Near Tiger Hill, Point 5353 still Pak-occupied

Standing tall and dominating the famous Tiger Hill on the Line of Control (LoC) is a grim reminder of the Kargil war. Point 5353, the highest peak in the region which has a clear view of the National Highway 1 D, remains occupied by Pakistan even a decade after the battle.

While the point is clearly on the Indian side of the LoC, it remains in Pakistani control which has fortified it with reinforced bunkers and has even built a special road nearby to carry up supplies for soldiers.

The Indian Army, which made several unsuccessful attempts to occupy the post after the Kargil war, has since given up the post as "untenable" given the geography of the region that makes it fairly easy for Pakistani troops to climb.

What makes Point 5353 so valuable for the two armies is that it has a clear view of the national highway that connects the Kashmir valley with Kargil. The main reason the Army retaliated hard to the Pakistani intrusion in 1999 was that disruption of traffic on the road would cut off supplies to Ladakh and the Siachen glacier.

While officers say that Point 5353 is surrounded by three Indian posts, including Point 5240 and any action from there would be neutralised, the fact remains that artillery observers from the post can easily direct fire on a 25 km stretch of the national highway.

Besides, the most dominating feature in the region has a clear view of the Tiger Hill and surrounding areas. Sources say Pakistan has constructed concrete bunkers at the location and have a special supply base on their side of the LoC that has substantial reinforcements.

Several attempts to dislodge Pakistani troops from the posts with the help of artillery fire remained unsuccessful till action became impossible after the 2003 ceasefire. The Army has since given up the option of retaking the post in the larger interest of peace in the area.

Even a decade after the war and several revelations by Pakistani officers that the main aim of the intrusion was to cut off the strategic Drass-Kargil highway so that supplies to Siachen would dry up, the road remains under the threat of enemy fire. Besides Drass and Point 5353, several other stretches of the road at places like Kaksar are under Pakistani observation.

While a lot of papers were moved after the Army said that an alternative all-weather road to Leh and Siachen is urgently required, work on the ground remains extremely slow. Efforts are on to make the Manali-Leh highway into an all-weather road but even the most positive estimates say the strategic tunnel at Rohtang pass will take at least seven more years to complete.

Supplies for Leh and the Siachen glacier follow two basic routes through the Rohtang pass on the Manali-Leh highway or through the Zojila pass on the Srinagar-Leh highway 1 D. While the 13,000 feet Rohtang pass remains cut off longer in winters, the 11,500 feet Zojila pass generally opens earlier and is used to carry supplies for Army units.

What is worrisome is that even after a decade of the Kargil war, highway 1 D remains under the threat of being cut off by enemy fire.

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