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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 27 New Delhi June 22, 2019

Militarisation of Siachen: An Anomaly in India’s National Security Context

Sunday 23 June 2019

by Shrabana Barua

Introduction

It can be observed that some matters of national security, particularly those involving military action, gain special attention among other national issues most of the time. When a war is fought or a military conflict arises, no matter what the scale of it is, the episode falls under a nationwide scanner and evokes an escalating patriotic fervour that is difficult to escape even for non-partisan observers. The issue is then packed with layers of logic about national interest and presented as a binary between the enemy and the country’s own military forces. In this process a lot of facts are left distorted due to biased analysis. The Kashmir issue, for example, continues to struggle within compartmentalised spaces of Indian and Pakistani narrative of the matter. As a result, the Kashmir discordance has continued for decades of the past and seems to find no progressive path to tread in the near future. The binary of the national Army versus the ‘others’ have been starkly noticed in this context.

Along similar lines lies another national security issue in India—the Siachen dispute. The Siachen conflict, that began in 1984, has gained enough attention as a dispute where the Indian armed forces have been involved in an unprecedented and protracted confrontational scenario with its Pakistani counterpart. The continuing militarisation at Siachen has become an anomaly in India’s security context as well as its war history waiting to be studied more analytically than strategically as a tussle for territory between India and Pakistan. In this paper it is this very anomaly, about the sustaining militarisation at Siachen, that is examined and explained to find answers to some basic questions about the conflict.

Siachen: The ‘What’ Question

‘Siacher Gharni’, as Siachen was long ago known, is no ordinary place to be under inquisition for so long. Unlike what is perceived, the place has been coveted for over centuries by travellers and rulers despite its harsh geographical features. It is, however, only in the 20th century that Siachen emerged as a national security matter for the Indian subcontinent. Its location is considered strategic not only because it forms a part of the disputed territorial clash with Pakistan over Kashmir but also because its seizure could lay India bare to a potential Sino-Pak threat on its northern boundary, or so it is understood. It becomes important to familiarise with the geography and history of Siachen before addressing any issue related to its implications and impact on India’s national security agenda.

Siachen is a glacier, located in the Eastern Karakoram Range of the Himalaya Mountains and is a naturally inhospitable territory that currently is under Indian hold, as part of the Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir. Originating at about 20,000 feet near Indira Col next to India’s north-western border with China, the Siachen glacier descends to 12,000 feet covering a distance of about 75 km. It is the second longest non-polar glacier in the world1 covering an area of approximately 10,000 sq km. It is further fed by multiple small glaciers. On the north of Siachen lies the Shaksgam valley that is a controversial piece of land ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963. Next to this valley, the Siachen Muztagh (mountain range on the Karakoram) overlooks the glacier and forms a barrier between India and Central Asia near Skardu, a place in Baltistan. The glacier of Siachen is the source of the river Nubra that along with the river Shyok flows in a westerly direction to join the Indus near Skardu. From here continues the Gilgit administrative sector currently occupied by Pakistan. Since Gilgit and Baltistan regions have administratively not been a core of Pakistan, they have caused tensions with occasional calls coming for a separate state of Balwaristan inclusive of these two areas. The eastern part of the Siachen glacier is flanked by the Stagtar group, Teram Kangri group, Teram Shehr group, Rimo group and the Karakorma Pass. (Thomas, 2000:572) This pass forms the Eastern nook of the Siachen triangle, the other two being the Indira Col and map reference point marked as NJ9842. (See Map 1.1) After 1984, it is said that this region became a de-facto tri junction between India, Pakistan and China. (DA Report, 2013:25) The Karakoram Pass lies on the India-China border and is considered an important node of contact and trade for people across its borders. While the Saltoro Range defines the south-western limit of the glacier, the Sia La, Bilafond La and Gyong La are three passes on this range (from north-west to south-east) that have since 1984 remained Ground Zero of the Siachen conflict. The Saltoro ridgeline becomes a watershed between the Shyok and Nubra valleys.

