At the world’s highest battleground, the only war fought is against weather

Published: April 14, 2012
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Ex-servicemen recount their deployment in Siachen, say demilitarisation is the only way out. PHOTO: FILE/ISPR

Ex-servicemen recount their deployment in Siachen, say demilitarisation is the only way out. PHOTO: FILE/ISPR

KARACHI: 

A former army official posted in Siachen in 1987 remembers the roar of an avalanche that was headed for their base on a cold morning just after breakfast. Three people were killed in that avalanche.

But the natural calamity, he says, is a common occurrence in the region. In 1988, added the SSG officer, who chose to stay anonymous, an avalanche buried 47 people.

The senior officers who barely made it out of the freezing temperatures in the towering mountains of Siachen Glacier believe that demilitarisation is the only way out for India and Pakistan from the ‘war against weather’.

“There is no offensive operation going on,” said Major (retd) Haroon Maqsood, who served as an infantry officer from 1986 to 1988 in Siachen.

Brigadier (retd) Javed Hussain, an expert on the Siachen region, agreed.

“Siachen has no strategic position. Both countries should demilitarise. Along with the loss of life and the amount of money spent, the Siachen war also has environmental hazards,” he said.

The SSG soldier recounted that they would travel at night as the moon “was brighter than the lights in this room”. Nights spent inside the igloo or tents are tiresome to say the least. Lack of oxygen means the men sleep for seven hours only, waking up breathless every two to three hours.

“People get very hungry, but they get nauseous. There they drink more Energile than water,” said the retired officer.

After a soldier has spent a maximum of three months in the mountains, a process of declimatisation takes place for two weeks during which he is taken to lower altitudes and not evacuated immediately.

Once the soldier returns home, he may experience memory loss.

“During our times, we used to read newspapers, play volleyball and baseball in the snow and wait for the mail from our loved ones. We also used to hunt animals, such as the Marco Polo sheep,” said the retired SSG officer.

“Some soldiers also went into depression, but they had people to talk to and get out of it.”

All three retired soldiers said that at least 3,000 soldiers have died in combat or from the severity of the weather in Siachen.

Though Strict SOPs are followed for soldiers fighting in arctic-like conditions, Maj (retd) Maqsood recalls, “Once a soldier took off his glove to open the handle, and his hand was stuck to the door. When he pulled away, his skin ripped.”

Concluding, the retired officers reiterated that apart from severe weather conditions, there is no real threat.

“Ground operations at such altitudes have failed. There will be no launch by the Indians, only fire power to manoeuvre, and artillery exchanges to make them believe that there is a war going on,” says Hussain.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • ashok
    Apr 14, 2012 - 9:50AM

    Remember:

    It takes just ONE to UNTANGO.

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  • jAnta
    Apr 14, 2012 - 11:09AM

    Pak army rocks, we are proud.end the war. Save our soldiers

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  • darjat
    Apr 14, 2012 - 12:33PM

    Its time for both the country to revisit their belief and practices in border protection. Few days back an article in Tribune reflected that 200 to 300 million $ per year is being spent in Pakistan on Siachen front. Indian cost might be many times more! A large part of the citizens of of both the countries are most poor- people have no access to basic facilities: safe water, sanitation, shelter and vital social and economic indicators pretty bad.

    This very recent example of cumulative human loss due to avalanche is visible but incremental loss of soldiers on both the sides during the past decades is unknown! of course in thousands. The need is to come up with civilized ways of border management and stop killing people at those wilderness in the name of defending countries.

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  • MarkH
    Apr 14, 2012 - 1:04PM

    @jAnta:
    I’m pretty sure there is no declaration of war to end. Just games.

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  • rameez
    Apr 14, 2012 - 2:35PM

    I remember one of my uncles who was posted there, he would talk of the cold weather and how they couldn’t take off warm clothes at anytime fearing frost bite. Thanks et fot sharing stories of other men who stand guard at such altitude for our safety

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  • Sami
    Apr 14, 2012 - 3:45PM

    Last paragraph says all.

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  • Chhappan Chhuri
    Apr 14, 2012 - 4:47PM

    It was Pakistan which began the cartographic aggression. It is Pakistan which has started war and aggression every time. In the ciae of Siachen, Pakistan issued permits to trekkers and mountaineers to venture in the area in1970s and 80s. Why? Just to convince the world that the area belonged to it. Another aim was to establish a link with China as the glacier overlloks the Aksai Chin area of Jammu and Kashmir (illegally captured by China). India was forced to move in. There are many Chinese posts and troops inside the northern areas of Pakistan occupied Kashmir today. What are they doing there? Why have they come there? The fact is that Pakistanis are utterly shameless. They start wars and aggressions with great exuberance and when going gets tough, they begin to beg for mercy and start seeking outside intervention.

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  • Mirza
    Apr 15, 2012 - 8:00AM

    Pakistan is a very rich country and can afford to be in big league with big and rich countries. With 9 times the size of Pakistan’s economy, India (they should not) can waste a few hundred million dollars each year on Siachen to be comparable, Pakistan would have to spend nine time the % of India’s expenses. Similarly bomb for bomb Pakistan has to waste a lot of its money to add to its hundreds of nuclear weapons. Pakistan has made the choice of eating grass but to compete with big countries. What have we been getting in return for all our investment, more deaths and destruction, no writ even in our own towns let alone on Siachen glacier? Why spend money on power generation, education, healthcare and other civilian infrastructure? No country with the size of the economy of Pakistan can afford all these luxuries and waste without starving their civilians.

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  • darjat
    Apr 15, 2012 - 12:03PM

    I wonder if Siachen is declared PEACE PARK.. that saves loss of human lives, material/ financial resources to get people from poverty.

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