Tuesday, February 9, 2016

[Editoria # 61] Why Siachen must be demilitarised : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 6th February 2016. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer-writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]

The February 3 avalanche on the Siachen glacier that buried 10 Indian Army soldiers is a stark reminder to both India and Pakistan about the cost of military deployment in such inhospitable territory. The bodies of most soldiers of the 19 Madras Regiment are yet to be recovered from the post on the northern part of the glacier, at a height of 19,600 feet. This was not an isolated incident but part of a growing trend in that region, as global warming dramatically affects the glacier. Last month, four soldiers of 3 Ladakh Scouts were killed when an avalanche hit a patrol party in the Ladakh region, not very far from the site of the present tragedy. Avalanches are a threat not just to Indian soldiers, but also to the Pakistani troops. In April 2012, in the Gayari sector, 129 soldiers of the 6th Northern Light Infantry of the Pakistani military and 11 civilian contractors were buried by a massive avalanche. It is not just avalanches; the challenging terrain of the glacier and its surroundings as a whole have been regularly claiming lives. According to reliable estimates, over 2,000 soldiers from both sides have died on the Siachen glacier since 1984, when India beat Pakistan by a few days to occupy many of the strategic locations on the glacier.

Ever since the two militaries began a costly engagement on the glacier, there have been numerous efforts by both countries to find a way to demilitarise the glacier. In June 1989, they came very close to clinching a final deal. The two sides had agreed to “work towards a comprehensive settlement, based on redeployment of forces to reduce the chance of conflict, avoidance of the use of force and the determination of future positions on the ground so as to conform with the Shimla Agreement and to ensure durable peace in the Siachen area”. Ever since then, India and Pakistan have tried diplomatically to find away to demilitarise the region. However, a lack of political will on both sides has meant that the status quo holds, and soldiers continue to pay a very high price in that remote snowy outpost. India has in the past suggested delineation of the Line of Control north of NJ 9842, redeployment of troops on both sides to agreed positions after demarcating their existing positions, a zone of disengagement, and a monitoring mechanism to maintain the peace. Given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal initiative to visit Lahore on Christmas day and to push forward peace with Pakistan, it would only be the next logical step to look at the low-hanging fruits in bilateral issues to build trust. The demilitarisation of Siachen is definitely doable. This is not only because it is diplomatically possible, but also because there is a critical mass of opinion in both India and Pakistan that neither can sacrifice, or put in harm’s way, so many lives on the inhospitable glacier. If the initiative is not seized by both sides now, the vagaries of nature will continue to exact a toll on forces deployed in Siachen, even if peace holds.


1. What is a glacier? What percentage of total fresh water available on earth is in the form of glaciers?

2. What is an avalanche? What factors are responsible for avalanche?

3. Trace out Siachen Glacier on a map of India? What is the dispute related to Siachen Glacier? 

4. How is Siachen Glacier strategically important for India?

5. What is Shimla Agreement? When and why was it signed? Who were the parties involved in the agreement?

6. What is Line of Control? What is its history? Trace out the same on the map of India?

7. Locate Ladakh on the map of India? What are some special attributes of Ladakh?

8. Do you think India should make efforts towards de-militarisation of Siachen Glacier? Why or why not?

9. Do you think technology can facilitate de-militarisation in Siachen Glacier? Suggest a few measures.


  1. What is a glacier? What percentage of total fresh water available on earth is in the form of glaciers?
    Glaciers are made up of snow, which over the years get compressed to form thickened ice masses. it is generally formed when the snow remains in one area over a long period of time to transform into ice. The unique feature about the glacier is its ability to move. Due to its mass the glaciers move like slow rivers. The size of glaciers vary from few meters to several kilometers.
    Percentage of total fresh water present in the form of glacier is 68.7%.

  2. What is an avalanche? What factors are responsible for avalanche?
    An avalanche which is also known as snow-slip is a rapid flow of the snow from a sloping surface. when the slab of snow which forms the base, gets weaker with the constant deposition of snow over it. After a certain point of time the slab of snow gives up as it is unable to hold the mass of snow which is deposited over it. Due to this the slab breaks and the avalanche picks up speed due to the slope.
    Factors responsible for causing avalanche:
    Snow storms and wind direction- Heavy snow storms can cause avalanches. the wind blows from one direction to another. In this process it might take away the base of snow on which snows are deposited.
    Heavy snowfall- It might exert pressure on the base of slab which in turn will result into avalanche.
    Human Activity- such as deforestation and soil erosion in mountain regions. leads to weakening of the slope. Even winter sports are one of the reasons for the cause of Avalanches.
    Vibration or movement- Construction work and vehicles may cause vibration within the snow which it cannot withstand.
    Warm temperature- it can cause the upper layer of the snow to weaken and thus enhances the probability of it sliding down.
    Other factors- earth quake.