Map 1.1*
Source:https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sciencedirect.com%2Fscience%2Farticle %2Fpii%2FS0962629815000347&psig=AFQjCN H1B1DWozJF2pImBiC1Wy-sTagJhA&ust=1499602951370403

The Karakoram Range, where Siachen is located, is a part of the six major mountain ranges of the Asian subcontinent that is sometimes referred to as the ‘navel of Asia’ (Raghavan, 2002: 10) and separates Central Asia and South Asia. The Hindu Kush range lies to the north of the Pamir Knot from which stretches the Karakoram. (See Map 1.2) This was named by Arab travellers as Bam-i-Dunya or roof of the world. Extremely difficult to traverse, the Karakoram Range with its two important passes has remained within the Pakistani and Chinese gaze for strategic reasons. India, on the other hand, traditionally paid greater attention to the Great Himalayan range. (Sawhney and Ghazala, 2012: 18) The Old Silk Route went through the Karakoram Pass and turned the region into a bone of contention among imperial powers in the 19th and 20th century. This road stretches as the shortest route from Leh to Xinjiang today. On the other hand, the Khunjreb Pass lies on the economically viable Karakoram Highway that has ignited fresh debates among Indian strategic circles, also raising some stakes of the Siachen conflict. The Karakoram Highway, as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC), is one of the six economic corridors of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative launched by President Xi Jingping in 2013 and is termed as a ‘corridor of friendship’. This has created new tensions regarding a possible Sino-Pak axis against India, making India strategically vulnerable. The Kun Lun and the Pir Panjal Ranges stand as the other important ranges of the major mountain system.

Map 1.2**
**Source: Raghavan, V.R. (2002), Siachen: Conflict Without End, New Delhi: Viking by Penguin, p. 8.

Sia in the Balti language means ‘wild roses’ and Chun means ‘found in abundance’. With temperatures dropping to -50° Celsius it is unbelievable for Siachen to produce abundant roses in a terrain where no other species can naturally survive. For this reason, the Siachen conflict has also been termed as the ‘Battle of Roses’. (Kapadia, 2010) This dispute, that has now continued for more than three decades, therefore needs renewed attention if things are to be made better in future.

Beginning of the Dispute: The ‘Why’ Question

 

By virtue of the Instrument of Accession of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947 the area of Siachen undoubtedly fell under Indian territory, or so it is understood. The first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 resulted in the creation of the Cease Fire Line (CFL) dividing J&K into two parts and letting loose a plethora of problems thereon. The Army representatives of both countries, under the supervision of the United Nations Military Observers Group, signed the Karachi Agreement in July 1949 demarcating the CFL, but with some lurking ambiguity. The line was drawn clearly starting from Chhamb, passing through many points up to Khor, that is, map grid reference NJ980420, commonly referred to as NJ9842. Here on it was noted to run “thence northwards to the glacier”. Since at that point in time it looked unthinkable to have any protracted human involvement in the inhospitable region of the glacier and beyond, no clear mention was made of where to end the boundary line leaving the words in the agreement rather open-ended.

The second Indo-Pak war in 1965 witnessed some violations of the CFL, but the Tashkent Agreement that followed mandated return of territories to respective sides and restoration of the CFL. The third Indo-Pak war ended with the 1972 Shimla Agreement. This time the CFL had to be realigned because the warring sides, unlike previously, retained territories each occupied during the war. The Line of Control (LoC) was thus demarcated, but it retained the dubiousness of the CFL beyond NJ9842. Para C and D of the Shimla Agreement read:

“The LC ran up to Chorbat la in Turtok, ...from there the Line of Control runs north-eastwards to Thang (inclusive of India) thence eastwards joining the glaciers.”

Since NJ9842 does not find mention in context of the LoC, the words of the Karachi Agreement that read “thence northwards to the glacier” regarding the CFL was side-lined as redundant by Pakistan. But even then no clarity was provided as to how the line would proceed up to the glacier. It could mean north by the magnet or literally straight north or logically along the highest watershed on the north (which is an internationally accepted method of boundary delineation in mountainous terrains). Both sides mutually acknowledged that it would be useless to invest on surveying the area beyond NJ9842 as it is not possible for anybody to permanently station at such conditions. (Noorani, 1994) This became the root cause of the conflict over Siachen that Pakistan claims to fall within its territory based on a unilateral extension of the LoC up to the Karakoram Pass, which technically stretches the LoC north-east wards from NJ9842 instead of northwards and hence is contested as faulty by India.

Much before actual fighting took place at Siachen, in 1974 maps used by the US Defence Mapping Agency’s operational navigation chart showed an Air Defence Information Zone (ADIZ) separating the two countries along the LoC, including along a line from NJ9842 to Karakoram Pass. (Raghavan, 2002; Gokhale, 2014) Though there can be more than one ADIZ in a country which does not necessarily certify as a boundary line, Pakistan considered these maps as fait accompli. This ‘cartographic aggression’ was re-produced through maps elsewhere in different countries in the 1970s and 1980s. The National Geographic Society’s Atlas of the World,A Historical Atlas of South Asia of the University of Chicago, The Times Atlas of the World published in London and even some books by Indian authors (Ravi Rikhye’s The Fourth Round: Indo-Pak War in 1984 and General K.P. Candeth’s The Western Front: Indo-Pakistan War in 1971) seem to vindicate Pakistani assertions.

