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Siachen Dispute

Siachen is the worlds largest non-polar glacier. It is sometimes referred to as the third pole. Its length is 76 kilometres long and varies in width between 2 to 8 kilometres. It is situated at an altitude of 5,472 metres above sea level. It receives 6 to 7 meters of the annual total of 10 meters of snow in winter alone. Blizzards can reach speeds up to 150 knots (nearly 300 kilometres per hour) The temperature drops routinely to 40 °C below zero, even with the wind chill factor. For these reasons, the Siachen Glacier has been called the Third Pole”.


Siachen Glacier is the great Himalayan watershed that demarcates, Central Asia from the Indian sub-continent It also separates Pakistan from China in this region. To the east beyond the Shaksgam Valley lies China’s vulnerable Sinkiang region. As nothing was demarcated on the map beyond point NJ9842, Shaksgam Valley was a no-man’s land. The 76 km long Siachen Glacier is hemmed in between the Saltoro ridge line to the west and the main Karakoram Range to the east. The Saltoro ridge originates from the Sia Kangri in the Karakoram Range and the altitudes range from 18,000 to 24,000 ft. The major passes on this ridge are Sia La at 20,000 ft and Bila Fond La at 19,000 ft. India’s position on Line of Control is based on the terrain configuration, which runs along the Saltoro r;dge line upto Sia Kangri.

India and Pakistan face off along the Saltoro mountain range in an area named for its most prominent feature, the Siachen Glacier. Since 1984, the two nations have battled over a 2500 square km triangle of contested territory The Siachen Glacier is one of the most inhospitable and glaciated regions in the world Sliding down a valley in the Karakoram Range,
The dispute arose over differing interpretations of a provision of the 1949 ceasefire, as well as the subsequent 1972 Simla agreement, that left a portion of the ceasefire line in Kashmir undefined. The boundary was specifically delineated only to map coordinate NJ9842. The ceasefire agreement had only defined the line to a certain specified point and from there “thence north to the glaciers.” This segment meandered through rugged mountainous terrain up to a surveyed point NJ 9842 -lying about 19 kilometres north of the Shayok river, forms the foot of the glaciated region. Since there were no troops, contact north of this point and because operations in this inaccessible region beyond NJ9842 were considered unfeasible. No effort was made to mark out the line up to the Chinese border. This left a distance of about 65 km to the north un-demarcated. The area remained Undemarcated until 1984, when Indian troops occupied the watershed line along the Saltoro range northwesterly from NJ9842. Pakistan laid claim to a line from NJ9842 northeasterly to the Karakoram Pass on the Chinese border.

Karachi Agreement (Siachen Dispute)

The Karachi Agreement stated that beyond NJ9842, the line moved northward towards the Chinese border. When Pakistan signed its border agreement with China in 1963, the alignment of the ceasefire line was seen as linking NJ9842 with the Karakoram Pass. Now, under the Karachi Agreement it was clear that Siachen Glacier formed part of Baltistan in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. This reality was reflected in British and American maps including in the Britannica Atlas, the National Geographic Society’s Atlas of the World, the Times Atlas of the World and the Historical Atlas of South Asia published by the University of Chicago. In addition, all mountaineering and trekking expeditions to the Siachen region had to get their authorization from the Government of Pakistan Even Indian writers like PL Lakhanpal conceded this position when he included Owen Dixon’s report to the UN in 1950 in his book “Essential Documents and Notes on the Kashmir Dispute”. Dixon had, in his report, pointed out that Siachen Glacier fell within Pakistan’s Northern Areas. Then, in 1984, they took an action which for all intents and purposes put the final nail in the coffin of the LoC’s sanctity. This was the military incursion into Siachen whereby India transformed a No Man’s Land’ into the highest battlefield in the world.

