Siachen Glacier: Battling on the roof of the world

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  1. cobra commando

    cobra commando Tharki regiment Veteran Member Senior Member

    Oct 3, 2009
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    By DP Ramachandran
    Issue Net Edition | Date : 18 Aug , 2012

    Pakistanis have always been bad losers. Three successive defeats at the hands of the Indian armed forces in as many decades of their country’s existence did little to alter their ego to try one-upmanship with India; and in 1984, less than a decade and a half after its historic humiliation in the paddy fields of Bengal, the Pakistani military was up to its tricks again, this time around in the uninhabitable heights of the Siachen Glacier.

    75 kilometres long and varying in width from 2 to 8 kilometres, the Siachen Glacier lies lapped in the world’s most forbidding mountainous region that make up the northwestern extremity of India. Forming part of the Karakoram Range beyond Ladakh in the Jammu and Kashmir State, it occupies some 10,000 square kilometres, at heights rising from 12,000 to 23,000 feet above sea level. After the first Indo-Pak War of 1947-48 the old kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two along the ceasefire line, which left India in possession of the current J&K State comprising the southern Jammu, the central Kashmir, and the northern Ladakh regions.

    After the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Chinese returned all territories they had occupied in the Northeast (practically the whole of what is Arunachal Pradesh today), but had held on to their gains in the Ladakh Sector…

    The ceasefire line survived the 1965 War, since both sides returned the captured territories as per the Tashkent Accord. But it got altered to the current Line of Control (LoC) after the 1971 War since India had unilaterally declared the ceasefire, rendering neither party obliged to return the seized territory. However the starting and terminating points of the LoC remained unchanged. It terminates to the north at a point in the Karakoram Range, identified by the map reference NJ 980420, popularly referred as NJ 9842, the area beyond having been considered worthless militarily, being void of human habitation. The LoC from NJ 9842 was vaguely defined by the agreement to extend ‘thence north to the glaciers’ right up to China’s southern boundary. The genesis of the Siachen conflict lay in the interpretation of that definition by India and Pakistan.

    After the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Chinese returned all territories they had occupied in the Northeast (practically the whole of what is Arunachal Pradesh today), but had held on to their gains in the Ladakh Sector, apparently for their need to secure the Aksai Chin Highway between Leh and the province of Zinjiang in Southern China. A year later they also managed a boundary settlement on the Karakoram with Pakistan, wherein the latter ‘yielded’ the Shaksgam Valley, an area of 4853 square kilometers, out of what was rightfully Indian Territory. The southern boundary of China was thus pushed closer to J&K. In less than two years work started on the Karakoram Highway between Pakistan and China, which was completed in 1978. Now there were two highways, one from Tibet to Zinjiang in China and the other from Northern Pakistan to Zinjiang, aligned close to the region, raising serious security concerns for India.

    Pakistan began the mischief with a cartographic misrepresentation early in 1980s, displaying the LoC on its maps as a straight line proceeding northeastward from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass. Surprisingly, in the 1970s itself, inadvertently or otherwise, some international publications of repute too have been showing the LoC wrongly aligned on their maps. Alongside, Pakistan had also been actively encouraging international mountaineering expeditions into the Karakoram from its territory. By 1978, alerted by the faulty international maps, and indications of Pakistan staking claims to the area by projecting the expeditions launched from its territory as proof, India too began to undertake mountaineering expeditions. It was the beginning of a mountaineering contest between the two militaries. Exchange of protest notes followed, each party complaining of the other intruding into its territory. Finally in August 1983, through one of the notes, Pakistan made its intention clear by asserting its own interpretation of the LoC, to be leading straight northeastward to the Karakoram Pass from NJ 9842.


