The Killing Peaks

Southasia - - Comment -

Ev­ery­thing is so mind-bog­gling about the Si­achen War. It is the world’s high­est bat­tle­field, where a war has raged be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan since 1984 in ex­treme weather con­di­tions. The con­flict has been aptly de­scribed as a ‘war above the clouds.’ that has been fought be­tween two nu­clear-armed na­tions for the past 28 years though it still does not make many in­ter­na­tional head­lines. The two con­tenders bat­tle it out silently for the ice-cov­ered ter­ri­tory away from public glare, ex­cept at times like the present when some 135 Pak­istani sol­diers have been buried in the deep snow fol­low­ing a dread­ful avalanche.

Ba­si­cally, it is typ­i­cal In­dian in­tran­si­gence over its oc­cu­pa­tion of the Si­achen Glacier, the world´s long­est glacier out­side the Po­lar regions, that has forced Pak­istan to de­fend its ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. Rightly de­scribed as the most point­less of all wars, it is a con­flict where 4,000 sol­diers have lost their lives for each side ever since hos­til­i­ties started. Though the Si­achen Glacier was never thought to have strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance for In­dia or Pak­istan but in April 1984, an In­dian Reg­i­ment and the In­dian Air Force cap­tured the Sal­toro Ridge in what was con­sid­ered to be no man’s land and there­fore left un­guarded. This act of un­pro­voked ag­gres­sion on part of In­dia was ac­tu­ally a fall­out of the un­re­solved Kash­mir dis­pute as the Si­achen is­sue is said to have arisen over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the pre­cise lo­ca­tion of the line of con­trol in north­ern Kash­mir.

Since the Si­achen Glacier is a part of Baltistan, which is lo­cated in Pak­istan’s North­ern Ar­eas, the Pak­istan army took rapid ac­tion to quell the In­dian move, par­tic­u­larly since In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion of the glacier also threat­ened the strate­gic Karako­ram High­way. Ever since In­dian forces have made ingress into the ter­ri­tory, Pak­istan has taken all pos­si­ble mea­sures, though at a very high cost of men and ma­te­ri­als, to stop In­dia from mak­ing fur­ther for­ays in the re­gion. It is quite in­ex­pli­ca­ble though that in these times when there is an univer­sal ef­fort to re­duce and elim­i­nate flash­points of con­flict around the globe, Pak­istani and In­dian armies still choose to stand vigil against each other in a very hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment com­pris­ing some of the world’s high­est peaks and large glacial ex­panses, al­ti­tudes of around 6,000m and tem­per­a­tures that fall be­low 50°C in win­ters, plus un­remit­ting wind chill, harsh bliz­zards and avalanches like the one that has hit the Pak­istan side now. In these con­di­tions, tra­di­tional mea­sures for se­cu­rity and in­for­ma­tion can­not be car­ried out as men and equip­ment can­not move about freely and tra­di­tional war­fare prac­tices are ren­dered use­less be­cause such con­di­tions are en­coun­tered nowhere else in the world.

There have been se­ri­ous ef­forts from both sides to find a so­lu­tion to the Si­achen dis­pute and many diplo­matic moves have been made to dis­en­gage the two forces. How­ever, while In­dia re­fuses to lose its grip over the ter­ri­tory it cap­tured in 1984, Pak­istan main­tains that Si­achen has al­ways been its part and In­dia should va­cate the area. The stand­off con­tin­ues while pre­cious lives con­tinue to be lost in this non-war.

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