Siachen: icy graveyard

The army base at Gyari, the highest battalion headquarters in the world, home to some of the estimated 3,000 Pakistani soldiers on Siachen. Here in the Gyari sector, a landslide, a huge mass of ice, buried almost 140 Pkitani soldiers and civilians alive.The disputed Siachen glacier is billed as the world’s highest combat zone, but atrocious weather conditions have claimed more lives than actual fighting. The 77-kilometre-long glacier traverses the Line of Control, the de facto border separating Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, at a height of over 6,300 metres. Combat between the nuclear-armed foes has claimed few lives but frostbite, avalanches and driving blizzards, which can sweep men into crevasses, are deadly for the thousands of soldiers deployed there.
The two subcontinental rivals are ought to bury the hatchet and come to good terms with each other. At least on Siachen issue which needs an urgent solution with immediate demilitarization from both sides. Since India was the first one to lead a full-fledged military operation in Siachen, onus lies more on her to demilitarize this region with Pakistan following suit promptly. It should be done without delay not only to break the ice but also for the safety of future generations, who otherwise would likely to bear the brunt of environmental hazards resulting from human military activities in Siachen region.
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SIACHEN

TRAGEDY HITS WORLD’S HIGHEST BATTLE FIELD

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by Nazia Nazar 
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The heart bleeds at the recent Siachen tragedy not because the casualties belong to Pakistan army but also due to the fact that they were all human beings who left behind their families in a state of unending sorrow. Today, the victims are Pakistani soldiers; tomorrow might be horrible for Indian military deployed in Siachen, as you can defeat your enemy but not nature.

Siachen is a place where the militaries of India and Pakistan have been engaged at the altitude of 22,000 ft with severe temperatures hovering around –30° Celsius to –60° C. So, the real battle is against deadly weather that causes to kill more troops than bullets. Evidently, the two armies have lost 4,000 personnel primarily due to frostbite, avalanches and other adverse factors. While the surviving soldiers often suffer hearing, eyesight and memory-loss because of prolonged use of oxygen masks, and many others lose eyes, hands or feet to frostbite.

How enmity has turned a paradise into hell can be observed in Kashmir, but how distrust can push armies to fight for a pit is evident in Siachen, which is nothing but an icy graveyard of soldiers from both sides of the borders.

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Mere thought of deploying soldiers in a barren frozen area – a habitat not conducive to existence – really sends shivers down the spine making this dispute a humanitarian issue. On the other hand, the global environmentalists are making hue and cry over the ongoing military activities on Siachen region that tend to raise grave environmental concerns. The need is to understand that India and Pakistan are not only fighting each other in Siachen but also against nature. They have ‘invited’ its wrath since the heat of enmity and distrust of Indo-Pak relations is causing the extraordinary melting of this glacier.

According to a WWF report conducted by Arshad Abbasi, “the melting of Siachen Glacier, which is among the fastest in the world, has not only led to formations of glacial lakes and snow holes, but is also responsible for destructive snow avalanches on both side of the Saltoro ridge (recent avalanche burying the Pakistani military camp can be taken as a case)”. Moreover, the author warns that ‘Glaciers in the Himalayas, including Gangotri, Miyer, Mlion and Janapa are all set to melt and vanish by 2030 to 2050, if war continues.

The effects of glaciers’ melting are already evident in the form of worst calamities during the last twenty years. But in coming years, increased floods and droughts are expected.’

Furthermore, the economic aspect of Siachen clash for poverty-ridden third world countries is also a cause of constant concern for thinking minds in both the countries. Siachen war is wasting the resources of both the countries, as it costs the Indians $438 million a year to fight for Siachen, while Pakistan’s bill is estimated at $182 million. Pakistan chief of army staff General Pervaiz Kayani recently acknowledged the fact that Siachen “consumes a mammoth portion of national exchequer that must be diverted to the people of the two countries”.