Pakistan, gaining most from such misrepresentations, started allowing mountai-neering teams to enter the area in the 1970s. Since then, under the pretext of mountaineering pursuits many expeditions had not only been permitted in the Siachen area but also encouraged. Because it is easier to climb the challenging peaks of Karakoram from the Pakistani side, mountai-neering teams from various countries sought and received permission from the Pakistani authorities. Between 1974 and 1981 as many as 16 major expeditions were carried out. (Fedarko, 2003) This ‘mountain poaching’was cited by India as a clear case of Pakistan’s intentions of declaring territorial dominance over the area. Already in 1963 as a part of a Sino-Pakistan Border Agreement it had unilaterally ceded about 5000 sq. km land not under its actual control (the Shaksgam Valley-Muztagh Range area) to China in return for about 2000 sq. km of Chinese administered territory. In any case India was bound to react to the Pakistani activities in Siachen as soon as it came to its notice.

It was in 1978 that India found out about the activities that were being carried on in the no-man’s land. Colonel Narendra Kumar (referred to as Bull Kumar) discovered the US maps (showing LoC to extend from NJ9842 to Karakoram Pass) being used by a German team seeking permission for an expedition from the Indian side. More knowledge of continuing adventures in the region reinforced India’s fear of Pakistani intention. Soon after, an “operational patrol” to Terram Kangri was sanctioned. With this, India’s first so-called mountaineering expedition was sent to the region to inspect the matter, albeit secretly. By 1981 Apsara 1, Indira Col, Turkistan La, Sia Kangri and Saltoto Kangri had been ascended, led by military men. (Noorani, 1994) Mountaineering missions code named Polar Bear (1 and 2), Ibex (1 and 2) and others were sent in 1982-83.

Pakistan in turn became conscious of these Indian activities and was uneasy at these being militarily approved. It stopped its mountai-neering mania and had started reconnaissance patrol of the area by 1982. On detecting Indian presence (including a hut that was built near the glacier) Pakistan sent two protest warnings on August 21 and 29, 1983 respectively. Both these notes from Pakistan’s Northern Area Headquarters referred to the Siachen area as “our territory”. (Raghavan, 2002:49) It left no doubt about the Pakistani approach to this issue. India also gathered some intelligence report about the induction and logistic preparedness of special forces by Pakistan to occupy the various passes on the Saltoro range. Pakistan had purchased alpine clothing and equipments from Europe and had begun some acclimatisation exercises. (Gokhale, 2014:38-9) The increased activities on the Saltoro Range by both India and Pakistan eventually turned into open hostility when India decided to take pre-emptive military action.

In India, the Prime Minister’s Office had been reluctant on having an Army-led contingent being placed in Siachen because it seemed to be a matter of less importance compared to issues of that time. On March 31, 1984 the Army Headquarter (HQ) gave a green signal for Operation Meghdoot vide letter No. A/35501/XM03 (Ibid.), that was rather aimed at securing the Saltoro peaks than to launch an offensive plan. The Army HQ managed to convince the PMO that dislodging the Pakistanis from those heights, in case they got there first, would be even more costly and difficult than what the operation looked. It would be best to secure the various passes before the enemy did so. Since it was put as a matter of “who reaches first” (Force, 2012:12; Chibber, 2004), the operation was sanctioned. The Siachen issue became a matter of security concern that eventually got securitised and institutionalized in subsequent narratives.

On April 13, 1984, India carried out a helicopter borne (since there was no other way to reach there before the mountaineering season started) Operation Meghdoot (meaning ‘cloud messenger’). Caught by surprise, the Pakistan’s Northern Command launched Operation Ababeel (meaning ‘swallow’) thereafter. The special Burzil forces, trained for this purpose, is said to have started the firing on April 25, but being on a lower level than its enemy was disadvantageous. The Pakistani forces attempted to dislodge the Indian men from Bilafond la and Sia la in June. It also placed itself on the Saddle peak and looked at Gyong la for strategic benefits. By now it was understood that the higher the position one held, the better it is. India, on the other hand, managed to establish a post at Point 5955 (which was later named Shiv) and made its presence felt at Gyong la. (Gokhale, 2014:90) Thus the military conflict, which begun without any intention of being an overdrawn war, eventually turned into a race for the highest peaks on the Saltoro Range.

