!
(MG Devasahayam was an IAS Officer and holds post-graduate degree in Economics. Previous to the IAS he served in the Indian army and has participated in the 1965 Indo-Pak war and counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland. He is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)