India has finalised plans for another civilian trekking expedition to Siachen this October, in a clear reiteration to Pakistan that the forbidding glacial heights are fully under Indian control and remain “non-negotiable” till it accepts Indian conditions.
The first edition of this civilian trek to the Siachen-Saltoro Ridge region last year had Pakistan frothing at the mouth, holding as it did that opening the “disputed territory” for tourism would lead to “serious consequences” and “vitiate the atmosphere for the ongoing peace process”.
But India had cocked a snook at Pakistan by going ahead with the trek — even though there were some last-minute organisational hiccups — to reinforce its stand that not an inch on Siachen would be yielded till Pakistan accepts iron-clad “authentication” of the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), both on the map and on the ground, which separates the two armies in the glacial region.
Indian troops, after all, hold “almost all dominating heights” on Saltoro Ridge, with Pakistani troops being nowhere near the 72-km-long Siachen Glacier. Throwing open the Siachen heights to adventure enthusiasts and mountaineers serves to effectively demolish all Pakistani claims to the contrary.
Defence ministry sources said the Army Adventure Cell would organise the trek to the world’s highest, coldest and costliest battlefield, which no longer witnesses the daily artillery duels after the November 2003 ceasefire, from October 1 to 21 this year. The plan is to take around 40 people, including Army experts, defence scientists, NCC and military school cadets and “civilian volunteers”, on the “unique adventure activity”.
The group will first acclimatise and train at Leh for a week or so before heading for the Siachen base camp for further training on the use of glacial equipment. The actual week-long trek along the Northern Glacier will begin thereafter, with the group transversing the frozen wasteland to a forward post situated over 16,000 feet.
The government, on its part, is also actively encouraging mountaineering expeditions to the region. An Indo-French team, for instance, had climbed the Mamostong Kangri peak, located about 30 km east of the snout of Siachen Glacier, last year.
Incidentally, it was Pakistan’s grant of a permit to a Japanese expedition in 1984 to climb the Rimo Peak, located east of Siachen and overlooking Aksai Chin, in the hope of laying a legal claim to the area, which had acted as the final provocation for India to airlift troops to the region. Indian troops had then swiftly occupied the Saltoro Ridge heights, ranging from 16,000 feet to 22,000 feet, against daunting odds under “Operation Meghdhoot” in April 1984, beating Pakistani troops from doing the same by just a whisker.
Though both India and Pakistan have accepted the need to demilitarise the glacial heights right since 1989, the bone of contention in the protracted negotiations has been the “authentication” of the AGPL beyond the NJ-9842 grid reference point — where the well-delineated Line of Control simply stopped dead in the 1972 Simla Pact — right till the Karakoram Pass.India wants the AGPL to be “authenticated” first as an international safeguard before any troop disengagement, withdrawal and the final demilitarisation of the glacier.