In 1958, 65 years ago, the first Geological Survey of India expedition to the Siachen glacier had taken place. The glacier has enormous importance- strategically and ecologically for India. Read here to learn the history of the infamous Siachen glacier.
In June 1958, exactly 65 years ago, V. K. Raina, an Indian geologist, who at that time was an Assistant Geologist with the GSI led the first GSI Survey of the Siachen glacier.
The grid reference point NJ 9842 is familiar because it marks the end of the Line of Control established by the Shimla Agreement and the last mutually demarcated point between India and Pakistan under the Karachi ceasefire agreement of 1949.
But only a few people are aware of what 5Q 131 05 084 means, the number the Geological Survey of India (GSI) awarded the Siachen Glacier.
The Siachen Glacier is located in the eastern Karakoram range of the Himalayas, in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
- It is one of the longest glaciers outside the polar regions after Fedchenko Glacier in Tajikistan and is known as the world’s highest battleground.
- It originates at the base of the Indira Col West, a col (low point) on the Indira Ridge, at an altitude of 6,115 meters, and it descends to an altitude of 3,570 meters.
- The Siachen Glacier is situated at an altitude of approximately 5,400 meters (17,700 feet) above sea level and stretches for about 76 kilometers (47 miles) in length.
- It is surrounded by some of the world’s highest peaks, including Saltoro Kangri and Sia Kangri and the Nubra River originates from it.
Leading Indian geologist V. K. Raina oversaw the first Geological Survey of India mission to the Siachen glacier in June 1958.
- This incident is significant historically and strategically because it dispels the misconception that Pakistan has been in charge of the glacier from the beginning.
- During the time, both India and Pakistan were abiding by the terms of the Karachi ceasefire agreement of 1949 under which they had delimited the entire cease-fire line right up to the glaciers and agreed to mutually demarcate it.
The strategic importance of Siachen
The area around the Siachen Glacier has been the subject of a long-standing territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.
- Both countries have deployed military personnel in the region since the 1980s.
- The extreme weather conditions, with temperatures dropping as low as -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit), make the Siachen Glacier an incredibly challenging and inhospitable environment for the soldiers stationed there.
Due to the harsh climate and treacherous terrain, the Siachen Glacier is often referred to as the “White Desert.”
- The soldiers stationed there face numerous hardships, including altitude sickness, frostbite, and avalanches.
- Both India and Pakistan have made efforts to improve the living conditions for their troops, constructing permanent military bases and establishing supply routes for essential resources.
The conflict over the Siachen Glacier has resulted in the loss of many lives on both sides over the years.
However, there have been attempts by India and Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
- In 2003, both countries agreed to a ceasefire along the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in the region, but the issue of territorial control remains unresolved.
However, until a final resolution is reached between India and Pakistan regarding the territorial dispute, the Siachen Glacier will continue to be a contentious and heavily militarized region.
The Siachen War, also known as the Siachen Glacier Fight or the Siachen War, involved India and Pakistan in a military engagement over the disputed Siachen Glacier region in Kashmir.
India’s effective seizure of the Siachen Glacier as part of Operation Meghdoot in 1984 marked the beginning of the conflict, which was maintained in 1987 by Operation Rajiv.
- The dispute over Siachen primarily stems from the conflicting interpretations of the Line of Control (LoC) in the region.
- The LoC is the de facto border that separates the Indian-administered territory of Jammu and Kashmir from the Pakistan-administered territory.
- The line continues northwards from the last demarcated point to the glaciers, but the precise demarcation was never agreed upon by both countries.
Ecological importance of Siachen Glacier
The Siachen Glacier is also of significant ecological importance. Its melting waters feed several rivers in the region, including the Indus River, which is a lifeline for millions of people in Pakistan and India.
- The fragile ecosystem of the area has been adversely affected by the military presence and the associated waste and pollution.
- Efforts have been made by various organizations to raise awareness about the environmental impact of the conflict and promote the idea of turning the Siachen Glacier into a peace park or a zone of cooperation.
Despite the harsh conditions, the Siachen Glacier region supports a diverse range of flora and fauna.
- The surrounding areas are home to several species of high-altitude plants, including rare and endemic ones.
- The Siachen region serves as a habitat for a variety of wildlife, including snow leopards, ibex, brown bears, and migratory birds.
- These animals rely on the ecosystem’s resources for their survival. Protecting the glacier and its surroundings is crucial for the long-term conservation of these species.
Glaciers, including Siachen, play a role in regulating local and regional climates.
- They act as reservoirs of freshwater, releasing it gradually as they melt, thereby maintaining a steady flow in rivers.
- The meltwater from the Siachen Glacier contributes to the stability of downstream ecosystems and supports agricultural activities.
- The Siachen Glacier region presents a unique opportunity for scientific research and study of glacial processes, climate change, and their impact on the ecosystem.
- Researchers and scientists can gain insights into the effects of global warming on glaciers, water resources, and biodiversity in high-altitude environments.
- Glaciers like Siachen help control erosion in mountainous regions. As they slowly move and melt, they transport sediments and debris, preventing excessive soil erosion and maintaining the stability of slopes and riverbanks.
Also read: Glaciers in India
It is important to note that the ecological significance of the Siachen Glacier has been impacted by the military presence and associated activities.
Efforts to reduce the ecological footprint of the conflict and promote environmental conservation in the region are essential for preserving this unique ecosystem for future generations.
In recent years, there have been calls from various quarters to demilitarize the Siachen Glacier and convert it into a zone of peace or a scientific research center.
Such proposals aim to reduce the human and economic costs associated with the conflict and promote regional stability.
However, any progress toward resolving the conflict remains dependent on the willingness of both India and Pakistan to reach a mutually acceptable solution.
Previous year question
Q. Siachen Glacier is situated on the (2020)
(a) East of Aksai Chin
(b) East of Leh
(c) North of Gilgit
(d) North of Nubra Valley
-Article by Swathi Satish