India ‘not averse’ to demilitarisation of Siachen glacier: military boss

NEW DELHI: The threat China poses to India has by no means diminished despite partial disengagement along the two countries’ de facto border, the Indian army chief said.

“War or conflict is always an instrument of last resort. But if resorted to, we will come out victorious,” asserted Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane at a virtual press conference ahead of India’s Army Day on Saturday.

Underlining that the Indian Army would deal with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China in a firm manner as it maintains maximum operational preparedness along its northern borders, Naravane said New Delhi would at the same time engage with the neighbouring military through dialogue.

He noted the Indian military had increased its force levels in the region since a military standoff in 2020 and that this would continue this year, as well.

The two countries were engaged in a face-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — the de facto border between China and India in the disputed territory of Ladakh in the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir.

Tensions soared in June 2020 after at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in a border clash in the region.

Though the situation calmed after several rounds of talks, the two sides are yet to reach a resolution and have increased military deployment along the border.

However, there have been positive developments along the country’s northern and western borders since January last year as Indian forces have engaged with Chinese troops through dialogue, he said.

When asked about the 14th round of military dialogue with China, which began on Wednesday, he expressed optimism on the resolution of difficulties at Patrolling Point 15 in eastern Ladakh, from where Chinese troops moved out in 2020 as part of disengagement efforts at the border.

However, China urged the Indian army chief to “refrain from unconstructive remarks.”

“China and India are working through diplomatic and military channels to ease border tension. We hope individual personnel from India will refrain from making unconstructive remarks,” Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, told a news conference in Beijing on Thursday.

Tensions with Pakistan

Speaking on tensions with long-time rival Pakistan, Naravane said there had been an increase in the concentration of “terrorists” in various areas, from which he said they have launched “repeated infiltration attempts which have once again exposed the nefarious designs of our western neighbour.”

“We have resolved to show ‘zero tolerance’ on terror,” he said.

The army chief added that India was not “averse to the demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier”, the world’s highest battlefield in the Himalayan region, that has claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers.

“We are not averse to the demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier, but the precondition for that is Pakistan’s acceptance of the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL),” said Naravane, claiming the dispute on Siachen “occurred because of Pakistan’s unilateral attempts.”

Troops from Pakistan and India militaries have been stationed at Siachen since 1984. Successive talks on de-militarisation have so far failed to defuse the stalemate.

India wants the current position of the two countries’ troops be accepted for de-militarisation to occur, though Pakistan has rejected this.

Disputed region

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is held by Pakistan and India in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir.

Their troops have also fought intermittently in the northern Siachen region since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.

Pro-freedom groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or for unification with Pakistan.

According to human rights organisations, thousands have been killed in the conflict since 1989.

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