    Army Post at Siachen

    The first Indian expedition led by the renowned army mountaineer, Colonel N ‘Bull’ Kumar1, to Teram Kangri, brought indisputable evidence of the foreign expeditions entering the glacier from the Pakistan side. The army had also had evidence of an abortive attempt Pakistan made in September-October 1983 to occupy passes west of the glacier. Intelligence received in January 1984, of Pakistan’s large-scale purchases of high altitude equipment, removed whatever doubt there might have been of its intentions. The Indian Army, obtaining the government’s approval, occupied the Saltoro Range west of the glacier. This was essentially in keeping with the definition of the LoC extending ‘thence north to the glaciers’ from NJ 9842, since ‘north’ by the conventional logic of delineating a geographical boundary, meant northward along the nearest watershed2, which in this case happened to be Saltoro.

    The main pass in the Saltoro Range is Bilafond La, which Pakistan has been using to cross over. There was yet another negotiable pass, the Sia La. It was decided to deny these passes to the enemy as a precautionary measure. A small military presence of the kind, which was a cost-effective option, was considered sufficient to contain the Pak adventurism. The word ‘Siachen’ means mountain rose, which grew in abundance near the snout of the glacier. ‘Pakistan has been getting into our rose garden by the gate of Bilafond La’, said a simile among the army planners. ‘Let us close the gate permanently’. And so it was closed.

    The transport helicopters India had at the time just couldn’t reach such heights.

    Bilafond La was at an altitude of 18,000 feet, and Sia La another 2000 feet higher. The induction and sustenance of troops at such extremes of terrain and weather posed a logistics challenge no army in the world had ever had to face. But the senior commanders involved –Lieutenant General ML Chibber and Major General Shiv Sharma – contended that ‘it would be easier to fight the elements than a determined enemy’. If the Pakistanis occupied the passes first, it would be a military impossibility to dislodge them, given the advantages such heights offered to the defender. It had to be done, and the army geared up to take the bull by the horn.

    Troops were to be inducted in April 1984 as soon as the weather permitted, to pip the enemy at the post. A heli-borne operation was the only option, since the enemy air reconnaissance would have picked up any troop movement on foot. The transport helicopters India had at the time just couldn’t reach such heights. The only machine that could do it, the Cheetah – indigenous model of the Alouette – could barely carry two men. Even then there was no infrastructure that would need to conduct an operation of such magnitude. It became a race against time to put in place the aviation fuel, technical support, landing and holding facilities and suchlike. ‘Operation Meghdoot’ was on.

    The first troops to land, one officer and two men, jumped down from their hovering copters 3 kilometres short of Bilafond La on 13 April 1984. (To land the copter in soft snow without ascertaining the ground condition would have been suicidal.) Gritty and courageous, the three men, swiftly identified safe spots for copters to land, and reinforced them with some sacks of flour for the skids to touch down. The machines could now land. It took seventeen sorties for a platoon to be ferried across, as the weather held mercifully. A lance naik at the head of a small party soon made it to the pass and raised the Tricolour. Before the day was over the platoon had occupied the Bilafond La Pass. These men were now on their own with no artillery to support them, and except for the fragile radio link, cut off from the rest of the world until the next copter sortie arrived.

    The reaction of the Pakistan Army was as fast as any that could be expected of a force under the situation.

    Frequently as it occurs at high altitude, the weather suddenly turned foul with a raging blizzard, and the second lift, which was to follow immediately carrying the next platoon to Sia La at a higher altitude, had to be put off. To compound matters, with the drop in temperature the radio contact with the platoon at Bilafond La was lost. It would be three days before the weather cleared and the platoon made contact again. It was safe; and working on the position. The second lift for Sia La was taken up on 17 April.

    The Indian Air Force flew 32 sorties to Sia La that day, with hardly any technical support, creating a record in itself. The troops, put down 5 kilometres short, made the gruesome trek over the slopes the same day to occupy the pass. With the weather holding, some supplies could be ferried across to Bilafond La as well. The Pakistanis didn’t take too long to find out what had happened. The same afternoon one of their copters flew over the passes. What they saw below couldn’t have left them with any doubts – they had been thoroughly outsmarted.

