None care if a soldier dies

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Another day for Siachen victims yet no survivors, but who cares if a soldier dies. They callously say, this is what they are paid for. India’s close friends Asma Jahangir and Najam Sethi and their types are worried about Pakistan’s defence budget. Hamid Mir is not happy with the ISI because his master America is unhappy with this organization. Kashif Abbasi is angry why a soldier deserves a plot. Zardari-Gilani duo is busy in making Saraiki province. Nawaz Sharif is supporting Gilani to get his turn. The whole lot of ministers is busy in loot and plunder. They don’t care if a soldier dies. As if he doesn’t have family, parents, emotions and a sensitive throbbing heart. He can’t even compete with pseudo patriots who appear on TV shows and talk crap. Soldiers serving in Siachen weren’t born there. They don’t have any personal enmity with India. They are there only for you, me and our beloved Motherland. But who cares if a soldier dies. It was in this backdrop that Raja Mujtaba, a renouned defence and international affairs analyst said, “Dread the day when those who are defending the borders either refuse to defend or train their guns on those who are out to criticize them only to humiliate them. Can a single politician spend a week with these gallant soldiers on those heights or can a single politician send his son to fight as a soldier in these conditions? I bet not.

Siachen is a challenge only the brave and patriots can face. Shame on those who are out to appease and please the enemy by humiliating our gallant soldiers and officers.”

While the politicians and pseudo intellectuals hate Army and miss no opportunity to degrade its image, everyone in the country including the detractors of the Army are expectantly looking towards the Army and beseeching it to step in and save the country from ruination. The Army was pushed into the inferno of war on terror by Musharraf led regime in 2002 and subsequently the Zardari-Gilani led democratic regime pressed the Army to go full hog against the militants in FATA and Swat and itself took up a backseat leaving security entirely to the Army.

The Army was called in for rescue and relief operations after the massive earthquake in October 2005 since it was beyond the capability of civil administration to handle the situation. The Army’s services were utilized to provide succor to the affectees in the worst floods in 2007 and in 2008, and also to handle displaced persons in millions from war affected zones in FATA and Swat-Malakand region. Federal government called out the army in Gilgit since Gilgit-Baltistan government became paralytic and was clueless how to deal with sectarian strife as a result of target killings by unknown gunmen.

PPP, ANP and MQM are principally responsible for anarchic conditions in Karachi where life has become cheap because of reign of terror unleashed by target killers belonging to the three political parties in power since 2008. While the MQM desires the whole cake, other two wants their share in the political power game. The situation having gone out of control, the ANP and MQM are now demanding the Army to come in and control the anarchy. Governor Balochistan also desires Army’s intervention since the provincial government has miserably failed to provide security to the people.

For every natural and manmade calamity the rulers and the people look toward the Army and the Army always live up to their expectations. The officers and men handle the monumental tasks with utmost efficiency and at the peril of their lives. Performance of the Army remains at par excellence when it is assigned missions by the UN in troubled regions. Among the world community, Pak Army’s performance has been the best and duly acknowledged. At battalion level competitions 35 FF stood first in the orienteering exercise competition arranged by Britain. At individual level, Pak Army officers often bag sword of honor at Sandhurt or achieve distinctions in foreign institutions. Whenever the Army has been at the helm of affairs, it has proved that its performance was much better than civilian led government.

Whenever the frontiers are threatened by the adversaries of Pakistan, the armed forces are mobilized and the forces rush to the border. India’s superiority in men and material never overawed the brave hearts. It never makes excuses of resource constraints or impossibility of the mission assigned. While it clashed with five times superior Indian military in the 1948, 1965 and 1971 wars and in Rann of Katch and Kargil conflicts, it faced India’s military standoffs in 2002 and in 2009 squarely.

The army rushed to defend Siachen Glacier in June 1984 no sooner it learnt that Indian troops had surreptitiously sneaked in and illegally occupied Saltoro ridge connecting Siachen Glacier in April which was administratively under Pakistan’s control. The troops that were dashed to that area were neither acclimatized, nor trained or equipped to operate in the highest battleground on earth, 22500 feet in height. Since then countless skirmishes have taken place and each skirmish or artillery duel took lives. India controls about two-thirds of the glacier which encompasses three passes while Pakistan holds the Gyong La Pass, which overlooks Shyok and Nubra River valleys.

5472 meters above sea level, Siachen Glacier is located in Korakuram mountain range. This area had not been demarcated at the time of partition due to inaccessible terrain. July 1949 Karachi agreement established a ceasefire line which after 1972 Simla Agreement became Line of Control. Area beyond NJ9842 was not delineated due to inaccessibility. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Pakistan permitted international expedition teams to visit highest peaks located along Karakorum including Siachen Glacier. In April 1984, in violation of Simla Agreement Indian Army launched an airborne operation codenamed Meghdoot and occupied key heights along Soltoro ridge.

For 28 years, troops have been serving in that inhospitable terrain and extreme weather conditions where not a blade of grass grows. Temperatures in winters fall down to minus 70 degrees Celsius. It receives 6 to 7 meters of the annual of total meters of snow in winters. Snowstorms reach the speed of 150 knots. Blizzards and snow slides are a common feature. Pak Army is comparatively advantageously placed since its road-head is only 20 km away while that of Indian Army is 80 km away. Latter’s troops are entirely dependent upon air supply. In case of Pakistan, land supplies are possible during summers when roads are open but during winters access is by air. Helicopter flights are used to drop food supplies, fuel and equipment.

