Nine army personnel, including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and eight other ranks of Madras Regiment, died on February 3 after an avalanche struck the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.
Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad, who is critical and on a ventilator, is the only soldier to have survived the incident. He was buried under 25 feet of snow for six days in the glacier’s sub zero temperature.
Here is a look at the world’s highest and coldest militarised zone and some facts about the glacier region.
Situated on the northern edge of the Himalayas in Kashmir with altitudes reaching as high as 22,000 feet, the glacier is an icy desert and has become more prone to avalanches after recent snowfall in the upper reaches of the Valley.
Indian and Pakistani forces, estimated to number between 10,000 and 20,000 troops combined, have faced off against each other in mountains above the Siachen glacier in the Karakoram range since 1984. The strategic importance of the glacier is debatable, military experts say. Until 1984, neither side had troops there.
The no-man’s-land of Siachen is 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level. Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.
On April 7, 2012 at least 130 Pakistani soldiers and 14 civilians were killed when a giant wall of snow crashed down on one of the neighbouring country’s defence headquarters.
At least 242 soldiers were killed in the Valley during between January 2007 and March 2012, of which 180 lost their lives fighting militants. The rest were consumed by natural calamities, mostly snow deluges.
India controls the heights and is not willing to withdraw for fear Pakistan might walk in. India says it is unwilling to bring its forces down until Pakistan officially authenticates the positions they hold.
Pakistan has said it is willing to do so on the condition that it is not a final endorsement of India’s claim over the glacier, a source of melt water for Pakistan’s rivers.
Both countries agree on a need to demilitarise the glacier, but neither side wants to take the first step.