By Mansoor Ali Khan.
Despite of its strategic importance for India and Pakistan, Siachin glacier has become a ‘Cold Hell’ for the soldiers of both the sides. It is the highest battle ground in the world and probably the coldest witnessed after WW-II, where soldiers first have to fight with the weather and temperature that falls below -58 degree Fahrenheit causing frostbites and other damages to the human body.
The glacier has appeared to be a disaster for the environment. The immense use of explosives is causing quick melting of glaciers which may result into a severe tragedy such as floods in future. The presence of thousands of troops is not only damaging the Ecosystem but also Flora and Fauna of the region. Apart has been effected more being a small and weak economy, where the nation is engaged in global war on terror and the economy has already faced a loss of US$100 bn. But on Indian side, the forces are at higher posts, trying to prevent a possible Pakistan-China handshake in high Himalayas. To avoid this ‘threat’ India has deployed seven battalions at the glacier that costs Rs.50 million a day, Rs1.5 billion a month and Rs.30 billion a year to Indian economy. India is spending millions of rupees at the cost of lives and millions of peoples who are living below the poverty line.
In Pakistan, situation has changed a little after the burying of 129 Pakistani soldiers in an avalanche at Gyari sector on April 7, 2012. Rescue operations at a place like Siachin are even more costly and difficult than keeping the forces there. Due to the remoteness and extreme weather conditions, rescue operations take several months to complete. All dead bodies were recovered after the rescue operation of several months.
Just after 4 years of the tragedy, India lost 10 of its soldiers in a deadly avalanche in February 2016. The avalanche had hit a high altitude post situated at 19000 feet in Northern Glacier sector in Ladakh region early morning. According to Indian media, weather-related casualties in Siachen stood at 869, including 33 officers and 54 junior commissioned officers, and Rs 7,504.99 crore was spent on military operations in the last four years alone. Pakistan too has lost hundreds of its soldiers just because of bad weather
The tragedies have triggered a debate about whether Siachin should be declared a No man’s land. Maybe this is the time to demilitarize Siachin, or its status should be taken back to the pre-1984 position, when both sides had refrained from entering into area before the intervention of the Indian Army. One may not forget that both India and Pakistan are fully equipped with the deadly Nuclear weapons, and the threat of full scale war cannot be ruled out in case of any misunderstanding. Therefore, International community must play its role to settle down disputes between the two countries, and it can be started with Siachin.
Former Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani had offered demilitarizing Siachin as the most effective way out but it was not responded on serious account by the Indian government. To bridge the gap and narrow down the trust deficit UN or either of the major powers can play their role, as lives and the climate are more important than the strategic gains.
Writer is a current affairs Producer with a news channel based in Islamabad.