N Arun Kumar and S Sujatha
Chennai, 11 June 2012. A positive agreement on Siachen glacier could be a first step towards resolving the Kashmir issue, but, in general, stalemate is expected to prevail during the 13th round of defence secretary-level talks on the issue to be held in Islamabad Monday and Tuesday, as the Indian army wouldn’t be interested in ceding control of its hard-earned territory.
“We shouldn’t give it away. We have been holding that place for such a long time, battling even minus 40 degrees Celsius during winter seasons,” said an army officer who has served at a nearby high-altitude region.
The officer said the morale of the troops was high and there was no question of giving up hold over the region located in the disputed Kashmir region on East Karakoram–Himalaya range and claimed by both India and Pakistan.
“We get to speak to our family for only a minute once in three or four days from such areas that lie at an altitude of 14,000 ft and 22,000 ft. But then, we are happy serving the nation. We have been holding fort for so long, why should we give it up?” he added.
Siachen glacier is the world’s highest battlefield, where more soldiers die of frostbite than from bullets.
Thousands of troops from India and Pakistan, braving viciously cold temperature, altitude sickness and high winds, have been stationed there since 1984. Despite the ceasefire, both armies continue to maintain troops there.
“Conventional war is not possible there. Survival in that high altitude itself is a big achievement,” said Professor Gopalji Malviya, head, department of defence and strategic studies, University of Madras.
However, he said, strategically, the glacier is greatly important. “India needs to stay there, as threats loom large from China and Pakistan, who could link up to bring the Karakoram Pass under their control and threaten the Ladakh region,” he cautioned.
Bureaucrats from India and Pakistan have been trying to solve the conflict for the last many years. “We came close to an understanding a few times, but nothing has been settled.
As per my knowledge, the army is not keen to go for a settlement, as it fears losing ground. So, the status quo will continue,” said Professor Malviya.
While previous rounds of talks ended in stalemate, the West believes that a settlement between India and Pakistan could ease regional tension and help better understanding on the Kashmir issue.