The recent avalanche and the continuous death of soldiers in Siachen Glacier have posed many questions about the safety of soldiers and security of nation. However, before that you should be aware of some facts regarding the Siachen Glacier
- Siachen Glacier is among of the largest glaciers in the non-polar region of the world. It lies in the Karakoram Range system which is a part of western Himalayas. It also lies to the south of the zone that separates Eurasion Plate with the Indian Plate, which is the result of convergence boundary interaction in geographical terms.
- The word Siachen comes out of two words: “Sia” which means rose and “Chun” which means anything found in abundance according to “Balti” language. Therefore it represents the place of roses.
- It is the highest battle field in the world and lies on LoC (Line of Control) between India and Pakistan. It has been continuously contested by Pakistan as its own part which has led to militarisation of the glacier.
- After the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971, an agreement was signed between the two countries in 1972, which came to be known as the Shimla Agreement, but it failed to clearly mention who controls the glacier. However, in 1984, the Pakistan army tried to enter the glacier, forcing India to launch a military operation known as “Operation Meghdoot” and since then we have control over the glacier. Frequent skirmishes did occur between 1884 to 2003. A ceasefire agreement was signed between India and Pakistan in 2003
- The glacier is the source of many rivers including Nubra River, a tributary of Shyok, which is a part of the Indus River System.
- Siachen Glacier also boasts of the world’s highest helipad built by India at Point Sonam, to supply its troops. India also installed the world’s highest telephone booth on the glacier.
- Former Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh was the first PM to visit the glacier in 2005, followed by Mr Narendra Modi in 2014
- Bone-chilling winds is said to sweep the landscape and sun can burn the skin. It is also said that combined with thin air and sub-zero temperatures, it can induce acute depression.
- The Glacier comes under a fragile ecosystem and thus excess military presence has led to a threat of damage to system. This is borne out of the fact that there has been waste dumping by the soldiers and ammunition exchange. The region is also a home to rare species of snow leopard, brown bear etc which may be affected by military presence. This has led to talks in international forums about creating a “Peace Park” in the area and demilitarise it.
- The glacier was opened to public expedition in 2007. However, prior clearance is required for that.
- The survival of soldiers is the most important question. Due to very high altitude, the body tends to lose weight and disorders in the general cycle of food and sleep occur.
- In December 2015, Union Minister of State for Defense said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha that a total of 869 Army personnel have lost their lives on the Siachen glacier due to adverse climatic conditions, and environmental and other factors till date since the Army launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984. The death of soldiers are more because of climatic conditions than artillery exchange.
Now coming to the demilitarisation of area, Pakistan has always been untrustworthy with regard to this and any effort to bring external force or international community will be against the Indian Principle of “Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs”. Further calling a third party is against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country and thus shall never be resorted to. Therefore, the breach by Pakistan of Shimla Agreement had created a psychosis among India not to trust the former at all. Any act to demilitarise the area may incite Pakistan to get a control over it at any time in future.