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The World's highest battlefield - Siachen

Written By Franklin V on Saturday, July 28, 2012 | 6:29 PM

Both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty over the entire Siachen region. In 1984, India launched a successful military operation and has since maintained control over all of the Siachen Glacier and its tributaries. Between 1984 and 1999, frequent skirmishes took place between India and Pakistan.However, more soldiers have died in Siachen from harsh weather conditions than from combat. Both India and Pakistan continue to deploy thousands of troops in Siachen and attempts to demilitarize the region have been so far unsuccessful. Aside from the Indian and Pakistani military presence, the glacier region is unpopulated. The nearest civilian settlement is the village of Warshi, 10 miles downstream from the Indian base camp.The region is also highly remote with limited road connectivity.

Environmental issues
The glacier was uninhabited before 1984, and the presence of thousands of troops since then has introduced pollution and melting on the glacier; in order to facilitate the troops, glacial ice has been cut and melted through application of chemicals. The glacier is receding at a rate of 110 meters per year.

Dumping of non biodegradable waste in large quantity and use of arms and ammunition have considerably affected the ecosystem of the region.

Waste dumping
The waste produced by the troops stationed there is dumped in the crevasses of the glacier. Mountaineers who visited the area while on climbing expeditions witnessed large amount of garbage, empty ammunition shells, parachutes etc. dumped on the glacier, that is neither decomposed nor can be burned because of the extreme climatic conditions. About 1000 kilograms of waste is produced and dumped in glacial crevasses daily by the Indian forces. The Indian army is said to have planned a "Green Siachen, Clean Siachen" campaign to airlift the garbage from the glacier, and to use biodigestors for biodegradable waste in the absence of oxygen and freezing temperatures. Almost forty percent (40 %) of the waste left at the glacier is of plastic and metal composition, including toxins like cobalt, cadmium and chromium which eventually affect the water of the Shyok River (that finally enters the Indus River near Skardu.) The Indus is used for drinking and irrigation. Research is being done by scientists of The Energy and Resources Institute, to find out ways for successfully disposing the garbage generated at the glacier using scientific means. Some scientists of Defence Research and Development Organisation who went on an expedition to Antarctica are also working to produce a bacteria that can dwell in extreme weather conditions and can be helpful in decomposing the biodegradable waste naturally.

Fauna and Flora
The flora and fauna of the Siachen region are also affected by the huge military presence. The region is home to rare species like snow leopard, brown bear and ibex which are at risk because of huge military presence.

The Siachen glacier is usually regarded as the world's highest battlefield. With both India and Pakistan claiming the glacier, thousands of soldiers from both countries are stationed in the area. It borders the Pakistani- and Indian-administered portions of disputed Kashmir. (All photos by Prashant Panjiar)

The glacier has been in the news recently with the deaths in April of about 140 people, most of them soldiers, on the Pakistani side in an avalanche. Soon after, Pakistan's army chief said Pakistan favoured talks with India to demilitarise Siachen. The two countries have already held 12 rounds of talks over the disputed glacier.

Photographer Prashant Panjiar was given rare access to the Indian side in 2005, when he took these photos.

Weather is the biggest foe. Bone-chilling winds whip the landscape and avalanches sweep soldiers into crevasses. The harsh sun burns the skin and, combined with the thin air and sub-zero temperatures, can induce acute depression.

India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire over the Siachen glacier in 2003 but thousands of troops are still deployed in the region.

Supplies must be flown in to the Forward Logistics Base by helicopter. India believes that the glacier is of great strategic and diplomatic value.

Indian soldiers adjust to the high altitude by training on an ice wall at the snout of the Siachen glacier.

A sign at the snout of the glacier declares it to be the world's highest battlefield.

India's Siachen Base Camp. In 1984 the Indian army seized control of the glacier, an area not demarcated by the Line of Control through divided Kashmir. Pakistan made frequent unsuccessful attempts to capture the area in the following years.

More soldiers have died from the harsh conditions in Siachen than in combat. A war memorial on the bank of the Nubra river is inscribed with the names of all the Indian soldiers who have died on the glacier

There is a famous local saying: "The land is so barren and the passes so high that only the best of friends and fiercest of enemies come by.'

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