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The Times of India, Feb 12, 2016
Siachen height provides military depth India can’t afford to lose
Ever since Indian soldiers beat Pakistani troops by a whisker to daringly take most of the dominating heights on Saltoro Ridge to the west of Siachen Glacier in April 1984, the stand-off at the world's highest, coldest and costliest battlefield has intermittently grabbed the headlines. The high-altitude trench warfare and fiery firing duels between the two armies may have petered out over the years, especially after the November 2003 ceasefire agreement, but the forbidding glacial heights continue to exact a heavy toll of human lives. This was once again brought home by the heroic saga of Lance-Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad, who fought till the very end, after his nine other fallen comrades from the 19 Madras Regiment had perished in their icy graves following a massive avalanche on February 3. Some call it a futile fight over an icy, barren land, which has no real strategic significance. But the Indian defence establishment remains convinced about its "strategic and tactical value". Officials say the Army will not vacate the Saltoro Ridge till Pakistan first agrees to the sequential pre-requisites of "authentication, delineation and demarcation" of the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), which marks the respective troop positions on the glacial heights. "It has to be done both on the ground and maps. Only then can the subsequent disengagement and demilitarisation of Siachen be undertaken in a phased manner," said a senior official. Pakistan, however, has steadfastly refused to do this. Consequently, right from a draft agreement in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto were at the helm to Manmohan Singh's wish to convert Siachen into "a mountain of peace after he visited the glacier in 2005, attempts to resolve the festering dispute have made little headway. India, of course, has also gradually hardened its stand over the 13 rounds of defence secretary-level talks held since 1986. For one, unlike the earlier years, the Indian Army no longer haemorrhages heavily in the glacial heights, with better infrastructure, logistics and practices in place. For another, China's expanding footprint in Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well as in Karakoram has heightened concerns here.