    The reaction of the Pakistan Army was as fast as any that could be expected of a force under the situation. In a week’s time, the ‘Burzil Force’, a task force they had raised to occupy the passes under an operation codenamed ‘Abadeel’, had been spurred on to faster pace; and barely after a week of the Indian presence being sighted on the passes, forward elements of the force had appeared on the western slopes of the Bilafond La. Tough going as it would have been, the Burzil Force, made up of hardy men from their Special Services Group and the Northern Light Infantry, closed up on the passes and opened fire with small arms and machineguns on 25 April. The war of Siachen – in effect the contest for the domination of the Saltoro Range – to be fought ever since in the world’s highest known battlefield, had just begun.

    Taking the passes by assault was of course, a tactical impossibility. The Pakistan Army, stung by the public criticism back home (Benazir Bhutto minced no words while ridiculing Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime for its impotency at Siachen), went into overdrive to salvage its prestige; desperately trying to get a foothold anywhere on the Saltoro Ridge, only to be beaten back in every attempt.

    Tactically it was adequate to hold the passes to deny access to the glacier to an intruder. However Pakistan’s repeated efforts to occupy the ridges along the heights, which would have given them no tactical advantage but only scored political points, forced India’s hand to counter the moves by occupying the heights themselves. (An easier option would have been to take the fight to the enemy by attacking him at chosen points; but approval for such a move was not forthcoming from the Government of India.) Soon what was perceived to be a small military presence of a company of infantry or so, turned into a major deployment of troops to the strength of a brigade. And that set in motion a logistics endeavour of unprecedented proportions.


    Patrolling of Troops at Siachen Glacier

    Comparatively Pakistan was better placed to provide logistics support to her troops in the area, with a fairly elaborate network of roads and tracks on that side; whereas India had to support her troops almost exclusively by air. Beyond the Ladakh Range the supplies had to be first ferried over the Khardung La Pass to Shyok Valley along a road at a height of more than 18,000 feet – the highest of the kind in the world – which was open for only part of the year. A bridge where the road passed through a small glacier had to be reconstructed every summer. From the Shyok Valley the stores then had to be ferried across to the glacier, from where the helicopters, both medium and small, lifted the loads to where the troops actually held ground.

    An infantry deployment of the magnitude, wherein the troops had to beat back persistent attacks on their posts, called for enormous artillery support, which meant more and more guns, spares and ammunition. While the army tried its best to improve the two roads to Ladakh over the Zojila and Baralacha La Passes to pump in as much supplies as possible during the summer months, the posts along the Saltoro had still had to be supplied by helicopters round the year. This meant a heavy demand for these machines which the army just didn’t have. And no post could be kept short of essentials – shortage of ammunition could mean the loss of a post, which probably could never be retaken; if there was no kerosene for heating, men would freeze to death. The army’s resources were being stretched to the limit.

    …if there was no kerosene for heating, men would freeze to death. The army’s resources were being stretched to the limit.

    By 1986 Pakistanis had become so feverish that they began mounting one suicidal attack after the other to gain a presence on the ridge somehow, flouting every tactical consideration. These brave but foolhardy attacks, against a well-entrenched enemy holding high ground, brought them colossal amount of casualties. Then the unbelievable happened. The Pakistani Special Services Group, in a spectacular feat of mountaineering in March-April 1987, established a post atop a vertical cliff 21,153 feet high. Pakistan’s first foothold on the Saltoro Ridge, it overlooked the Bilafond La area, and artillery fire directed from the post could disrupt India’s heli-borne activities at the pass.

    The Pakistan Army and the media went to town blaring out the big news. They staked their national honour on the remote post by naming it ‘Quaid’, after Quaide-e-Azam, the founder of Pakistan. India had a ‘thorn in its flesh’, as the Northern Army Commander perceived. On 19 April the post opened fire, revealing its presence, to hit a helicopter evacuating casualties from Bilafond La, killing two soldiers and injuring one. Immediate reconnaissance found ropes slung for the climb, but more information was needed on what was atop before something could be done about it.

