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Hand that testifies to frozen war

New Delhi, Aug. 19: A hand stuck out from under the snow near a drop zone in the Siachen Glacier and caught a “link patrol” of Indian Army soldiers by surprise early this week.

That forlorn hand pointing skywards belonged to an Indian soldier who had disappeared 18 years ago. His body was dug out by the patrol on Sunday.

As India-Pakistan relations look set for another tailspin — following Delhi’s decision yesterday to cancel next week’s foreign secretary talks with the neighbour — it is also a reminder of the frozen war in the desolation of the glacier that began with Operation Meghdoot in 1984, exactly 30 years ago.

The soldiers in the patrol dug through the earth and the snow and found the body of Havildar Gaya Prasad, largely intact but partly twisted, probably from the impact of falling into a crevasse.

The moving snow of the glacier creates and covers up crevasses over time.

Prasad, of the 15 Rajputs battalion, had fallen into one near a drop zone in December 1996. He was 35 then.

Later this week, his body will be handed over to his son, probably in Chandigarh.

From the crevasse in the Khanda DZ — a drop zone is where helicopters drop rations for soldiers in the forbidding heights as aircraft can’t land — the body is now in a morgue in a hospital in Leh.

Prasad had been declared a “battle casualty” and his family, from a village in Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh, was paid the pension and given the benefits for soldiers killed in action. Eighteen years after his death, the havildar will be given a funeral with full military honours soon.

Prasad was apparently not “roped”, as soldiers on a patrol in the heights usually are. It is presumed that he disappeared while trying to recover rations dropped by a helicopter.

The extreme cold weather, snow and “whiteouts” in the heights often claim mountaineers. British climber George Mallory’s remains were said to have been found in 1999, 75 years after he disappeared.

In Siachen, however, where India and Pakistan have been making rival claims for the glacier in the eastern Karakoram range, armies have been deployed in the heights since India’s 1984 Operation Meghdoot.

Since 2003, the armies have been observing a ceasefire, by and large. But in 1996, when Prasad disappeared, the armies were shooting at each other all the time.

Conditions were also less favourable, in terms of logistics, than they are today.


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