The Siachen glacier which is often regarded as the world’s highest battlefield has been constantly in news since its annexation in India in 1984. The latest incident involved an avalanche that hit the Indian military base in the northern region of Siachen glacier trapping 10 soldiers. Lance Naik Hanumanthappa was the sole survivor who was rescued after being buried beneath 30 ft of Snow. But, he later succumbed due to multiple organ failures. The death of military personnel is not new and both sides have lost a sizeable number of troops over a period of 30 years.
The conflict started due vague territory demarcation in the historical Karachi Agreement in 1949. With no clear boundary both countries had their own interpretation of the territories under them. But, the region was still peaceful till 70s.
But, then what led to the brewing tension between India and Pakistan which later turned into an armed conflict known as Operation Meghdoot.
1) Pakistan supported expeditions
The treacherous terrains, unpredictable and harsh weather conditions made Siachen difficult for any mountaineering activity. But, with technological advancement, Pakistan’s government supported expeditions many a times accompanied by a liaison officer from Pakistan’s army.
2) Pakistan’s permission to Japanese Trek
To counter Pakistan’s moves, the Indian side too sponsored an expedition in 1978 under the leadership of Colonel Narendra Kumar also known as ‘Bull’ Kumar. It was through his trek that Indian government got to know that Pakistan has allowed a Japanese crew to explore Siachen. This move was a part of the broader plan to legitimize their claim on the region. By this time, several US magazines and newspapers had started showing Siachen within Pakistani territories.
3) Islamabad’s purchase of Arctic gear
In 1983, Islamabad planned a secret offensive against India to annex Siachen. But, this needed up-gradation of the gears for Pakistan’s troops and some modern weaponry. Coincidentally, the order for Arctic gear was placed with a supplier who was also a supplier to the Indian army. This extremely confidential information turned the odds in India’s favor which now had enough time on its hand to plan ahead of their rivals and decimate any offensive launched by them.
4) Distrust between neighbors
The extreme level of distrust between the two sides was definitely a reason behind this conflict. With Pakistan’s earlier attempts to intrude and capture Indian territories foiled, the Indian government adapted a cautious approach watching every Pakistani move with suspicion.
5) Strategic location of the glaciers
According to Indian forces, the glaciers had a strategic location. Located in the east of Aksai Chin (The conflicted territory between India and China), the glaciers could work as a trade route from the northeastern (Chinese) to the southwestern (Pakistani) side of the Karakoram Range and eventually provide a strategic, if not tactical, advantage to the Pakistani Armed Forces.
Well aware of the Pakistan’s motive, India planned a preemptive strike by the name Operation Meghdoot. Led by Lt. General Prem Nath Hoon, Indian forces based on some solid intel, occupied major peaks of the glacier on April 13. They knew that Pakistan planned to do the same by April 17th. According to the Time Magazine, India captured around 2600 KM Sq. of land during the operation. But, the actual casualties suffered by both the sides are still not known.
Success of Operation Meghdoot
Impeccable work by Intelligence agencies
The intelligence played a pivotal role in the operation. Indian army was informed about many critical strategies planned by their neighbor. The intel was significant and accurate which helped India to prepare for a befitting reply to Pakistan.
Better troop preparedness
With Indian Army’s farsightedness, Indian troops were sent to Antarctica in 1982 to train for warfare under extreme cold and harsh weather conditions. Thus, the troop was ready and acclimatized to the hostile conditions of the glaciers. Battalions were also deployed in Ladakh to make them habitual of fighting in those conditions. With no such training, Pakistan lost many soldiers who died due to frostbites.