Siashen Glacier – why?

NY Times, 10 February 2016, Indian Soldier Found Alive After Five Days Under ‘Massive Ice Boulders’ on Himalayan Glacier

Tilford’s flashback to 1996 and years following in the South Asia Branch, Regional Assessments Division, Defense Intelligence Agency.  I first heard ‘Siashen Glacier’ from Major Ralph Roberts who had just returned from the Pakistan Army’s equivalent to our US Army War College.  The story goes something like this: Before Pakistan and India became independent from Great Britain in 1947, the Brits had surveyed basically all of South Asia.  You remember, found the world’s tallest mountain and all that.  When surveying a line which later became the boundary between Pakistan and India the Brit survey teams quit when confronted with a broken ice field starting at 15,000 feet and going up from there.  Ever-shifting, nearly impassable, Himalayan glacier.  “Who the [insert not polite noun here] cares?  No body’s ever going to live here, and there’s nothing worth anything.”  Common sense prevailed among the British.   So there’s no surveyed boundary between Pakistan and India in the Siashen Glacier area.

Turns out the Pakistan and India nations hate each other enough to spend many thousands of lives and the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, to fight each other for possession of worthless broken ice at elevations where humans cannot live for extended periods of time.

The movie “K-2” had a scene where an artillery commander of one side, I forget which, said “Well, time to wake up the [either Pakistanis or Indian] dogs!” and fired his predawn rounds across the ‘line’ into the oppositions camps.

Something I learned from today’s NYT article is that serving a tour at the Glacier has become a ‘box to be checked’ on an Indian Army soldier’s career summary for promotion consideration, much as was Vietnam in my time and Afghanistan and/or Iraq now in the US combat arms.  So now Indian (and one would assume Pakistani) artillery rounds and periodic combat patrols are not just based on hate of but also in quest of promotion.

Related trivia:
• When in the mid-1990s the Indians went to 155mm artillery in addition to 105mm, their logistics became more difficult. The cute little burrows/donkeys/whatever-they’re-called-four-legged-carriers which could carry a saddlebag set up with a 105mm round on each side could not carry two 155mm rounds. And it is sort of hard to balance one 155mm round on their little backs.
• One of the most common medical issues (after frostbite and hypothermia, of course) is hemorrhoids. So many of the troops come from hot, humid, sea level backgrounds that they don’t drink enough water. They don’t feel thirsty because they are not sweating nor feel hot.

So India thinks it’s a triumph to be relished that one of ten of their soldiers buried in an ice flow survived after nine days presumed dead.

I remarked to Ralph in 1996 and I believe it now; given the insanity of this perpetual conflict and suffering a rational commander would retreat, pulling back down to human survival levels.  Let the other side ‘win’. Then they could suffer and spend money and resources to hold the worthless Siashen Glacier.



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