Is the Pakistan Army brave enough to make peace?

By Sunil S

Sometime in the early morning hours of April 7th, a massive avalanche completely wiped out the Pakistan Army’s battalion headquarters (BHQ) at Ghyari. An estimated 150 jawans and officers of the 6th Northern Light Infantry regiment’s High Altitude Acclimated (HAA) reserve company were buried under 80 feet of snow there. All hope of rescuing the people trapped relies on the chance that there is a pocket of air that has become trapped under the snow and somehow the Pakistan Army can reach the accommodation quarters. From news reports the Americans are at hand with some kind of ground penetrating radar, trying to locate this pocket of air. The Germans and the Swiss have sent in cadaver dogs and experts in avalanche rescue. Teams from China are also in the area. The commanders of the 323rd brigade at Dansam and the garrison at Goma have rushed all available equipment and men to Ghyari to assist in relief efforts. As there aren’t enough helicopters in the area, additional assets from PA Aviation’s reserves and from the Strategic Plans Divisions dedicated helicopter force have been sent to Ghyari to help with air mobility. Air mobility is limited greatly by the unpredictable weather at these altitudes.

The landslide covered approximately a kilometre of the road west of the Goma garrison with 40-80 feet of snow and snapped a vital line of communication for Pakistani defensive positions on the Saltoro ridge line. At present, all Pakistani positions west of Ghyari – i.e. posts on the Bilafond, Grahmalumba, Ali Bragnsa and Chumik Glaciers are  cut off from their supply route. The entire middle of the Pakistani defence line on the Saltoro ridge has been effectively hollowed out. Rescue and relief efforts at Ghyari are draining manpower reserves at the Goma garrison and at the Gyong advance base. The Pakistani posture on the glacier has never been weaker.

The military situation on the Saltoro ridge is often described as a stalemate. In reality Pakistan has so far had a very large logistical advantage. Having lost most of the heights to Indian Army operations, the Pakistanis sit on lower altitudes, and resupplying Pakistani posts is relatively easier than supplying Indian posts. Paved roads lead from the airport at Skardu to the Brigade HQ at Dansam and from there to the Battalion HQs at Ghyari and Goma. Goma acts as a support position for the advance base on the Gyong glacier and it acts as a way point for transit to Ghyari. Ghyari is the base camp for all Pakistani positions along the middle of the Saltoro Ridge.  From Goma and Ghyari it is possible to use pack animals to reach the Gyong advance base and the Ali Bragnsa base camp. Typically it is a fifteen day trek from the Ghyari BHQ or the Goma garrison to Pakistani forward positions on the glaciers. As long as you can get supplies to the post, absent shelling from the Indian Army, for the Pakistanis life is easy on the Saltoro ridgeline.India has a much harder time resupplying the positions on the glacier as all lines of communications have to cross the Siachen glacier itself. Over the last two decades improvements and developments at the Dzingruluma camp at the southern tip of the Siachen glacier have greatly reduced the advantage of the Goma-Gyong advance base supply line. This has enabled India to secure its hold on the Gyong pass, and hold the southern end of the Saltoro range. However despite all this, the route to India’s positions in the middle of the Saltoro range is much more tortured than its Pakistani counterpart and it costs far more in terms of lives and money – that is until April 7th 2012. With Ghyari gone, the Pakistani logistical advantage in the middle of the Saltoro range is gone.

The most critical supply commodity is of course, kerosene. Without kerosene the soldiers will not have water to drink, heat to cook food and keep themselves warm. In normal circumstances, without water, food and warmth, morale collapses and the mental strength of the soldiers fails. As if that is not enough at such low temperatures, metal tends to contract, and lubricants tend to become ineffective. Even high quality weapons unless heated on a kerosene stove become cold-locked – their metal parts shrunk into dimensions beyond the tolerances laid out by the manufacturers. If you have an artillery piece on the glaciers, you have to heat it with a kerosene stove and fire it a few times regularly just to make sure it stays operational. The artillery shells do not follow their usual trajectories, as the winds and the low air densities at high altitudes affect the motion of the shell. Add to this the lack of oxygen in the high altitude air, unpredictable weather shifts and psychological impact of living in claustrophobic and confined spaces and the military effectiveness of soldiers under such conditions without adequate supplies is extremely low.