The reason why the Siachen conflict began can be cited as a case of security dilemma in the realistic sense of the term. In the words of John Herz:

“the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and measures of others as potentially threatening.” (1950:159)

The expeditions sent by Pakistan to the region, that was to be a no man’s land, made India uneasy, and in turn it began to augment its military preparedness in the area fearing a Pakistani takeover of the land India considers its own. Already precedence of Aksai Chin (when Chinese military had occupied Indian land in 1962 before the Indian armed forces could reach or take measures) and Shaksgam Valley were spots of territorial vulnerability in the northern borders of India that could impact the national security of the country. One major reason behind Operation Meghdoot was made clear by General Chibber:

[T]he strategic importance of the area was not a major consideration, nor was our purpose to capture any territory. It was simply to ensure that we were not presented with a fait accompli like that in Aksai Chin in the early fifties. (Raza, 2002:491)

The lack of clarity of intention and trust on both sides led to increased suspicion by the day. The evidences that India found regarding Pakistani plans in the area beyond NJ9842 further drove India towards making preparations for its own security vis-a-vis a Pakistani occupation of the Saltoro passes. There is still some debate about which side started the first firing on April 25, but it was indeed fired because the cognitive consciousness of a soldier in a suspicious situation as the Siachen context was most likely to be driven by the idea of security dilemma and the advantage of first attack. The increasing security of one for its purported defence was misinterpreted as a sign of attack that lead to increased military preparedness for the other, or in this case a firing that whirl pooled into a full-fledged exchange of artillery, starting the Siachen war. But the Siachen conflict was not intended to be what it is today—‘a conflict without end’ (book by V.R. Raghavan, 2002). This continuation of the militarisation of one of the most dangerous terrains of the Indian subcontinent forms an interesting subject of study that needs to be probed further.

Emergence of an Anomaly: The ‘How’ Question

India has gone to war with Pakistan four times since independence. Of all other problems, the disputes over Sir Creek and Siachen have been rather intriguing. The Sir Creek dispute with Pakistan has its own peculiarity too (though beyond the scope of this paper to address) and is listed among the boundary issues India has with Pakistan. The geography of Sir Creek has made it difficult for the problem to be resolved and it is often clubbed with the Siachen dispute as both emerge out of ambiguous interpretation of bi-party agreements aimed at problem-solving. Though both these issues are among the ongoing border problems India faces with Pakistan, the Siachen story is a tale with uncanny misery and of much less economic value as compared to not just the Sir Creek dispute but also any other border problems India has ever faced, making it a sort of an anomaly. The most glaring facet is the permanent militarisation of the ordinarily inhabitable high peaks of a land that seem to have doubtful strategic relevance. The material, human, environmental costs and time factor to sustain this military deployment has been like no other in the history of Indian military engagements.

The initial objective of Operation Meghdoot was not to have armed personnel stationed at such heights for so long. But as Pakistani military launched its counter-operation, the suspicious situation that had been developing in the Siachen area became confrontational converting the security dilemma that created such a situation in the first place into what the realist propounds as a struggle for territorial power for the national interest.

By 1985 India was in a better position to attack than Pakistan but this did not ease matters for them. Frustrated by their failures to outdo the Indian men in the higher reaches of Saltoro, the political establishment in Pakistan led by Zia-ul-Haq extended the scope of Operation Ababeel, which had by then also become his political shield against Benazir Bhutto’s scorching criticism that Pakistan had ‘lost’ Siachen to India under his weak rule. (Gokhlae, 2014:99) The Pakistani build-up was accentuated while India took to securing more and more heights and did so by naming the newly occupied posts after some of the leading soldiers. Thus several posts named Rinchen, Das, Ajay, Amar, Bhim-Sonam and so on came under Indian occupation. With each attack it became clearer to India that the Pakistani attempts would not stop, especially since it is easier for them to scale the mountain from the western side over which Pakistan held control. It became inevitable for India to upgrade its mobilisation and build a strong and non-ad hoc presence in the region. Operation Meghdoot was extended and had a new objective of “physical domination of the Saltoro watershed, from Sia la in the North to NJ9842 in the South”. (Ibid., 112)

