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Siachen Glacier / Operation Meghdoot

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 60C temperatures.

The Siachen Glacier has no significant strategic value. The Siachen glacier is the great Himalayan watershed that demarcates central Asia from the Indian sub-continent, and that separates Pakistan from China in this region. Siachen is the world's second longest non-polar glacier, and thus is sometimes referred to as the third pole. It is 70 km long and flows from an altitude of 5750 meters to 3620 meters above sea level.

Tajikistan's Fedchenko Glacier is 77 km long. After Siachen (70), the second longest in the Karakoram Mountains is the Biafo Glacier at 63 km. Measurements are from recent imagery, supplemented with Russian 1:200,000 scale topographic mapping as well as the 1990 "Orographic Sketch Map: Karakoram: Sheet 2", Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, Zurich. Glacier length is measured from the top of the longest arm or tributary of the glacier to the snout.

The 70 km long Siachen glacier lies in the eastern Karakoram Range, just east of the Saltoro ridge line. The Saltoro Ridge originates from the Sia Kangri in the Karakoram Ridge and the altitudes range from 5450 to 7720 meters (17,880 to 25,300 feet.) The major passes on this ridge are Sia La at 5589 meters (18,336 feet) and Bilafond La at 5450 meters (17,880 feet), and Gyong La at 5689 meters (18,665 feet.)

The roots of the conflict over Siachen (the place of roses) lie in the non-demarcations on the map northward to the China boundary beyond NJ9842, which is the line's "dead end" in the India-Pakistan line of control agreement. 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 in the area.

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. Operation Meghdoot [named after the divine cloud messenger in a Sanskrit play] was launched on 13 April 1984 when the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force went into the Glacier. Pakistan quickly responded with troop deployments.

The Indian Army controls the heights, holding on to the tactical advantage of high ground. The Pakistanis cannot get up to the glacier, while the Indians cannot come down. Presently India holds all of the glacier and commands the top of all three passes. Pakistan formerly controled Gyong La at 35-10-29N 77-04-15E that overlooks the Gyong (tributary of the Shyok) and Nubra River Vallies and India's access to Leh District. However, the Pakistanis control the glacial valley just five kilometers southwest of Gyong La and thus access to the Leh District. The battle zone comprised an inverted triangle resting on NJ 9842 with Sia Kangri / Indira Col and the Karakoram Pass as the other two extremities.

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.

India said that it would "respond positively" to the unilateral ceasefire announcement made by the Pakistan. The Government of India had also proposed a ceasefire along the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen. A senior External Affairs Ministry official said that once the Pakistani ceasefire came into effect, India too would do the same. "If they stop shelling our positions on the LoC, we will do the same." The truce, which has held, is part of a thaw in the hostility between the two countries. The truce decision was wrapped up on 23 Novembe 2003 by the Director-General of military operations of India Lt. General. B S Takhar and his Pakistani counterpart Maj. General. Mohd. Yousuf on the hotline bewteen the two countries.

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. Siachen has accounted for only a few deaths since the truce due to harsh climate and glaciated terrain.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:33 ZULU