New Delhi, Oct 21 : About 35 years after it was closed down for civilians, Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield, was on Monday declared open for tourists by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in a major decision ahead of the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh where the region is located.
Siachen, the icy heights in the Karakoram mountain range, used to be an unmilitarised zone before 1984 and mountaineering expeditions would be allowed by India.
However, Pakistan, in early 1980s, also started sending expeditions there, triggering alarm in India that it could be a ploy to capture the strategically important region. Wary of Pakistani misadventure, India rushed its troops in 1984 under 'Operation Meghdoot' and has ever since maintained strategic control of the glacier.
Subsequently, the area was prohibited for civilians.
"The Siachen area is now open for tourists and tourism. From Siachen Base Camp to Kumar Post, the entire area has been opened for tourism purposes," Rajnath Singh said on Monday while inaugurating a bridge in Ladakh.
"Ladakh has tremendous potential in tourism. Better connectivity in Ladakh would certainly bring tourists in large numbers," he added.
Siachen, which marks the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) with Pakistan, starts at a point where the Line of Control (LoC) ends and extends up to NJ9842 in Saltoro ridge, close to China. It directly overlooks the Aksai Chin region, which was part of undivided Jammu and Kashmir and was ceded to China by Pakistan after capturing it in 1947.
Talking about India's ties with China, the Defence Minister said the two countries shared a mature relationship as far as boundary disputes between the two the nations were concerned.
"India shares cordial relations with China. There are perceptional differences between the two countries on the boundary issue, but it has been handled with great maturity and responsibly. Both the countries have not allowed the situation to escalate or go out of hand," Rajnath Singh said.
He was speaking while inaugurating a strategically located 430-metre bridge to the Daulat Beg Oldi sector at the fag end of a newly-constructed all-weather motorable road that links Darbuk in Leh with the Karakoram Pass along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
"Delighted to dedicate to the nation the newly constructed Colonel Chewang Rinchen Bridge at Shyok River in Ladakh. This bridge has been completed in record time. It will not only provide all weather connectivity in the region, but will also be a strategic asset in the border areas," said Rajnath Singh.
He also spoke about China's stand on the Kashmir issue.
"Kashmir is India's internal and integral matter. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping did not mention Kashmir in his recent meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Mahabalipuram. China's recent statement for action against terror is also significant," he said.
(Ayaskant Das can be contacted atAayaskant.email@example.com)