Headline : Operation Meghdoot: 35 years ago, how India won Siachen
- April 13, 1984, was when India first deployed its men at Siachen. Thirty four years on, with 163 casualties in the past decade and nearly 900 overall, the soldiers continue to remain on this icy, barren land.
Karachi Agreement of 1949 and NJ9842:
- At the end of the UN-brokered ceasefire in 1949, India and Pakistan agreed on a ceasefire line (CFL) in undivided Kashmir as per the Karachi Agreement of 1949.
- The eastern most stretch of the ceasefire line was not demarcated beyond a point called NJ9842 since it was inhospitable and uninhabited.
- It simply said that from NJ9842, the line would run “thence North to the glaciers” — the Siachen glacier, the Rimo and the Baltoro.
- Indian interpretation was that Pakistan territory extended only to about the SaltoroRidg while Pakistan interpretation was that their territory continued northeast from Point NJ9842 to the Karakoram Pass.
- As a result, both nations claimed the barren heights and the Siachen Glacier.
Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972:
- The 1949 ceasefire line was revalidated as the Line of Control (LoC) by the Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972, in accordance with the Simla Conference.
- The LoC closely assimilated military advances made by either side in J&K in the 1971 war but did not make any changes to the line beyond NJ9842.
- Uninhabited, the area was considered beyond the ambit of any military operations by both sides.
Pakistan’s cartographic changes:
- But Pakistan had begun making certain cartographic changes to the ceasefire line after the 1962 war which were soon reflected by the US defence mapping agency, a global benchmark for cartography.
- Between 1964 and 1972, Pakistan began depicting the ceasefire line as extending from NJ9842 to a point just west of the Karakoram Pass, not northwards as the agreement said.
- Global mountaineering maps soon started portraying this as the authentic and internationally accepted CFL-LoC, backed by mountaineering legends.
Pakistan’s tourism plan:
- Pakistan used cartographic change in perception to start permitting foreign expeditions in the area of the Siachen glacier to reinforce its claim on the area.
- These mountaineers were required to obtain a permit from Pakistani authorities, validating Pakistan’s de facto claim over the glacier.
- Earlier, while Pakistan was allowing international mountaineers to climb various peaks in the Karakoram, the Indian Army had banned the area to its own soldiers.
- The Indian military believed that many expedition, which is promoted by Pakistan, could further a link for a trade route from the northeastern (Chinese) to the southwestern (Pakistani) side of the Karakoram Range and eventually provide a strategic, if not tactical, advantage to the Pakistani Armed Forces.
- By 1978, alerted by Pakistani’s expeditions, India too began to undertake mountaineering expeditions. It marked the beginning of a virtual mountaineering contest between the two armies.
- It was recommended that to ensure the Pakistanis do not intrude into Siachen, India should establish a post in the area which could be manned during the summer.
- However due to severe weather, inhospitable climatic conditions, and the high altitude, post establishment plan deferred. Instead Siachen glacier would be patrolled by the Army during the summer months.
Cycle of protest notes and counter-notes:
- In 1982, observing India’s movement a protest note from the Pakistan army issued, warning India to keep out of Siachen.
- The Indian Army lodged a suitable counter-protest and decided to continue patrolling the glacier during the summer of 1983.
- This led to a cycle of protest notes and counter-notes between the two sides.
Pakistani troop movements plan:
- By then, it had become obvious to the Indian side that Pakistan army was getting ready to physically move into the Siachen glacier.
- Intelligence reports had spoken of Pakistani troop movements towards Siachen while R&AW had picked up information on Pakistan army buying large quantity of high-altitude gear from Europe.
- India then decided to act swiftly in order to prevent Pakistan from occupying the Siachen glacier. The move was approved by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Operation Meghdoot – 1984:
- The task of occupying the Saltoro ridge was planned and the ‘Operation Meghdoot’ was launched on April 13, Baisakhi day, when the Pakistanis would be least expecting the Indians to launch an operation.
- At 5.30 am on April 13, the first Cheetah helicopter took off from the base camp. By noon, 17 such sorties were flown and 29 soldiers were heli-dropped at Bilafond La. Soon, the weather packed up and the platoon was cut off from the headquarters.
- The contact was established after three days, when five Cheetah and two Mi-8 helicopters flew a record 32 sorties on April 17 to Sia La. That same day, a Pakistani helicopter flew overhead to see Indian soldiers already deployed at the glacier.
- This military operation was unique as the first assault launched in the world’s highest battlefield. The military action resulted in Indian troops gaining control of the entire Siachen Glacier.
- The Indian Army currently controls all of the 70 kilometres long Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier, Sia La, Bilafond La, and Gyong La, thus holding onto the tactical advantage of high ground.
- The 110 km. line beyond NJ9842 is called the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).