    Helicopters dropped a patrol made up of an officer, a JCO and seven men on a nearby post where they were to get acclimatized, before taking up reconnaissance of Quaid. After the nightfall on 24 May, they climbed the ice wall on the northern face of the cliff and fixed ropes for an assault group to climb later. The feat, as outstanding as what the Pakistanis had accomplished, was all that was expected of the patrol – explore and prepare the route to Quaid. But the daredevilry of the patrol leader wouldn’t let him leave it at that. Having reached the ridge, the patrol crawled forward with fire support from a nearby post, which didn’t amount to much for too long a range and poor visibility. The Pakistanis, alerted by the firing, opened machinegun fire on the patrol as it closed in, killing the patrol leader and four others. The four remaining members of the patrol made it back to own post by a super human effort, one of them only to die of his wounds. Few reconnaissance patrols had ever paid so heavily in lives, and achieved so much. The information it brought was priceless; and the ropes it fixed would now be used for an attack proper of the post.

    The attack, by an all-volunteer force of 60 men under two officers, could be put in only after almost a month while the men got acclimatized and stores were stockpiled. Even as it got going on the evening of 23 June, it took the force five hours to cover a kilometre in the waist-deep snow, and then they found that the ropes the earlier patrol had fixed could no longer be located, with layers of snow all over. Left with not enough time before daylight, they made a tactical retreat, aided by a diversionary attack at another point to distract the enemy. Eventually however they had to risk exposure in the daylight before the ropes could be traced. They were there, and in tact.


    Come night they launched the attack again. But as soon as the climb started the enemy opened up. The element of surprise had been lost. To compound matters the men found that the freezing temperature had rendered their weapons faulty. The attack had again had to be called off; the men spent another day in the open reorganizing.

    During the following night (25-26 June), they made it to the top. Inching forward atop the cliff, six men under a JCO opened the fight with small arms and grenades. But the enemy reaction was swift and brutal with the defender’s patent advantage. Some of the attackers were mowed down – one even rolled down the enemy’s side of the mountain – and the others could make no headway. The assault had been blunted. Nevertheless the force commander pressed forward another attack from a different direction, and this one in broad daylight (The attack went in around midday 26 June). Barely six men could form up as an assault group. The minuscule group closed in throwing grenades on what appeared to be the enemy command post. The Pakistanis rushed out to take them on. In the bloody hand-to-hand fight that ensued the Indians prevailed. Some of the Pakistanis were bayoneted; the others jumped down the mountain to perish. The ropes to the Pakistani side were promptly cut. ‘Quaid’ had been taken; ‘the thorn in the flesh’ removed.

    If the Pakistanis had done the unbelievable, the Indians had done the impossible. It was an unparalleled feat in the annals of military history the world over, of troops having stormed and taken an enemy strongpoint at an altitude of over 21,000 feet. Out of the 60-strong force assembled for the mission, not more than a dozen or so could be put in to stage the actual assault. The final assault was led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh, who was later awarded Param Vir Chakra, the nation’s highest gallantry award. And the captured post was renamed after him. ‘Quaid’, named after Pakistan’s founder, would thenceforth be known as ‘Bana’ Post, named after one of India’s bravest sons. And the legend of its capture would, for ever, remain a source of inspiration for all ranks of the Indian armed forces.

    If the Pakistanis had done the unbelievable, the Indians had done the impossible.

    Better logistics support enabled the Pakistanis to maintain an aggressive forward presence constantly, despite their failure to dislodge the Indians from the ridge anywhere. With their posts so close and up front they could continually harass the Indian positions with artillery fire. It became imperative for India to go on the offensive instead of merely maintaining the defensive posture. Attacking the enemy forward posts wasn’t an option available, since that would have escalated the conflict along the LoC. Eventually, the officers and men engaged at the heights themselves came up with a grand innovation – it called for the use of artillery on an offensive role.

    With no civilian population around in the area, the guns could fire anywhere. The Bofors Howitzers and the 130 mm Soviet guns together packed a massive firepower, with devastating accuracy. And the heights occupied by Indians offered an excellent view of the glaciers, where Pakistanis had put up their supply dumps. All that was needed was for artillery observation posts to be located on these vantage points, and to provide them with some modern high-powered telescopes fitted with cameras that could give pictures with clarity. An effective fire plan could then be worked out. The gunners in small teams had to occupy these posts unobserved by the enemy whenever a shoot had to be undertaken, and pull out quietly as soon as it was over. The enemy would know what hit them, but not how.

