Typing Test


The Sonam tragedy at the Saltoro Range of the Siachen Glacier sector continues to draw commentaries in the mainline media. Mr Rajiv Shukla's piece in the Indian Express on 29 February needs to be commended if for nothing else at least the fact that a senior politician has chosen to write about it and express an opinion. That I disagree with the opinion will be explained subsequently. What is more important is that the three recent major events concerning India's military have thrown up far greater interest in matters military than I can ever remember; an interest which has been eluding the nation for long. The events at Pathankot, Sonam post and Pampore have resulted in many commentaries. However, our misfortune remains that majority of these appear to be uninformed analyses harping more on the emotional aspects of losses of officers and men (all warriors) and less on the strategic, operational and tactical aspects. The emotional concerns of the media, leading citizens and political leaders for the safety of the men in uniform, are a welcome sign of empathy. Yet, this should be followed by serious commentaries to disagree with the way things are or reinforce current practices and methodologies. It is in the spirit of the above belief that I have chosen to comment on Mr Rajiv Shukla's analysis which I once again reiterate is a welcome departure from the past. Mr Shukla appears to have visited the Siachen sector once in 2005; even if he has visited more often it is obvious that he has never pored over a map of the sector which encompasses the areas where Indian, Pakistani and Chinese troops are deployed. Without doing that, realization of the significance of Siachen and Saltoro is difficult. A good Army officer would explain to him that the separation of India from PoK (not Pakistan) is not along the Siachen Glacier; it is actually along the Saltoro Ridge which rises to 23000 feet at places and runs along the entire length of the Glacier to the west and further south to Turtuk. Pakistan is not even remotely near Siachen although it projects to its people that its troops actually occupy Siachen. By vacating Saltoro and by default the Siachen Glacier it is India which will be making the concession not Pakistan which will continue to occupy the lower heights in the west running along the Kondus Glacier. So the withdrawal by mutual consent would actually be a concession only by India, a dilution of its tactical dominance it has enjoyed right from 1984. Mr Shukla innocently echoes the views of many strategic analysts that the Siachen Glacier and the sector that defends it have little strategic significance for India for the quantum of money we spend on it. He goes on to reiterate the perception of the segment of analysts who believe that it is sufficient to employ technology to monitor the sector after a mutual withdrawal to lower heights (effectively an Indian withdrawal). They allude to the employment of helicopters, drones and satellite based surveillance to keep an eye on what would purportedly become no man's land. What none of these analysts and Mr Shukla explain is the required response mechanism should there be a reneging of the agreement on the part of Pakistan. Let me explain what that will need to be. It will involve the launch of heliborne and surface launched acclimatized forces of quantum of nine to one ratio or more to have any chance of recovering one or two heights on the Saltoro. Logistics and resupply would be a major concern after the logistics bases, painstakingly established over years in the sub glaciers leading to the Saltoro Range, have been wound up. There would be no or minimum artillery to support these assaults as guns cannot be left unattended at the glacier locations. In fact to any experienced military mind the idea of recovering lost ground if occupied by Pakistan would be almost utopian. If at all, it would amount to thousands of fatal casualties. There arises the issue of trust. Some observers feel