The Siachen Glacier is located in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalaya Mountains at about , just east of the Line of Control between India-Pakistan. Pakistan and India controls Siachen Glacier , including all tributary glaciers. At 70 km (43 mi) long, it is the longest glacier in the Karakoram and second-longest in the world’s non-polar areas. It falls from an altitude of 5,753 m (18,875 ft) above sea level at its head at Indira Col on the China border down to 3,620 m (11,875 ft) at itsterminus.
The glacier’s region is the highest battleground on earth, where India and Pakistan have fought intermittently since April 1984 when the Indians tried to occupy the part of glacier situated in Pakistan. Both countries maintain permanent military presence in the region at a height of over 6,000 metres (20,000 ft). The site is one of the most eminent examples of mountain warfare.Both India and Pakistan have wished to disengage from the costly military outposts.
An Indian author writes
Pakistan Army is suffering much less in Siachen Glacier because of following reasons:
– Lesser number of Pakistani troops are operating in Siachin.
– Pakistanis are on lower peaks/area so height is less and weather in not that harsh. At last less causalities.
– Pakistanis have built roads up to their camps in the region so they are not using helicopters like Indians, so less crashes.
– Pakistan Army is not involved in counter insurgency operations like Indian Army haling 1 million troops deployed for such operations – Pak Army can change troops more frequently, so no prolonged exposure.
Pak Amry never tried to capture those inhospitable barren heights. Indian Army occupied the area and adjoining peaks in early eighties, so Indian intrusion was done in utter negation of Simla Ageement – asking both the Countries to respect status quo on LoC.
I started this topic, because I guess the biggest factor hampering the issue of Kashmir was the maintainability of Simla Agreement which is primarily the cause of anger amongst the two nations, as to who actually did broke the agreement and I guess Siachen is a major factor of discussion in breaking the agreement. In fact if you go through the link which i gave from Indian embassy in US, it says that Kargil operation was primarily suspected to have been aimed at occupying Siachen only, so I guess before discussing Kashmir (which boils down to reliability of Indian and Pakistani governments) we should actually discuss the reliability of the two governments.
Pakistan never claimed Siachin territory prior to Indian occupation. Some expeditions proceeding to that area got permission from Pakistan and some from India before 83-84.
Indian occupation in early eighties provided an opportunity to Pak Army to engage a sizable strength of Indian Army in the glaciered region on freezing heights.
Indians are maintaining large force and then supporting the force’s logistic through means of light weight helicopters – lot many get crashed because of bad weather and were shot down by Pak Army as well.
Keeping forces at Siachen is huge multifarious drain for Indian Army. If Indian Army could be forced to pay huge price by keeping a check on it with minimal force and that too at relatively better atmospheric condition – what goes of Pak Army. After all, Indian Army is an enemy army. Real interest of Pak Army is to keep Indian Army at Siachen as long as possible “”
This can explain the nature of extreme war. There has been no fighting on Siachen since late 2003, when a ceasefire came into effect between Indian and Pakistani troops. Since 1984, the “snow-warriors” of India and Pakistan had been locked in supremacy for the control of Siachen glacier. Its inhospitable terrain has taken heavy toll of men and resources on both sides. The world’s highest battlefield, for two decades India and Pakistan fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in minus 60ºC temperatures.
Estimates of the troop deployments vary. One estimate suggested that both sides deploy about 3,000 soldiers, while another reports that a total of some 10,000 troops are deployed on each side of the Line of Actual Control. According to a third estimate Pakistan maintains three battalions on the glacier, while India has seven battalions defending Siachen.
The Pakistanis can resupply most of their posts by road and pack mule. At their forward positions, some as high as 21,000 feet, the Indians must rely on helicopters.
At one time, one Pakistani soldier was killed every fourth day, while one Indian soldier was killed every other day. Over 1,300 Pakistani soldiers died on Siachen between 1984 and 1999. According to Indian estimates, this operation had cost India over Rs. 50 billion and almost 2,000 personnel casualties till 1997. Almost all of the casualties on both sides have been due to extreme weather conditions.
