Siachen: facts and a solution
Every positive thinker believes in humanitarianism and egalitarianism; he cherishes the ideas of universal love, brotherhood, equality; he dreams of indulging in philanthropic activities; he loves to render sacrifices for mitigating the sufferings of his fellow beings; he hates violence, abhors exploitation, loathes wars and rejects bloodshed.
In short, he wishes to create a veritable Shangrila of peace and prosperity in this war-riddled world.
There are also many negative characters and thinkers who relish inflicting atrocities on other people, like grabbing the rights and wealth of fellow beings, enjoy killing of innocent people, take pleasure in exploitation and manipulation, desire to conquer other states and enslave poor people. These people, and good and bad, forces or ideas, are present in every man, family, locality, society, country, nation and state. They are in permanent conflict. Religious scholars call this phenomenon as a struggle between virtue and vice. Hegel describes it a competitive struggle for selfhood. Marx sees it as a class conflict.
But the tragedy is that evil forces, like lust for power and pelf, hunger for possession and exploitation, thirst for aggression and revenge, greed, jealousy, pride, and prejudice, rule in our world. History tells us that interests are everything in politics, not ethics. A weak nation cannot defend its own sovereignty and legal rights. Might is right in the game of power. It is a hard reality, a bitter truth, which every state accepts.
Every country keeps its troops alert by accepting this fact of realpolitik. A nation also acts upon the advice, “Si vis pacem para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war).
India’s anti-Pakistan attitude has forced Pakistan to keep its troops alert on its borders. In 1984, Pakistan sent its troops to Siachin to halt Indian aggression in that area. Both countries, so far, have lost about 8,000 soldiers in this war. But the Gayari camp tragedy, in which an avalanche buried 124 soldiers and 14 civilians on April 7, has brought the Siachen issue between Pakistan and India into the limelight.
This is a national tragedy and the entire Pakistani nation, including political, military, and religious leaders, civil society, the media and the common people, is showing its full support to the rescue teams, who are working round the clock to reach those buried. The entire nation is praying for the buried soldiers and civilians and sympathizing with the bereaved families, who are waiting anxiously for any news about their dear ones since April 7. The challenge is colossal but the will-power, determination, professionalism and patriotic love of our soldiers are admirable.
BBC news writes, "It is no exaggeration to say that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack - yet the size of the challenge does not seem to deter troops dressed in white jackets, heavy boots and white woollen caps driving bulldozers back and forth, churning up the packed snow and ice… Officers say that in the backs of the soldiers' minds is the fact that those buried under the snow are colleagues with whom they lived and worked very closely in immensely tough conditions. The rescuers want to ensure that their brothers-in-arms are either recovered or brought home for burial. That is why the rescue effort itself shows no sign of abating, nearly two weeks after the avalanche".
The Siachen dispute is a result of bad politics and worse cartography. The 1972 agreement between Pakistan and India that demarcated the Line of Control allows both countries to claim the glacier, which is situated at the tri-junction between India, Pakistan and China. India captured the Saltoro since 1984, when conflict erupted.
Shahzad Chaudhry, a retired Air-Vice Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force, writes, "The Siachen Glacier as the 90 km long and about 50 km wide snow-mass sits between the Karakoram in the north and the Hindu Kush in the west. It juts out from within these physical boundaries through the various passes that saddle the divide along Saltoro. The farthest of these along this ridge is the Indra Kol. The eastern most point on the Karakorams is the Karakoram Pass where the three countries, India, China and Pakistan meet before the terrain moves further east into Tibet from that point. Almost a subtended centre of this northern base is the demarcated point MJ9842. This makes this bounded region an inverted triangle whose apex sits at 9842, while its base runs along the Pak-China border between Indra Koli and the Karakoram Pass. With India having occupied the Saltoro Ridge in 1984 in a pre-emptive move, this entire triangle now is under its occupation".
Fierce fighting in this area ended with a ceasefire in December 2003, but Siachen's treacherous environment is killing many soldiers continuously.
No living thing can naturally sustain life in this area. This area is up to 22,000 feet above sea level, the temperature can plunge to 58 below. The glacier lies at an altitude of 5,472 metres, which makes survival exceedingly difficult. Indian General (retd.) V. R. Raghavan, who commanded troops in Siachen and wrote, Siachen: Conflict Without End, described the hazards of environment in these words: "No one thought any one in his senses would like to occupy the place".
A Pakistani, Major Khan, has spoken with the New York Times about his experiences in the area in these words: "It was something completely out of this world. Nothing was easy there. Fearing frostbite, most soldiers went to the bathroom - small outdoor huts cobbled together from mountain stones - once a day and bathed only every few months. You feel you are a caveman, because that's the way you live".