By 1989 it was realised that the operational strategy of mountain warfare had to be amended. In 1989 India managed to dislodge and gain from its enemy another post near the Chumik glacier. (Raghavan, 2002:94-5) The chief strategy of this operation was the heavy use of artillery. This experience led to a change in India’s operational doctrine in the Siachen war which for long had been fought by physical power of the body. But this in turn had its cons. The white surface of the glacier eventually turned into sheets of mortar and bullets as the days passed.It ensued a series of environmental problems that have aggravated into some form of an existential crisis to the Siachen glacier itself. Since the 1990s there have been various writings on the adverse impact of the prolonged human involvement in the glaciated terrain. The glacier is reported to be melting at an alarming rate that indeed have led to increased avalanches in the area. Items such as tinned cans, torn gloves and boots, parachutes used to air drop supplies to places where helicopters cannot land (many of which get stuck in crevasses and go for a waste), jammed or unusable guns and ammunitions used by the soldiers, friction by the increased use of snow scooter and human excreta all get clubbed under the snow that forms a source of rivers flowing into both India and Pakistan. The hazardous impact of this is enormous. In 2012, 140 Pakistani soldiers were buried alive in the Gayari sector while being posted on Saichen duty. (Pubby, 2015) In February 2016, 10 India soldiers met with a similar fate. (The Hindu, 2016) Seventyfive per cent of the soldiers die here due to harsh climatic conditions and terrain than by bullets. Siachen is the only battlefield where more soldiers have died due to natural hazards than during war combat.

The Indian armed forces, until the conflict in Siachen began, had never been stationed at altitudes of 18,000 feet and above. The Sino-Indian war in 1962 had witnessed the lack of military preparedness of India in mountain warfare. The Air Force was not deployed in the war either. (Bedi, 2014) This failure was attempted to be rectified after India faced heavy losses against the Chinese. Special divisions such as Special Frontier Forces (SFF) and Himalayan Brigades were created to fight in great heights near the Indo-Tibetan borders and in the frontier areas of Arunachal Pradesh. Operation Meghdoot was however a deviation from normal logistical consideration of mountain warfare altogether. Given the geography of the Karakoram mountain range, it was not possible for all the Armymen to reach these heights by foot and then have more than a platoon of them stay put together in any of the Saltoro peaks. Further Bilafond la, Sia la, Gyong la are at heights of 17,800 ft, 18,3000 ft and 18,600 ft respectively where no helicopter inducted in the Indian Air Force is till date meant to fly. (Force, 2012:30) The highest helipads in Siachen, Amar and Sonam, lie at 20,000 ft. Some peaks on the Karakoram lie at even higher altitudes. Yet the air borne operation was made a reality despite its logistical inappropriateness and even turned into a success despite all odds and it continues to remain so. The Mi-8 and Cheetah helicopters, that form a lifeline of the mountain war, were pushed beyond limits and manoeuvred with great risks, sometimes carrying only one person at a time. Multiple sorties were and are even today carried out from the THOISE (Transit Halt of Indian Soldiers Enroute) air base that was developed in 1960 (and upgraded in 1984 and then again in 2004 especially for supporting the Siachen conflict) to provide the men at Ground zero with each and every resource that is possibly required to stay alive. It is that battleground where not a single resource is found for human survival. This is one of the most peculiar features of the Siachen conflict which, in turn, makes it the most expensive conflict India has ever fought.

Siachen is no normal war zone. It is a snow covered terrain which tests the capacity of survival of the fittest. The Siachen conflict took its first life within the first 48 hours of Operation Meghdoot. High Altitude Pulmonary/Cerebral Odema (HAPO and HACO), frost bites which lead to amputation of limbs, nausea, blindness, forgetfulness besides various other illnesses create a condition of fatal concern for even the people who are trained for mountain combats and undergo months of acclimatisation at the base camp. War itself is a mentally and physically gruelling experience. But Siachen is a warfield where even the best needs luck and prayers to survive. Humorously referred to as ‘punishment posting’ (Force, May 2012:35), the phrase nonetheless has some underlying truth behind it that causes agony for soldiers deployed there.

For India it is geographically more challenging to scale the Saltoro than it is for Pakistan. Despite this disadvantage, India has occupied the coveted higher posts in the region establishing its strategic stronghold. But this also means it is more difficult for Indians to sustain themselves at relatively higher altitudes and maintain their lead, though the challenge is no less for Pakistan. The logistical cost of maintaining the war is thus way too high to be justified in terms of normal cost-benefit analysis. It is estimated that India spends Rs 5 crores everyday for sustaining this war, with Pakistan following suit. In recent years this has become a concern and a matter of debate in the Indian Parliament as well.

