Time to demilitarize Siachen

By Ahsan ul haq

On 7th April, 2012, the deadliest avalanche at Gayari Sector near Siachen glacier killed 129 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians. This was one of the most horrendous disasters since 1984. This avalanche not only claimed 140 human lives but also added a painful chapter, regret and grief to 140 families, which is impossible to forget. After laborious rescue operation, which lasted for whole year, Pakistan military recovered 133 bodies, rest of them were never found.

Losing a family member or a close friend is indeed a tragedy. A good friend of mine, Arsalan from Lahore, lost his life last year in Hunza in a similar avalanche. His body was recovered after five days of rescue operation.  Whenever I recall him, his death creates strange pain in my heart. And I can understand the feelings and pain of those 140 families who lost their beloved.

This is not only happening in Pakistani side of the glacier. The situation on the Indian side is more terrible. As compared to India, Pakistani bases at Siachen are more stable. India has lost more than 1,000 soldiers due to these disasters and the harsh weather of Siachen. More than 300 Indian soldiers have permanently become disabled since their occupation of the glacier in 1984.

Indian posts at Siachen are at the high altitude of 18,000 feet to 21,000 feet. Some 2,000 Indian soldiers are stationed at different points of the glacier. When tension grows between the two nations, India increases the number of its troops to three thousand. They face punishing weather and permanent threat of natural disaster at their posts. On their return, every Indian soldier loses fifth of their body weight and face different physical disorders like pulmonary or cerebral edema. Similarly, Pakistani forces also face the same consequences.

Apart from human casualties militarizing Siachen has many economic and environmental drawbacks. India is spending more than 7 crores daily on their troops at Siachen. One the other hand Pakistan has not revealed exact amount she is spending daily at Siachen but more than 2000 Pakistani soldiers are stationed there, so it also cost in millions daily to maintain that huge number in the far flung boarder area.

Militarizing Siachen has ruined the environment of the glacier. According to a Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) report, melting rate has accelerated due to the continuous military activities at Siachen. It has to be noted that Siachen glacier is the largest source of fresh water in Asia. It provides fresh water to both Pakistan and India. If it melts at the same rate both nations will suffer in the long run.

As mentioned earlier round about 6,000 soldiers are residing at the height of 12,000 feet. Both these troops are using huge amount of fuel for transportation, heating and cooking. Thus, they are releasing 200 tons of carbon dioxide into atmosphere. As we know that India and Pakistan are among the most vulnerable nations to climate change but this amount of CO2 is further contributing to the vulnerability. Apart from that, human waste and other pollution created by the weapons and other machineries been used in this area for more than three decades has badly affected environment of this area. Huge cracks are more evident on the glacier.

Pakistan and India have fought wars on this glacier, they are spending humongous mount daily to engage their troops at this deadliest place. They have made this place the highest battle field of the world. In the end what they have received so far? Only human casualties, wastage of money and unimaginable destruction of the environment.

Time and again India is justifying their military presence at Siachen. Based on their misconception, they consider it their strategic advantage over Pakistan and China, but in reality it is not the case. Many strategist and India’s own military personals have declared this militarization of Siachen as insane.

Strategic aspects of the the Siachen war has been authored by lieutenant general V R Raghavan (Siachen, Conflict without End, Viking, 2002). Raghavan has commanded Indian army at many crucial times in Siachen. While describing the strategic importance of Siachen he says: “The amounts of money wasted by both sides is very large indeed. There is nowhere that either side can go in this terrain. You cannot build roads on glacier, which are moving rivers of ice. We have no “strategic-tactical advantage” in this area and nor can Pakistan. We must withdraw immediately and unilaterally and save wastage of money which we cannot afford – estimated at Rs30,000 crore since 1985.:

So, it’s evident from the above statement of Raghavan that we are wasting huge resources for no reason. If both nations want to save lives of their soldiers, their money, their source of their fresh water, they have to withdraw their forces from Siachen immediately.  It is now time to demilitarize Siachen, as agreed in 1952 at Delhi and 1988 at Karachi. As we delay it, we face more serious consequences not only militarily and economically but also environmentally.


(The writer is student of International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.)

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