  3. Trace out Siachen Glacier on a map of India? What is the dispute related to Siachen Glacier?
    The genesis of the conflict lies in the non-demarcation of the cease-fire line beyond a map coordinate known as NJ9842.
    Before 1984 neither India nor Pakistan had permanent presence in the area. there were two agreements before 1984 karachi agreement(1949) and the Simla Agreement(1972) that presumed that it was not worth human habitation to survive north of NJ9842.
    During the 1970s Pakistan permitted several expeditions on this glacier, this was considered as an act of claiming that territory because the permission was granted by the government of Pakistan.
    In 1978 when India got to know about this it started a counter exercise. India launched operation Meghdoot on 13 April 1984 when the Kumaoun regiment of the Indian Army and the Indian Air force went into the Glacier. Pakistan responded to the same by deploying troops and was followed by the race to the top.
    India got control over the glacier and two passes Sia La and Bilfond La was secured by India.

  4. How is Siachen Glacier strategically important for India?
    1) it is the source of river which irrigates land of Punjab.
    2) the location is at the border where Pakistan is at the Left and China on the North.
    3)Further according to the instrument of accession the entire region belongs to India. Giving up the glacier would justify the claim of Pakistan.
    4)It guards the route leading to leh capital of Ladakh.
    5)close to the Karakoram Pass through which the Karakoram Highway passes connecting Gilgit-Baltistan to Xinjiang Province of China.

  5. The Simla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan in simla capital of Himachal Pradesh on 2nd of July 1972. The agreement was signed in the aftermath of Bangladesh Liberation war 1971. India was an ally of Bangladesh after the victory of Bangladesh which made it Indo-Pakistini war of 1971. The Agreement was ratified by the Parliament of both the states.
    The agreement was basically done to resolve the conflict. The agreement laid down that the both countries would solve their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations.
    The agreement converted the cease-fire line into Line of Control between both the countries. Both the countries further agreed that none of them would try to alter the line of control irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations.

  6. Ladakh means land of high Passes. Sparsely populated.
    Passes-Khardung La, Sasser, Karakoram, Tanglanh La, Chang La, Zoji La.
    Valleys-Leh, Salt Valley, Suru Valley, Nubra, Zanskar.
    Cities and towns-Leh, Kargil.
    Rivers, Glaciers and Lakes-Sutlej,beas, Ravi,shyok,chenab,indus,suru,chip chap.
    Siachen Glacier, Drang-drung, Rimo.

  7. India should not demilitarize:
    1) because of the strategic importance.
    2)The neighbors are not worth trusting for.
    3) legitimize the Pakistan's claim.
    Steps should be taken to make the place more safe for the soldiers.

  8. 1. What is a glacier? What percentage of total fresh water available on earth is in the form of glaciers?
    A glacier is a large thickened ice mass formed due to compression of fallen snow over many years. Their uniqueness is their ability to flow like very slow rivers.. Glaciers form 68.7% of the world’s freshwater resources.

  9. 2. What is an avalanche? What factors are responsible for avalanche?
    An avalanche is generally any amount of snow sliding down a mountainside. Even a small amount of snow sliding down a mountain gains speed and power as it nears the base increasing the destruction caused by it.
    Factors responsible for an avalanche are:
    i) Heavy snowstorms are most likely to cause avalanches since the blowing wind displaces snow from the surface.
    ii) Heavy snowfall deposits snow in unstable areas and puts pressure on the snow pack.
    iii) Human activities causing deforestation, soil erosion cause instability in the snow. Winter sports put similar pressure which may affect the region. Another reason are earthquakes and tremors are further natural causes.
    iv) Usage of All Terrain Vehicles and Snowmobiles creates vibrations which the snow cannot withstand. Use of explosive in neighbouring area tends to weaken the whole area.
    v) The more layers of snow that fall increase the risk of avalanches since one layer can slip over another.
    vi) Presence of steep slopes increases the risk of avalanches.
    vii) Warm temperatures for some time can cause upper layers to melt and slide down.

  10. 3. Trace out Siachen Glacier on a map of India? What is the dispute related to Siachen Glacier?
    It is located in the Eastern Karakoram Range in the Himalaya mountains just north-east of the point where the Line of Control between India and Pakistan ends.
    The dispute started in 1984 with Operation Meghdoot when India established control over all 70 kilometres long Siachin glacier and its tributaries which was previously unoccupied by any country. Its origin lies in the incompletely demarcated territory on the map beyond a point NJ9842. The 1949 Karachi Agreement and the 1972 Shimla Agreement did not specify who controlled the glacier. Later from 1957, Pakistan started giving permission for Western expeditions to the Siachin glacier. In 1984, the Indian Army also undertook expeditions and eventually beat Pakistan to capture the area.

