Operation Meghdoot, was in support of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces in Northern Ladakh, to secure control of the heights predominating the Siachin glacier, also referred to as the world’s third pole and potentially a dangerous flashpoint on the disputed Northern borders. IAF Il-76s, An 12s and An 32s transported stores and troops, airdropped supplies to high altitude airfields while Mi-17s, Mi-8s, Chetek and Cheetahs ferried men and material to dizzy heights far above the limits set by the helicopter manufacturers. In fighting for this “roof-of-the world” since April 1984, the IAF’s incredible performance at the extremes of temperature and altitude remains a continuing saga of fortitude and skill. But few people know that Siachen operations started way back in 1978.
The tallest battlefield in the world is Siachen Glacier. Over the last 14 years, a fight has been going on here. This is a war, where human stamina, flight and technological abilities are on report almost daily. On 13 April 1984, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Forces joined the globe, Operation Meghdoot was initiated. Very few, however, realize the six years ago the glacier activity began. In 1978. Absolutely. Some that find odd, but operations in Siachen started in the same year. A Squadron Leader commanded the squad. It had 10 additional Sqn Ldrs, 2 Flt Lts, and an Fg Officer had arrived.
I was on a double test and was at Leh on 17 September 1978 when I knew what was going on. The machine was like a vision. The place was more spectacular than you really could think and the sun just drifted away. A halfway through the detachment I never overlooked a promise that and project persists to this day was reported.General of Indian Army
HIGH ALTITUDE WARFARE SCHOOL (HAW)
The Detachment Commander was Sqn Ldr KDS Sambyal. We have been invited by Colonel Narendra Kumar to a glacier named Siachen and advised on a high-altitude training school expedition (HAWS). A chart stared at a region that we never expected anybody to travel. Col GS sent us a quick description, displaying the flag on a region, technically ours, but available to Pakistan expeditions abroad. Pakistan also began to show the area on its maps. It was agreed to launch the HAWS exploration to counter this “cartographic hostility.”
The HAWS team who went to the glacier was provided by the Indian Air Force with mail and fresh rations. The date of the arrival of the first IAF transfer to Siachen is seen in my logbook on 20 September 1978. The glacier’s black snout was powerful, intimidating and majestic at least. I checked for force-landing fields to my left and right as we moved ahead. Only Ice remained where there were no crevasses.
LINE OF CONTROL (LOC)
In compliance with the Shimla Conference in OPERATION MEGHDOOT, the 1949 termination fire line was revalidated as the LoC under the Suchetgarh Agreement of December 1972. Throughout the 1971 conflict, the LoC nearly followed J&K’s military gains but did not alter the line beyond NJ9842. The territory was uninhabited and deemed by all sides outside the control of military operations. Although, after the 1962 conflict, Pakistan starts to walk through cartography the ceasefire route, which was soon under consideration by the American defence mapping service, a global mapping landmark. Pakistan began to represent cease-fire between 1964 and 1972, stretching from NJ9842 to a point west from the Karakoram Pass, instead of to the West, as specified in the agreement. Global mountain maps quickly started depicting this as the CFL-LoC, a real globally recognized CFL and supported by mountain legends.
Pakistan used this shift of understanding to encourage foreign expeditions to reinforce its claim to the territory in the region of the Siachen Glacier. Such mountaineers had to procure a permit from the authorities of Pakistan validating Pakistan’s de facto assertion over the glacier. By 1978 India launched mountain expeditions, warned by the expeditions. A running joke among the diplomats of that period was that the Siyakh issue was the establishment of an enterprising and well-linked Pakistani travel agency. It was the launch of a virtual mountain battle between the two armies in Operation Meghdoot. The glacier might have dormant as in previous decades if there had no expeditions in the area.
In 1978, Colonel Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar, one of India’s leading mountaineers, announced that while the country allowed international mountain climbers to climb the Karakoram peaks, the Indian military prohibited its troops. Lt Gen. M. Chibber (retd), then director of military operations. In the past, the Indian side information came that therefore the Pakistani military was able to push into the Siachen glacier physically. Articles on intelligence talked of Pakistani military moves to Siachen. While R&AW gathered details regarding Pakistan’s army purchasing a huge quantity of high-altitude weapons from Europe. To order to keep Pakistan from taking over the Siachen glacier, India has instead agreed to move rapidly. Premier Indira Gandhi supported the change.
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