For a long time, nobody controlled Siachen and the glacier remained no man's land. Although it became the world's highest conflict zone in 1984, it can be safely said that the origin of the dispute lies in the ambiguity in agreements following major wars between the two nations.
The 1949 Karachi Agreement, signed after the first Indo-Pak armed conflict, defined the ceasefire line. The truce subcommittee of the UN's commission for India and Pakistan, however, did not give a precise definition of the line to the north of a point known as NJ9842. India and Pakistan's international border with China fell in this undefined area. After the 1971 war, in the Simla Agreement, both countries agreed to respect the ceasefire line, now rechristened as the Line of Control.
The vagueness about the border beyond NJ9842 persisted as both parties chose to ignore the region which so far had seen no combat and hence no deployment of forces. The agreement stated that the line extends from NJ9842 and then north to the glaciers. Both sides interpret this in different ways.
Although Pakistan never deployed troops in the region, since the 1970s they encouraged international mountaineering expeditions on the glacier. These expeditions were authorized by the Pakistani government and were generally seen as an attempt to reinforce Pakistan's claim on the region.
It is reported that in 1977 an Indian colonel, Narinder (Bull) Kumar, read an article on a Siachen expedition in an international mountaineering magazine. This prompted him to lead an Indian team to the glacier. The Indians successfully reached the glacier, climbed several peaks and returned back. Later, the Pakistanis spotted the Indian trail when they found a crumpled packet of an Indian brand of cigarette. Alarmed by this, the Pakistani army decided to occupy the glacier.
An international magazine (Time) has reported that there was a huge intelligence blunder as the Pakistanis ordered mountaineering gears from a London firm that happened to be a supplier for India. The information got leaked and in April 1984 India launched "Operation Meghdoot" to defend Siachen. Indian troops reached the glacier much before the Pakistanis and since then Siachen is under Indian control.
In a paper published in the Pakistan Journal of History & Culture, the writer Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, (associate professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad) notes that it is disputed whether Siachen is even part of J&K. It falls under the Pakistani-administrated northern areas of the Baltistan region, the paper says. It further claims that the northern areas have no ethnic or cultural similarities with the Kashmiri people and hence their fate should not be linked with the resolution of the J&K dispute. The writer mentions that Pakistan's claim on Siachen is internationally recognized as various international magazines have shown in their maps that the region belongs to Pakistan.
The ruthless terrain and lack of oxygen at heights of 20,000 feet have a psychological toll on the soldiers posted in Siachen, killing more soldiers than gunfire. The economic costs are also huge and in 2009 it was estimated to be between Rs 3 to Rs 3.5 crore a day. Whether these hardships are strategically worth it, remains a matter of debate.
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