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WAR ABOVE THE CLOUDS: SIACHEN GLACIER Martin Sugarman 1996 1st ed New Paperback 2 Copies Available
By Sugarman, Martin A.
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California, 1996, 1st edition., 1996. 20 pp text, 120 full page photos.

This is Martin Sugarman's photographic document of the bitter territorial war that has raged between India and Pakistan in northern Kashmir since 1984. In 1994-95, Sugarman photographed the landscape of this long struggle in which eight out of ten deaths are caused not by the battle but by the hazardous terrain.

In this war men fight for oxygen on icy mountain peaks at altitudes up to 23,000 feet. This astonishing book of photographs is the only record of an unwinnable war fought on the highest battlefield in military history, a war tragically not reported in the mainstream media. A photo-journalistic account of the India-Pakistan war, which loses more men to frostbite and altitude illness than gunfire. Superb photos of the peaks and glaciers. Large-format softcover, New. We bought these new from the author in 1998.

From The Daily Star Friday, Bangladesh, August 20, 2004

Siachen -'war above the clouds' Brig Gen M. Sakhawat Hussain ndc, psc (retd)

Sometime in 1987 two soldiers belonging to the Pakistani 'Special Force' were dropped in one of the peaks in Siachen, the highest battleground the world has ever known, to fend Indian occupation of an observation post. It was 21,000 ft above sea level, a frozen glacier, claimed to be the largest outside the two poles, now known world over as Siachen Glacier, that the two embittered countries, Pakistan and India have been fighting ever since India physically occupied it in 1984. Since then the Glacier has became the most disputed region of Kashmir.

What are these two armies fighting for, on a height where temperature varies between minus 30 and 70 degrees Celsius that freezes almost all liquids except kerosene, where not a single blade of grass grows? The answer is national pride more than strategic concerns. Both claim the most weirdly un-demarcated cease-fire line converted to Line of Control (LoC) between two parts of Kashmir, apart from the purely military strategic ascendancy associated with it. In fact being part of larger Kashmir region, Siachen issue symbolises the entire dispute. The forty-seven mile long and three-mile wide glacier and the flanking ranges, most ambiguously demarcated, remain a bone of dispute that carries the undertone of the complexity of the Kashmir tangle.

The glacier, once part of the Ladakh region of greater Kashmir, was discovered in 1907. It averages 16,000 feet in height and originates near Indra Koili Pass on the Pakistan-China border, thirty seven aerial miles southeast of the K-2, then runs along Saltaro Range in the southeasterly direction then turns south to Nubra River near Dzingrulma, in Indian occupied Ladakh region. On the south east of the Glacier is the Karakoram Pass with Pakistan, which connects Chinese central provinces. Much to the west, along the Karakoram Range and along the Hunza River runs the most strategic Pakistan-China link, the Karakoram Highway, connecting Central China specifically the Uguyar region, through the Kunjerab Pass.

The Saltaro range, that contains the glacier and claimed by Pakistan, provides access to five ancient passes which remain mostly frozen. These passes, though inaccessible at any given time, had played significant role in the Middle Ages in connecting China and the central parts of Asia, as part of the Silk Route. Since Pakistan's occupation of large parts of the mountainous but strategic regions of Ladakh, now known as 'Federally Administered Northern Area', these passes were never used nor their significance ever noticed until 1984 when Indian troops landed in or around Soltaro Range in strength. Nevertheless, Siachen Glacier has other access through the Nubra River, ascending from south to northwest in Indian Ladakh, but remains extremely hazardous. Northwest to east is China's Uguyar region mostly inhabited by Muslims, which makes the Glacier, and the ranges in dispute more significant ground to be held. Close to the glacier is the Chinese held portion of Laddakh i.e. Aksai Chin. A large number of Chinese troops are stationed in that region since 1962, a constant worry for Delhi.

The Siachen Glacier had never come under focus since the Indo-Pak cease-fire Line was established in July 1949. The demarcation runs northeast, through Kargil, up to a point known as NJ 9842(map reference), north of the Shyok River within Saltaro Range. But area beyond NJ 9842 }p to Karakoram Pass that came in possession of Pakistan after the October 1947 military invasion remains un-demarcated. Owing to the fact of inaccessibility the cease-fire line and the ownership of the Glacier remained undetermined. It was for the first time in 1972 Simla Agreement that India agreed and vaguely referred that the cease-fire line, converted to Line of Control (LoC), runs northwards to the glacier from NJ 9842, but without putting it on the map. The ambiguity resulted in claim and counter claim. India accuse{ Pakistan of shifting from the Simla Agreement over the years.

This ambiguity in defining the LoC beyond NJ 9842 was the cause of the costliest battle and resulted in recurring extravagant expenditure for maintenance of troops. The battle cost is not only in terms of finance but the standoff exceedingly entails human cost. More troops were killed from frostbite, edema, pneumonia, and lack of oxygen and height related breathing problems than bullets.

It all started in April 1984 when Pakistan, to boost its tourism, allowed some foreign trackers to climb into Siachen Glacier assisted by its para-military. India presumed the Pakistani action to be a ploy to occupy the un-demarcated portion of the strategically significant heights that would provide Pakistani forces the ability to overlook Ladakh and the valley down below. India air-dropped four hundred troops atop a portion of the Soltaro Range and occupied large portions of Soltaro Range and the Glacier. As a counter, Pakistan dispatched around three hundred special forces that resulted in the fiercest battle away from human eye, above the clouds. The bitter fighting that broke out in 1987 remained inconclusive. Artillery duels continued till both sides agreed to a cease-fire. India considers the possession invaluable in terms of strategic gains despite the soldiers' nightmarish experience in the region.

Talks at military commanders' level failed. Efforts to withdraw troops back to the 1972 position also failed. Pakistan proposed to demilitarise the Glacier in contention but India is yet to respond. The situation further deteriorated after the Kargil war till 2004 when both the countries decided to resume dialogue over all outstanding issues to normalise relations.

As a part of the ongoing process of composite dialogue, Delhi hosted a defence secretary lmvel meeting on [iachen from 6-8|h August 2004, without any tangible result. Pakistani defence secretary accused India of violating the 1972 Simla Agreement with the purpose of altering the LoC. His Indian counterpart was not in a mood to give in to Islamabad's off and on interpre|ation of 1972 Simla agreement.

Be that as it may, Pakistan maintained its earlier proposal to demilitarise the region but New Delhi was not in a mood to entertain it unless Pakistan 'verifies the map' and remained insistent on accepting ' Actual Ground Position Line' (AGPL) that began, as Delhi reportedly maintains, from NJ 9842 and ended in the current Indian possessions on Soltaro Ranoe. Pakistan's minimum demand was for India to vacate the occupation before deciding 'future line'. That proposal India would never accept unless entire issue of Kashmir was resolved.

New Delhi is well aware that it is not so much the strategic value of the area in the era of availability of standoff surveillance system, as compromise on Kashmir acceding to such demand would mean. While the talks remain inconclusive, both parties fully realise that there is neither a military solution nor is the region suitable for conventional battle to resolve the issue. Yet they have promised to meet in near future to resolve the issue through dialogue.

Meanwhile, up above the clouds, in the icy glacier and peaks, the soldiers continue to suffer and die, if not form bullets than from nature, occasionally looking down in the valley where politicians of South Asia find it hard to give peace a chance. The title is adopted from Martin A. Sugarman's book on Siachen


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