Jammu & Kashmir state of the Indian Union has been involved in a quagmire of controversy, ever since the Maharaja of the erstwhile kingdom, signed the instrument of accession in 1947. This state, even before accession to India, always had international borders with China on east and Afghanistan in the north. In 1947, when British India was divided into Pakistan and India, the state was attacked by Pakistan army invading under the disguise of Tribal warriors from Northwest. After the accession to India, Indian army had to land in Kashmir and fight back the invading Pakistani army. In this war, most of the Kashmir valley was won back by Indian forces and Pakistani forces were forced to retreat to west of Pir-Panjal mountains. Pakistan continued to hold the Baltistan region in north of Ladakh. The Prime Minister of India then refereed the matter to United Nations Security Council. After that, Pakistan has embarked upon three unnecessary wars with India over Kashmir. However, today, after 65 years, the Indian and Pakistan forces keep holding the same positions in spite of these three wars.
As an aftermath of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan over Bangladesh independence, a treaty known as ‘Shimla Accord’ was signed by India and Pakistan. The cease fire in Kashmir was made formal and was named as Line of Control or LOC. This line starting from south, runs parallel to India-Pakistan international border upto Keran village in Kupwada district. It then turns right passing over Dras and Kargil regions of Ladakh. The line again turns north and ends at a point located on a snow clad peak known as NJ 9842. The 1949 Karachi agreement between India and Pakistan mentions this point and says that this line would go further to “ thence North to the glaciers.”
If we study the geography of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, it can be seen clearly that four mountain ranges divide the state into four natural parts. All these four mountain ranges run in southeast to northwest direction. The Jammu region adjoining Panjab state and the Kashmir valley are divided by Pir-Panjal range. The Nun-Kun mountains to the east of Kashmir and the Zanskar range box between them the Zanskar valley. Ladakh plateau lies between Zanskar ranges and Ladakh ranges. To the north east of Ladakh plateau and the south Karakoram ranges, the Shoyok and Nubra vallys are the last areas of habitation. To the east of Karakoram mountain lies the Tibet region. To the south end of Karakoram mountains and to the east of Leh city, the famous Karakoram pass is located. Till 1950, this was a trade route between India and Xinjiang province of China.
The LOC between India and Pakistan, crossing all these mountain ranges except Karakorams, ends at point NJ9842 roughly to northeast of Leh city but to west of Karakoram ranges. According to Shimla agreement, since entire region east of this pint right up to Tibet consists of inaccessible mountains terrain and glaciers, both the countries might have then decided to keep this as no man’s land. India had assumed that this line eventually would go along the Soltoro ridge keeping Siachin glacier within India till a point on Rimo glacier, where it would meet the Chinese border. Pakistan according to its convenience decided that this line would run west to east from NJ9842 to Karakoram pass. This would have enabled Pakistan to connect the regions of Skardu and Baltistan straight to Chinese borders.
Pakistan started allowing foreign mountaineering expeditions in the Siachin region and the first Japanese tema carried out an expedition there in 1978. Pakistan’s idea behind this permission was a clever one. It was thought that once the international expeditions come to know that Pakistan’s clearance is all that they require , internationally it would be assumed that it is a part of pakistan. When the Indian army headquarters came to know of this development, they started sending Indian army teams to Siachin region in summer. The plan was to dissuade any foreign mountaineers from climbing in Siachin and tell them that they have entered unauthorizedly into Indian territory.
Nubra River basin
On 21st August 1983, Pakistani army commander in Kargil sector complained to his Indian counterpart that Indian forces are crossing the LOC, which runs from NJ9842 to Karakoram pass, and venturing on to Siachin glacier. In reality this was the first step of a great strategical move panned very carefully. The Indian army high command, when realized the true intentions behind the complaint, immediately carried out the reconnaissance and found out that out of four passes that are available for entering in to Siachin from Pakista’s side, Pakistani soldiers have occupied parts of Bilafond La. An army contingent was immediately dispatched to Siachin. However this contingent realised that very large number of Pakistani soldiers were present in that area and made a retreat. After studying the actual ground situation, the army HQ decided to send army units to Siachin before onset of summer in next year or 1984 and started preparations.
