Gayari (Siachen): Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s reiteration on Thursday for more confidence building measures (CBMs) between Pakistan and India seemed more intended for Indian ears than the former.
In a way, Kayani’s third visit to Gayari where 139 men of the 6th Northern Light Infantry were buried alive in an avalanche on April 7 indicated a CBM of sorts. It was the first time that an Indian journalist Aneeta Joshua of daily The Hindu, was taken to a forward position that is a mere 3.5 miles away from combat posts at Siachen. She was barred from visiting even the twin city of Rawalpindi in the last two years since she had been posted in Islamabad. In the changing circumstances, Aneeta was allowed to travel the entire breadth of Gilgit-Baltistan that her country disputes as part of Pakistan.
The COAS chose the occasion to also reiterate his call for demilitarisation of Siachen. In Pakistan, he said in response to a question, the idea got across-the-board support. ìIt has been received positively in India also except with some ifs and buts. That is understandable because there have to be CBMs between the two countries and then we have to move forward. Let’s hope we can move forward.
He referred to a peaceful resolution of the issue for the third time in a month but pointed out that there had been a regression in the talks after India shifted its goalpost. He said the two countries were close to a resolution in 1989 by agreeing to authenticate [ground positions] in the northern most point of the LoC (technically known as NJ 9842). However, India has changed phraseology by asking for demarcation of the Line of Control (LoC) at the last defence secretary-level talks on Siachen.
He re-emphasised that he was all for a peaceful resolution but short of that we will do what we are supposed to do — fighting, that is. The presence of Aneeta Joshua, it seemed, was to convey the message to her one billion countrymen back home.
She may be the only Indian to see this picturesque part of Pakistan that boasts four out of the top 10 highest peaks in the world, not to mention the theatre of war from behind the enemy lines. Wearing the specialised white gear worn by soldiers in this oxygen-deficient environment, where more people die of frostbite than combat, her inquisitiveness was palpable. She asked a Pakistani colleague if she could take a few photographs. Well, you have not been stopped.
She was not even stopped from sitting with her Pakistani counterparts in the official meeting that had the cream of Pakistan Army. The COAS himself opened up the discussion describing the harsh circumstances in which soldiers had to operate. He said he could not help sharing his thoughts as he had served as the GOC and then corp commander in-charge of that area.
The local commander could not resist saying that the confidential briefing was meant for the chief and he did not expect journalists (let alone an Indian one) to be there. It turned out to be a good presentation but was hardly the material that one cannot Google.
It was an awkward situation for the troops if not shocking to find an enemy within their midst. An army officer almost fell in disbelief when he realised in the middle of a conversation about the combat situation that one of his audiences was an Indian. A soldier was asked if he had seen an Indian before. ìNot on our side of the border, he responded frankly while staring at Aneeta as if she was a different specie.
Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, when asked about this, dismissed the linkage between Aneeta’s presence and the chief’s statement on India as far-fetched. He said the focus of the visit was to bring the father of Major Zaka, who lay buried in the rubble, to see the effort by the army to recover the bodies. Aneeta’s visit is part of Armyís campaign to open up,î he said while pointing out that the Pakistan Army had already taken Indian journalists to trouble spots like Chakoti in Azad Kashmir and Swat. May be we are more confident than the Indians about our case.”