More men have died as a result of terrain and weather hazards than from enemy action. Over 8000 Indian and Pakistani soldiers have died between April 1984 and April 2012; 5000 suffered by Indian Army and 3000 by Pak Army. Many lose limbs due to frostbite. Altitude sickness kills or disables others. Troops suffer from hearing, eyesight and memory loss. On the average, 100 casualties take place on Pakistan side and 180 on Indian side each year. Yet both sides stubbornly hold on to their positions and continue to fight and die on the roof of the world, which is the highest and costliest. No soldier in the world would have been put to such harsh test of human endurance and for so long. Pakistan spends about Rs 15 million a day to maintain a brigade group (4000) at Siachen Glacier, which makes Rs 450 a month and Rs 5.4 billion a year India spends Rs 50 million a day, Rs 1.5 billion a month and Rs 30 billion a year to maintain its seven battalions (7000 troops).

So far twelve rounds of negotiations have taken place between the officials of two archrivals starting 1985 to settle this issue but to no avail. June 17, 1989 talks had broken the ice and both sides agreed to settle this issue. India consented to demilitarize Siachen by using the term ‘relocating its forces’ instead of the word ‘withdrawing’, well away from disputed heights. The agreement was endorsed by PMs of both countries. However, true to its habit of breaking pledges, India at the behest of Indian military backtracked on the flimsy plea that current deployment to be first authenticated by Pakistan before redeployment could be carried out. Obviously Pakistan couldn’t have obliged India since it would have meant legitimizing Indian aggression and giving reason to India to make illegal claim over it in its future negotiations. Indian military argued that without authentication, it would impel Pak Army to capture strategically important Soltoro ridge, which overlooks Karakorum Pass. Kargil conflict in 1999 further hardened the stance of India. Rather than accepting its illegal aggression it is still obstinately maintaining that line beyond NJ 9842 must be delineated before disengagement and negotiations. Recommencement of Composite Dialogue in 2004 failed to settle any of the disputes including Siachen because of India’s uncompromising attitude and intransigence.

On 7 April 2012, at about 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, an unprecedented avalanche struck an army camp located in Gayari sector near Skardu. 124 officers including commanding officer, JCOs, men and 11 civilians paid out of defence establishment belonging to Battalion HQ of 6 NLI regiment got buried under 80 feet mounds of ice, rocks, boulders, slush and snow, 1000 meters wide and over 25 meters high. Rescue efforts were quickly mobilized and launched and gradually size of resources was enlarged which included specially trained search-and-rescue teams of Army Engineers equipped with locating gadgets and 50 plants including excavators and dozers, sniffer dogs, medical staff and experts from foreign countries. Helicopters and C-130s are in operation. A 450 meters long access track has been developed to access the affected area.

Round the clock rescue operation is in progress since the day of tragic occurrence despite bad weather and poor visibility. No stone is being left unturned by more than 400 troops employed in digging and excavation works in the hope of saving some if not all. Gen Kayani spent a day on 8 April to personally supervise the ongoing efforts. 15 days have gone by but so far not a single body has been found but fervor of the rescuers has not waned. Without bothering for rest and personal harm, they are busy digging the sites both manually and with the help of machines.

Every Pakistani has felt deeply anguished and is praying for the safety of those lying buried under the avalanche. The tragedy has given an insight to the hazardous life spent by the soldiers on the highest battlefield on earth.

Wo jo burf taley dabbe hain kuch loge, Unhi main dost yaar hamare hain.
Kuch to hain masoom bachon ke baap, Aur kuch apni maa behan ke pyare hain.
Aye mere Allah, un sab ko salamat rakhna, Wo apne bhouray maa baap ke saharey hain.

It was painful to hear a few jokers shamelessly saying that soldiers are paid to die. It is surprising that some of the political leaders and segment of media like SAFMA instead of building pressure on India to vacate its illegal occupation of Soltoro ridge are pressing our government to carryout unilateral withdrawal from Siachen. They are trying to create an impression as if Pakistan was guilty of defending its territory. They must pick up moral courage to call a spade a spade. India is solely responsible for creating bad blood within whole of South Asia and is now busy creating trouble in Afghanistan and beyond. It is now also a proven fact that Siachen is melting fast because of the heavy presence of Indian military and not because of global warming. It will have catastrophic impact on both Pakistan and India.

Siachen tragedy should be an eye-opener for the leaders of India and Pakistan and a reminder to the world community to see for itself the cost paid by the forces of two neighbors chiefly because of imperialistic ambitions of Brahman rulers of India and also because of the backup support provided by the US and other world powers. Had India not illegally occupied Kashmir in October 1947, over 100,000 Kashmiris would not have died at the hands of Indian security forces and that many maimed for life. Had India not aggressed in Siachen in 1984, 8000 lives of Indian and Pakistani soldiers would not have got wasted away and the current tragedy would not have happened. The world must exert full pressure on India to vacate Siachen so that both India and Pakistan could divert the colossal amount spent on the maintenance of troops towards alleviation of poverty in the two countries.

Shaheed ki jo maut hai, wo qaum ki hayat hai.
Lahu jo hai shaheed ka, wo qaum ki zakat hai.
Barf ki safaid chadar orrh kar, khamoshi se so ja janey waley,
Soldiers ko mera aqeedat bhara salaam.

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