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The Siachen Conflict, sometimes referred to as the Siachen War, is a military conflict between Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker over the disputed Siachen Glaciermarker region in Kashmirmarker. It began in 1984 with India's Operation Meghdoot.


The Siachen glacier is the highest battleground on earth, where Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker have fought intermittently since April 13, 1984. Both countries maintain permanent military presence in the region at a height of over . More than 2000 people have died in this inhospitable terrain, mostly due to weather extremes and the natural hazards of mountain warfare.


The conflict in Siachen stems from the incompletely demarcated territory on the map beyond the map coordinate known as NJ9842. The 1972 Simla Agreement did not clearly mention who controlled the glacier, merely stating that from the NJ9842 location the boundary would proceed "thence north to the glaciers." UN officials presumed there would be no dispute between India and Pakistan over such a cold and barren region


In 1957 Pakistan permitted a British expedition under Eric Shipton to approach the Siachen through the Bilafond La, and recce Saltoro Kangrimarker. Five years later a Japanese-Pakistani expedition put two Japanese and a Pakistani Army climber on top of Saltoro Kangrimarker. These were early moves in this particular game of oropolitics.

The United States Defense Mapping Agency (now National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) began in about 1967 to show, with no legal or historical justification or any boundary documentation, an international boundary on their Tactical Pilotage Charts available to the public and pilots as proceeding from NJ9842 east-northeast to the Karakoram Passmarker at 5,534 m (18,136 ft) on the China border. Numerous governmental and private cartographers and atlas producers followed suit. This cartographic aggression resulted in the US cartographically "awarding" the entire 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of the Siachen-Saltoro area to Pakistan.

In the 1970s and early 1980s several mountaineering expeditions applied to Pakistan to climb high peaks in the Siachen area due in part to U.S Defense Mapping Agency and most other maps and atlases showing it on the Pakistani side of the line. Pakistan granted a number of permits. This in turn reinforced the Pakistani claim on the area, as these expeditions arrived on the glacier with a permit obtained from the Government of Pakistan. Teram Kangrimarker I ( ) and Teram Kangrimarker II ( ) were climbed in 1975 by a Japanese expedition led by H. Katayama, which approached through Pakistan via the Bilafond La.

The Indian government and military took notice, and protested the cartography. Prior to 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent presence in the area. Having become aware of the errant US military maps and the permit incidents, Colonel N. Kumar, then commanding officer of the Indian Army's High-Altitude Warfare School, mounted an Army expedition to the Siachen area as a counter-exercise. In 1978 this expedition climbed Teram Kangrimarker II, claiming it as a first ascent in a typical 'oropolitical' riposte. Unusually for the normally secretive Indian Army, the news and photographs of this expedition were published in 'The Illustrated Weekly of India', a widely-circulated popular magazine.


The first public acknowledgment of the maneuvers and the developing conflict situation in the Siachen was an abbreviated article titled "High Politics in the Karakoram" by Joydeep Sircar in The Telegraph newspaper of Calcuttamarker in 1982. The full text was re-printed as "Oropolitics" in the Alpine Journal, Londonmarker, in 1984.

India launched Operation Meghdoot (named after the divine cloud messenger in a Sanskrit play by Kalidasa) on 13 April, 1984 when the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force went into the glacier region. Pakistan quickly responded with troop deployments and what followed was literally a race to the top. Within a few days, the Indians were in control of the area, as Pakistan was beaten to the Saltoro Ridge high ground by about a week. The two northern passes - Sia Lamarker and Bilafond Lamarker - were quickly secured by India. The contentious area is about to nearly of territory in India. Since 1984 Pakistan has launched several attempts to displace the Indian forces, but with little success. The most well known was in 1987, when an attempt was made by Pakistan to dislodge India from the area. The attack was masterminded by Pervez Musharraf (later President of Pakistan) heading a newly raised elite SSG commando unit raised with United States Special Operations Forces help in the area. A special garrison with eight thousand troops was built at Khapalu. The immediate aim was to capture Bilafond La but after bitter fighting that included hand to hand combat, the Pakistanis were thrown back and the positions remained the same. The only Param Vir Chakra - India's highest gallantry award - to be awarded for combat in the Siachen area went to Naib Subedar Bana Singh (retired as Subedar Major/Honorary Captain), who in a daring daylight raid assaulted and captured a Pakistani post atop a 22,000 foot (6,700 m) peak, now named Bana Post, after climbing a 457 m (1500 feet) ice cliff face.

Ground situation

In his memoirs, former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf states that Pakistan lost almost of territory that it claimed. TIME states that the Indian advance captured nearly of territory claimed by Pakistan.

Further attempts to reclaim positions were launched by Pakistan in 1990, 1995, 1996 and even in early 1999, just prior to the Lahore Summit. The 1995 attack by Pakistan SSG was significant as it resulted in 40 casualties for Pakistan troops without any changes in the positions. An Indian IAF MI-17 helicopter was shot down in 1996.

