'The Pakistani army has sold a myth to its population that it is deployed eyeball to eyeball with the Indian Army on the Siachen glacier, which it is not.' 'The Indian military has rightly advised the government not to fall for the rather spurious Pakistani demand to demilitarise Siachen.'

Background: The Conflict

The eastern Karakoram Range where the Indian interpretation of line beyond NJ9842 (where the Cease Fire Line and later Line of Control was terminated), effectively divides the Indian Kashmir and the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is claimed by both India and Pakistan. The Indian troops have been deployed on the Siachen glacier since 1984 in a befitting reply to the deployment of the Pakistani army on the other side of the glacier. But India dominates the heights and thus is in a strategically advantageous position vis-à-vis Pakistan. A ceasefire has been holding since November 2003, and most of the deaths on both sides of the glacier have been due to the extreme climatic conditions on what has been dubbed as the ‘World’s highest battle field’. Both countries maintain permanent military personnel at the glacier at a height of over 7,000 metres and is a prime example of mountain warfare. For the Nubra valley, the main source of the Nubra River is through the melting of the glaciers waters which then joins the Shyok River. The Shyok River then ultimately joins the Indus River which finally winds to Pakistan and is important for both India and Pakistan. “The roots of the conflict over Siachen lie in the non-demarcation of the cease-fire line on the map beyond a map coordinate known as NJ9842. The 1949 Karachi agreement and the 1972 Shimla Agreement presumed that it was not feasible for human habitation to survive north of NJ9842. Prior to 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent presence in the area”.

Strategic Significance

Since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the two counties have been embroiled in an unending and enduring conflict. The reasons of the conflict are many-fold for example water dispute, Kashmir issue, border dispute and so forth but the battle between these two countries on the heights of Siachen glacier has been a curious case for many in the strategic and international arena. Why will two countries spend a heavy sum on patrolling a glacier which has extreme sub-zero temperature with storms some time lasting for months and threat of natural calamities due to its heights? India controls the upper reaches of the glacier and is been maintaining the status quo since 1984. A withdrawal of troops from Siachen would be an incorrect move because it would send wrong singles to Rawalpindi which cannot be trusted with border incursions. History is witness to the attempts Pakistan has made to infiltrate, be it through the border areas with Jammu and Kashmir or the unsuccessful attempt to seize the national highway, NH1 which is the life line of the Indian army to Leh and ultimately to Siachen. Whether it’s the Mumbai terror attacks or the recent attacks on the Pathankot air base, all the witness has been traced back to the Pakistani soil. Kargil war which was an attempt by the Pakistani army hand in glove with the terror outfits was an attempt to occupy the heights in Ladakh and then ultimately cut the supply line to the Indian army based in Ladakh. The memorial wall of operation Vijay in Drass sector is a reminder of the befitting fight fought by the Indian army to push the infiltrators back to the lower heights. Therefore the unwillingness of the Indian army to withdraw from the heights stems from the fear that any step backward in the Siachen sector can bring the Pakistani position forward.

Operation Meghdoot

On April 13, 1984 the Indian Army launched a daring operation at Siachen, the world's highest battlefield, to gain control over the glacier in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalayas. In the days to follow, Operation Meghdoot -- named after Kalidas's Sanskrit masterpiece -- secured the glacier and adjoining heights from Pakistani aggression.

This operation has continued over the last 30 years with Pakistan making numerous failed attempts to dislodge the Indians from the Saltoro ridge along the western periphery of the glacier.

Operation Meghdoot pre-empted Pakistan's plan to occupy the heights leading to the Siachen glacier and link the uninhabited areas between the Karakoram Pass and the Saltoro ridge.

Although many pundits have now said, in retrospect, that Siachen does not have any strategic significance, in 1984, both the military and political leadership in India was alarmed enough not to take any chances of a military link up between China and Pakistan.

Thirty years later that decision has proved to be correct, given the increasing Chinese footprints in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan's northern areas.


Demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier has been hotly debated on both sides of India and Pakistan but neither side takes the first step. The whole Indo-Pak conflict is twisted in a complex web of issues and extraction of army, be it from Kashmir or the Siachen glacier sounds like a good idea but practically is not feasible for India. Until and unless Pakistan does not let its soil be used as a breeding ground for the terror outfits which particularly target India, there cannot be a solution to the India-Pakistan conundrum. The problem in Pakistan is that, the army muddles with the affair of the elected government.

The Pakistani army has been touted to have links with terror outfits and the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) as have been clear from the recent Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley disclosures in connection to the Mumbai 26/11. For the Indian side, maintaining the status quo at Siachen will proof to be a bargaining chip when in a conflict or war like situation. Although technologically India can further employ more advanced technology in order to avoid death tolls, but demilitarisation cannot be the, solution in the near future. For the people of Ladakh Siachen glacier is the source of water and cutting down on troops from the glacier as well as the whole region will have detrimental effect on the whole region, in many possible ways. (With reporting by IDR & Rediff)