Bald Men Fighting over a Comb
Both India and Pakistan need to address the issue of demilitarization of the Siachen Glacier before it takes away a major chunk of their military and economic assets.
Irecently got a chance to meet Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff at a dinner. Luckily, others were reluctant to talk to him perhaps because of his position but I decided to avail this opportunity to discuss various facets of Indo-Pak relations with him, knowing that he would refuse to talk about politics. When it came to Siachen, I urged that resolving the issue was important due to the exorbitant price that our bankrupt nation is paying to retain the glacier. He eventually irritatingly told me that why don’t I get it resolved.
India and Pakistan have been talking about a resolution of the Siachen glacier dispute since India occupied it in 1984. The glacier was unmanned prior to its occupation and India instigated the whole issue by occupying it. The two countries have since then talked about its resolution in 12 rounds of talks, the most recent having been held from May 30 to 31 in New Delhi.
The Siachen glacier is described by some as the third pole and by some cynics in the military as the `rose garden’ and was, till the achievement of ceasefire in November 2003, the highest battlefield of the world. Temperatures sometimes reach cryogenic levels like minus 70 degrees Celsius. In such a climate, what to talk of fight, one finds it hard to breathe. The troops need twice the normal amount of calories daily just to keep warm. Almost all the time is spent inside igloos, watching believe it or not, Indian movies. And as one relative told me, the troops, once in a while, fire mortars at each other just to overcome their boredom.
India moved its troops to occupy the dominating heights of the Saltoro Ridge in 1984 in an operation code- named `Meghdoot’ while Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. Pakistan was then being ruled by General Zia ul Haq, an unpopular general who had defense as the last thing on his mind at the time. Enforcement of shariah to justify his `90 day rule’ to 11 years was then his primary preoccupation. Around 2000 soldiers of both sides have died since then on Siachen while 6,000 have been injured, mostly in battling the fierce weather rather than each other.
According to the recently released WikiLeaks cables, presence at Siachen costs the Indian army 3,000 crore rupees per year ($670 million), with helicopters becoming the lifeline for logistic support, kerosene supply to the troops costing as much as Rs. 6,000 a liter. Each soldier requires Rs. 20,000 worth of warm clothes every month. The daily expenses to maintain a bri-