On 3 February, 2016, an ice wall under which the Sonam post on the Saltoro Ridge was located came crashing down, burying all ten occupants of the post. Nine soldiers perished before the rescue teams could get to them on the fifth day. But miraculously, there was a lone survivor, L/Nk Hanamanthappa Koppad, whose girt and determination to survive at all costs galvanised the spirits of the country. A second miracle was required to save his life, but that was not to be. Even so, his will to survive against all odds exemplifies in large measure the spirit of the Indian Army. In his death, L/Nk Hanamanthappa paradoxically achieved immortality.
Curiously, voices are once again been raised on the need to demilitarise the Siachen Glacier. The strategic value of the Glacier is being questioned and the high cost in terms of lives lost and the large financial resources required to maintain troops in such inhospitable terrain is being cited as logic for withdrawing troops from those icy heights. On the face of it, these arguments sound logical, couched as they are in humanistic terms, citing the well being of soldiers. “There is neither honour nor glory in death due to cerebral oedema or hyperthermia’ is the argument oft trotted out. A deeper analysis simply exposes the hypocrisy of such claims. Another claim put out by Indian apologists states that there is ambiguity about the cease fire line, as post the 1949 Karachi Ceasefire Agreement, the delineation stopped at a map grid reference, NJ9842, the wording of the Agreement stating the CFL as “Chalunka (on the Shyok River), Khor, thence North to the glaciers”. There is little of ambiguity in the Agreement. The only ridge running Northwards towards the Glaciers is the Saltoro Ridge and that remains the logical position. That is how boundaries are traditionally defined. The Pakistani’s however chose to interpret it differently, stating that the line was Northeast towards the Karakoram Pass. This is mind boggling. After the Saltoro, the next range of mountains is the Karakoram and the Siachen Glacier lies in between. It is far fetched to presume that the line from NJ9842 could possibly allude to it joining the Karakoram Pass, which is what cartographic aggression by Pakistan attempted to do. That was a monstrous lie, but some in India, ever ready to affect peace at any costs, a la Chamberlain in 1939, swallowed the Pakistani position, hook line and sinker and continue to do so till date.
A proposal mooted by Pakistan is that both India and Pakistan should simultaneously withdraw from the Siachen Glacier and revert to the positions held in 1984. This makes no sense at all as Pakistan is not in occupation of any part of the Siachen. A withdrawal simply means an Indian withdrawal from the heights of the Saltoro Ridge. Pakistan has fed a lie to its own public that its military is in occupation of the Glacier. Why Indian academics should fall for such deceit is beyond comprehension.
More importantly, India claims the whole of J&K as its territory. That is also the stated position in the Indian Constitution. What then is the logic of withdrawing from the Saltoro, a position firmly held in Indian hands. As per the Constitution of Pakistan, J&K is not a part of Pakistan. Yet that country rules over the disputed portion and has over the decades carried out ethnic cleansing of the area, changing the very demography of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Withdrawing from the Saltoro Ridge line would be tantamount to accepting Pakistani duplicity over Kashmir. For too long has the Indian administration been soft on Pakistan with respect to Kashmir. We need to be firm in our resolve that the only pending issue between the two countries as far as J&K is concerned is that Pakistan must hand over all occupied territories to India.
Too many copious tears have been shed over soldiers losing their life and limb to weather conditions while defending the position. As of now, from 1984 till date, about 900 soldiers have lost their lives due to weather and terrain. Great improvement have however been made over the years in the logistic support to forces operating at those heights as a result of which weather related casualties now stand greatly reduced. There is a price to be paid for defending the country and every self respecting country will use all the power at its disposal to maintain its territorial integrity. Throwing away a strategic advantage in such a cavalier manner, citing deaths due to harsh weather conditions is myopic at best and could