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Sachin Shukla asked: What is the strategic importance of Siachen from the Indian point of view?

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  • Mandip Singh replies: The Siachen Glacier was occupied in the ‘race to the top’ in 1984. The Glacier region is not just the glacier per se but includes the Saltoro Ridge, a crucial mountainous stretch which acts as a watershed, and the area around shown in dark brown on the map below. The Indian view point is best described by Major General Sheru Thapliyal (Retd), who was responsible for the defence of this region, in an article published in the January-March 2006 issue of the Indian Defence Review where he stated:

    ‘It needs to be remembered that the origin of Siachen dispute lies in the fact that both the Karachi Agreement of 1949 and the Shimla Agreement of 1972 have left the status of Indo-Pak boundary vague North of Pt NJ 9842. While the Karachi Agreement says, “From Pt NJ 9842, the ceasefire line will run Northwards to the Glaciers”, Shimla Agreement does not even make a mention of it.’

    Pakistan, on the other hand, believes that the alignment of the boundary runs in a north-easterly direction (see dotted red line) to the Karakoram Pass (see red star). In effect, Pakistan views the entire area within the triangle shaded in brown on the map as its territory.

    The strategic importance of the region from an Indian point of view can be seen from the map. Firstly, the Saltoro Ridge overlooks the area of Gilgit–Baltistan of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) that is under dispute with Pakistan. Secondly, it guards the routes leading to Leh, the principal town and capital of Ladakh. Thirdly, it overlooks and dominates the Shaksgam Valley, which was illegally ceded to China by Pakistan. Fourthly, it is close to the Karakoram Pass through which the Karakoram Highway passes connecting Gilgit-Baltistan to Xinjiang Province of China.