By airlifting its forces, it occupied two critical northern passes, Bila Fond La and Sia La. Pakistan reacted and seized passes in the Soltoro Range. But India now occupied 2590 sq kilometres of Pakistani territory. What is causing concern to the Indians is that Pakistan has managed to surprise the Indians and occupy heights along the LoC - which has never been respected by the Indians. These heights allow the Pakistan army to oversee the whole supply route into Siachen. For the past 21 years, armed conflict has ensued along this “line of actual contact” the area is among the highest in the world and is characterized by mountain altitudes of over 7,500 meters and by troop deployments at altitudes ip to 6,700 meters. Nearby is K2, the second highest mountain in the world at over 8,500 meters.
Pakistan claims that the Line of Control is a straight line joining NJ9842 to Karakoram Pass north of the Indian Dault Bag Ouldi outpost. The Pakistani cuts across the river valleys Nubra and Shyok of Indian Ladakh, 10,000 sq km of Indian territory, which includes Siachen Glacier. Presently India holds two-thirds of glacier and commands two of the three passes. Pakistan controls Gyong La pass that overlooks the Shyok and Nubra River Valley and India’s access to Leh distrct. Indian imperatives are that if Pakistan is allowed to control the glacier, it would endanger the security of Ladakh and also of J& K. With Chinese already in control of Aksai Chin, it is argued that the whole of northern Ladakh would be imperilled if Pakistan is allowed unfettered movement through Siachen.
In long term perspective, Indian strategists also feel that this Himalayan watershed can yield its access to resource rich Central Asian Republics through the Afghan panhandle. Through its control of the glacier, Pakistan intends not only to threaten Leh-Ladakh but also to take her border to meet that of China. It believes then it can find an alternate route to the treacherous Karakoram highway.

Current Situation

The Indian army controls all of the 70 kilometres (43 mi) long Siachen Glacier as well as all of its tributary glaciers as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier, Sia La, Bilafond La, and Gyong La, thus holding onto the tactical advantage of high ground. Gyong La (Pass) itself is at 35-10-29N, 77-04-15 E; that high point is controlled by India. The Pakistanis control the glacial valley just five kilometers southwest of Gyong La. The line where Indian and Pakistani troops are presently holding onto their respective posts is being increasingly referred to as the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
The Pakistanis have been unable get up to the crest of the Saltoro Ridge, while the Indians cannot come down and abandon their strategic high posts. A cease fire went into effect in 2003. Even before then, every year more soldiers were killed because of severe weather than enemy firing. The two sides have lost an estimated 2,000 personnel primarily due to frostbite, avalanches and other complications. Both nations have 150 manned outposts along the glacier, with some 3,000 troops each. Official figures for maintaining these outposts are put at —$300 and —$200 million for India and Pakistan respectively. India has built the world’s highest helipad on this glacier at a place called Sonam, which is at 21,000 feet (6,400 m) above the sea level, to serve the area. India also installed the world’s highest telephone booth on the glacier. One of the factors behind the Kargil War in 1999 when Pakistan sent infiltrators to occupy vacated Indian posts across the Line of Control was their belief that India would be forced to withdraw from Siachen in return for Pakistan pulling back from Kargil. Both sides have been wishing to disengage from the costly military outposts but after the Kargil War India has backed off from withdrawing in Siachen, wary that the Kargil scenario could play out again if they vacate their Siachen Glacier posts without any official confirmation of their positions.

During her tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan, Ms Benazir Bhutto, visited the area west of Gyong La, making her the first premier from either side to get to the Siachen region. On June 12, 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the area, 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 air link, the Thoise airbase, mainly for military purposes. Pakistan’s PIA flies tourists and trekkers daily to Skardu, which is the jumping off point for K2, the world’s second highest point just 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) northwest of the Siachen area, although bad weather frequently grounds these scheduled flights.

Since September 2007, India has opened up mountaineering and trekking expeditions to the forbidding glacial heights. The expeditions are also meant to show to the international audience that Indian troops hold almost all dominating heights” on the important Saltoro Ridge and, to show that Pakistani troops are not within 15 miles (24 km) of the 43.5-mile (70 km) Siachen Glacier. Despite protests from Pakistan, India maintains that it doesn’t need Pakistan’s approval to send trekkers to Siachen, in what it says is essentially an Indian territory.

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