Inhospitable climate at Siachen, the world’s highest battleground, has claimed more lives than gunfire since rivals India and Pakistan stationed troops here in 1984.
Several hundred troops from either side have died (--a BBC report in 2014 put the number at 2,700) in the last three decades on the glacier, with the majority of deaths attributed to exposure to extreme weather, altitude sickness caused by thin and oxygen-depleted air, and avalanches.
Last week, 10 soldiers were buried in a blanket of snow after an avalanche hit an Indian army outpost on the glacier where temperatures can fall as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius.
Of them, only one was found alive after almost a week of searching.
On the Indian side, 869 army personnel, including 33 officers and 54 junior commissioned officers, have lost their lives in one of the world’s most forbidding environments. Last month, four soldiers of the 3 Ladakh Scouts were killed when their patrol party was hit by a snow avalanche, while one person was killed and 15 rescued after an avalanche hit their post last November.
Official data released by the Pakistan government in 2010 shows that 213 deaths were recorded at Siachen between 2003 and 2010. Another avalanche at the base camp in 2012 claimed the lives of 129 Pakistani soldiers.
India and Pakistan spend crores to provide troops the best equipment to bring down casualties. India spends an estimated Rs 6.8 crore a day to maintain its troops at Siachen.
In its 2005 report, The Second Freedom — South Asian Challenge 2005 to 2025, the Strategic Foresight Group predicted the Siachen glacier may kill around 1,500 soldiers from the two countries between 2006 and 2010 without a single shot being fired.
Located on the Line of Control in the eastern Karakoram Range at an altitude of 19,600 feet, Siachen is claimed by both India and Pakistan. The two countries have about 3,000 stationed troops to man the nearly 150 military outposts along the glacier. However, experts frequently question its strategic importance.
Stephen Cohen, a US specialist on South Asia, dismissed Siachen as “not militarily important”, and described the standoff as “a struggle of two bald men over a comb”.
Until 1984, neither side had troops permanently stationed there. Both countries agree on a need to demilitarise the glacier, but attempts to reach any agreement have been unsuccessful though a ceasefire has been maintained since November 2003.