Saving Siachen’s Soldiers

India and Pakistan should seriously rethink deployment in winter

Written by Rajeev Shukla | Published:February 29, 2016 12:26 am

siachen, siachen glacier, siachen army base, indian army siachen, siachen indian army, siachen india, india siachen, army at siachen, siachen army, siachen news, india newsThe country mourned when braveheart Lance Naik Hanumanthappa breathed his last. He not only left us devastated but also obligated us to think about the working conditions of Siachen soldiers.

It’s time to introspect whether we should do something so that no other soldier meets Hanumanthappa’s fate. It has become urgent for the government to consider the withdrawal of forces from Siachen during the harsh winter. In case there’s a compelling reason to deploy, such deployment should be limited to one or two chowkis for communication only. If we can make this arrangement with China in Ladakh, why can’t it be done with Pakistan in Siachen? The proposal for de-militarisation and withdrawal during winter has been discussed several times in the defence ministry. I hope certain options were explored.

Siachen is covered by heavy snow, with temperatures ranging between 0 to minus 35 degrees Celsius. Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been locked in a stand-off on the glacier since 1984. The Indian army has around 300 soldiers deployed in Siachen. They are provided with ration for six months and they return to their base camp only after six months.

Soldiers are taught to survive first and then fight. Many soldiers have become colour blind due to continuous exposure to snow; many are suffering from ophthalmological problems. Many soldiers suffer frostbite. If you visit Leh’s army hospital, you will find many soldiers admitted for frostbite. Pneumonia and oxygen-deprivation are common. Permanent disability is also not uncommon. We have lost valuable officers and soldiers because of Siachen. When I visited Siachen with K.C. Pant, then defence minister, we witnessed soldiers’ arduous life there. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also convinced about making Siachen a mountain of peace when he visited it in 2005. He was the first PM to visit Siachen.

Snow storms are a regular feature of the region. It’s inherent in the nature of ice that nothing changes its form in it. Human waste takes months to get dry, and it becomes a health hazard for the soldiers. Even when a soldier falls sick, helicopters find it difficult to land. That was precisely the reason why the bodies of the nine soldiers could be evacuated only days after they were killed.

Siachen is only a 75 km stretch between India and Pakistan. Given the human loss, the two countries should agree to take forward the draft agreement settled by Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto in 1989 — that there will not be any deployment of forces in Siachen in winter. I hope Pakistan would reciprocate because it’s the Pakistani soldiers for whom the terrain is more difficult, as they don’t have treatment facilities there, nor are they equipped like their Indian counterparts.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to India, Abdul Basit, had recently expressed his country’s desire for a speedy resolution to the Siachen stand-off. So, once such a proposal comes, both sides should accept it for the sake of their soldiers. When George Fernandes was defence minister, he had said India spends hundreds of crores in Siachen but there’s nothing there that benefits India. India spends around Rs 4 crore per day in Siachen.

Both countries have accepted Siachen as a matter of prestige. So forces have been deployed from both sides. Otherwise, it has no real strategic significance. Because of its terrain, there will never be any incident like Kargil in Siachen. There’s a huge difference between the geography of the two regions. The enemy can construct bunkers in Kargil to intrude into our territory but it’s not so easy in Siachen. We can patrol the area with helicopters even without deploying soldiers. Helicopters can keep a watch on the border and on intrusion for every two to three kilometres. We have modern instruments by which we can keep a close watch and monitor the area. So there’s no need for the deployment of forces, particularly during winter. The fact is that we can keep a better watch from helicopters we presently use for the transport of soldiers and also with satellites. In winter, it becomes very difficult for soldiers to step out of their camps and patrol. In case we pick up any intelligence, forces can be airlifted to the region within an hour.

Both India and Pakistan should seriously consider this idea. The Indian government should take the first step in this direction so that no other soldier meets the fate of Hanumanthappa and his colleagues. This would be a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of Hanumanthappa.

