Siachen Glacier: Pristine beauty, and the war at the top of the world

The Indian Perspective

Time Magazine: War at the Top of the World

Siachen Area Kashmir Map
  • In spite of the severe climate, the word `Siachen` ironically means `the place of wild roses`.
  • The glacier is the highest battleground on Earth, where India and Pakistan have fought intermittently since 1984.
  • Siachen is the world's largest non-polar glacier, and thus is sometimes referred to as the third pole.

T h e S i a c h e n G l a c i e r is located in the East Karakoram/Himalaya, at approximately 35.5 N 76.9 E. It is one of the five largest glaciers in the Karakoram, situated at an average altitude of 5,400 meters (~17,700 feet) above sea level. Most of the Siachen Glacier as is the LoC, a hotly contested territory between Pakistan and India.

The roots of the conflict over Siachen (the place of roses) lie in the non-demarcations on the western side on the map beyond NJ9842. The 1949 Karachi agreement and the 1972 Simla agreement presumed that it was not feasible for human habitation to survive north of NJ9842. Piror to 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent presence in the area.

India mulls August pullout from Siachen

Pramod Kumar Singh in New Delhi writes in The Pioneer on April 5, 2006

Feb 2006: NSA-Aziz agree in principle
May: Def Secys to meet
Aug: PM may sign agreement
---- The UPA Government appears to have buckled under US pressure and the persistent demands of Pakistan to completely withdraw its 4,000 strong troops from Siachen, the highest battlefield in the world.




After a secret meeting between National Security Advisor (NSA) MK Narayanan and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Dubai in the last week of February, India has agreed in principle to the phased withdrawal of the Indian Army from its positions.


The NSA is believed to have discussed the matter threadbare with Mr Aziz and also conveyed the seriousness of the Indian Government on the issue.


Well placed Government sources told the Pioneer that the finer points of this highly contentious issue will be discussed in the next round of Defence Secretary-level meeting of the two countries in the first week of May. If all

goes well, the agreement could be inked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visits Pakistan in August this year.


While the details of this visit are being worked out, the withdrawal of the Indian Army from Siachen will top the agenda.


Though Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Defence are not in complete agreement as to the overall proposal, they will be forced to fall in line once the Government decides to go ahead with its demilitarisation plan.


Ever since then prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered the deployment of the Indian Army in Siachen in April 1984, Pakistan has been demanding the total withdrawal of the Indian troops. It has used every trick in its trade to hammer across its argument that Indian Army should withdraw from Saltoro Hills of NJ-9842 mountain peak.


The strategic importance of Saltoro Hills can be gauged from the fact that it takes only four days to enter into Indian territory from Pakistan's side despite a maze of extremely narrow routes.


Indian Army had further fortified its deployment after the Kargil War much to the chagrin of Pakistan. Officers and men of the Indian Army should be complemented for having effectively checkmated any misadventures from Pakistan in this sector, the sources said.


In the event of Indian troops pulling out of Saltoro Hills, Pakistan would be able to straighten the passage between Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Aksai Chin. Pakistan had also not agreed to accept the actual ground position line (AGPL) since it had set its eye on this strategic terrain.


Most importantly, Pakistan will never agree to authenticate its military-held positions in this area, as it wants to first seek the withdrawal of Indian Army and then exploit it for fulfilling its ulterior motives.


Apprehensions are being expressed that if the peace process between India and Pakistan gets derailed and the Pakistan Army meanwhile occupies key positions in Siachen, India will have to really move the mountains to regain its previously-held positions.

Solution to Siachen not intractable

T. R. Ramachandran writes in for Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 7, 2006
With a clear directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to find an early solution to the protracted Siachen problem, the two sides have stepped up diplomatic and back channel efforts amid indications that demilitarisation of the highest and most treacherous battlefield in the world is a complex issue but not an intractable one.

When Dr Singh made this suggestion in June last year, it found an echo in Pakistan though the neighbour's instant public reaction was to urge India to unconditionally vacate its 1983 aggression.

With the meeting of the Defence Secretaries scheduled for next month, sources alluded to some forward movement on the Siachen issue. The secret meeting between the National Security Adviser, Mr M.K. Narayanan, and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Dubai two months ago appears to have set the tone for moving forward in finding a solution to the problem.

At the same time sources drew attention to the complexities involved as the Prime Minister had affirmed there was going to be no redrawing of boundaries. The matter of Pakistan accepting and authenticating the drawing of a straight line north of the Soltoro Ridge was of critical importance. Till the actual ground position line (AGPL) was worked out, withdrawal of troops by both sides could only take place subject to certain some other parameters being thrashed out.

While India has assured Pakistan of its sincerity in striving for a solution, there is an element of skepticism as little headway was made at the last Defence Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan in Islamabad last May.

