Memory of the Siachen Glacier Tragedy
On April 7, 2012, an avalanche hit a military base at Gayari sector in Siachen Glacier, trapping 140 soldiers and civilian contractors under deep snow. It was the worst tragedy which the Pakistani military has experienced in the area. The incident occurred at about an altitude of 16,000 feet and 180 miles northeast of Skardu, the capital of Baltistan.
Pakistan’s then President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif including renowned journalists and media anchors visited the Siachen area. Entire nation expressed deep sorrow and regret over the unfortunate snow slide, showing solidarity with the aggrieved families of the soldiers and praying for their survival.
The Siachen Glacier region in the eastern Karakoram Range of Himalayan Mountains—region of Kashmir has been the site of intermittent conflict between India and Pakistan for several decades. The area has come to be known as the world’s highest battlefield. In this regard, while quoting the data of a metrological department, a reliable online source disclosed, “India carried out extensive military activities which caused the avalanche…melting of ice at the terminus of the Siachen Glacier…led to increased solar radiation as one of the prime causes of the incident.”
However, an avalanche rescue operation was quickly launched by the Pakistani military. Over 150 soldiers—using helicopters, rescue dogs and heavy machinery—began searching the area for the missing soldiers and contractors, with a team of doctors and paramedics standing by.
During the initial days of the rescue operation, after the Siachen tragedy, dead body of a soldier Muhammad Hussain, Shaheed (Martyr) was recovered in Gayari Sector. For more than two years, the operation continued, and despite weather hazards, brave Pakistani troops were uncontrollably trying to find their comrades under 80 feet deep snow.
According to ISPR update of May 22, 2012, “Clearance efforts continued round the clock at Gayari Sector. Simultaneous efforts are being undertaken to tackle effects of water on the site in the shape of pondages, cutting and crevasses. The water has started draining and has resulted into quick reduction of water level in the lake, at 27 feet…excavation work has resumed its full pace despite difficulties posed by seepage of the water at the sites, hazards of crevasses/cutting by water and sinking effects for plant equipment…meanwhile during physical inspection of the area, some equipment was found.”
In this respect, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was directly looking after the rescue efforts, and being courageous commander, determined to excavate each inch of the area in the search of his brave soldiers. He pointed out, “I, being, retired commander of the volunteers (An infantry unit which served in Siachen Sector) can visualize the importance of search of the bodies of martyred soldiers for their comrades and families. But still, as fighter, familiar with the circumstances where many soldiers laid their lives in the war zones and area like Siachen…their bodies were not traced out due to topography, unfavourable environmental conditions. It does not mean that soldiers do not remember their comrades or nation forget its heroes those scarified their lives for their tomorrows. But, I would only say that while viewing the efforts of rescue operation, we must consider the ground realties too.”
Nevertheless, on May 3 2012, father of Major Zaka who came along with the then chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani, during his visit to Siachen—talking to journalist appreciated the efforts of troops participating in rescue operation. He stated that he was proud of his son and other soldiers who scarified their lives. According to ISPR press release, at that occasion, Gen. Kayani remained with the troops for some time and lauded their motivation in face of tough conditions and extreme weather—their resolve to upkeep Army’s proud tradition of not leaving a man behind, until humanly impossible.
He elaborated, “Being one of the old warriors of Siachen, I know that after passing 50 days the chances of survival of soldiers buried under 80 feet of snow are very rare. By now, the dead bodies might also be started decomposition because of natural phenomena. After two months time the temperature will again start decreasing which will definitely make the snow harder and harder.”
Any how, snow was frustrating rescue efforts, but valiant soldiers of Pakistan’s military did not even surrender to the hard weather conditions. 121 bodies were recovered in 2012—as of June 8, 2013, Pak Army’s search and rescue teams had recovered 131 dead bodies, while search for the remaining nine continued. In this connection, on October 2, 2013, Gen. Ashfaq Pervaz Kayani said that 133 bodies had so far been recovered, while search for the remaining seven continued.
It is regrettable that instead of expressing condolences, the then Indian Army Chief Gen. VK Singh, in an interview of May 26, 2012, rejected the Pak army chief’s proposal to de-militarize the Siachen area. He considered Indian troops in the better deployment position. Indian army chief ignored the fact that India has been incurring more expenditure on the Siachen Glacier, and he also forgot that Indian causalities are more than those of Pakistan. However, during various levels of talks, Islamabad has repeatedly offered New Delhi to resolve all the issues including the disputes of Siachen and Kashmir. But, by acting upon aggressive diplomacy in the modern era of reconciliation, economic development and welfare of the people, India has still been using delaying tactics in this respect.
Undoubtedly, being Muslims, we are fully convinced that a person who gets martyr in Allah’s path, will remain alive. Therefore, it will not be wrong in saying that Pak soldiers who scarified their lives for us at the Gayari sector of the Siachen Glacier would be taken as everlasting invisible guardians of Pakistan’s territorial boundaries, and are Shaheed, since it is difficult to fight the nature. However, the very day of April 7 is the memory of the Siachen Glacier tragedy.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations