Siachen’s WAR ZONE

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Conflict Zone

The glacier is located in the disputed Kashmir region and is claimed by India and Pakistan. In spite of the severe climate, the word `Siachen` ironically means `the place of wild roses`, a reference some people attribute to the abundance of Himalayan wildflowers found in the valleys below the glacier, but specifically refers to the thorny wild plants which grow on the rocky outcrops. The glacier is also the highest battleground on Earth, where India and Pakistan have fought intermittently since 1984. Both countries maintain permanent military personnel on the glacier at a height of over 7,000 metres. The site is a prime example of mountain warfare. The glacier`s melting waters are the main source of the Nubra River, which falls into the Shyok River. The Shyok in turn joins the Indus River, crucial to both India and Pakistan.The roots of the conflict over Siachen lie in the non-demarcation of the cease-fire line on the map beyond a map coordinate known as NJ9842. The 1949 Karachi agreement and the 1972 Simla Agreement presumed that it was not feasible for human habitation to survive north of NJ9842. Prior to 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent presence inthe area.

Fighting

In the 1970s and early 1980s Pakistan permitted several mountaineering expeditions to climb high peaks on this glacier. This was to reinforce their claim on the area as these expeditions arrived on the glacier with a permit obtained from the Government of Pakistan. Once having become aware of this in about 1978, Colonel N. Kumar of the Indian Army mounted an Army expedition to Teram Kangri peaks as a counter-exercise. The first public mention of a possible conflict situation was an article by Joydeep Sircar in The Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta in 1982, reprinted as “Oropolitics” in the Alpine Journal, London,in 1984. India launched Operation Meghdoot (named after the divine cloud messenger in a Sanskrit play) on 13 April 1984 when the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force went into the Glacier. Pakistan, which had also gotten wind of it quickly responded with troop deployments and what followed was literally a race to the top. Within a few days, the Indians were in control over most of the glacier as Pakistan were beaten by just a week. The two passes due to Indian military pre-emption – Sia La and Bilfond La were secured by India while the Gyong La pass remained under Pakistan control. Since then both sides have launched several attempts to displace each others forces, but with little success.

Pakistani soldiers making their way to the top

Current situation

The Indian Army controls a few of the top-most heights, holding on to the tactical advantage of high ground, however with Pakistani forces in control of Gyong La pass, Indian access to K-2 and other surrounding peaks has been blocked effectively and mountaineering expeditions to these peaks continue to go through with the approval of the Government of Pakistan. The situation is as such that Pakistanis cannot get up to the glacier, while the Indians cannot come down. Presently India holds two-thirds of the glacier and commands two of the three passes including the highest motorable pass – Khardungla Pass. Pakistan controls Gyong La pass that overlooks the Shyok and Nubra river Valley and India`s access to Leh district. The battle zone comprised an inverted triangle resting on NJ 9842 with Indira Col and the Karakoram Highway as the other two extremities. Every year more soldiers are killed because of severe weather than enemy firing.

A gun sight from Pakistani post

The two sides have lost close to 4,000 personnel primarily due to frostbites, avalanches and other complications. Both nations have 150 manned mirroring outposts along the glacier, with some 3,000 troops each. Official figures for maintaining these outposts are put at ~$300 and ~$100 million for India and Pakistan respectively. The Indians rely on helicopters made indigenously, which are probably the only choppers that can reach such heights, whereas Pakistan has simplified the logistical nightmare by building roads and paths to all of its positions across the glacier. India has also built the world`s highest helipad on this glacier at a place called Sonam, which is 21,000 feet above the sea level, to serve the area and ensure that her troops are kept supplied via helicopter support (adding to considerable cost).During her tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan, Ms Benazir Bhutto, visited Gyong La pass making her the first premier from either side to vist the glacier. On June 12, 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the glacier calling for a peaceful resolution of the problem. In the previous year, the President of India, Abdul Kalam became the first head of state to visit the area. India based Jet Airways plans to open a chartered service to the glacier`s nearest airlink, the Thoise airbase, mainly to fly the soldiers. Pakistan`s PIA flies tourists and trekkers daily to Skardu, which is the jumping off point for K2, although bad weather frequently grounds these scheduled flights.The glacier`s melting waters are the source of the river Indus, a vital water source for both India and Pakistan. Global warming has had its worst impact here in the Himalayas with the Glacier melting at an unprecedented rate.On average, one Pakistani soldier is killed every fourth day, while one Indian soldier is killed every other day. Over 1,300 Pakistani soldiers have 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.

Courtesy: wikipedia.com and other sources

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