Mention of the Siachen Glacier first began to appear in public domain in the late 1980s — more so after May 1987 — when Indian troops pre-empted Pakistan’s attempts to dominate the glaciated region. The motivation to dominate the glacier came from its potential for vast amounts of water resources in the long term, though in the immediate future, it provided a strategic opportunity for Pakistan to both contest the importance of the LoC, going beyond this de facto boundary to dominate India’s military presence and habitations in an around Leh. But late Gen. Zia’s plans were pre-empted by an alert Indian army, that got the government to approve this pre-emptive venture, so that India wouldn’t be faced with another border fate accompli, as it was, by Chinese advances in 1962.
‘How’ this was done and the impossible was achieved, is narrated by a veteran of very first conflict of 1987, Brigadier (now retired) Rajiv Williams, in a firsthand account of this frozen theatre of a quarter century long conflict. The ‘why’ of this fascinating tale has been elaborated upon in considerable detail along with anecdotal accounts, the Kashmir dispute since independence and even before, by Kunal Verma, a film maker and a writer with a long professional association with India’s armed forces. Siachen, and more specifically the daunting heights of the Soltoro ridge which dominate the glacier, are occupied by doggedly determined Indian troops – keeping the Pakistanis, several kilometres away, despite Paki claims to the contrary – is the world’s highest battle field, but also the scene for longest running air operation in military history.
But this book under review, not only looks at the Siachen issue — which actually makes up only a quarter of the text —but how Kashmir and its surrounding mountains have captured the interest of rulers over the centuries. Thus the Siachen story is actually a sideshow, on which the book is pegged. For the first time a comprehensive picture emerges as to what led to India’s military intervention in Kashmir, spoiling the British post-independence tea party. Or why – as in the view of the author- Pakistan was created, as well as why is there a Sino Indian problem. The book takes a frank and objective look at the role played but not just the British but also the Americans, and even more importantly by Indian politicians, who were the key players at that time.
This extensively researched book, amazing in both its scope and style, breaks just about every existing mould as it races through unexplored and uncharted areas to weave together the fascinating tale that is told. Superbly illustrated with breathtaking photographs, it’s almost like watching a film in the form of a book. Like a see-saw, the book ventures in and out of different historical periods, diverse geographical locations and adopts different narrative styles as the entire story unfolds. And the credit for this must go largely to Kunal and Dipti Bhalla Verma, both filmmakers and photographers of considerable excellence.
In fact there is hardly a subject or a place of military relevance to India they have not explored, or written or made a film about. All this is there to be seen in this veritable pioneering expedition in this tough and forbidding territory of India, where our soldiers and our brave hearts have gone out and fought with great courage and fortitude. To label it purely as a military history book, would be limiting. This book simply has to be read — by a student of war or even those indifferent to geopolitics — as each find in it something very special. In the prolific world of publishing today, this one is still perhaps, a first of its kind.