Siachen is of extreme strategic importance: it commands the only passes from China and Pakistan into Ladakh. Indian occupation of this land prevents China from potentially aiding Pakistan in any conflict in the area, prevents Chinese outflanking in Ladakh, and prevents Pakistan from cutting off northern Ladakh from the rest of India
Indian Soldiers on patrol at 4,900 meters near India’s Forward Logistics Base above the Siachen
In April 1984, the Indian Army in an operation code-named MEGHOOT (“Cold Messenger”) airlifted a battalion from the Kumaon Regiment and Ladakh Scouts onto the glacier, and a platoon on each of the two key northern passes, Bilafond La and Sia La, in the Saltoro Range just west of Siachen.
As Siachen Glacier is an integral part of Baltistan, a region in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, Pakistan responded quickly to forestall Indian agression and foil the Indian attempt at using the passes over glacier to invade and occupy more territory. The Indian occupation of Siachen Glacier also threatens the Karakoram Highway (the old “Silk Route”), which is a major road linking Pakistan to China at the Khunjerab Pass. By its strong resolve and determination Pakistan has thus prevented future Indian aggression in the region. Tracing back the annals of history, Siachen has always been part of Pakistan since independence in 1947. Mountaineering and trekking expeditions to the Siachen area routinely applied for, and obtained authorization by the government of Pakistan. The renowed American journalist, Martin A. Sugarman in his book “Siachen – War Above the Clouds” quotes many examples and authorities which prove Pakistan’s possession and its claims over the area. According to Mr Sugarman, “As early as 1957, the imperial College of London asked Pakistani authorities for permission to send an expedition to Siachen. Many other international expeditions, including one by an Austrian team (in 1961) and three by Japanese groups (in 1962, 1975 and 1976), sought Pakistani authorization to visit Siachen’s nearby mountain peaks and glaciers. In addition, many international mountaineering and trekking journals and guidebooks refer to Pakistan as the governmental authority in the Siachen area”.
American and British maps and atlases including the Britannica Atlas, the National Geographic Society’s Atlas of the World, The Times Atlas of the World, and the University of Chicago’s Historical Atlas of South Asia” – show the Ceasefire Line/Line of Control running from NJ 9842 in a straight path northeastward to the Karakoram Pass on the Chinese border, with Siachen Glacier clearly inside Pakistan”.
View from Sher post, a high altitude Pakistani forward position.
Pak Army soldiers walk above their post at a height of 18,655 feet, soldiers generally spend 90 days at a high altitude base before descending.
3 o’clock .. Time to wake up the Indians.
Ever since the Indian aggression in 1984, soldiers of the Pakistan Army stand vigil against invasion in areas characterized by a very hostile enviroment: high and vast mountains and large glacial expanses; altitudes of around 6,000m and above; temperatures that fall to -50°C in winters, further accentuated by the wind chill factor; frequent and harsh blizzards that blow away, separate or bury tents, stores and shelters. In these areas, traditional measures for security and information cannot be carried out because men and equipment cannot be carried out because men and equipment cannot move about freely. Traditional solutions and practices as regards weapons, equipment and doctrines are unsuitable, for nowhere else in the world have such conditions been encountered. Military operations take on completely new dimensions, further compounded by the effects of high altitude and a deepening sense of isolation.
The gradients in this region are extremely steep and the valleys very narrow. Vast glaciers, which give birth to fast-flowing streams and rivers, are hemmed in the valleys. The glaciers are the only avenues of movement along their medial moraines; these routes, however, are only fit for foot movement as loose snow and numerous crevasses make cross-country movement almost impossible. Snowfall during winters and the melting of ice durring summers cause continuous changes on the glacial surface and within it. Due to extremely low temperatures and frequent storms and blizzards, survival is possible only with special clothing, equipment and accommodation. Summers are very mild, and altitudes above 4,500m remain snow-bound throughout the year.
Foot movement is equally slow and fatiguing. To traverse about 25km beyond 4,200m requires fice to six days of walking. On ice surfaces its is even slower and cumbersome, with speed reduced to 100m in 15-20 minutes with two-three minutes rest after every five minutes. Beyond 5,400m, more frequent halts for rest become necessary; a person not properly acclimatized takes much longer, and is always a liability for the group. Altitude also has a telling effect on the porters who can barely manage a 15-20kg load beyond 5,400m – and that too with a day/two days rest after each trip. A soldier’s combat load also has to be correspondingly reduced, with the attendant loss of operational efficiency and selfreliance.