Around 8, 000 soldiers of both countries have lost their lives in this region. According to Pakistani military spokesman, Maj Gen. Athar Abbas, about 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have died at Siachen since 1984, of whom about 90 per cent perished from weather-related causes. Military analysts estimate the deployment costs Pakistan $5 million a month, while India spends $1 million daily because of higher troop numbers and because supplies are transported by helicopter.
The Gayari camp tragedy has triggered debate in India and Pakistan over the huge costs of keeping troops in this icy hell.
Many thinkers, politicians and social activists are askin the following two questions:-
1: Is Siachen worth fighting over?
2: How can this issue be solved between the two countries?
Many leaders and thinkers of both the countries believe that Siachen is not worth fighting over and they are demanding the glacier's demilitarisation.
Even General Ashfaq Kayani has called for the peaceful resolution of the Himalayan glacier dispute with India. "How it is done is to be decided by the military and civil leaderships" of the two countries, Kayani told reporters at Skardu airport. He also suggested Pakistan should spend less on defence and more on development. "Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people," he said.
The demand for demilitarisation is not new. In 2005, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for the creation of a "peace mountain" in the area.
The PML-N leader, Nawaz Sharif, has also suggested withdrawal of forces from Siachen. He said that Pakistan should take the initiative in demilitarisation and not make it a "matter of honour" but, on April 20, the PML-N announced that Nawaz never called for a unilateral Siachen pullout. The PML-N leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, made the clarification during a press conference alongside party President Nawaz Sharif.
"Mian Sahib did not suggest a unilateral withdrawal of troops from Siachen," Nisar said, adding, "What we said was Pakistan should lead a dialogue with India over the issue." He said that Nawaz Sharif's statement was misconstrued and wrongly reported in a section of the press. Speaking on the occasion, Nawaz Sharif said mistakes in the past by both Pakistan and India and their attitude towards each other had been impeding talks on the Siachen issue. The PTI leader, Imran Khan, has also called for peace and demilitarisation of the area mutually.
"It is time for both countries to step back from this madness. Every day, people die in this conflict. Going on is in nobody's interest," said Mehmood Shah, a retired Pakistan army brigadier who was once involved in talks to end the standoff, speaking with The New York Times.
Giving his response to Kayani's statement, India's Junior Minister for Defence Pallam Raju said he was "glad" that "Pakistan was also realising the challenges and the economic problems of maintaining troops on the Siachen Glacier." The Times of India described Kayani's remarks as "heartening" in its editorial.
But there are also many Indian security hawks who insist the fight must go on. Vikram Sood, a former chief of Indian intelligence, said: "In any peace negotiation with Pakistan, Siachen should be the last issue on the table, not the first." Venky Vembu writes in the Firstpost website that the Pakistan army chief talked of "peaceful coexistence" even as he used the occasion to "launch a propaganda war against India."
Indian security analyst B. Raman, a former official at India's external intelligence agency Research and Analysis (RAW), has described Kayani's remarks as a "tactical move aimed at responding to local anger against the army in the wake of the avalanche".
Both India and Pakistan are in favour of demilitarisation, but the problem is that they differ on the sequence of steps to be taken.
India wants that Pakistan must accept its occupation of the Saltoro Ridge and disregard the 3,500 square kilometres area bounded by the triangle and instead focuses on the AGPL alone. While Pakistan says that India should vacate the Saltoro Ridge first and then it is ready to settle the issue.
India is not ready to vacate the Saltoro Ridge. "If both sides have to vacate this position, the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) needs to be marked and, I would say, internationally approved," India's former Air Chief Marshal P. V. Naik said a year ago. Vikram Sood said, "Withdrawal from these strategic heights without any iron clad guarantees that do not extend beyond declarations of intent would be the height of folly".
The people of both the countries are living in utter poverty and ignorance due to this war. India and Pakistan have taken a good step by following the "China model" for enhancing economic and cultural activities. Indian hawks should listen to the words of General Kayani "Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people", and shun their anti-Pakistan views, if they want to see both the countries peaceful and prosperous.
Sudha Ramachandran writes in Asia Times: "So far, there have been 12 rounds of defence secretary-level talks between New Delhi and Islamabad on the Siachen dispute. Both sides admit that a solution was within reach several times. The avalanche disaster has prompted a public debate on the question of deployment of soldiers at the Siachen. This is promising. The question is whether this debate will prompt India and Pakistan to choose the path of peace taken by Indonesia and the Acehnese rebels, or that of confrontation opted for by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers."