An Eye For An Eye Will Only Make The Whole World Blind – Part Twelve

The Siachen Glacier

Although it was Mahatma Gandhi to whom the quotation which forms the title to this series is attributed and he is still, largely, revered in India, it seems that the authorities do not always pay heed to his sage advice.

Take the Siachen glacier.

It is to be found in the Karakoram range in the Himalayas and at 76 kilometres long, as well as being the longest glacier in the range, it is the second longest to be found outside of Earth’s polar regions. But no one lives there and so for all intents and purposes, it is worthless. Crucially, it is just to the north-east of NJ9842, the spot where the line of control between India and Pakistan ends. The Indians and Pakistanis who seem to want to pick a fight where no one else would bother, have been disputing the glacier since 1984.

The source of the problem can be traced to the Karachi agreement concluded in 1949 which carefully drew the borders between the two countries. But they seemed to have given up with the glacier, probably thinking it didn’t matter a jot, and just said, rather airily, that the line of separation, after NJ9842, would simply run “north to the glaciers.

The Indians have claimed that the line of separation should just run northwards to the west of the glacier, putting it under their control. The Simla Agreement of 1972, which had another go at finalising the borders of the two countries after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, didn’t address the thorny question of the glacier.

Matters heated up in 1984, always dangerous with glaciers, I feel, when the Pakistan government started issuing permits to people who wanted to climb the 20,000 foot glacier. India immediately responded by launching Operation Meghdoot and occupying the heights of Saltoro Ridge to the wars of the glacier, thus, effectively, giving them control of the glacier. The Pakistanis, whose own expedition, Operation Ababeel, got there a day too late, had to content themselves with glaring menacingly at their foes and securing what land was left.

And there matters remain, with the odd skirmish and with neither side willing to back down and give the other a symbolic victory.

Whoever was to prevail in the dispute – the Indians are firmly in the driving seat – would only win a Pyrrhic victory. Far more soldiers from both sides have been killed by the climate and the conditions than in any armed conflict.

In 2012 the Gayari Sector avalanche accounted for 140 Pakistani military personnel and between 2003 and 2010 they have lost the colossal number of 353 soldiers to the elements. But this pales into insignificance when you look at Indian losses. In December 2015 the Indian Minister for Defence admitted that since the launch of Operation Meghdoot 869 Army personnel have been killed on the glacier due to adverse weather.

No one lives in the area, other than the thousands of soldiers to this day deployed by the two states. If only Mahatma was still around to knock their heads together.


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