Siachen: 40 Years of Operation Meghdoot


40 years ago, on 13 April 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot, to pre-empt Pakistan in Siachen. Operation Meghdoot, remains an unparalleled saga of valour, determination, and sacrifice on the highest and harshest battlefield in the world. With temperatures ranging below minus 50°C and at an altitude of over 6,400 meters, Siachen which means ‘abundance of wild roses’ in Balti language is the second longest glacier in the world. Ever since, the Indian Army has held all the passes and prevented any kind of Pakistani intrusion. The posts held by Indian troops are now referred to as the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), which is 110 km long.

The Plot

The root cause of the Siachen dispute can be traced back to the Karachi Agreement of 1949. The representatives of both the nations drew the ‘Ceasefire Line’ across maps of Jammu and Kashmir from Manawar in the South, to Khor in the North and thence ‘North to the Glaciers’ through NJ 9842. Post the 1971 War, the line running North of NJ 9842, was the point mentioned when the talks between India and Pakistan took place in Suchetgarh to delineate the Line of Control. Presumably when the discussion came up on the glaciated wilderness of snow and ice, the representatives stopped at Grid Point NJ 9842 on the presumption that neither side would be interested in contesting an area where not a blade of grass grew and even breathing was a problem.

Beneath the veneer of this bleak beauty lie menacing hazards that snatch away human lives if one is not careful. The Glacier, is of strategic importance to India, Pakistan, and China as it is at the hub of Shaksgam Valley and Karakoram Pass.

In 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded the Shaksgam Valley comprising some 5180 square kilometres of Indian territory to China, in the area where the boundaries of India, Pakistan, and China meet, thereby altering the geo-strategic importance of this area. Further, the Siachen Glacier is the source for the Nubra River that eventually feeds the Indus River, which in turn irrigates the plains of Punjab in Pakistan.

The problem started when Pakistan decided to further their ambitions by permitting and assisting foreign mountaineering and scientific expeditions in the area and raised the issue of ‘rights’ in an area that did not belong to them.

Throughout the 1970s, several mountaineering expeditions were sponsored from the Pakistan side, many of which included foreign participants, with the aim of laying claim to this area. These crossed the Saltoro Ridge and entered the Siachen glacier. Since glaciers are indeed a significant source of silicon and China is continuously looking for glaciated terrain, it is well possible that Pakistan was in the process of taking control of this area with the aim of handing it over to China, as they did the Shaksgam Valley. Such a move would have had serious strategic implications on the very security of Ladakh.

India, was unaware of all this activity. In 1974, German mountaineers Jaroslav Poncar and Volker Stallbohm sought permission for rafting down the Indus in Ladakh. Permission was granted, and they were introduced to Colonel Narendra (Bull) Kumar, a well-known mountaineer, posted at the High-Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Gulmarg. The Germans were back in India in 1977, this time requesting a trek to the 24,600 feet high Mamostong Kangri, southeast of Siachen. This time permission was denied. The Germans then approached Pakistan, who granted them the permission. They climbed up the Saltoro Ridge at Bilafond La from the Pakistan side, and reached Siachen.

Amid the permission-seeking documentation for the trek, Colonel Bull Kumar got hold of a map from the Germans. Immediately he sensed something amiss. He took the map to the Director General of Military Operations, Lieutenant General ML Chibber, and recommended that to ensure the Pakistanis do not intrude into Siachen, India should establish a Post in the area which could be manned during the summer. His actions led to him being fondly called the ‘Saviour of Siachen.’ Thus, in January 1978, the Indian authorities became aware of the implications of joining NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass and Pakistan’s mountaineering expeditions. While due Northwards meant along the Saltoro Ridge to K2, Pakistan in a cartographic aggression joined the line from NJ 9842 to the Karakoram Pass thereby including both Siachen and Shaksgam Valley in their area.

The Build Up

In 1978, India decided to send a strong military mountaineering expedition to climb a series of peaks on either side of the Siachen glacier led by Colonel Narendra (Bull) Kumar. The Indian Army returned to the glacier in 1980 and 1981 to climb Saltoro Kangri and other peaks and reached Indira Col (West) at the head of the glacier. The success of these expeditions also revealed evidence of other expeditions having entered the Siachen area from the West. Thereafter, the Indian Army also sent Long Range Patrols to the area. In 1983, the Army started to build some basic shelters. The Indian Airforce remained integral in the success of these expeditions since they supported the Indian Army by providing valuable logistic support and supply of fresh rations.