In November 2003 India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement along the international border, LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL, that is, the line showing the actual ground position of the troops). This seemed like a breath of fresh air for those posted at Siachen, possibly of seeing the zone demilitarised. Already seven rounds of Defence Secretary-level talks had been held from1986 to 1998 to resolve the Siachen issue. This initiative by Rajiv Gandhi and Zia-ul-Haq was no good, though talks of disengagement, redeployment and demilitarisation were being discussed. By 1993 Pakistan had realised the futility of this attempt and linked the Siachen issue to the overall Kashmir problem making the resolution of the dispute even more complicated. The twelfth round of bilateral talks on Siachen was held in 2012 but it too failed to come up with any substantive way of resolving the problem. Today the east Karakoram region remains a zone with military involvement, the longest continuous Indian Army deployment till date.

Conclusion

The lack of trust between India and Pakistan diminishes the chance of an easy solution of the Siachen conflict. As per the actual ground position India is in hold over Siachen and wishes it to be acknowledged. Pakistan has repeatedly rejected the AGPL. So far twelve rounds of bilateral talks have taken place with no solution visible. The issue has further been dragged into the Kashmir dispute by Pakistan and attempted to be internationalised. Complications have definitely crept in. But once in a while the death of soldiers buried alive under an avalanche while on duty seems to raise a question about the need of such a war that has no end. Talks about demilitarisation then gain focus. These occasional concerns however hardly sustain. There have been increasing calls from various quarters to convert the region into an environmental peace park as a part of its solution. In 2007 India opened the region to trekking activities.

From economic costs to environmental deterioration to loss of lives for no good reason—all make the case for ending the militarisation only stronger. Indian legislators debate in Parliament about the need to defend the honour of the country at all costs, while politicians and celebrities visit the Armymen at Siachen to encourage them in their glorious tasks of swadharma nidhaman mahe, which the nation can only be proud of. Yet none is ready to withdraw from the current position of what they consider to be a matter of national honour. More recently the possible link-up between China and Pakistan around the Karakoram region and the CPEC passing through it has put India on the defensive regarding the Siachen territorial issue that looks difficult to wrap up. The claim by India’s Defence Minister in the 16th Lok Sabha that average deaths of Indians at the glacier have come down from 28 per year to 10 annually indicates the growing amount spent on improving the facilities at the highest battlefield on earth. Thus, more and more financial and technical resources are being put in to nurture and sustain the Siachen conflict.

Fighting for land, especially the areas of international boundary, has been a classic example in war history throughout the world. Even in India the ongoing dispute regarding Sir Creek can be justified in economic terms as it is a resource-rich area that can be tapped by the country which establishes territorial sovereignty over it. But Siachen is an anomaly even in this aspect. From food to fuel to ammunition, every single item has to be imported into the war zone. Not a single resource can be found there, not even water to drink! Siachen remains a bone of contention for both India and Pakistan. While the Indian adventure in 1984 did establish its presence in the otherwise uninhabited region, its continued activities in Siachen have been a matter of debate. The calls for demilitarisation have come majorly on humanitarian, economic and environmental grounds than on strategic considerations. But it is not primarily for either of the following reasons that a sovereign state spends so much of its national resources on retention of a territory that is not resource-rich. In political terms, territory is only one of the four elements of what a state is made up of. Sometimes referred to as the “third pole” the snow-covered region has been part of the Indian state and a matter of great pride in the Indian narrative. Territory and its sovereignty has thus remained an object of national securitisation and has successfully been accepted as a raison d’etre. The point, however, is: what definition of national security does India rely on? Will an aim such as that of de-militarisation of Siachen affect the centrality that territory has in India’s national security discourse? Since conventional approaches have not been able to show any progress towards resolving such complex and costly conflicts like Siachen, there emerges a need to test and understand national security narratives from alternative perspectives. 

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Endnote

1. Fedchenko Glacier in Tajikistan is the longest glacier outside the poles and is 77 km in length.

* Map 1.1 Source: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct= j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=&url=http%3A %2F%2Fwww.sciencedirect.com%2Fscience%2Farticle %2Fpii%2FS0962629815000347&psig=AFQjCN H1B1DWozJF2pImBiC1Wy-sTagJhA&ust= 1499602951370403

** Map 1.2 Source: Raghavan, V.R. (2002), Siachen: Conflict Without End, New Delhi: Viking by Penguin, p. 8.

The author is a Ph.D scholar, Diplomacy and Disarmament Programme, Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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