How India won the race to Siachen

The book is a must-read for all policymakers, diplomats, academics and civil and military personnel who have an interest in Siachen.

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Sep 29, 2022
Meghdoot: The Beginning of the Coldest War by Amit K Paul

Siachen, which in Balti language (of Baltistan) means land with an abundance of roses, is the name of one of the five largest glaciers in the East Karakoram Range of the northern Himalayas. At an average altitude of 5,400 metres (17,700 feet) above sea level, it is considered the highest and coldest in the world. The name itself is most ironic, as not a blade of grass grows in that entire area.

Lt Gen Sanjay Kulkarni (retd), who as a young captain of 19 Kumaon was the first to jump down from a helicopter at Bilafond La on 13 April 1983, the first of actions that started Operation Meghdoot, has written the foreword of this seminal book "Meghdoot: The Beginning of the Coldest War". The induction of 19 Kumaon into Bilafond La resulted in India beating Pakistan in the race to occupy Saltoro Heights, a decision taken after deliberations at the highest levels. 

What would these discussions have been? Why was this particular course of action chosen? What is the basis for both India’s and Pakistan’s claims on Siachen? Which agreement is applicable to the region and what is the correct factual matrix for interpreting the same? It is these questions that the book's author Amit K Paul, a lawyer by profession, seeks to answer.

Based on true events and fact aggregation, personal interviews, and wide painstaking research on the subject by the author, this book tells the story of the race to Siachen - from the discovery of the cartographic aggression in 1978 by Col Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar to the battle on Bilafond La in June 1984. Delving deep into the genesis of the dispute, Paul examines the legality of the Indian and Pakistani cases and rather than writing in the research format, he has used a very unconventional diary and dialogue format to present all the facts and arguments logically and chronologically. The result is that the book reads like a thriller and will thus appeal to a wider audience including the layman interested in understanding the ‘how and why’ of this dispute.

This is perhaps the first book on the subject that examines the relevant clauses of the Karachi Ceasefire Agreement of 1949 and its applicability to this Siachen region. While doing so Paul differs from the views presented by many scholars and authors on this subject in the past and makes some important points that were hitherto overlooked or not given their due importance. These include the following: (a) The Karachi Ceasefire Agreement of 1949 and in particular Clause B2(d) and C of it deal with this area explicitly and very clearly give it to India, which is a basic fact not highlighted by many others who have written on the subject. Unfortunately, demarcation of the region, which was to be done subsequent to the agreement, was not done which leaves it incomplete. (b) NJ 9842 is not the terminal point as per the agreement but only the last demarcated point on the ground en route to the glaciers, lying between Khor and the glaciers. It cannot be the terminal point because the agreement clearly mentions that the ceasefire line must proceed north to the glaciers and be drawn in a manner so as to eliminate all 'no-man’s land'. So, the line could not have stopped before the glaciers and been left hanging, thereby creating a large tract of 'no man’s land'. If the demarcating teams could not complete the demarcation process as per the mandate of the agreement and the field commanders terminated it at NJ 9842 on account of practical difficulties, then it does not make the intent expressed in the agreement vague or give anyone any reason to misinterpret it or sanction the creation of a no man’s land contrary to it. (c) The Simla Agreement does not apply to the region beyond NJ 9842 and the only legal document which deals with it is the Karachi Ceasefire Agreement. Contrary to what is widely written, there is no reference to the Line of Control going eastwards from Thang to the Glaciers in the Simla Agreement. (d) The line claimed by Pakistan to extend from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass was not even conceived or drawn in Pakistan. 

State Department mischief?

The burden of the Pakistani claim for areas north of the line joining NJ 9842 with the Karakoram Pass had been that at some point in time many international cartographers had shown this region on Pakistan’s side. Declassified documents reveal that the genesis of this cartographic “error” was the office of the US State Department Geographer Robert D Hodgson, who in 1968 unilaterally extended the ceasefire line from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass, taking a cue from the US ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) 

Maps dealing with the question of how the boundaries of the then state of Jammu & Kashmir were to be shown in US maps. Indeed, the line being claimed by Pakistan as its own was never even drawn by it. It is pertinent to mention that in 1986 the US State Department removed this line from all its maps only after a query was raised by India and no suitable explanation was given as to why it appeared in the first place.

Some very challenging and hair-raising actions of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force in Op Meghdoot in the world’s most treacherous terrain and climatic conditions, and the Pakistani side of the story and their planning for Operation Ababeel, add much value to the book (Notion Press; pg 213; price Rs 220). The book is a must-read for all policymakers, diplomats, academics and civil and military personnel who have an interest in Siachen.

(The author is a former spokesperson for Defence Ministry and the Indian Army. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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