    The gunners went at it with gusto, and the effect was sheerly fantastic. Pak ammunition and fuel dumps burned like mad. Their vehicle convoys and pack mules were forced to choose the disastrous option of moving only after dark. Finally they had to pull back post after post. And often the Indian gunners went after their relocated posts. In frustration, the Pakistanis retaliated firing wildly with their guns at spots where they assumed the Indian OPs to be. This exposed their gun positions, which too were promptly engaged by Indians. The game was generally over for the Pakistanis; they could no more maintain an offensive posture. They just had to stay out of sight, and out of fight.

    A nation borne out of mistrust, its regime after regime had traditionally come to stake its credibility and survival on how much each of them could fool its people with a single point agenda of hatred towards India…

    But Pakistan couldn’t and wouldn’t do that for too long. A nation borne out of mistrust, its regime after regime had traditionally come to stake its credibility and survival on how much each of them could fool its people with a single point agenda of hatred towards India; the poverty of its millions be damned. Its military leadership soon contrived a plan to isolate Siachen by cutting off its main line of communication. The Kargil heights were to be occupied to disrupt the Srinagar-Leh Road, followed by a thrust on the Shyok River. The plan however was shelved for whatever reasons. They would of course have a crack at it in little over a decade’s time before the century ended. But then that’s another story.

    1986 to 1989 was the period of the hottest contest at the Saltoro. Pakistan made one last bid in early 1989. Air reconnaissance in April that year detected them to have occupied a post in the Chumik Glacier sector. A well-chosen post, it could only be identified by copters flying close. And the cliff was so vertical that there was no way the Indians could climb from their side. But then the Indian Army by now was seasoned in high-altitude combat, and had its techniques sharpened to perfection. The gunners went about it without much ado. They had a problem of the enemy support base being located too close to the cliff, where it was totally obscured and immune to shelling. Some OPs had to be put up at vantage points from where the base could be viewed properly; and the Bofors came in handy again. The trajectories and the angle of descent of shells had to be worked out; and then they were at the job. The supply base was hit so badly that the Pakistanis were soon asking for a meeting – and mercy – to pull out their post. And thus ended – and rather in disgrace – yet another Pakistani bid at the Saltoro.

    The Indians had achieved indisputable supremacy at the Siachen. But that in no way ended this disastrously expensive conflict. With an adversary like Pakistan who could never be trusted to play the fair game, there was no way India could abandon the Saltoro to leave the glacier a no-man’s-land; which should ideally be the choice for two neighbours like India and Pakistan, who both could use the money for far better things than sustaining a mutually destructive conflict for an expanse of wasteland where no human being can live. It is a hopeless and perverse situation, with the Pakistani military never getting tired of deceiving its own countrymen and the whole world by its ridiculously false propaganda of fighting the Indians at Siachen, when in reality their soldiers can not even see Siachen from where they are.

    The Siachen Conflict which goes on and on to this day has no parallels in military history, or in any on-going contests anywhere. It is a war that is fought every day, from the corridors of power in the nation’s capital to the snowy peaks of Saltoro where men struggle to keep alive. The glacier has nothing to offer but ice, mud and rocks. Every conceivable commodity that sustains human life has to be brought in from outside. And it is not a dozen-strong mountaineering expedition that is involved; 3000 fighting men hold the front line at Saltoro. At the heights of the likes of 20, 000 feet they need everything more, whether it is food, clothing or shelter, just to live. Then to fight they need their arms, equipment and ammunition; all maintained and kept ready in operational fitness. Add to this that every bit of item to the glacier has to be brought in by helicopters, after being transported forward along a road system that is open for only six months a year; the army has a logistics war in hand that baffles imagination.


