Why Siachen Glacier is Strategically Very Important
Siachen Glacier is highest battleground of the world, where Indian Army personnels are manned at an altitude of 21,000 ft from Mean Sea Level like Bana Post or Phalwan Post. The word “Siachen” in Balti language means “land of red roses” but here on ground nothing grows not even grass.
The Siachen glacier is considered to be the largest single source of fresh water on the Indian subcontinent.
It is located in the Karakoram range. Siachen is the source of the Nubra River that eventually feeds the mighty Indus— the major water source that irrigates the Punjab plains in Pakistan. Siachen is near the Karakoram pass, forming almost a triangle with India, China and territory occupied by Pakistan touching the edges.
So the question comes into mind why the glacier is so strategically important to India? Because this glacier prevents direct linkage between Pakistan Army & China’s People Liberation Army, which are both are rival armies of Indian Army. It also give India a foothold in the region and recconnaisse the Karakoram highway which links Pak & China.
The Saltoro Ridge is a formidable ridge that runs roughly north-west to south-east. It overlooks Gilgit and Baltistan to its west and has to be crossed by any one seeking access from Skardu in the Gilgit and Baltistan area through to the Karakoram Pass which enters Tibet. This is not to be confused with the Karakoram Highway which enters Xinjiang through the Khunjerab Pass. Any Pakistani location in Karakoram would be a threat to India in Ladakh from the north in addition to Chinese locations in Aksai Chin.
The genesis of the problem lies in the way India-Pakistan agreements were worked out in Karachi (1949) and Shimla (1972). The ceasefire line or later the Line of Control was left undemarcated from point NJ 9842, and stated that it would run north from this point. This means that north was defined as the true geographical north and not an extension of the line in the direction which would take the line to the Karakoram Pass, something the Pakistanis claimed, wanted and were willing to assert this claim with perhaps an approving Chinese nod. North of Point NJ 9842 meant north to the Siachen and not to Karakoram.
If the line joining NJ 9842 to Indira Col i.e, the line along Saltoro Ridge is extended to Indo Tibet boundary, major part of Saksgam Valley illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963 will fall into Indian Kashmir. Chinese will therefore have to negotiate with India for settlement of Saksgam valley since they have steadfastly maintained that status of Saksgam Valley will be decided on eventual settlement of J&K problem.
It needs to be remembered that the origin of Siachen dispute lies in the fact that both the Karachi Agreement of 1949 and the Shimla Agreement of 1972 have left the status of Indo-Pak boundary vague North of Pt NJ 9842. While the Karachi Agreement says From Pt NJ 9842, the ceasefire line will run Northwards to the Glaciers, Shimla Agreement does not even make a mention of it. This is inexcusable.
Siachen in the possession of Pakistan would have meant Pakistan would have access from Skardu through to the Karakoram near the Aksai Chin and eventual linking with Shahidullah on the Kashgar-Xigatse road that runs parallel to the Tibet- India border.
One of the arguments being given is that the cost of retaining Siachen/Saltoro is prohibitive. This is rubbish. At approximately Rs Five crores a day it means only Rs 2475 crores annually out of a budget that is in the range of Rs 80,000 crores. Even if it were more than this, is there a fixed price for security and freedom? The loss of soldiers to harsh conditions has become minimal for the last many years and the hot war has long been over.
An agreement might have been possible but Pakistani refusal to sign the Agreed Ground Position Line on a specious argument only leads to the suspicion that they would want to alter the position at first dawn. General Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil adventure in 1999 was Pakistan’s last attempt to change the ground position militarily and politically and also to negate the advantage of Saltoro with India.
The China factor cannot be ignored in this cockpit of the world. It was not so evident in 1984 although the Karakoram Highway had been built by the Chinese by then and Pakistan had illegally ceded a portion of the territory under their control, Shaksgam to them. Today, the Chinese footprint is much larger. In its own strategic interests in the region, China would be interested in greater Pakistani control over Gilgit and Baltistan.
A rail link was also planned, to be connected with Pakistan’s main rail grid, and fiber optic cables were being laid in 2007. If China had a port in Gwadar that they could use, this would cut down the distance from Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea to merely 2,500 km. Today Xinjiang is 4,500 km away from the east coast of China. Gas and oil pipelines through from Gwadar and Xinjiang make sense only if Gilgit and Baltistan is secured. It is not a question of a glacier in the Himalayan heights; it is a question of India’s security.
It gives India a scope to keep tabs on the karakoram highway that connects china with the pakistan, through which major trade between the two countires occur.
It also acts as a first line defence as we can see every major development on our enemy side from the siachen.
Giving up Siachen as a gesture of friendship would also mean that its recapture would be extremely expensive to India in men and material. Today, as the other side continues to arm itself with newer nuclear weapons, has not called off its jehadi hordes and the only ‘concession’ it can offer us is an MFN at a future date or lunch at Lahore and dinner at Islamabad.
Pakistan cannot actually attack it and win, hence they choose a much easier option of talking on the table and negotiating.