This glacier is located on the eastern side of the Karakoram range of the Himalayas. It is considered the largest source of fresh water on the Indian Subcontinent. It is also considered to be the source of the Nubra river, which is in turn, the primary source of the Indus river. The entire Siachen glacier has been in Indian administration and territory since 1984. Pakistani posts are located more than 3000 feet below as compared to the Indian posts on Saltoro ridge. The Length of the Siachen glacier is approximately 80 kilometres and 700 Square kilometres, in the area. It is the second-largest glacier in the world. The glacier falls from an altitude of about 5,700 feet above sea level.
Life at Siachen
The weather is a huge source of concern since, on both sides, soldiers are placed at about 23000 feet above sea level. The temperature in that area falls up to minus 55 degrees Celsius. Insufficient oxygen availability is a major problem because of this. The soldiers also suffer from Hypothermia and frostbites. Availability of fresh drinking water for these soldiers is also a great challenge. The main reason behind the deaths of soldiers in both countries is not the battle between the countries, but the extreme weather conditions.
The Bone of Contention
The crux of the dispute is the fact that both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty over the J&K. The Indian and the Pakistani troops are on the LoC which is on both sides of the Siachen glacier. The roots lie in the fact that there is a lack of demarcation of the cease-fire line on the map. There are many issues surrounding this. The major points of issue developed around the Siachen are the Kashmir conflict and the water distribution dispute. Moreover, the 1949 Karachi agreement, as well as the 1972 Shimla agreement, had presumed in it that it was not feasible for any human habitation to survive in this area.
World’s Highest Battlefield
India has claimed that the continued occupation of the glacier is essential to the defence of Ladakh and Leh. An agreement on the demilitarisation of the glacier seems elusive to both parties. India maintained that it should run north along the Saltoro ridge to the China border. Pakistan has insisted that it should take a northeasterly course up to the Karakoram Pass. Thus, both countries have not been able to agree on one point of view. India concluded that Pakistan was resorting to a cartographic invasion of the area. It was in the early 1980s, that India got wind of the fact, via its intelligence agency that Pakistan has purchased some HIGH-ALTITUDE fighting gear.
Anticipating a fight, India landed two platoons of soldiers on two critical passes on the Saltoro Ridge. Since then, both countries have had their soldiers deployed on different parts of the glacier in an attempt for each party to reclaim the glacier as belonging to their territory.
Operation Meghdoot in the first assault launched by Indian forces to recapture the Siachen Glacier. It was executed on 3 April 1984 & was led by Lieutenant General Prem Nath Hoon.
In 1984 Pakistan ordered a huge amount of arctic gear from the same supplier in Europe which was selling the equipment to India as well. The Indian intelligence agency detected that Pakistan was preparing for high altitude military operations.
They airdropped troops into Siachen and began the operation on 13th April 1984. In June 1987 by that time Pakistan had captured Qaid Post, a strategic location.
After 3 years of skirmishes between India & Pakistan, in 1987 India decided to reclaim the glacier. The Pakistanis position at this peak gave them a clear view of all Indian movements. Naib Subedar Bana Singh along with these men led a surprise attack and captured the Qaid post. Later he earned Param Vir Chakra for his deeds.
Ceasefire Treaty of 2003:
India and Pakistan have agreed to curb cross border violence. This is in accordance with a ceasefire treaty that was signed between the neighbours in the year 2003. This was decided after the rising tensions and loss of manpower on both sides after failing to reach a diplomatic agreement on the Siachen glacier.
Although the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) separates the Indian and Pakistani positions and no ceasefire violation has taken place since soldiers are still dying due to various other factors.
A lot of analysts are in favour of demilitarising the Siachen, given the vast loss of soldiers and military resources to this operation. However, the concern is, even if India decides to withdraw its troops from the area, Pakistan will only see it as an opportunity to seek control over the disputed territory.
A wise idea would be to reach a diplomatic agreement, approved by both parties and then proceed to withdraw all the troops from the area.
Realistically speaking; however, this has a minimal chance of actually happening, since Pakistan does not in any manner recognise that any part of the glacier belongs to India, and vice versa.
Facts about Siachen
- As the soldiers live at such a high altitude, physical problems and a number of health problems such as weight loss, loss of memory, sleeping disorders become common problems for them.
- A total of 869 Soldiers & Officers have succumbed to the hardship faced by them at Siachen Glacier.
- The army soldiers still find a way to keep themselves engaged and happy.
A brave salute to the warriors who protect our motherland.