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ID: 64523    5/18/2006 12:12    06NEWDELHI3466    Embassy New Delhi    CONFIDENTIAL    04NEWDELHI4965|05NEWDELHI2884|05NEWDELHI3745|05NEWDELHI3969|05NEWDELHI4200|05NEWDELHI7794|05NEWDELHI8012|05NEWDELHI9771|06NEWDELHI2090|06NEWDELHI2998|06NEWDELHI3334|06NEWDELHI554    "VZCZCXRO9378 OO RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHPW DE RUEHNE #3466/01 1381212 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 181212Z MAY 06 FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4046 INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2089 RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 5383 RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 5398 RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 8385 RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 2903 RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 6058 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 9933 RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8453 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3313 RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 3930 RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 3840 RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 3963 RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 2627 RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 3100 RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 3283 RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0802 RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3072 RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI RHMFISS/HQ USSOCOM MACDILL AFB FL RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC"    "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 NEW DELHI 003466

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2016 TAGS: PREL, PINR, MOPS, PGOV, PTER, PBTS, IN, PK SUBJECT: WHY IT'S TOUGH FOR INDIA TO CLIMB DOWN FROM SIACHEN

REF: A. NEW DELHI 3334 B. NEW DELHI 2998 C. NEW DELHI 2090 D. NEW DELHI 554 E. 05 NEW DELHI 9771 F. 05 NEW DELHI 8012 G. 05 NEW DELHI 7794 H. 05 NEW DELHI 4200 I. 05 NEW DELHI 3969 J. 05 NEW DELHI 3745 K. 05 NEW DELHI 2884 L. 04 NEW DELHI 4965

Classified By: Ambassador David Mulford for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)

1.  (C) Summary: Rumors of a deal on Siachen being “close” have come and gone with each iteration of the Indo-Pak Composite Dialogue (Refs A, C-L), and the coming (tenth) round of Siachen talks is no exception.  The political optics of a Siachen deal -- a territorial agreement in J&K that moves troops away from each other -- are enticing, and it would be a deliverable worthy of a possible PM Singh trip to Pakistan, as well as an issue the PM and President Musharraf short-listed during the April 2005 summit for the two sides to resolve “expeditiously” (Ref K).  While we await the outcome of May 23-24 Indo-Pak talks on Siachen to be held in Delhi, we canvassed informed journalists, think-tankers, retired military officers and Track-II participants who indicated that a breakthrough is not yet imminent for a variety of reasons, many relating to domestic politics, which we list below.  We cannot rule out the possibility of a surprise deal emerging, except to note that if it does, it will probably come not from the negotiating teams themselves but from the senior-most political levels, utilizing the SK Lambah-Tariq Aziz back-channel, which in Delhi is kept largely opaque to outsiders. Were any deal to crystallize, PM Singh would need buy-in from the Army and the BJP to avoid handing himself a political firestorm.  End Summary.

First Obstacle: Managing the Military -------------------------------------

2.  (C) Army Chief JJ Singh appears on the front page of the “Indian Express” seemingly fortnightly to tell readers the Army cannot support a withdrawal from Siachen.  Given India's high degree of civilian control over the armed forces, it is improbable that Gen. Singh could repeatedly make such statements without MoD civilians giving at least tacit approval.  Whether or not this is the case, a Siachen deal is improbable while his -- and the Army's -- opposition continues to circulate publicly.

3.  (C) Gen. Singh reiterated to reporters in Delhi on the first day of the May 2005 talks (Ref I) the importance the Indian military places on an agreed and authenticated Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) demarcating the positions currently held by Indian and Pakistani troops as a precondition to Indian Army buy-in for any deal; his position on this, which is reflected in the Foreign Ministry as well (see Para 12), has not publicly shifted.  Mapping the currently held positions would give India future justification for limited punitive action, should Pgkistan reneg on an agreement to withdraw its forces.  Authentication will also prove that the Indian Army is in possession of the main glacier and ridgeline, versus Pakistan holding the Lower Saltoro Ridge.  Mapping positions could also affect a future agreement on alignment of the LoC (and perhaps a soft border) north of marker NJ9842, which is the last codified point on the LoC per the 1972 Simla Agreement.

4.  (C) One theory advanced by some local Indo-Pak watchers is that Gen. Singh has been the willing foil for PM Singh, allowing Indian negotiators to point to his well-publicized opposition as a bargaining ploy to maintain a firm stance on AGPL in talks with Islamabad.  Any deal the PM cuts would then receive the Army's blessing, goes the RUMINT, thereby muting some of the domestic opposition and demonstrating the PM's courage in “facing down” the Army.

