ISLAMABAD - The Siachen Glaciers, known as the world’s highest battlefield, are located in the eastern Karakoram mountain range in the Himalayas, huddled next to the borders of Pakistan, India, and China.
The region includes the world’s second-longest glaciers, stretching an impressive 76 kilometres (47 miles).
The South Asian neighbours and rivals Pakistan and India both claim sovereignty over the entire Siachen region.
According to Pakistan army officials, before 1984, there was no military presence on the glaciers, but in April 1984, the Indian army initiated a secret operation and captured some top posts at the Siachen glaciers and approached the eastern Karakoram mountain range, which compelled Pakistan to move its troops into the strategic region of northern Kashmir. [image: A view from Saichen glacier, where India and Pakistan both claim the area and have thousands of soldiers stationed there in Siachen . PHOTO: Anadolu Agency]
Since then, both countries’ troops are stationed in Siachen , although a cease-fire came into effect in 2003.
This September, Anadolu Agency sent the first-ever international media outlet team to visit several sectors of the Siachen glaciers and stayed there to observe how troops spend days and nights in such a harsh environment.
*Arrival at Baltoro Sector *
The agency team first visited the Pakistan Army’s International Hiking and Altitude Expedition Camp (IHEC) and Concordia posts in the Baltoro Glacier sector. The IHEC and Concordia posts are located at an altitude of around 4,877 meters (16,000 feet) to 5,182 m (17,000 ft), while some posts are located at around 6,100 m (20,000 ft), with average temperatures of around minus 15 C throughout the year, plunging down to minus 50 C in the winter.
Pakistani soldiers wear special snow gear, jackets, caps, boots, and glasses to protect themselves from harsh weather conditions, as the cold wind always blows in from the glacier region.
“We can’t venture outside without these special clothes due to the wind chill and lack of oxygen,” a soldier told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
Being posted in a glacier region means preparing for a struggle with nature as the weather, rather than the bullets, is the biggest enemy for Pakistani and Indian soldiers in the Siachen region.
The soldiers stationed here can be seen with guns in hands, always standing vigilant and keeping eyes on the enemy despite the cold blowing wind in the world’s highest battlefield. [image: PHOTO: Anadolu Agency]
PHOTO: Anadolu Agency
*Mountaineers’ paradise *
The region is also called the “mountaineers’ paradise,” as five of the world’s 8,000-meter-plus peaks are located in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, including K-2, the world’s famed second-highest peak.
K-2, also known as Chhogori or Mt. Godwin-Austen, part of the Karakoram range, towers 8,611 m (28,251 ft) high.
Nanga Parbat, also known as “Killer Mountain” — the world’s ninth tallest mountain with a height of 8,126 m (26.660 ft) — is located in the Himalayan range. It has never been climbed in the winter.
Broad Peak, also known as K-3 — the world’s 12th-highest peak with a height of 8,051 m (26,414 ft) — is located in the Karakoram range about eight km from K-2. It has a summit of over 1.5 km long, and thus is known as Broad Peak.
Gashabrum-2, also known as K-4, is the 13th-highest peak in the world, with a height of 8,035 m (26,362 ft), and is also located in the Karakoram range.
Gashabrum-1, also known as “hidden peak” or K-5, is the 11th-highest peak in the world at 8,080 m (26,510 ft) tall, located in the Karakoram range. It is also called “beautiful or shining mountain.”
Many foreign climbing expeditions enter through the Baltoro sector to reach the K-2 base camp, where they plan for next destination to summit the highest peaks.
According to local Pakistan army officers in Baltoro, they help the climbers whenever they need or rescue them if anyone gets stuck during an expedition.
*Gayari and Gyong Sectors*
The Gayari and Gyong sub-sectors feature several high-altitude observing posts in the Siachen region, including the Ibrahim post at an altitude of 5,639 m (18,500 ft) and the Yousaf post located around 5,791 m (19,000 ft) high, among the highest locations on the Pakistani side of Siachen .
The Sheer post at 6,035 m (19,800 ft) and Victor post at 5,669 m (18,600 ft) are also located in this sector, where Pakistani troops dominate the heights.
The Pakistan army provides its soldiers standard food in line with medical requirements at these high-altitude posts.
“Last night we couldn’t get to sleep as we were eagerly waiting for your arrival,” one officer said, warmly welcoming the Anadolu Agency team.
The officers and soldiers posted in these areas couldn’t meet with other colleagues or relatives for several months due to isolated conditions.
As per standard army operating procedures, the soldiers and officers are deployed for 21-30 days at the highest posts, but sometimes in winter they may stay longer when all routes are closed due to snow and blizzards.
The soldiers’ deployments in these highest posts is also a tough job. From base camp, they walk for two weeks to a month to reach their posts. The army has dozens of posts situated two or three kilometers from each other in every sector from base camp to the top.
The soldiers slowly ascend to the top and stay for a day or two or sometimes four to five days at the military posts, in order to get acclimatized. There is no road connectivity on either the Pakistan or Indian side to the top of the glaciers.
During their movement, a team of eight to 15 soldiers links up using ropes to protect each other from falling into crevices. - Anadolu Agency