Now come to the ‘so-called’ strategic importance of this barren, frozen and remote area which has kept both the countries at loggerheads for decades. Many Indian military analysts opine that the Siachen Glacier does not have major strategic significance. Lt. General M.L. Chibber (retd.), who planned Operation Meghdoot to occupy Siachen in 1984, openly declared that “Siachen does not have strategic significance.” Lt. General V. R. Raghavan (retd.), who has served as a division commander in the Kargil and Siachen sectors and a Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) also minimizes the military importance of Siachen in his book Siachen: Conflict Without End.

In his book ‘India, Pakistan, and the Kashmir Dispute: On Regional Conflict and Its Resolution’, Robert Wirsing records the opinion of the   same Lt. General M.L. Chibber in these words, “Chibber, who retired from the army in 1985, has acknowledged that he was one of the small group of influential senior officers who began lobbying in the late 1970s for a more aggressive Indian policy toward the disputed Siachen territory.”

He writes further, “…..Chibbar declared flatly that the Indian and Pakistani armies had ‘stumbled’ into the Siachen dispute. The Pakistanis, he said, had no grand strategic design on the glacier and were not acting in collusion with the Chinese. That idea, he observed, was a post facto concoction of Indian Bureaucrats……At bottom he said, the Siachen conflict was a mistake.”(P.208).

The opinion of Pakistani military is also no more different than the Indian military bureaucracy. Eris S. Margolis in his book ‘War at the top of the world: The struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibat’ records the account of his travel to Siachen and opinions of some Pakistani military men. He wrote what a Pakistani commando officer had told him in Peshawar in these words: “Its madness…….Siachen is a Hell on Earth. We’re fighting the bloody Indians to prevent them from grabbing what we say is our rightful part of Hell. That’s how much we hate each other.” (P.120).

Now the question arises as to if the top brass militaries of both the countries have realized their decades-old folly in Siachen, what is actually preventing them to amend this mistake?

The answer is simple. The atmosphere of propaganda and distrust being the root cause of this issue is consistently hampering its amicable resolution. Unfortunately, the people in India take it as a symbol of Indian pride and gallantry while in Pakistan it is considered the fallout of Indian aggression, which should be retaliated in equal measure.

Whatever be the reason, but India’s claim that Pakistan might be the pioneer in launching operation at Saltoro ridge had India not occupied the territory serves no justification for violating Simla accord, which prevents any threat or use of force to bring change in the LOC resulting from the cease-fire of 17 December 1971. Of course, Kargil was the outcome of this breach because a wrong can lead only to another wrong. It shouldn’t be taken amiss as any justification for Pakistan’s involvement in Kargil but it is meant to identify one of the root causes of Indo-Pak decade’s old disputes.

Kargil adventure from Pakistan was absolutely wrong but as much as India’s pioneer military action in Saltoro ridge in 1984. However, now both the rival countries should bury the hatchet and come to good terms with each other. At least Siachen issue needs an urgent solution with immediate demilitarization from both the sides. Since India was the first one to lead a full-fledged military operation in Siachen, onus lies more on her to demilitarize this region with Pakistan following suit promptly. It should be done without delay not only to break the ice but also for the safety of future generations, who otherwise would likely to bear the brunt of environmental hazards resulting from human military activities in Siachen region.

The writer is a freelance bilingual (English/Urdu) columnist based in Pakistan. She holds two Masters degrees in English (Lit) and Political Science. Her articles appear in different national and international newspapers and magazines. She extensively writes on topics such as terrorism, peace & security, human rights, interfaith harmony, and Islam. The writer blogs at http://www.pkarticleshub.com/. She can be reached at nazianazar@hotmail.com

Related Posts: 

1. Getting real on Siachen 2.Defrosting needed 3. Pakistan Army Chief calls for demilitarization of world highest battleground 3. PAKISTAN – The Largest Land of Glaciers [in three parts]
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