Better Conditions for Troops Hardens India's Stance ... --------------------------------------------- ----------

5.  (C) One oft-heard argument supporting a deal is that India spends more incrementally to transport, feed, supply, and arm its troops than does Pakistan, due to Pakistan's ability to service its logistics needs by road vice India's requirement for air supply.  This imbalance has become easier for the GOI to shoulder, in recent years, however -- India's economic strength has grown significantly due to its own economic liberalization policies, which makes funding Siachen and the improvement of logistical infrastructure at Siachen easier.  The Army now claims it suffers no weather- or terrain-related fatalities, and still issues incentive pay to soldiers billeted there -- fatalities aside, the environment there remains harsh.  The Army says the Siachen presence costs 3,000 crore Rupees per year (USD 670 million), which is a small sum when compared to the entire Indian defense budget.

... As Does Considering the Costs Already Borne --------------------------------------------- --

6.  (C) Opponents to a Siachen deal point not only to today's more hospitable operating environment, they also revisit publicly the human and financial costs the Indian Army has already borne to seize and keep the high ground.  Major Generam (ret.) Ashok Mehta -- who incidentally supports a deal -- recently noted in the BJP-affiliated daily “The Pioneer” that India has suffered “650 fatal and 19,500 non-fatal (Siachen-related) casualties.”  While moderates use these figures as reason to make a deal more palatable, hardliners use them to impassion the masses to ensure that these soldiers did not die in vain: “Why did we send so many soldiers to die there only to hand it back?” goes the refrain.

Coalition Management Not an Issue ... -------------------------------------

7.  (C) Fortunately for the PM, Congress' coalition partners are unlikely to obstruct a Siachen deal.  The most vocal and difficult to manage UPA partner, the Left parties, generally favor policies that promote Indo-Pak rapprochement and cutting the defense budget; demilitarizing Siachen would likely advance both these goals.

... But the Opposition Would Obstruct ... -----------------------------------------

8.  (SBU) BJP Rajya Sabha Opposition Leader Jaswant Singh publicly laid out four preconditions for his party's support of a deal:

-- Inviolability of the confirmed AGPL

-- A Pakistani commitment not to reoccupy military positions subsequent to a pull-out

-- No Pakistan Army terrain advantage over the Indian Army after any demilitarization

-- A timetable to clean up the glacier of accumulated waste and military hardware

(COMMENT: The first three items, should they be delivered, could be very subjectively interpreted by the BJP as being insufficient should the party deem it politically advantageous to do so.  End Comment.)  BJP players have complained to us privately that Congress has refused to provide any kind of briefing on Indo-Pak plans, raising the odds of a political backlash.

9.  (C) Any Siachen compromise would give the BJP a political cudgel to wield against the UPA government.  BJP and Hindutva firebrands would spin any deal, including the creation of a DMZ, as being a territorial concession.  The BJP's mantra would most likely follow the formulation, “Congress gave to Musharraf that which he could not take from us by force or by stealth.”  The BJP would remind the public that Siachen -- indeed, all of J&K -- belong to India, and that Pakistani provocation had sparked the war at 22,000 feet, not India.  The fact that Pakistan launched the 1999 Kargil mini-war in a bid to cut the main Siachen supply line -- and the BJP's success in that era -- only adds to the political tinder.... and No Signs Emerging From Congress Ministers --------------------------------------------- ----

10.  (C) Lack of a vocal constituency that specifically supports a Siachen deal (countered by the potential backlash against one) make a dovish approach politically costly. Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a written response to a Parliamentary question on May 11 (Ref A) replied “There is no decision at present to pull out troops from Siachen area. India's position on this issue is that authentication of the presently held positions has to be the first step before any redeployment of troops is considered.”

GOI May Be Hardening Further Post-Doda --------------------------------------

11.  (C) The GOI will be ever more reluctant to appear to be caving in to terrorism following the massacre of 35 Hindus in Doda April 30-May 1 (Ref B).  Mukherjee, speaking on May 9 after a day-long visit to the two massacre-hit villages in Doda, Jammu, told reporters “We are not talking ob demilitarization from Jammu and Kashmir ... If attacks by terrorists on soft targets continue, we will numerically enhance troop presence.  Terrorists have stepped up senseless killings and we have to induct more troops to make the people secure.”  Mukherjee reiterated the GOI,s call for Pakistan President Musharraf to live up to his promise not to let Pakistani territory be used by terrorists, claimed the GOI had evidence of 59 terrorist training camps operating in Pakistani Kashmir, and called on Islamabad to eradicate those camps.  With this rhetoric in the public record, and the Doda massacres fresh in people's minds here, GOI concessions on Siachen will be much harder to sell politically.