The Indian army controls all of the long Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier—Sia Lamarker, Bilafond Lamarker, and Gyong Lamarker—thus holding onto the tactical advantage of high ground. .

The Pakistanis control the glacial valley just five kilometers southwest of Gyong La. The Pakistanis have been unable get up to the crest of the Saltoro Ridge, while the Indians cannot come down and abandon their strategic high posts.

The line between where Indian and Pakistani troops are presently holding onto their respective posts is being increasingly referred to as the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).

Severe conditions

A cease fire went into effect in 2003. Even before then, every year more soldiers were killed because of severe weather than enemy firing. The two sides by 2003 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. India built the world's highest helipad on the glacier 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.

Kargil War

One of the factors behind the Kargil War in 1999 when Pakistan sent infiltrators to occupy vacated Indian posts across the Line of Controlmarker was their belief that India would be forced to withdraw from Siachen in exchange of a Pakistani withdrawal from Kargil. Both sides had previously desired to disengage from the costly military outposts but after the Kargil War, India decided to maintain its military outposts on the glacier, wary of further Pakistani incursions into Kashmir if they vacate from the Siachen Glacier posts without an official recognition from Pakistan of the current positions.


During her tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan, Ms Benazir Bhutto, visited the area west of Gyong La, making her the first premier from either side to get to the Siachen region. On June 12, 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the area, calling for a peaceful resolution of the problem. In 2007, the President of India, Abdul Kalam became the first head of state to visit the area.

The Chief of Staff of the US Army, General George Casey on October 17, 2008 visited the Siachen Glacier along with Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor. The US General visited for the purpose of "developing concepts and medical aspects of fighting in severe cold conditions and high altitude".

Since September 2007, India has welcomed mountaineering and trekking expeditions to the forbidding glacial heights. The expeditions have been meant to show the international audience that Indian troops hold "almost all dominating heights" on the important Saltoro Ridge west of Siachen Glacier, and to show that Pakistani troops are not within of the Siachen Glacier.An October 2008 trek was "being undertaken to send a message that every civilian with the help of military can visit this part of the country,” a senior Indian army officer explained. The civilian treks to Siachen started despite vehement protests from Pakistan which termed it India’s “tourism” in “disputed territory”. Pakistan conducts similar expeditions in nearby areas under its control with no requirement of a military liaison officer to accompany trekkers; their permit formalities are simpler, often taking just two weeks. Pakistan in 2008 did not lodge a formal protest against the treks and India too has also kept it a low key affair, with Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony skipping the flagging off ceremony.

India based Jet Airways plans to open a chartered service to the glacier's nearest airlink, the Thoisemarker airbase, mainly for military purposes. Pakistan's PIA flies tourists and trekkers daily to Skardumarker, which is the jumping off point for K2marker, the world's second highest point just 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) northwest of the Siachen area, although bad weather frequently grounds these scheduled flights.


See also


  1. VAUSE, Mikel. Peering Over the Edge: The Philosophy of Mountaineering, p. 194.
  2. CHILD, Greg. Mixed Emotions: Mountaineering Writings, p. 147.
  3. Modern world history- Chapter-The Indian subcontinent achieves independence/The Coldest War.
  4. Himalayan Journal Vol. 21
  5. Himalayan Journal Vol. 25
  6. 2003 article about Siachen in Outside magazine
  7. SANGAKU 71
  8. Outside magazine article about Siachen battleground
  9. The Telegraph - Calcutta : Nation
  10. Alpine Journal, 1984
  11. (pp. 68-69)
  12. The Himalayas War at the Top Of the World July 31, 1989 - TIME
  13. (pp. 39)
  14. [1].
  15. See for perhaps the most detailed treatment of the geography of the conflict, including its early days, and under section "3." the current status of control of Gyong La, contrary to the oft-copied misstatement in the old error-plagued summary at
  16. See for a detailed, current map.
  17. "Indians have been able to hold on to the tactical advantage of the high ground. Most of India's many outposts are west of the Siachen Glacier along the Saltoro Range.
  18. In an academic study with detailed maps and satellite images, co-authored by brigadiers from both the Pakistani and Indian military, pages 16 and 27: "Since 1984, the Indian army has been in physical possession of most of the heights on the Saltoro Range west of the Siachen Glacier, while the Pakistan army has held posts at lower elevations of western slopes of the spurs emanating from the Saltoro ridgeline. The Indian army has secured its position on the ridgeline."
  19. Confirm ground position line on Siachen: BJP - April 29, 2006, The Hindu
  20. Guns to fall silent on Indo-Pak borders November 26, 2003 - Daily Times
  21. India Installs World'S Highest Phone Booth Soldiers Fighting Along Kashmir Glacier Can Now Call Families, Army Says - Denver Rocky Mountain News - Highbeam Research
  23. India opens Siachen to trekkers Times of India 13 Sep 2007

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