World’s Highest Cold War .. SIACHEN

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For the nuclear neighbors, maintaining positions on the frigid Siachen glacier has come to symbolize the political and military resolve in this intransigent conflict.

Blazoned day-by-day in the local media, it is the world’s highest battlefield, with troops stationed higher than most North American, European or African mountains.

At 6,300 meters (20,700 feet) India controls these breathless heights at an estimated cost of up to $1 million a day and is reluctant to back off for fear Pakistan might walk in.

Pakistani soldiers standing beside their IGLOO

Yet there is no doubt the logistical and physical challenge of supplying troops at sub-zero conditions beggars belief.

Ironically experts say the strategic importance of the glacier, where neither side had troops until 1984, is debatable.

After partition in 1947 no one bothered to extend the line of control between Pakistan and India up to Siachen because no one thought it was worth bothering about.

However, the 75-km (47-mile) glacier, one of the longest outside of the poles has come to represent a lot more.

Here soldiers are left to stare and shoot at each other across the line of control in a complex of trenches and bunkers.

Toothpaste freezes in its tube, speech can be blurred, frostbite and chilblains are common and plummeting temperatures can leave scores dead.

Yet plenty of volunteers file along the roads of Jammu and Kashmir up to Siachen in the belief that after serving — and surviving — a three-month stretch on the high front line they can expect a boost to their military career.

The fact is the human body continuously deteriorates above 18,000 feet and with winter temperatures of 70 degrees below zero, the inhospitable climate in Siachen has claimed more lives than gunfire.

But nothing seems to shake the resolve of governments in the warm capitals far away.

Any talk of a mutual withdrawal from the crippling environment is always referred to in the context of pulling back from the entire line of control — something both nuclear-armed powers are unlikely to do, say observers.

Pakistani soldiers loading their artillery

As long as Pakistan and India remain at deadlock over Kashmir, troops will remain on the blizzard-blasted Siachen glacier.

It is likely that any eventual withdrawal from Siachen, which has claimed so many lives, will be less painful to give up than any other positions.

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