The Pakistan army sent two protest notes, which for the first time formally projected Pakistan’s claim line. The note asked the Indian side: “Instruct your troops to withdraw south of Point NJ 9842, any delay in vacating our territory will create a serious situation.”

A plan to counter Pakistan and not to lose the area which was legitimately ours was discussed in Army Headquarters and approved by the Chief, Gen Arun Vaidya, PVSM, MVC**, AVSM and thereafter the Cabinet Committee of Security gave clearance to launch a pre-emptive operation.

The Indian Army launched Operation Meghdoot on 13 April 1984. The primary objective of the operation was to pre-empt the seizure of Sia La, and Bilafond La passes by the Pakistan Army. Bilafond La had been used as a traditional Pass for climbing from the West. From the North to South, there were four important passes on the Saltoro Ridge: Sia La, Bilafond La, Gyong La and Chulung La.

Commencement of the Operations

The task of establishing Indian Army’s presence over Siachen Glacier was entrusted to HQ 26 Sector, commanded by Brigadier VN Channa. 4 KUMAON, supported by a Company of Ladakh Scouts, under Major VS Salaria, two Companies of 19 KUMAON, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel DK Khanna were in turn tasked to occupy the Siachen Glacier Complex. Before undertaking the task, the troops carried out rigorous training for several weeks, which included ice craft, snow craft, survival, physical fitness, and mental robustness. The first troops to be Heli-dropped as part of Zorawar Task Force were commanded by Major RS Sandhu, VrC of 4 KUMAON. The first wave was under Captain Sanjay Kulkarni, who landed on the Glacier on 13 April 1984, and hoisted the Indian Tricolour on Bilafond La four days later as they could not move ahead initially due to a severe snow storm. He recalls while approaching the Pass he saw a Pakistani helicopter hovering overhead and it was then that Pakistan must have realised that they had lost the race to occupy the Saltoro Ridge which they had planned to occupy as part of Operation Ababeel.

The foot column led by Major VS Salaria of Ladakh Scouts and Captain PV Yadav, SM, reached the Glacier subsequently, after an extremely strenuous four-day march over extremely inhospitable terrain. The column set up Camps I, II and III for maintenance of newly established Posts on the Glacier.

Pakistani troops soon occupied a location West of Bilafond La and commenced firing on 27 April and thereafter launched their first attack on 23 June. But in the mountains once the heights are held by trained and acclimatised soldiers who are logistically sustained it is nearly impossible to dislodge them.

In February 1985, the adversary again attempted an attack to occupy a height overlooking Sia La; this attempt too failed.

Operation Rajiv

The next major effort to change the situation on the ground took place in 1987, when the Pakistani Special Services Group (SSG) occupied a position overlooking the Bilafond La area in March-April and named it as Quaid Post after Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The Post was located at a height of 6,500 meters and threatened Indian movement on the Western part of the Siachen Glacier.

Quaid Post was located on a massive ice mass located at an altitude of 21,153 feet above sea level. The steep ice-walls of Quaid Post were 457 m on either side, making it a dominating position and practically impossible to capture. From this feature the Pakistanis could snipe at Indian army positions since the height gave a clear view of the entire Saltoro Range and Siachen glacier.

On 18 April 1987, the Pakistanis from Quaid Post fired on Indian troops at Sonam Post (6,400 m), killing two soldiers. The Indian Army then decided to evict the Pakistanis from the Post. On 29 May, a team of 8 JAK LI led by Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande made at an unsuccessful attempt of capturing the post, resulting in death of 10 Indian soldiers. After a month of preparation, the Indian Army launched a fresh operation to capture the post. This operation, called “Operation Rajiv” in honour of Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande, was headed by Major Varinder Singh. Naib Subedar Bana Singh recently posted to 8 JAK LI, also formed part of the team.

