The country mourned the death of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad, an army soldier who was rescued after getting buried under snow in an avalanche in Siachen on February 2. Nine other colleagues of Hanumanthappa had also lost their lives in the natural disaster. [Siachen braveheart Hanumanthappa passes away after gritty fight]
Both sides lose men in harsh Siachen conditions
The deaths of 10 Indian armymen leave our hearts heavy but it is not that just India has lost its jawans in such adverse conditions since 1984 when Indian troops were first deployed in the area. [Bad weather holds up airlifting of mortal remains of 9 Siachen martyrs]
In April 2012, 130 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a massive avalanche on the world's highest battlefield. Both sides lose their personnel in the freezing conditions of Siachen regularly but yet, the respective establishments believe there is very little option as withdrawing the troops from the dominating heights of the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro ridge will expose Ladakh to possible attacks from Pakistan and China.
Both the neighbours, despite several other problems they face, spend whopping amounts to maintain the outposts in the harsh conditions in Siachen (India spends Rs 5 crore a day) and continue to lose precious men and material resources there. India has lost nearly 900 soldiers in Siachen so far and a report by the Strategic Foresight Group published in 2005 warned that conditions on the Siachen glacier might kill around 1,500 soldiers between 2006 and 2010, and that without firing a single shot.
What's the viability of these posts?
So, what is the utility for either countries to deploy so much resources on a place and lose them unnecessarily? This is a question which is being asked, not just by civil society members on either side, but also military experts and peace activists.
Can't the two countries reduce their trust deficit on Siachen?
While a retired Indian Army brigadier said the Siachen and the mountainous terrain surrounding it has little strategic significance and stands contrary to any possible rapproachement between the two neighbours, other observers have questioned the financial viability of maintaining the posts in Siachen.
A play was released in Pakistan last year on Siachen
In Pakistan, too, questions have been raised about the justification of giving so much efforts on Siachen. Last year, a play was made in Pakistan titled 'Siachen' which asked the need for fighting in Siachen, something that Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institute described as "two bald men fighting over a comb".
But everything comes to the nationalist vigour at the end of the day
But there is another aspect to this story on Siachen and that is about the negative feeling called 'nationalism'. The establishments on both sides use the Siachen border as a means to keep the flames of nationalism burning. "We sleep because they remain awake," is the common statement heard on both sides whenever we discuss about the armymen and their contribution in giving the nation an identity by safeguarding the borders. But at the end of the day, it is those soldiers who suffer, even dedicate their lives and we continue to fuel our nationalistic flames with their sacrifice.
Siachen has its strategic significance but can't India & Pak work on improving the trust deficit so that lives can be saved?
True, Siachen is not entirely without a staregic significance. Following the cessation of the Shaksgam Valley to the Chinese in 1963, the construction of Karakoram highway close to the Siachen Glacier and the beginning of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-where Chinese personnel would be deployed-Siachen is important for the security of Nubra and Shyok Valleys, as also Ladakh.
The Indian Army occupies the higher points and would be apprehensive about its Pakistani counterpart capturing them if it withdraws (Kargil is still a burning memory) but there lies the biggest challenge for both New Delhi and Islamabad in bridging the serious trust deficit so that they do not lose human lives and materials unnecessarily.
Among other things, can Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif also take up the issue with similar intensity so that no more bravehearts are sacrificed.