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Archive for April 7, 2012

The story of Siachen


With the tragic news of 150 Pakistani soldiers buried alive in an avalanche in the Pakistan base camp at Siachen, it brings back to memory the bitter truths about this conflict.

The glacier:

  • Siachen means ‘the place of wild roses’.
  • 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.
  • It 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.

The conflict:

  • Siachen is known as the world’s highest battlefield between #India & #Pakistan. Troops are deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 metres (22,000 feet) at minus 60 degrees C.
  • Siachen conflict began in 1984 when both India and Pakistan, began sending mountaineers, in an attempt to lay their claims over the area. Several skirmishes took place till 2003 when a cease fire was declared.
  • The roots of the conflict over Siachen 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.
  • UN officials presumed there would be no dispute between India and Pakistan over such a cold and barren icy wasteland.
  • The contentious area is only 900 square miles (2,300 km2)
  • Indians control the length and heights of the glacier including the three passes, while the Pakistanis control the glacial valley. As a result, Pakistanis cannot climb up, and Indians cannot come down.
  • Together, the two nations have about 150 manned outposts along the glacier, with some 3,000 troops each.
  • Over 2,000 Pakistani & 4,000 Indian soldiers have died at Siachen conflict. More soldiers have died or handicapped from frost bites, cold and avalanche i.e. harsh weather than combat.
  • Official annual figures for maintaining these outposts are put at $300 and $200 million for India and Pakistan respectively.

The strategic importance:

No matter what India and Pakistan may claim about its strategic importance, Dr. Stephen Cohen, a well-known and respected Washington-based South Asia analyst, considers,

“Siachen conflict is a fight between two bald men over a comb.”

In his view, “Siachen… is not militarily important… They (Indian and Pakistani armies) are there for purely psychological reasons, testing each other’s ‘will’.”

The talks for demilitarisation of Siachen did take place between India and Pakistan in May 2011, but fialed to reach any agreement.

The truth remains that this stretch of icy wasteland holds no political or economic importance to the billion and a half residing on both sides of the border.

Instead of being a battle ground, Siachen should be demilitarized, and to evade the unresolved dispute of AGPL ( actual ground position line) the area could be seen as a ‘common ground’ precious enough to study and conserve the glacier which is under threat due to the climate change. This can easily stand as a symbolic Peace Park. And the billions of rupees used to maintain its cost as outpost for armies should be directed at improvement of the plight of the impoverished peoples on both sides.

Or better still let ordinary youth from both sides of the border play kabaddi in snow.

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