Army chief General Bikram Singh on Wednesday said India must continue to hold on to Siachen because of its strategic significance, even as Pakistan has stepped up demands for demilitarising the glacier citing prospects of long-term peace.
“These positions are of strategic importance and we have conveyed our concerns to the government. Now it is for the government to take a call,” he said during a media interaction. He said the army’s views on Siachen had been consistent.
As long as the glacier is under India’s control, the Pakistani army can’t link up with the Chinese and pose threat to Ladakh. It acts as a wedge between the Shaksgam valley under Chinese control and Baltistan, which is occupied by Pakistan.
The Indian Army had launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984 to secure the glacier from Pakistani aggression. The army chief said a lot of blood had been shed to occupy the glacier, a 76-km river of slow moving ice.
Several rounds of talks between India and Pakistan on demilitarising the Siachen glacier --- an old sore in bilateral ties --- have failed with Islamabad refusing to authenticate troop positions on the ground. The last round of defence secretary level talks held in Rawalpindi in June yielded no results.
“The negotiations are at the government level. Let’s see how they progress. We have given our point of view… I think modalities have to be worked out during the dialogue next year,” said General Singh.
The Indian Army has deployed around 3,000 soldiers on the glacier where temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees.
Soldiers have to trek for almost 28 days covering a stretch of 128 kms to reach some of the farthest pickets.
Almost 80% posts on the glacier are located above 16,000 feet, with Bana towering above the rest at 21,753 feet.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had made an appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on April 8, 2012 for demilitarising the glacier, a day after the Pakistani army suffered heavy casualties in an avalanche at a military camp near Siachen on April 7.
Any concessions given by India to Pakistan on Siachen could be a selling point for Islamabad to bolster its image before a domestic audience.
The Indian Army, however, has warned against withdrawing from those heights until Pakistan authenticated troop positions, as it would be a formidable task to reclaim the glacier. It currently occupies dominating positions on the Saltoro ridge with Pakistani posts located 3,000 feet below.