  11. 3. The Siachen Glacier lies in the eastern Karakoram range of the Himalaya mountain ranges, north-east of the point NJ9842, where the Line of Control between India and Pakistan ends. It is the world's second longest glacier in non-polar areas, being 76 km in length. It lies south of the glacial divide that separates the Eurasian plate from the Indian subcontinent, in the glaciated portion of the Karakoram which is often referred to as the Third Pole. The Saltoro Ridge is located to the east of the Siachen and the Eastern Karakoram ranges o the East. The area west of the Saltoro Ridge is under Pakistani control.
    What is the dispute ?
    The dispute in the Siachen is mainly due to the incompletely demarcated territory on the map beyond the map coordinate NJ9842. Both agreements between the two nations, i.e. the Karachi Agreement of 1949 and the 1972 Shimla Agreement, failed to mention which country controlled the Siachen glacier, mentioning merely that the Cease Fire Line terminated at point NJ9842. India and Pakistan have constantly engaged in the Siachen region, militarily since 1984, where both countries maintain a permanent army base at a height of more than 6000 m or 20000ft. Prior to 1984, neither Indian nor Pakistan maintained any permanent presence in the Siachen.In 1984, the Indian Army received intelligence regarding the Pakistani army's intent to seize the Sia La and Biafond La points on the glacier. The army, under Lt Gen. M.L.Chibber, Maj.Gen Shiv Sharma launched an operation to pre-empt Pakistani control of these points. In turn the Pakistani army responded and this led to the first armed conflict in the region. Post Operation Rajiv in 1987, over the next three years, the Indian Army was able to control certain important passes. It was able to wrest control of the Pakistani occupied Biafond La as well the eastern Saltoro Ridge. The Indian army militarily engaged the Pakistani intermittently from 1984 to 1999 . In fact one of the prime causes behind the Kargil war was the Pakistani intent to occupy Siachen in exchange for foregoing Kargil. So while both sides had previously decided to disengage militarily from the region, post the Kargil war, the Indian army maintained a permanent base in the Siachen. While India controls most of upper regions of the Siacher, the Pakistani Army has been relegated to the lower bounds of the glacial area.

  12. 4. Any disputed territory between Indian and Pakistan assumes importance as is the case with the Siachen glacier. The glacier assumes further importance due to its proximity with the territory illegally ceded by the Chinese namely Saksgam Valley on the Indo-Tibet boundary. A proper demarcation of territory is essential for India to maintain a military buffer zone between China and Pakistan as also to clearly establish Indian control over disputed territories. Since India has always claimed control over the entire region of Jammu Kashmir including the northern areas, establishing control over the Saltoro Ridge is in keeping with India's position. In addition, establishment of clear control over this area would send a strong message to China which has illegally occupied the Saksgam Valley on the Indo-Tibetan Border. If India is able to clealt demarcte the terriroty under its control it will fore the Chinese to negotiate with India for the control of the Saksgam Valley which legally falls under Indian territory, broadly defined.
    Clear demarcation of territory on the Siachen is not only a means to prevent further armed conflict, or to establish control over territory. It is a also a clear signal to Pakistan on the non-viability of continued occupation of Kashmir and the necessity of recognizing the bounds of Indian territory. It is also a strong message to China, that India is unwilling to compromise on territory that falls within its jurisdiction and unwilling to accept illegal occupations of the same. The Siachen undoubtedly remains a linchpin of Indo-Pak-china relations and its continued occupation renders a sense of psychological security to the Indian people's in the face of unpredictable military onslaughts by the Pakistani Amry abtetted by the Chinese. Although the area is inhospitable and claims several lives, demilitarization seems a distant dream given consistent Pakistani aggression and belligerence and the tendency of that nation to strike unexpectedly in strategic locations, Pathankot being the latest example.

  13. 5. The Shimla Agreement of July 1972 was signed between the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan and Indira Gandhi of India consequent to the termination of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The agreement provided for the peaceful settlement of disputes between India and Pakistan through bilateral negotiations. It aslo paved the way for official/diplomatic recognition of the Bangladeshi nationhood and sovereignty by Pakistan. The agreement provided that the relations between the two nations were to be governed by the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and in addition the pre-requisite to peaceful relations was mutual respect for the one another's territorial integrity and sovereignty. ( A rather ironic provision, considering its constant breach by Pakistan). This agreement also converted the cease fire line of 1971 into the Line of Control between India and Pakistan and it was agreed that neither side would unilaterally breach the LOC or seek to alter it unilaterally, despite any mutual disagreements or legal interpretations. In order to maintain peaceful relations , the armies of both nations would be withdrawn to their sides of the International Border. In Jammu and Kashmir the Line of Control shall be respected by both sides irrespective of their original positions on this matter. The agreement has been abided to mostly in its breach, with military conflicts between Indian and Pakistan continuing unabated post its ratification by the both governments.

  14. 6. Ladakh which translates to Land of High Passes is one of the most sparsely populated territories in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. It lies between the Kuen Lun mountain range and the great Himalayas to the south. Contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the East, Xinjiang province of China to the north and the Vale of Jammu , Kashmir and Baltiyul to the south.

  15. 7. The Line of Control is a military control line between Indian and Pakistani occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir, which till date does not constitute an international border but remains a de facto border between the two nations. It was originally referred to as the ceasefire line and became the LOC post the 1972 Shimla Agreement. The part of the territory under Indian control is the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the two portions under Pakistani control are known as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. The northern most point of the Line of Control is the NJ9842. The LOC divides the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two arbitrary portions separating villages and families from one another. The construction of the LOC began in the 1990s, but slowed in the 2000 as conflicts between the two countries increased. It was finally completed in 2004 and is now a 550 km fence on the Indian controlled side around 150 yards from the LOC.