The Region east of point NJ9842
How is the Geography of this region, where Siachin glacier is located? Some authors have called it as the roof of the world. Some call it as the third pole. This glacier flowing at an avarage height of 15000 feet is spread over 72 KM. On both sides of this glacier snow clad peaks of the Karakoram up to 23000
feet tower above the glacier. The south Karakoram ridge extend on the east side whereas Soltoro ridge extends on the west side. Biting cold snow blizzards and winds blow here all the time. In winter the temperatures drop down to -40 degrees Celsius. Indian army HQ realised that if this region is to be taken under military control, it would be necessary to control the peaks on the western side or the Soltoro ridge. Otherwise Indian soldiers on the glacier would be just sitting ducks for the enemy and would be practice targets. It was a very tough task as establishing army outposts at such heights was not easy at all. In spite the advercities, Indian army was successful in establishing series of outposts on the Soltoro ridge by March/April 1984. When Pakistani soldiers arrived in this area again in the month of May, they found that Indian soldiers have occupied all the poasses leading to Siachin namely Sia La, Bilafond La, Gyong La and Chulung La. When it was realised that all the Siachin passes are now controlled by India, Pakistani soldiers retreated and established outposts on the western ridges of Soltoro. After this the war broke out.
Mouth of Nubra River
A Siachin Glacier Photograph
To capture outposts on Soltoro ridge is an impossible task for any infantry unit and Pakistan army failed in their objectives totally. Since 1984 the military situation has remained more or less same till date. India controls Soltoro ridge, Siachin glacier, all passes that lead to the glacier and major parts of Shoyok and Nubra river basins.
Soltoto ridge from west (Pakistani side)
Many persons have questioned this occupation of siachin by Indian forces. Army HQ says that to protect Leh and the towns to the north from possible invasion this step has been taken and this seems to be quite true. If we study the geography of this region, the importance of Siachin can be easily appreciated. From Soltoro ridge, the Pakistan occupied Skardu region is just 40 miles away. The Siachin is shaped like a dagger into north and India’s control over Siachin is perhaps the biggest headache for any expansionist plans of Pakistan. To secure this region, controlling Siachin is essential. There can be no two opinions about it.
Indian Howitzers in Siachin
After 1997, Government of India, opened up the Siachin region for mountaineering for Indian and foreign teams. In 1998, a Mumbai mountaineering team led by Mr. harish Kapdiya was allowed the access here. He traveled the entire Siachin glacier from Nubra river mouth to Northernmost Indira Col. A desciption of his travel can be read on this link. The point where Siachin glacier meets the Chinese border, a mountain range blocks further travel. A saddle in these mountaines has ben named as Indira Col. This name has been given much before independence(1912) and is of Goddess Laxmi. Indira Gandhi’s name is not connected with this place in any way.) However it is a strange coincidence that the northernmost point of India, which is in India’s possession at present and the Southernmost point on the tip of Nicobar islands are both named as Indira. A mountain pass to the east of Indira col. Leads to Xinjiang region of China. In 1889, Francis Younghusband, a British officer had entered Xinjiang through this pass only.
Many question about keeping army in Siachin, which requires a huge cost. I have mentined above the answer given by defense ministry. However there happens to be another more important strategic reason. Upto 1950, trade was carried through Karakoram pass between India and central Asia and Russia via Xinjiang. The famed Nathu La pass for the gun battles of 1965 is fats becoming a center for border trade between India and China. Similarly Karakoram pass has excellent possibilities of becoming a trade route of the furure for trade with China, central Asia and even Russia. Once the Rohtang tunnel is completed the Manali-Leh road would be an all weather road to Padm and Leh in Ladakh. Once this happens, a trade route through Karakoram pass is in the realm of reality. But for this to happen, this entire region has to be secured militarily. This can be achieved only if Soltoro ridge and siachin are firmly in India’s hands. The presence of army there, whatever may be the cost, is essential for the future.