South Asian neighbours after Siachen tragedy

By Dr Raja Muhammad Khan

Under extreme weather, Pakistan Army’s courageous men are continuing search for their 138 colleagues, who became prey of a cruel avalanche, in the late hours of night in Gayari sector of the Siachen Glacier.

As per the latest press release of ISPR: “The weather remained very harsh and posing serious challenges to the men and machines working at the avalanche site alike”. Nevertheless, despite all odds, “the spirit and zeal of courageous soldiers has not wavered under arduous conditions. In fact, the urge to help their mates stuck under avalanche has given them newfound resilience”. While the rescue operation is continuing, President Zardari and PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif have had an aerial view of the Gayari sector, after almost 12 days of this tragic incident.

On April 18, after his visit of Gayari, where he accompanied President Zardari, to oversee the rescue operation, Army Chief General Kayani briefly talked to media in Skardu. In his media interaction, Army Chief expressed Pakistan’s desire for a bilateral resolution of the issue, indeed, a complicated one. Replying a question, he said that “world knows the reason of presence of Pakistani forces at Siachen top”. It was only after India occupied the heights on the Pakistani side that Pak Army was ordered to secure its area and stop Indian incursions. Since then its men are guarding these heights, some of them over 23,000 feet high. Whereas, the sacrifices of over 138 Pakistani soldiers for the defence of their motherland would be remembered forever, the question arises, should not this be a high time for India and Pakistan to reconcile this ego driven meaningless deployment of their militaries on the world highest battlefield.

This is very pertinent to mention, that, ever since the start of this conflict over the 70 miles snow bound region in 1984, over 3,000 Pakistani and more than 5,000 Indian soldiers have scarificed their lives, mostly fighting the hostile weather. If today Pakistan lost its 138 soldiers, tomorrow these could be Indians. Otherwise, the casualty rate in Siachen has been estimated as, “one Pakistani soldier killed every fourth day, while one Indian soldier killed every other day”. Have any one ever visualized the pain of those families, who lost their loved ones in this incident and earlier also. Besides, as per defence analysts, Pakistan roughly spends “Rs15 million a day to maintain three battalions at the Siachen Glacier”. In a way, this comes to Rs 450 million for a month and Rs 5.4 billion in a year. On the Indian side, the deployment is thick with seven active battalions costing India, “Rs 50 million a day, Rs1.5 billion a month, and Rs30 billion a year.”

While these expenditures are made by both countries just to maintain their ego, they forget that, according to global standard ($2 a day) of measuring poverty, over 50 per cent people of the region are spending their lives below the poverty line. Even as per third world standards of $1 a day, over 35% people of India and Pakistan are spending their lives below poverty line. It is worth mentioning that prior to 1984; Siachen was not militarized by either side. According to 1972, Simla Accord, this area was marked through an imaginary line from a point NJ 9842 thence north to the glaciers. The area occupied by India in 1984; through a military adventure was part of Pakistan. It was only after its occupation that Pakistan moved its troops to stop further Indian military advancement. So the aggression was from the Indian side.

This is evident from the fact that prior to 1984, all international expeditions used to visit the area from Pakistani side, after getting permission from Islamabad. It is to be mentioned that with 70 Km length, Siachen is the largest glacier in the Himalayan region. It is located east of K-2, the world’s second highest mountain peak. According to prominent world atlases and National Geographical records, Siachen glacier was and is part of Pakistan. During the military rule of President General Pervez Musharraf, it is said that India and Pakistan had reached very close to an agreement on Siachen and Sir Creek. However, during the last moments, the invisible force, indeed, the Indian Army prevailed and sabotaged the entire effort. What apparently one could conclude that 1.3 million Indian Army has no moral ground to face the Indian public today, if it decides to end the occupation of the Siachen Glacier. Indian Army fears that people of India and even democratic forces would question them as to why did they occupy it in 1984, when it was not an Indian part.
The problem Indian Army is facing today is that it is not finding a face saving for pulling out from Siachen, indeed to cover up its illegitimate act of occupying these heights in 1984. In this course of its illegal occupation, in order to strengthen its hold, Indian Army has constructed 230 Km long oil pipeline to provide fuel to its troops deployed there. Apart from that, construction of airfields in the forward areas like Thoise, and road networks clearly indicate that Indian Army has no intention to leave these snow capped mountains for a foreseeable future. At the same time, no one realises that these activities of the Indian Army are causing environmental problems in the areas, outcomes of which are in the form of glacier’s meltdown, floods in the plains and other environmental hazards and losses of lives as of the Gyari incident of killing over 135 soldiers of Pak Army.

Amid the Composite Dialogue process, on June 12, 2005, Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, visited Siachen and gave a new vision of converting this troubled area into a peace mountain/park. While addressing the Indian soldiers there, he said: “Nobody fears any threat, there is no scope for any conflict and this place becomes an example of peaceful environment”. How long shall we allow such conditions to prevail (in Siachen)? Now the time has come for us to make efforts to convert this battlefield into a peace mountain.” Since then, seven years have passed and Dr Singh is completing his second term as the Indian Premier, but he has not been able to fulfil his desire of converting this area as the land of peace. It is unclear as if this statement was for political consumption or he lacks a will power and determination. But, the realistic analysts feel that it is the powerful Indian Military, which has refused Dr Singh and Indian political leadership to abandon such an option.

On its part, Pakistan is all set to end the conflict and hostilities on this highest battlefield of the world, through an arrangement which existed prior to 1984. However, the disputed portion is under the Indian occupation, therefore, Indian political leadership has to convince its powerful military for a conflict resolution. India has to understand that this is the only way forward. Otherwise at the global level, the world is heading towards peace, through the resolution of conflicts, then why South Asian neighbours should continue wasting their economies for purchasing war munitions and costly equipments, ultimately to be thrown into glaciers of Siachen, serving no good for the people of either side. Surely, the equipment and weaponry, both countries use in this high altitude war zone, is boosting the war industries of US and West, who may not like disruption of their supply, owing to economic reasons.

Pakistan has always adopted the policy of co-existence with all its neighbours. Unfortunately, this spirit of mutual co-existence has never been reciprocated with same spirit by some of its neighbours. Siachen Glacier is one such issue, which Indian military illegally occupied in 1984, in complete violation of international and bilateral agreements. Nevertheless, for the South Asian neighbours, it is about time to give peace a chance by immediate de-militarization of Siachen through repositioning their forces to the pre-984 locations. In the view of some analysts it may be ego problem for Indian military, but, the question arises, have not its leadership learnt something from this wasteful effort and
human losses and unjustified military expenditures.
It is about time that sense should prevail among the hardened Indian leadership to reconcile its illegitimate act of 1984 and resolve the issue for the larger benefit of India and Pakistan and indeed for the regional and global peace. Taking Gayari incident as a reason to start with, both nuclear armed South Asian neighbours should negotiate to demilitarize this vast expanse of snowbound glacier. Indeed, time has come when civil societies, scholars, analysts and educational circle of both countries should play their part to mould their respective governments for the demilitarization of Siachen and related heights. This would be a great service for a quarter population of the world, otherwise, future generation of Pakistan and India would continue suffering at the hands of these uncalled for tragedies.

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