Demilitarisation of Siachen – AOC-in-C for sector-by-sector approach

Vijay Mohan Tribune News Service Thoise, May 11, 2006 Suggesting a sector-by-sector demilitarization of Siachen Glacier, the world?s highest battlefield, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command, Air Marshal S.K. Singh, said that first both sides must arrive at a broad policy agreement on the issue. ??Once a decision is made in principle, things can be worked out further on a sector-by-sector basis,?? he said while addressing media persons at Thoise Airfield, the launching pad for air operations in Siachen. The Siachen glacier consists of five sub-sectors. Since the Indian Army moved to occupy the frozen heights in 1984, India and Pakistan had been involved in regular fire fights till November 2003, when a mutually agreed upon ceasefire was implemented along the Line of Control. ??The two-and-a-half-year-long ceasefire is a major respite. This, coupled with other confidence building measures is leading us towards a solution to the issue of demilitarisation of the area,?? Air Marshal Singh said. ??If that solution completes the picture then we can impose it or put it in place piece by piece,?? he added. ??If demilitarisation does take place, the role of the Air Force in the region would be reduced, but by no means would it be over,?? he said. ??Some troops would always be positioned in the area to man certain posts and it would be for the IAF to maintain them,?? he added. The WAC chief also ruled out relying totally on technology for surveillance in the post-demilitarisation era. ??Unmanned aerial vehicles and remote surveillance equipment can only be used partially in this sector because it is difficult to control them under extreme weather and climatic conditions,?? Air Marshal Singh said. ??Technology can never completely replace human assets,?? he added On the issue of the 1999 Kargil conflict, he denied there was any delay on the part of the IAF to launch air operations against the Pakistani intruders. On the question of Gen V P Malik?s recently released book on the conflict, Air Marshal Singh said that it does not match official records. ??The book contains his individual viewpoints and there are several dichotomies in it,?? he remarked. General Malik was the Chief of the Army during the conflict, while Air Marshal Sing was Air-I WAC, in charge of the IAF operations. Air Marshal Singh also stressed upon the need for setting up an Aerospace Command. ??We are fast moving towards space and require an aerospace command, which should include agencies like ISRO and HAL,?? he said. Besides air maintenance, the IAF is also assisting the Army in counter insurgency operations. ??At any given time, we have two fully armed Mi-17s, equipped with guns, rockets, night vision goggles and search and rescue equipment on stand-by at Doda,?? the Air Marshal said. The Leh and Thoise airfields have also been made fully fighter aircraft capable and aircraft come there regularly for exercises.

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