    It is not as if the entire government machinery is backing the army to the hilt in this monstrous task. The apathy of the civilian establishment, whether bureaucratic or political, is both criminal and treasonable. Having engaged the army in an impossible war, they are content to drag their feet with peace time procedures of accounting and audit. It took a long time and a heck of a lot of persuasion for New Delhi to realize the all-important role of helicopters in high altitude warfare, and provide the army with the barely-essential number of these machines. The smaller Cheetah Helicopters are virtually the lifeline of the troops, since only they can land at such unimaginable heights, to evacuate casualties or deliver sensitive loads. Pushed to the limits of their endurance and capability, each landing they do – at helipads not larger than 10 feet by 10 feet – is the stuff for adventure movies.

    The larger loads are air-dropped by the bigger transport copters or fixed-wing aircraft like the AN-32. Retrieving these stores which invariably gets scattered during a drop is a laborious process for men, who have to trace them, break them up into man-pack sizes and carry it to the posts, while each post itself is barely manned by ten or fifteen men, who have to guard and patrol the area as well as rest those who come off duty. The army came up with the ideal – and cheap – solution to the problem, by seeking snow scooters. The bureaucrats however chose to sit on the matter. Eventually one concerned Defence Minister had to order some ‘babus’ to go and stay in Siachen for a while before they could be shaken up to do something about this long pending demand of the army.

    To fight on the glacier the troops require specialized clothing and mountaineering equipment which are absolutely reliable.

    The provision of suitable clothing and equipment for the troops makes another sloppy story. It has been a constant fight for the field commanders to thwart the attempts to force the army to accept sub-standard stuff of indigenous make, procured through unscrupulous contractors. To fight on the glacier the troops require specialized clothing and mountaineering equipment which are absolutely reliable. They have to be invariably imported since the indigenous products cannot meet such high-quality specifications as yet. Even the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), considered the specialists, couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile. (Not surprising since their scientists didn’t even want to visit the glacier for some field study.) It is a pity, since even the Ladakhi civilians shunned their products as not worth accepting, even as gifts.

    The maintenance and repair of the equipment poses a challenge of its own, with acute shortage of spares. The EME men have often have to resort to the slapstick improvisation of getting the parts needed fabricated by the local ironsmiths of Ludhiana or Jagadhri, which of course gave way after a couple of weeks.

    The systems the Indian Army has evolved to maintain its massive troop presence at the Saltoro round the year, and year after year, is probably the most remarkable piece of manpower management and mobilization attempted anywhere on the globe. To keep one soldier at his combat station on the Saltoro at any given time, twenty soldiers are needed behind in various states of readiness and activity. The soldiers posted to Siachen have to be first put through an induction training of ninety days. No soldier so inducted is kept at Saltoro for more than six months. This necessitates an infantry unit being turned over every nine months, with another unit in training, besides the reserve needed for ad hoc operations.

    Despite many rounds of negotiations between the two governments and a fragile ceasefire which has held for a couple of years now, a final solution is still to emerge.

    The complement of supporting arms and services needed are also far higher than in a normal operational area. A battalion which is normally provided with two forward observation officers from the artillery is provided with six of them at Siachen. Similarly the requirement of engineers and signalmen are also far higher. And on the medical front, a battalion which normally has one medical officer may have as many as six of them, and correspondingly higher number of other medical personnel. In fact one of the significant factors which keeps the men at Saltoro in high morale is their knowledge that medical help is always at hand. Unless the weather plays foul a casualty on the Saltoro is airlifted to a doctor within the hour, and will be on an operation table within the next. The entire story is that of uncompromising efficiency and commitment at all levels day by day, whether it is supplying the men with nutritious and hygienic food, garbage and excreta management or umpteen other services like the mail service to the troops, making the Indian military effort at Siachen a phenomenal one.