Even if the UPA government and the armed forces are not unduly worried about losing control of Bilafond La, Gyong La or Siya La, the three passes along the Soltoro range, the key issue is Pakistan reneging on its part of the bargain and trying to gain control of these heights a la Kargil at a later stage in a demilitarised situation.

The political leadership wants to ensure that such an act will be treated as an act of war and India will be well within its right to mount an attack at any place of its choice. The armed forces can strike at any site of its calling along the 780-km LoC as these will be localised skirmishes.

The sources explained that for effective demilitarisation, there had to be a constant monitoring mechanism and meetings of Commanders to end the eyeball-to-eyeball contact.

The view of retired and senior Army officers, diplomats, academics and strategic experts is that there is no strategic significance to Siachen other than the need to guard against Pakistan's attempts to link Karakoram Pass with the area in Shaksgam Valley which Islamabad illegally ceded to China in 1963 and through which the Karakoram highway has been built.

It will also be necessary to delineate the present positions of both sides on the ground for the subsequent demilitarisation. Without delineation it will not be possible for India to deal effectively with violations in future, experts aver.


Demilitarisation of Siachen - AOC-in-C for sector-by-sector approach

Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Thoise, May 11, 2006
Suggesting a sector-by-sector demilitarization of Siachen Glacier, the world?s highest battlefield, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command, Air Marshal S.K. Singh, said that first both sides must arrive at a broad policy agreement on the issue.

??Once a decision is made in principle, things can be worked out further on a sector-by-sector basis,?? he said while addressing media persons at Thoise Airfield, the launching pad for air operations in Siachen.

The Siachen glacier consists of five sub-sectors. Since the Indian Army moved to occupy the frozen heights in 1984, India and Pakistan had been involved in regular fire fights till November 2003, when a mutually agreed upon ceasefire was implemented along the Line of Control.

??The two-and-a-half-year-long ceasefire is a major respite. This, coupled with other confidence building measures is leading us towards a solution to the issue of demilitarisation of the area,?? Air Marshal Singh said. ??If that solution completes the picture then we can impose it or put it in place piece by piece,?? he added. ??If demilitarisation does take place, the role of the Air Force in the region would be reduced, but by no means would it be over,?? he said. ??Some troops would always be positioned in the area to man certain posts and it would be for the IAF to maintain them,?? he added.

The WAC chief also ruled out relying totally on technology for surveillance in the post-demilitarisation era. ??Unmanned aerial vehicles and remote surveillance equipment can only be used partially in this sector because it is difficult to control them under extreme weather and climatic conditions,?? Air Marshal Singh said. ??Technology can never completely replace human assets,?? he added

On the issue of the 1999 Kargil conflict, he denied there was any delay on the part of the IAF to launch air operations against the Pakistani intruders. On the question of Gen V P Malik?s recently released book on the conflict, Air Marshal Singh said that it does not match official records. ??The book contains his individual viewpoints and there are several dichotomies in it,?? he remarked. General Malik was the Chief of the Army during the conflict, while Air Marshal Sing was Air-I WAC, in charge of the IAF operations.

Air Marshal Singh also stressed upon the need for setting up an Aerospace Command. ??We are fast moving towards space and require an aerospace command, which should include agencies like ISRO and HAL,?? he said.

Besides air maintenance, the IAF is also assisting the Army in counter insurgency operations. ??At any given time, we have two fully armed Mi-17s, equipped with guns, rockets, night vision goggles and search and rescue equipment on stand-by at Doda,?? the Air Marshal said. The Leh and Thoise airfields have also been made fully fighter aircraft capable and aircraft come there regularly for exercises.

Siachen map delineation must: Malik

New Delhi, PTI: May 13, 2006
Saying that there is still "immense mistrust" between the two countries, Malik said India should only agree for delmilitarization of the Siachen Glacier after Pakistan agrees to delineation of the 101 km-long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) on the map or marking the position through aerial or satellite photography.

Former Army Chief Gen V P Malik has cautioned the country's decision makers to insist on delineation of positions on Saltoro ridge before agreeing on demilitarization of the world's highest battlefield.

"Most people in India and Pakistan believe that demilitarization of Siachen is feasible as it could be the first political achievement in dialogue to take the peace process forward," he states in his just-released book 'Kargil - from surprise to victory'.

Malik says that it should not mean going back to the pre-1984 days when, without any delineation on the maps, it was possible for either side to lay claim or encroach into each other's territory.

Saying that there is still "immense mistrust" between the two countries, Malik said India should only agree for delmilitarization of the Siachen Glacier after Pakistan agrees to delineation of the 101 km-long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) on the map or marking the position through aerial or satellite photography.

"It is essential to mark the ground position on the AGPL so that future verification is possible, if any party violates the agreement", the General states.