The writer, a former Union minister, is a Congress Rajya Sabha MP

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  1. S
    Sirius
    Feb 29, 2016 at 5:35 am
    Yes , Rajiv Shukla cannot trek with his oversized body to Siachen. A helicopter cannot handle his weight. So, this piece of ' real estate' does not interest him . Hence, Vacate it !
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    1. M
      Ms
      Feb 29, 2016 at 3:32 am
      5th para last line: difficult to operate helicopters. 8th para: patrol with helicopters. Hasle bhai bta ?
      Reply
      1. P
        Pat
        Feb 29, 2016 at 2:16 pm
        Why Dr subra anima Swamy not taking this fat pig to court for Mumbai land scams which he got it free. The less congress anti nationals talk about India the better. You are not in a position to decide it's people's business and Army just sit on your big behind and gobble free food money out of tax payers money. Match fixer hate cricket because of these people.
        Reply
        1. J
          Jimmy
          Feb 29, 2016 at 9:53 am
          Can u pls explain why it was not don't when upa was in power ? Needless to say......this is a strategic location and we all know that stan is a 1st grade moron......can't trust those b@#�%and@#
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          1. C
            Col S
            Feb 29, 2016 at 2:05 pm
            It is not CRICKET to be be manited.SIASCHERN is INDFIAs pride. No BARGSINING.
            Reply
            1. D
              desikan
              Feb 29, 2016 at 2:00 am
              Indian Army suggested delineation of entire Siachen just like other agreed border areas. For this, Pak army has always disagreed because it is very likely that they have ulterior motives. Without knowing all these things , the writer blindly suggests vacating the positions held by us.
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              1. R
                Rana
                Mar 2, 2016 at 12:21 am
                Only one word can describe the author. a
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                1. G
                  G B
                  Feb 29, 2016 at 12:05 am
                  The Congress Party is responsible for deploying troops in Siachen in 1984 for strategic reasons. Whilst in power during the past 32 years, the Congress Party did not deem it sensible to withdraw troops on mutually agreeable terms. Was the author a 'chicken' while in power? Out of power, why is he raising the issue of withdrawal of troops from Siachen? Stop playing political games for scoring brownie points when out of power. You have no right to pontificate now. Leave it to the army to have the final word on the issue.
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                  1. J
                    Jon
                    Mar 2, 2016 at 2:29 am
                    Wrong! Wrong! and Wrong!!! Even your Kanpur daily "Jansatta" won't oblige and print this garbage(that you call insights n thoughts). Only Indian Express. I am suprised they didn't name your article "And they killed..."
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                    1. K
                      Krishna Kumar
                      Feb 29, 2016 at 7:25 pm
                      How is this pig faced fat as*s a security expert? Looks like his Italian boss had enough of him licking her as*s and has given him a break.
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        KS KUMAR
                        Feb 29, 2016 at 1:06 pm
                        What did this gentleman do while in government except making money in the name of cricket administration which he continues to do now also. Why he could not tell these ides to his Italian Madam.
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                        1. M
                          Mubarik Malik
                          Feb 29, 2016 at 6:22 pm
                          I am a stani and had very similar thoughts few days ago when a dozen Indian soldiers lost their precious lives in Siachen. For me, they were just humans and lost their lives needlessly. Similarly, Pak soldiers are also loosing lives on the other side. Given the harsh nature of the location, and of no practical value, it is desirable to demilitarize Siachen. I would even be willing to give up Siachen to save unnecessary loss of human life. Come to think of it, India lost its Western part to stan in 1947, while stan lost East Bengal in 1971. What is Siachen compared to these? If we could loose those in the past, Siachen is just a dot!!!
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                          1. M
                            mast kalandar
                            Feb 29, 2016 at 1:54 pm
                            Someone from the ARMY should educate this bloody FAT CONGRESS PIG about the real position in Siachen, that NO STANI soldier has even set his foot on Siachen EVER!!! ENTIRE Siachen is under the control of INDIAN ARMY...stani army is no where near. THIS IS A WICKED and SINISTER PLOY by stan to get Indians to vacate SIACHEN so that they could try and do another KARGIL....and look WHO is doing the job of their spokesperson....THIS UGLY CONGRESS PIG!!!
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                            1. C
                              Chandru
                              Feb 29, 2016 at 11:51 am
                              Any business deal possible in Siachin? Otherwise Rajeev Shukla wont be bothered! A pucca Cong wheeler -dealer- talks abt Siachin- makes me wonder what is cooking! I am definite that motive is not patriotism not humanity- it has to be money!
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                Abdul Wahid
                                Feb 29, 2016 at 5:43 am
                                Agreed. It depends upon both the parties to resolve the matter amicably through talks.
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                                1. P
                                  pankaj
                                  Feb 29, 2016 at 2:38 am
                                  [[ If we can make this arrangement with Chi-na in Lad-akh, why can’t it be done with Pa-kis-tan in Si-ac-hen? ]] What type of argu-ment is it? You do not know how different Pa-ki-st-an is? Ch-ina has good stan-ding that it has to protect,; while -stan can play ga-mes even with U-S, almost anyone, because they anyway do not have any repu-tation in comity of nations, except for being part of every ma-fia and ter-rori-st act.
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                                  1. N
                                    NS
                                    Mar 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm
                                    Ye kya bakwaas hai ?
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      rajeevhalka
                                      Mar 1, 2016 at 3:04 pm
                                      he he he , abe sutiyon apna ghar dekhlo pehle!
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                                        Ramakrishnan
                                        Feb 29, 2016 at 11:02 am
                                        Hasn't Kargil proved that measures suggested by Shuklaji cannot be relied upon. Congress party specialises in not learning the lessons - whether it is 1962 (that is why Henderson Brooks Report is still a secret) or Kargil. Now they want to commit the same mistake in Siachen too. Won't they ever learn their lessons? Has Army ever said they cannot defend Siachen? On the other hand it is the Army which is standing firm against vacating Siachen with out a written agreement from stan on Actual Ground Position line.
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                                        1. R
                                          Ramakrishnan
                                          Feb 29, 2016 at 10:55 am
                                          The first question is when Karachi Agreement said 'NJ9842 and thence northwards to the glaciers" why the ruling Congress Govt then did not bother to take care of the effects of this 'vague statement' in all the years between 1949 and 1984. It was left to Col Narendra Kumar, on his own initiative, to go on ground, realise the danger, apprise Gen Hoon and thence up the channel for Sal Ridge to be occupied. Why didn't Congress Govt take measures through diplomatic and Head of the Govt level to remove the ambiguity all these years? Isn't the Congress Govt(s) guilty of dereliction of duty?
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                                            rkannan
                                            Feb 29, 2016 at 6:28 am
                                            What is ignored is that the army considers it important to hold on to Siachen. stan has repeatedly gone back on its commitments and thus any fresh commitments have to be viewed with scepticism. It is interesting that Mr Shukla's article repeats many arguments of the stani government and army. Why is it not logical to leave the decision on this subject to the professionals - the defence forces ?
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