PAKISTAN – The Largest Land of Glaciers [2 of 3]

The Majestic range of Karakoram in Northern Pakistan has the honor of having World’s largest glaciers outside north and south poles. The picture here is among one of them taken in the extreme summer month. The place here is a junction of Biafo and Hispar glaciers which together form 118 km of longest layer of ice on the Earth outside the pole.



by Nayyar Hashmey PhD


In about 1978, the Indian Army mounted an expedition to Teram Kangri peaks (in the Siachen area on the China border and just east of a line drawn due north from NJ9842) as a precursor-exercise (a camouflage to occupy the area by force). The first public mention of a possible conflict situation was an article by Joydeep Sircar in The Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta in 1982, reprinted as “Oropolitics” in the Alpine Journal, London, in 1984. India launched an operation on 13 April, 1984. The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force went into the glacier region. Pakistan army quickly responded with troop deployments and what followed was literally a race to the top.


Ever since then, the Indian Army occupies the high altitude side of the Siachen Glacier and the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier, Sia La, Biafond La, and Gyong La, thus holding onto the advantage of high ground. However, its tactical advantage by contrast demands a heavy toll in terms of money and human loss. Gyong La (Pass) itself is at 35-10-29N, 77-04-15E; that high point is controlled by India. Pakistan controls the glacial valley five kilometers southwest of Gyong La.

Though Pakistani soldiers have waged a valiant struggle to get up to the crest of the Saltoro Ridge, the Indians resist to come down and abandon their strategic high posts. In 2003 a ceasefire went into effect. Even before then, every year more soldiers were killed because of severe weather than enemy firing. The two sides have lost more than 2,000 personnel primarily due to frostbite, avalanches and other complications.


The glacier is well inside Pakistani territory. But India’s strategic want to keep an eye and a possibility to seek vigilance over Pakistan’s strategic route to China (the Karakorum Highway) in 1982 it sent a training expedition to Antarctica to train under “Siachen Glacier Like” conditions. Then in April 1984, it conducted its Operation Meghdoot’, and invaded Pakistani territory.

Since the glacier is not physically connected to India (there is no natural ground routes connecting India and Siachen Glacier), therefore, it used its Air Force to drop all of its forces at Siachen and still to this day uses helicopters and aircrafts to transport supplies, food and soldiers.

Historically-geographically-and factually this third pole on earth is well Inside Pakistan where Pakistanis are confronting the Indians who have a force 5 times their size. However, India in the process is paying a heavy price. According to a book on the War on Siachen, 50% of Indian soldiers, who make back alive, suffer from permanent mental retardation, not to mention amputations and other terrible things that Indian soldiers have to go through.

The Majestic range of Karakoram in Northern Pakistan has the honor of having World’s largest glaciers outside north and south poles. The picture here is among one of them taken in the extreme summer month.


Left to Right) Paiju Peak (Trango II?), The Trango Monk, Trango Nameless Tower (6,239 m), and the mass of the Great Trango (6,286 m) on the northern lateral moraine of the Baltoro Glacier in the Baltoro Muztagh Range.

The war has been going on for almost quarter of a century. Though the price has been heavy for both sides (especially for India), Pakistan has been slowly driving the Indians out of Siachen Glacier (Pakistani Territory).

As the conflict between two nuclear neighbors continues, another apathetic side haunts Siachen. Right on the glacier, amid bullets whistling over wild roses and snow leopards’ dens, the already fragile environment is highly endangered due to perpetual warlike conditions since several decades. To save the flora and fauna, the natural habitat in the area, in 2003 this beleaguered bit of no-man’s-land high up in the Himalayas was readied for a radical recasting, when a group of Pakistani and Indian mountain climbers gathered in the Swiss Alps to highlight the plight of Siachen and other threatened cross-border regions.

The solution? Designating the glacier a ‘peace park’ where two hostile nations could cooperate for the sake of sustainable development. However, this process didn’t come to a declaration of an inter-national peace park due to apprehensions and doubts on both sides. Last year, India started inviting foreign climbers to the Siachen to prove its virtual hold over the glacier. This again put things in the back gear.


Just a week before Mumbai attacks on 26th November this year, time had been most opportune. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was sincerely pushing for a serious dialogue between two nations, the idea of a ‘peace park’ was ripe for rejuvenation once again. However, the Mumbai attacks have once again brought both nations to the old ‘worst enemy stance’.

But war in Siachen is a war against nature than a war between ‘”too” Nuclear Neighbours

Many in Pakistan and India perhaps might take this approach being out of tune, but this writer personally believes, the majority of people in Pakistan as well as the Govt. in Pakistan, do wish a permanent peace between India and Pakistan. I have been advocating for friendship parks between India and Pakistan, one at the Wahga border crossing and the other one at the Siachen. But quite ironically this time its India reversing the cycle and resisting attempts for peace and friendship between two neighbours raising issues such as terrorism; ignoring the very fact that Pakistan too is the target of terrorists as much as India is.


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Photo Credits: On top: Heartkins Photostream, Bottom by Atif Gulzar



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