    The saga of Siachen is that of the entire Indian Army. The prolonged engagement had had various battalions of every infantry regiment taking turns at the glacier; and the Madras Regiment has been no exception. The Madras Sappers were there right from the beginning itself when it all started in 1984, with 8 Engineer Regiment supporting 3 Infantry Division. 15 Engineer Regiment was inducted later the same year in support of 102 Infantry Brigade. A helipad they made turned out to be the world’s highest, and they were the first to operate a snow vehicle in the glacier. A succession of Madras Sapper Units followed in the subsequent years, beginning with 203 Engineer Regiment. Providing close support to infantry for the legendary capture of the Bana Post was 17 Engineer Regiment. The fabricated Dexion Bridge was an improvisation 5 Engineer Regiment came up with to negotiate the crevasses. They were followed by 14 Engineer Regiment. The next in line, 2 Engineer Regiment, laid a 67-km long kerosene pipe line upward from the base camp. 12 and 4 Engineer Regiments were the first units to arrive in the new millennium.

    In public perception in India and Pakistan, the more-than two-decade old Siachen conflict has almost come to be accepted as a regular feature of the subcontinental military activity, much as the case is with the more recent counter-terrorism operations in Kashmir, the two issues intertwined politically and militarily. Despite many rounds of negotiations between the two governments and a fragile ceasefire which has held for a couple of years now, a final solution is still to emerge. In an interview given to an Indian Magazine in November 2006, Aziz Ahmed Khan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, who was returning home after a 3-year plus stint which saw the peace process making some headway, vouches for his country’s commitment to redeployment of troops to lower heights to ease the tension, but maintains that the current positions cannot be authenticated on the map. Even Pervez Musharraf’s newly floated 4-point formula, which obviously has its merits, does not address this issue squarely. The mutual mistrust continues. As long as there is no political will and initiative to remove that, the Indian Army battles on.


    It is an incredible story of unrelenting men and unforgiving mountains. More men die or are maimed fighting the elements, than the enemy. A man could die for sheerly the lack of intake of oxygen, by HAPO (High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema); one careless move, such as trying to warm his hands on a fire, could have him losing all his fingers to frostbite. An extract from the Regimental Diary of a battalion quoted in the book, SIACHEN Conflict Without End, a brilliant and the most comprehensive account of the Siachen War so far, written by one of India’s most eminent strategic analysts, Lieutenant General VR Raghavan (who also happen to have been a Commanding General at Siachen), poignantly summarizes the travails of the Indian soldier at the glacier. It reads:

    Siachen is not for the weak hearted…the men…needed time which was simply not there, to be acclimatised. It accounted for a sizeable number of cold injuries which took place later…The battalion took over operational responsibility on 1 March. Induction to certain posts was only by helicopters and it was always a battle between carrying the much needed supplies, mail or manpower. On 3 March Havildar Wankhede expired in his sleep to HAPO. Sepoy Mohite suffered severe frostbite and lost all fingers of both hands. Siachen claimed its first victims within 48 hours of the battalion’s arrival. On 12 March, one soldier fell 15,000 feet to his death. Every attempt to retrieve his body proved of little consequence.

    Siachen Glacier: Battling on the roof of the world � Indian Defence Review
  3. arnabmit

    arnabmit Homo Communis Indus Senior Member

    Dec 25, 2012
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    Indian Army Training and Living on Siachen Glacier


  4. Sakal Gharelu Ustad

    Sakal Gharelu Ustad Detests Jholawalas Moderator

    Apr 28, 2012
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    watch out: Siachen glacier , line of duty.
  5. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

    Jul 11, 2011
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    Army said no to Gujral’s order to vacate Siachen

    Army said no to Gujral’s order to vacate Siachen

    VISHAL THAPAR New Delhi | 12th Apr 2014

    Inder Kumar Gujral, the peacenik Prime Minister of a Congress-propped United Front Government, asked the Indian Army to withdraw from Siachen Glacier in 1997 to accommodate Pakistan.

    The then Indian Army chief, General V.P. Malik vetoed the move, demanding iron-clad guarantees as a precondition, which Pakistan has refused to concede till date. The collapse of the Gujral government in March 1998 stalled further movement toward what many strategists reckon would have been a monumental blunder.

    This disclosure was made by General Malik at a book release timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the undeclared war on the world's highest and coldest battlefield. It was on 13 April 1984, that India launched Operation Meghdoot to pre-empt a Pakistani takeover of the strategically-located Siachen Glacier. Thirty years on, it is an ongoing operation, with no end in sight.