Starting on 23 June 1987, Major Varinder Singh’s task force launched multiple attacks to capture the post. After initial failures, a 5-member team led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh stealthily climbed and clawed up the steep 457 m high wall of ice and approached the Quaid Post from an unexpected direction, using a longer and more difficult approach. Enroute, they crossed the frozen bodies of their comrades from their battalion, who had been killed in earlier attempts to capture the Post. There was a blizzard blowing, and visibility was poor, which provided cover to the Indian soldiers. Naib Subedar Bana Singh achieved complete surprise. After reaching the top, Naib Subedar Bana Singh lobbed a grenade into the bunker and shut the door, killing all inside. The two sides got involved in a free for all, in which the Indian soldiers bayoneted some of the Pakistani soldiers while others ran for the lives, falling off the ice wall. Seven Pakistani SSG Commandos were killed on the spot and the remainder fled. Soon others from the unit joined and the Quaid post was finally captured on 26 June 1987. In recognition of Naib Subedar Bana Singh’s role in the capture, the Post which was renamed as Bana Top.


Naib Subedar Bana Singh volunteered to be a member of a task force constituted in June 1987 to clear an intrusion by an adversary in the Siachen Glacier area at an altitude of 21,000 feet. The post was virtually an impregnable glacier fortress with ice walls, 1500 feet high, on both sides. Naib Subedar Bana Singh led his men through an extremely difficult and hazardous route. He inspired them by his indomitable courage and leadership. The brave Naib Subedar and his men crawled and closed in on the adversary. Moving from trench to trench, lobbing hand grenades and charging with the bayonet, he cleared the post of all intruders.

Naib Subedar Bana Singh displayed the most conspicuous gallantry and leadership under the most adverse conditions.

On 26 January 1988, for his bravery, conspicuous courage, dauntless determination, and devotion beyond the call of duty, during Operation Rajiv, Naib Subedar Bana Singh was awarded the highest wartime gallantry medal in India, the Param Vir Chakra.

In September 1987, Pakistan again launched a major attack to capture the areas around Bilafond La. However, due to insufficient understanding of the impact of terrain on military operations, the attack ended up as a major defeat for Pakistan. In this operation Major KG Chatterjee, Lance Havildar NB Ale and Naik PB Gurung of 3rd Battalion, 4th GORKHA RIFLES displayed raw courage and valour in the face of enemy and were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

With the persistent efforts from both Indian Army and Indian Air Force, by 1987 all the commanding heights of the Saltoro Ridge West of the Siachen Glacier were under India’s control. The actions of the Indian Army ensured that Pakistan had no further presence on the Saltoro Ridge/Siachen Glacier. Saltoro Ridge, overlooks the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), as also the northern part of the glacier, ringed by very high peaks, dominates the Shaksgam valley.


The illustrious history of Op MEGHDOOT is a testament of grit, determination, and valour of the Indian Armed Forces, not only of the soldiers occupying the defences, but also of those who have supported them over the decades including logistics, medical assistance, and the Border Roads Organization (BRO) who have developed the infrastructure in this inhospitable terrain.

Apart from being one of the most challenging operations in the history of the world, Operation Meghdoot is distinguished by being one of the greatest examples of jointness and synergy between the Indian Army and Indian Air Force. The Army and IAF have been fighting shoulder to shoulder at the world’s highest battlefield that is distinctive for its combat, gallantry in the longest joint operation undertaken by India.

The scroll of honour at the Siachen Base Camp reads, “Quartered in snow, silent to remain. When the bugle calls, they shall rise and march again.” Forty years later we must pay homage to those extra ordinary personnel who laid down their lives in the highest traditions of the Services, as well as Salute those who have served there over the years and whose legacy inspires future generations.


Maj Gen VK Singh, VSM was commissioned into The Scinde Horse in Dec 1983. The officer has commanded an Independent Recce Sqn in the desert sector, and has the distinction of being the first Armoured Corps Officer to command an Assam Rifles Battalion in Counter Insurgency Operations in Manipur and Nagaland, as well as the first General Cadre Officer to command a Strategic Forces Brigade. He then commanded 12 Infantry Division (RAPID) in Western Sector. The General is a fourth generation army officer.

Major General Jagatbir Singh was commissioned into 18 Cavalry in December 1981. During his 38 years of service in the Army he has held various command, staff and instructional appointments and served in varied terrains in the country. He has served in a United Nations Peace Keeping Mission as a Military Observer in Iraq and Kuwait.  He has been an instructor to Indian Military Academy and the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. He is  a prolific writer in defence & national security and adept at public speaking.

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