PM Modi to visit world’s highest battlefield in Siachen

siachen-glacier-8[12]To boost the morale of troops stationed at the world’s highest battlefield, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit the strategically located Siachen Glacier during his tour of Ladakh next week.

The visit will be the first to Siachen by an Indian prime minister in nine years. Army Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag is expected to accompany Modi on his visit to Siachen, where he will also be briefed at the headquarters of the 14 Corps.

This visit to Siachen, expected August 12, comes at a time when relations between India and Pakistan are beginning to thaw.

While Modi took a tough stance on Pakistan and the Siachen issue during his election campaign, his invitation to Pakistan’s Prime Minsiter Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony in May and his talks with the Pakistan leader signalled his desire to seek better ties with Pakistan.

India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh will visit Islamabad on August 25 to hold talks with her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry to explore ways to revive engagement with Pakistan. Siachen, considered a “do-able” issue by some influential figures on both sides of the border, may figure in the agenda.

Pakistan has repeatedly called for the de-militarisation of the glacier. The most recent call was made after Pakistan’s 130 soldiers were killed in a horrific avalanche in the Gayari area in April 2012.

India, however, maintains that demilitarisation is only possible after Pakistan delineates and authenticates the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). India has occupied the strategically important 76 kilometre long glacier since 1984.

In June 2012, India and Pakistan held two-day Defence Secretary-level talks on Siachen in Islambad, but there were no breakthroughs, as both sides stuck to their positions.

The costs of maintaining troops in Siachen are staggering. The India’s army alone has lost over 860 soldiers over the last 30 years, with the inhospitable climate claiming more lives than combat.

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