Insiders Not Likely to Facilitate a Deal ----------------------------------------

12.  (C) The Indian bureaucracy, never known as a well-spring for innovation, has come around to be more accommodating on Indo-Pak CBMs but retains a hard-line approach to Indo-Pak territorial issues.  “There is no question of a deal without authentication,” MEA Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) Dilip Sinha told us recently (Ref A).  Sinha had previously noted to us that there was no trust in Delhi regarding Siachen “post-Kargil” and that “1989 and 1992 are in the past,” referring to two prior occasions when a deal on Siachen appeared imminent (Ref J).  Former Defense Secretary NN Vohra similarly harkened back to when he led the Indian delegation in the 1992 Siachen talks, saying that the two sides were “an hour away” at the time from signing an agreement, but that was not the case after the Kargil war (Ref L).

13.  (C) A key insider whose buy-in would be critical is NSA MK Narayanan.  Our wealth of experience with Narayanan since he assumed the NSA mantle suggests to us he is perhaps the polar opposite to his predecessor, JN Dixit; on Indo-Pak matters, Dixit was known for his creative thinking and can-do approach, Narayanan (particularly in the security arena) remains ever the cop, more comfortable listing reasons not to trust Pakistan President Musharraf than on crafting an arrangement to negate those concerns.  On the other hand, Narayanan is a veteran of the Indo-Pak Track-II circuit, where just about every Siachen permutation has been tested out.

Pundits Battling it Out in the Press ------------------------------------

14.  (C) In the run-up to the Composite Dialogue, the Indian press has been awash with hawkish and dovish editorials on Siachen.  For every C Raja Mohan, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Ashok Mehta, and Lt. Gen. (ret) ML Chibber (the officer who was responsible for India seizing the upper ridge in 1984) supporting a deal, the hardliners throw up former Vice Army Chief Lt. General (ret.) Vijay Oberoi, former High Commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarthy, former RAW chief Vikram Sood, and retired RAW officer B Raman.  The themes among the hawks include all those listed above, plus a reluctance to trust President Musharraf (now charitably described as “the Architect of Kargil” vice the prior sobriquet “the Butcher of Kargil”) or the Pakistan Army; the objective reality that it would be easier for the Indian Army to hold the position it now possesses than to try to re-take it should Islamabad make a land-grab; and the understanding that India holds the high ground politically, economically, and militarily, and does not need to climb down.  In fact, Siachen has become a much harder nut to crack post-Kargil. NDTV Defense Correspondent Colonel (ret.) Ajay Shukla noted that “Leaving is easy, returning if necessary is well-nigh impossible.”

Press Window into Back-Channel ------------------------------

15.  (C) Both the MEA and Ambassador Lambah believe religiously that the back-channel can work only if it remains in the background, and neither has been forthcoming to us on Lambah's meetings with Pakistani NSA Tariq Aziz.  Our one window into this initiative is a remark by Major General Mehta that the two met in Dubai to hammer out a Siachen compromise: the GOI would attach the AGPL as an annexure, which the GOP would accept without authentication, according to Mehta.  The second part of the arrangement would be the GOI endorsing copies of the AGPL-demarcated map with NEW DELHI 00003466  005 OF 005 satellite photographs to the UN and the international community as a public back-up, he continued.  We cannot independently corroborate this formulation with our GOI interlocutors, however.

Comment: Signposts That a Deal Is In The Works --------------------------------------------- -

16.  (C) An Indo-Pak deal on Siachen may come as a surprise deliverable, more likely to be announced during a much-talked-about PM Singh summer visit to Pakistan than after the May 23-24 bilateral talks in Delhi.  However, because of the obstacles listed above, the GOI will probably try to lay down the political groundwork first.  The most telling signpost indicating the GOI is preparing the country for such an announcement would be Gen. Singh publicly adopting a neutral (or supportive) position on a Siachen deal to signal in advance that the Army is on board, and that the GOI no longer needs to point to Army concerns to explain why a deal is not possible.  Narayanan and the PM reassuring the public through media interviews that any deal would guarantee Indian security, buttressed by similar statements by the Defense and Home Ministers, would be another clear and strong signal.  We continue to hope for a breakthrough in this arena, but we will not be surprised if progress here remains glacial.

17.  (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/) MULFORD "