For the highest posts, there is a “last mile” problem. Usually if time permits, the troops carry the supplies up to the post themselves, if time is short – Allouete (IAF designation – Cheetah) helicopters are used. These are special versions, stripped down of excess weight and piloted by experts with a lot of experience flying in the region, they can typically lift jerrycans filled with kerosene to high altitudes. As the altitudes are at the limit of the helicopter’s endurance, a lot depends on weather conditions, and in summer, the air conditions make it impossible to lift more than one jerrycan per helicopter trip. This is an insanely expensive way to move fuel.

Fighting the Saltoro war was always expensive, and the Pakistanis never ceased to gripe about it. While the Indian Army took its losses with the grace and stoicism of a honourable warrior, the Pakistani Army went around the world giving interviews about how pointless the war was: how “poor India” could never afford such a war and that how “poor Pakistan” was only there because India had nefarious intentions there. A lot of peace activists bought into this. In my opinion these were false tears, a carefully managed PR campaign by the Pakistan Army to deflect responsibility for the escalation in the region – to draw attention away from the fact that the Pakistanis had attempted to annex the area by manipulating the US Defence Mapping Agency’s resources.

In order to keep the money flowing for this costly misadventure, the Pakistani Army manufactured all manner of legends to camouflage its terrible losses on the ridge line. Pakistani civilians were told stories of great bravery and fantastic victories by its brave army men. So significant was the Pakistani Army propaganda campaign, that even when the negotiations for de-escalation on the ridge line began the Pakistani Army refused to allow the actual ground position line (AGPL) to the demarcated. Demarcating the AGPL would expose the fraud that the Pakistan Army inflicted on its nation for the last two decades. The Govt. of India simply didn’t see the point in negotiations where the line would not be demarcated and that is where the last round of negotiations on this stalled. After  the avalanche at Ghyari, the cost to keep the Pakistan Army on the Saltoro ridge just went up ten fold and it unlikely that even the highly gullible people like Zaid Hamid in the Pakistan will be willing to buy into the Army’s lies at this point.

This is the predicament that the Pakistani Army on the Saltoro ridge finds itself in today.

If the Indian Army was feeling particularly bloody minded, it would simply start shelling the Pakistani positions at this time. The smarter Pakistanis on the ridge line would surrender or abandon their posts. The stupider ones would attempt to return fire on India’s positions and exhaust what little fuel there remains at their disposal – and then die of thirst, hunger and frost bite. As the actual ground position line (AGPL) has never been officially demarcated, the IAF would be within its rights to launch air raids across it. These acts by the Indian Army would force the Pakistani Army into a very public surrender. After the Abbotabad raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, the Pakistani Army’s position in Pakistani society is quite precarious. Another public failure like this and the Pakistan Army would be torn to shreds by its Jihadis and ultra-nationalistic chums. The ensuing bloodbath would corrode the power of the “Deep State” in Pakistan like never before.This little push on the Saltoro ridge could go a long way in ensuring that authoritarian forces in Pakistan are kept on the back foot for a decade or two. There would of course be yet another post 1971 style anti-India hangover in Pakistan.and but at the present time we would have the certainty of what some might term an immoral but tangible peace. This seems ridiculously easy to do right now and it would be a particularly sweet payback for the Kargil intrusion. That is the easy path – the expedient path.

Then there is the harder path, the braver path – chosen by Sri Manmohan Singh himself. Despite all the insults that the Pakistan Army has heaped on him – despite the fact that COAS Ashfaq Pervez Kayani ignored Sri.Singh’s request to send the head of the ISI to New Delhi after the 26/11 attacks – Sri. Singh has found a Buddha like grace in his heart and offered the Pakistani Army an olive branch. A lesser man than him would have simply asked the boys on the glacier to start the music and had the Bofors belch fire on Pakistani positions – but Sri. Singh has offered to help Pakistan cope with the Ghyari situation. India has the HAA reserves and the Cheetah helicopters that Pakistan vitally needs to keep its army men on the ridge from dying. This is an act of immense compassion that can only come from someone steeped in the deepest traditions of Dharma. Only one sufficiently brave to see an adversary as a human being is capable of such an act of kindness. This offer underscores India’s commitment to peace in the region and beyond.

Will the Pakistani Army be brave enough to accept his offer?

If the Pakistani Army officially accepts the offer,  Pakistani troops on the ridge line will be able to approach Indian posts for assistance under a white flag.As the position at which such a contact will have to recorded per standard military protocols, the AGPL will be effectively demarcated and the biggest hurdle in the negotiations to peace in the region will be removed. COAS Kayani will go down in history as the man who revolutionised India-Pak relations. Having saved the lives of countless Pakistanis, he would surpass his former mentor General Musharraf in measurable greatness.

If the Pakistani Army does not officially accept the offer, the consequences should be quite obvious.

Note – A decade or so ago, the author wrote a scenario about the destruction of the BHQ at Ghyari. In the scenario, titled, “Operation Teram Shehr”, the author spoke an Indian Army missile attack that would level Ghyari and bring peace to the region. What the Indian Army could not bring itself to do, Allah Ta’ala has done with a mere thought. Per Balti legends, Teram Shehr is the name of a town populated by Yarkandi bandits that attacked and looted Balti villagers. The harried Baltis appealed to Mullah Hazrat Amir, a local Muslim saint who placed a magical amulet on the mouth of the Bilafond pass. Soon after this, the will of Allah sent a dreadful avalanche to the town and wiped it off the face of this earth. By some strange coincidence, the alleged site of the mythical Teram Shehr – is today home to one of the largest Indian Army bases on the body of the glacier.

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5 Responses to Is the Pakistan Army brave enough to make peace?

  1. Narayan A.K April 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Shri Manmohan’s grace will be as usual mistaken for cowardice. If it was America instead of us, they would have done exactly what the author suggested, i.e to start the shelling now and force a surrender. But we come from a culture which does not do this. And again the Pakistanis will thank that it the grace of their god and cowardice of the “infidels” for this largesse.

  2. Sunil S April 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Dear Narayan A.K,

    Something has changed between yesterday and today.

    I strongly suspect they have found their fuel cache in Ghyari to be undamaged. It will be dangerous and difficult to draw fuel from it, but some fuel as opposed to no fuel is a morale booster.

    If they can find the bodies then by padding the return of the bodies to the villages with a few cash handouts they will be able to deflect the local anger.

    It will take them longer to build back up to strength, so they may be able to make a fraction of their summer resupply commitments. I will be very surprised if they are prepared to last the winter. I think at the very least they will have trouble with casevac of HACE and HAPO victims. There was a medical facility at Ghyari – the losses to these will go up. They will have to thin down presence at posts above 18k feet.

    It is highl likely they will enter into a peace process and drag this out as long as possible to deflect the possibility of a serious beating at the hands of the Indian Army until they have had time to recover from the shock of losing Ghyari.

    Incidentally in their opeds they now claim that India did this kind of thing after Operation Ibex in 1989 – i.e. enter into a negotiation, and then gradually back out of any commitments. In their imaginary world India’s decision to abandon Operation Ibex was the result of Lt. Naveed ur Rehman’s bravery on Naveed Top. In fantasy land India the brave Lt. Naveed held the post against Indian Army attack and the Hindus lost heart and gave up and entered into a negotiation.

    When someone has inhaled so much of their own propaganda – there is little room for reality to enter into their brain.

    The whining about the cost of the war is a scam. They don’t really care about the cost of the war in lives or money.

  3. S. Suchindranath Aiyer April 22, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Is India ducking another opportune moment of History? India’s political leadership is very well versed in mulcting the country through such means as Governance and Public Sector (e.g. Air India). This seems to have set the tone (and the limits to their grasp on defense and international affairs).

  4. Sunil S April 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    I don’t know if GoI is “ducking” anything.

    The destruction at Ghyari is a material shift in the situation on the ground in the Saltoro war.

    This shift is likely to significantly reduce the Pakistan Army’s ability to support its positions on the Saltoro ridge. There will be a supply crunch in the Pakistani positions in the middle of the Saltoro Range.

    Given enough time the Pakistanis will likely re-establish the supply line albeit at a very high cost in money and men. In order to buy enough time, the Pakistan Army will have to pretend to enter into peace negotiations and then weasel out of any commitments it has made in the negotiations when the supply line is re-established.

    The Pakistan Army appears to be inclined to do this as it cannot afford another public failure, it is another question if the rest of Pakistan will let them pull this stunt.

    The challenge is to achieve peace under these conditions.

    If people have some ideas – then I am keen to hear them.

    Criticism of GoI is very easy – offering meaningful policy ideas is a lot harder.

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  1. Siachen Glacier - Page 8 - April 23, 2012

    [...] the relevant portions here, but the whole article is a must read and one for the archives. Is the Pakistan Army brave enough to make peace? By Sunil S … The landslide covered approximately a kilometre of the road west of the Goma [...]

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