Helicopter operations are also adversely affected. Due to the rarefied atmosphere, varying temperatures and unpredictable wind conditions, the lift capability and serviceability of helicopters and greatly reduced. Only light helicopters can be used beyond 4,500m; an ALOUETTE, for example, can just deliver about 40kg up to 6,100m in summer and about 80kg in winter – and this while operating at its extreme capacity. Evacuation of casualties is another nightmare, requiring frequent turnover to avoid pilot fatigue.
Since these areas are mostly inaccessible, maps are highly inaccurate, which of course means more reliance on physical reconnaissance either by patrols or by helicopters. This, however, is not always possible; when the sky is overcast and the clouds are very low, visibility becomes severely restricted, and similarity of terrain makes recognition of features extremely difficult. In blizzards, snowfalls and bad weather the visibility is further reduced (down to a few meters), severely curtailing movement, target engagement and operation of helicopters. At an average, these conditions prevail for seven out of ten days during winter.
Winter conditions present a whole series of challenges beyond reduced visibility. Temperatures drop to as low as -40°C in non-glaciated areas and -60°C in glaciated areas. Beyond 5,400m, temperatures as low as -70°C to -80°C have been experienced. The wind in the valleys can blow at 70-80 knots, accentuating the wind chill factor. At heights, these winds take the form of blizzards that bury tents, shelters and weapons emplacements under heaps of snow. Blizzards lasting for over two-three days and burying shelters under 2.5-3m of snow are not an uncommon phenomenon.
Extremely low temperatures adversely affect the physical well-being of troops and have pronounced psychological implications. Slight carelessness or lack of proper clothing results in frostbite within a matter of minutes, at times ultimately needing amputations. Prolonged isolation and confinement to shelters during snowfalls and blizzards, weighs heavily on the nerves of the men. Continuous loss of fluid through perspiration and reduced fluid intake, can lead to kidney failure if not checked in time. Light clothing, however warm enough to beat the freezing cold, is essential. By the same token, snow tents are fine for short-duration halts or for patrols needing overnight stay away from the base; however, for prolonged stays pre-fabricated shelters with proper insulation are needed. The shelters have to be strong, yet light enough to be frequently dug out and reassembled after a snowstrom.
Living at high altitudes exposes soldiers to henceforth uncommon ailments, including most particularly pulmonary and/or cerebral oedema. Both occur as a result of the lack of oxygen at heights and increased activity; pulmonary oedema is quite common, but not very serious if treated in time, while cerebral oedema is invariably fatal, though fortunately less commom. In the former, death can occur due to lung failure and in the latter, due to brain damage if the victim is not evacuated in time. Another common but not very serious ailment is high altitude sickness resulting in vomiting, headache and fatigue. Psychological effects include a tendency towards intolerance and acute mental depression.
The standard and effective curve for the above ailments is to bring the patient below 4000m. That, however, is not without problems – even without considering a situation of military conflict. To bring down one casualty from 6,100m to 5,400m requires a party of five-six persons and normally takes six to eight hours – while for any such casualty, time is at premium. Due to biological changes in human blood and extremely low temperatures, many drugs lose their potency and effect. More casualities occur in these areas as a result of natural hazards than through other reasons.
Extremely low temperatures also have their effects on weapons, munitions and equipment. Experience reveals sluggishness in the cyclic operation of weapons, malfunctioning due to freezing of lubricants, and breakage due to brittleness. Munitions – especially mortar bombs, rockets and recoilless rifle projectiles – tend to behave erratically, a phenomenon attributable to the rarefied atmosphere. Formation of fog close to automatic weapons restricts visibility and prevents their continuous use. Food is another aspect which is seriously affected due to the high altitudes and extreme cold. Loss of appetite or aversion to the same type of food for days on end, seriously affects the morale.
The Indian intransigence over Siachen in 1984, forced Pakistan to defend its territorial integrity. Lately, however, having found the human and financial cost of maintaining its troops there unmanageable, the Indians have reportedly been making diplomatic moves to persuade Pakistan to disengage from Siachen. Pakistan, however, maintains that Siachen has always been part of Pakistan; hence, India should vacate the area, as it was the aggressor to occupy a portion of it back in 1984.