Siachen - The Worlds Highest Battlefield
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 17 July 2012 )
The Siachen glacier, located in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalaya
Mountains, is one of the five largest glaciers in the Karakoram, situated at an
average altitude of 18,000 feet above sea level. At 78 km long, it is the
longest glacier in the Karakoram and second-longest in the world's non-polar
areas. Most of the Siachen Glacier falls under the LoC (Line of Control), a
hotly contested territory between Pakistan and India. Since 1984, both countries
have been fighting intermittently for sovereignty over this region, because of
which the Siachen glacier is sometimes called the highest battleground on earth.
The conflict in Siachen stems from the incompletely demarcated territory on the
map of this region. 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 controlled the glacier. UN
officials presumed there would be no dispute between India and Pakistan over
such a cold and barren region. They were wrong.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, in the pretext of climbing the high peaks on this
glacier, Pakistan sent expeditions with permits issued by the Government of
Pakistan. The idea was to reinforce claim on the area, as these expeditions
arrived with a permit obtained from the Government of Pakistan.
In 1984, when the Pakistan army attempted to move into the region, India
launched a successful military operation and has since maintained control over
all of the Siachen Glacier and its tributaries. Between 1984 and 1999, frequent
skirmishes took place between India and Pakistan. However, more soldiers have
died in Siachen from harsh weather conditions than from enemy firing. Both India
and Pakistan maintain permanent military presence in the region at a height of
over 6,000 metres (20,000 ft), and continue to deploy thousands of troops in
Although a cease-fire went into effect in 2003, by then the two sides had lost
an estimated 2,000 personnel primarily due to frostbite, avalanches and other
complications. Together, the nations have about 150 manned outposts along the
glacier, with some 3,000 troops each. Official figures for maintaining these
outposts are put at ~$300 and ~$200 million for India and Pakistan respectively.
The Siachen glacier also boasts of the world's highest helipad built by India at
Point Sonam, 21,000 feet (6,400 m) above the sea level, to supply its troops.
India also installed the world's highest telephone booth on the glacier.
Aside from the Indian and Pakistani military presence, the glacier region is
unpopulated. The nearest civilian settlement is the village of Warshi, 10 miles
downstream from the Indian base camp. The region is also highly remote with
limited road connectivity. On the Indian side, roads go only as far as the
military base camp at Dzingrulma 72 km from the top of the glacier.