    Gujral's position was in complete contrast to that of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, attests former Indian envoy to Pakistan, G. Parthasarathy. "Rajiv told me that he would not vacate the area where Indian troops have shed blood," recalled Parthasarathy, speaking after General Malik at a function to mark the release of journalist Nitin Gokhale's book, Beyond NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga, here on Friday. Rajiv too was under pressure from the peacenik lobby in 1987-88 to take advantage of his equation with his counterpart Benazir Bhutto and pluck the "low-hanging fruit" of Siachen.

    Gujral is best known for a dubious contribution to India's strategic history in ceasing during his tenure the activities of India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analyses Wing (R&AW), in Pakistan. This is assessed by analysts as a huge strategic setback to India. Capabilities which took decades to build were swept away in one stroke.

    The precondition General Malik insisted upon was the authentication and demarcation of respective troop positions along the 110-km-long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). The Indian Army is in physical occupation of the Saltoro Ridge west of Siachen Glacier, which puts India in a dominating position.

    Warning that it would be a folly to ignore the strategic significance of Siachen, General Malik said, "The strategic consequences of a deal without formal authentication are obvious. It'll give Pakistan easier access to Saltoro and to the glacier, ensure security of Shaksgam (ceded by Pakistan to China).... and put a final stamp of China on its political control (of Shaksgam)."

    The Indian Army has since stuck to this "veto line" to resist an on-off politico-diplomatic push to vacate Siachen, first by the Gujral regime, and more recently, by Manmohan Singh, who wanted Siachen to be a "Mountain of Peace". The Indian Army believes Pakistan will sneak into Siachen if the commanding heights of the Saltoro Ridge are vacated.

    While the Army's insistence on demarcation of troop positions with Pakistan is well known, for the first time, it has come out in the open that the real military red line on Siachen is China, and its nexus with Pakistan. In his foreword to the book, General Malik says India must deny China and Pakistan an opportunity to link up via Siachen, and that their anti-India intent is transparent for the following reasons:

    * Pakistan illegally ceded the Shaksgam Valley in PoK, flanking Siachen, to China in 1963 under a Sino-Pak border agreement, in violation of the 1949 Karachi Agreement on the Ceasefire Line with India, and claiming a border link with China running through Siachen and terminating at the Karakoram Pass, east of Siachen. India's position is that the Karachi Agreement puts the boundary beyond the last demarcated Point NJ 9842 as running west of Siachen Glacier.

    * While China did a boundary deal with Pakistan on the PoK area west of Karakoram, it has refused to discuss the J&K boundary with India on the ground that it's "disputed".

    * Pakistan claims all of J&K but recognises Chinese sovereignty over Aksai Chin, which has been annexed by China.

    * In 1997, China went back on an agreement to send its military commander opposite Ladakh to meet his counterpart in Leh. This was an indication that they were unwilling to endorse Indian sovereignty over Ladakh.

    * China declined India's invitation to all military attaches in New Delhi (except Pakistan's) for a conducted tour of the battle zone post the Kargil War.

    * Four years ago, China started issuing stapled visas to visitors from J&K, thus questioning its status as part of India, refused visa to the highest ranking Army officer in J&K.

    * Increased Chinese presence in the northern areas of PoK, purportedly to improve infrastructure, repair the Karakoram Highway, and build oil pipelines and rail lines linking western China to the Arabian Sea.

    Ambassador Parthasarathy strongly argued that any deal on Siachen must be linked to an overall resolution of J&K. He endorsed the view of Brig V.N. Channa, the first commander of the Indian forces in Siachen, that by restricting itself to the Saltoro Ridge (west of Siachen), India lost an opportunity to take over the position now occupied by the Pakistanis beyond this ridgeline. "We should have gone beyond the Saltoro Ridge and taken over Gyari (now occupied by Pakistan). Had we done so, there would be no need to occupy the glacier (which is done at great cost)," rued Parthasarathy. Sadly, the story of missed opportunities for India does not end with Siachen.

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