Why the Steadfast stands steady at the Siachen?

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Tamojit Ganguly, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur

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Recent deaths of a number of soldiers at the Siachen glacier have once again raised the question, whether we actually need to keep a constant vigilant eye at one of the most dreaded places on the Himalayan Borders.

Earlier avalanches resulted in the death of over 140 Pakistani soldiers in their Gayari Sector in April and six Indian soldiers in December of 2012. Post the present incident there have been media debates on whether there is a requirement to continue deploying troops on the glacier.

Each strategic expert, depending on his knowledge and perception, projects the importance or lack of it as it concerns the Siachen Glacier, thereby supporting his argument for continued occupation or vacation. Both arguments have merit; however since both India and Pakistan desire to control it, there has to be some reason and the only reason apparently is strategic importance.

From 1984 to 1986 Pakistan occupied the Saltoro ridge and established a post which dominated Indian posts as also its movement on the glacier. It never planned to vacate the post, even though it was on the most inhabitable ridge line. It lost this domination way back in June 1987, when the Indian army captured this strategic ‘Quaid’ post (subsequently renamed Bana Top), as part of Operation Rajiv. The operation was named after Lieutenant Rajiv Pande who led an earlier attempt to capture the post, but failed. The final assault was led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh, subsequently awarded the Param Vir Chakra, hence the name Bana Top. Since then, Pakistan has been asking for demilitarization of the glacier.

I do not wish to debate the aspect of the strategic importance of the glacier. I would rather highlight issues which tend to be glossed over whenever the glacier is discussed.

First is the fact that it is our territory. It is a part and parcel of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and hence clearly Indian. Therefore, inhospitable or not, it would have to be defended and protected from any force which desires to lay claim to it. In reality, we are in our own area, which therefore requires no justification. Pakistan occupied a part of it and we took it back; hence the aspect of converting it into no-man’s land does not arise, unless they recognize the Indian deployment, thereby recognizing that it is Indian Territory. This is unacceptable to them.

Second, though it is costly to support deployment on the glacier yet national security is never determined by cost alone. Losing the glacier or a part of it to any adversary would have a prohibitive cost in terms of national prestige and standing. The lessons from Kargil are clear. The cost of lives and equipment to regain what was Indian territory from an adversary was heavy. We had to regain it not only for the strategic reason of it dominating the national highway to Leh and Siachen alone, but more because it was a matter of national pride and prestige.

Third, a position of advantage is always essential during active hostilities. By occupying the glacier, the army holds a position of advantage as compared to Pakistan, and hence would never lose such an advantage. Its domination exists, and would continue to be a reason for it to be held.

Fourth, this terrain is different from the rest of the country. In other areas, where mobility is possible, reserves are readily available for occupation of a base or post, in case of a threat. The same is not feasible in this terrain. Acclimatization is essential at every stage. Movement of troops and stores takes time, even helicopters can carry only limited load. Hence if any force occupies it, evicting them may be near impossible, or prohibitive in human casualties. Therefore it has to be held irrespective of cost. Fifth, terrain or weather has never deterred the military. Avalanches take place in a number of areas in J and K. Kulgam Tangdhar, Banihal, Ganderbal, Bandipora and Kapran districts of J and K are avalanche prone. This has never deterred the local population or the army from carrying out their responsibilities and duties. In fact at most times, it is the army which is at the forefront of rescue, whenever such a calamity strikes. Hence, an avalanche should never alone be a reason to withdraw.

Sixth, while proposals keep coming from Pakistan’s side, can they truly be trusted to keep their word? There have been umpteen examples of India taking the first step to suggesting peace and always being paid back by a terrorist strike or a military action. Therefore can they be trusted to stick to their end of the bargain, in case we even consider any of their proposals on the glacier?  Can we risk vacating Indian territory to be occupied by any other force?

In case the answers to the above are negative, then clearly we do not require any discussion for continuing our defence of the glacier. It is our territory and it would continue to be held. The only condition which could lead to India vacating the glacier would be that it is accepted to be our territory and officially documented as such. All other reasons are basically for argument’s sake and unrealistic.

For all those soldiers, who have proudly served on the glacier, and wear the recognition of service there proudly on their chest, its importance and value have no limit. Casualties in the toughest and highest battlefield in the world are expected and would occur, however, we as a nation need to support and stand by our soldiers as they safeguard our national interests.

Reference:

The Hindustan Times

The Statesman

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