Siachen , in Balti language, means a land of abundance of roses . It is a frozen dessert in the Karakoram ranges of the Himalaya.
Before 1984, the glacier was uninhabited and only a few mountaineering expeditions were conducted on the glacier. After the troops from India and Pakistan launched military operations on the glacier in 1984, the glacier became the highest battlefield on earth.
The Indian army launched operation Meghdoot in 1984 in Siachen, to capture the strategic points in the Saltoro Ridge. From then, Indian Army is continuing to conduct its longest operation till date on the Siachen glacier with troops stationed there round the clock and all throughout the year.
THE CAUSE OF THE CONFLICT
The conflict on Siachen started just after the UN resolution on Kashmir in 1948, which divided Kashmir between India and Pakistan by the Ceasefire Line (CFL) which under the Shimla Agreement of 1972 late became the Line of Control(LOC)
The resolution, which is also known as the Karachi agreement, was vague and resulted in different perceptions of the LOC in Siachen.
India asserted that Pakistan’s territory under the Shimla agreement of 1972 is up to point NJ9842 whereas Pakistan perceived its territory continues north-east from point NJ9842 upto the Karakoram pass
Since this area was inhospitable and was regarded unsuitable for military operations, the Karachi agreement did not specifically demarcate Siachen.
Both Pakistan and India in the 1970s started mountaineering expeditions to Siachen. India got suspicious about the intention of Pakistan after the latter gave permission to a Japanese expedition in 1984 to surmount the Rimo I peak in 1984.
India viewed this as an attempt by Pakistan to legitimize its claim on the glacier.
Pakistan subsequently planned to launch a military operation to capture Siachen as they were suspicious that expedition missions of the Indian Army might capture key points on the glacier.
Hence, Pakistan ordered Arctic-weather gear from a London supplier, to equip its troops to conduct operations at such heights.
They were unaware that the same supplier provided outfits to the Indian soldiers. The Indian intelligence agencies picked this development and informed the Indian political and military leadership.
India then planned operation Meghdoot in March 1984 and launched the attack on 13th April 1984. As per intelligence reports,India preempted Pakistan by four days as Pakistan was planning to launch the operation on 17th April 1984 .
The operation resulted in India gaining 70 kilometers (43 miles) long Siachen Glacier and its three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge which are Sia La, Bilafond La captured in 1984 and subsequently Gyong La in 1987.
It gave India the tactical advantage of holding higher grounds on the glacier. Hence Siachen remains under Indian control till date and the operation is still continuing on the glacier.
IMPORTANCE OF SIACHEN
The Siachen glacier separates the Indian subcontinent from central Asia and also divides Aksai Chin(controlled by China) and Pakistan. India’s position on the higher grounds of Saltoro Ridge gives it a dominating position to control the area and keep an eye on both of its adversaries.
The glacier is a single fresh water source in the region , which feeds the Nubra river . The Nubra river feeds the Indus river which is a major river that feeds the plains of Punjab Pakistan. Hence control of the glacier is important for India.
CHALLENGES TO GUARD THE GLACIER
Apart from the threat from both China and Pakistan, the harsh climatic conditions is the biggest challenge for the troops deployed on the glacier.
Temperature in Siachen glacier in winters drops to below -60 degrees. Soldiers posted on the glacier are affected by a range of fatal altitude related ailments like frost bites, hypoxia, hypothermia and white outs.
From 1984, approximately 97% of the deaths in Siachen happened due to extreme weather conditions. The cause of deaths were a result of frequent avalanches , crevasses and altitude related health ailments.
The challenge to guard the glacier which is strategically important for India is manifold and all the services of the Indian Armed forces are to be credited to protect and guard the world’s highest battlefield.