Why the Siachen issue must be resolved

Published: April 10, 2012

A view of snow-covered Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield. PHOTO: FILE

The Pakistan Army camp near the Siachen Glacier was buried under snow after history’s largest avalanche — about a square mile across — swept over it on April 7, burying 124 soldiers and 11 civilians under it. The rescue operation is underway, involving 240 troops and civilians with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, supervised by Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani himself. Needless to say, given the magnitude of the slippage, no survivors have been recovered at the time of writing.The tragedy has occurred at an altitude of over 4,000 metres in the Karakoram mountain range, the highest battlefield in the world where Indian and Pakistani troops are face-to-face in a war that no one in the world appreciates. The irony that can’t be missed is that the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has offered to help! Sensible people in India and Pakistan have repeatedly advised the two armies to climb down and leave the glacier alone. Pakistan thinks that India is willing, but is dragging its feet over and an agreement to ‘redeploy’. In 2007, India’s Air Marshal (retd) Nanda Harappa advised India and Pakistan to call off their absurd high-altitude confrontation, “where Indian troops took 80 per cent of their casualties from weather and the human waste and war detritus produced by the two armies polluted crevasses and gullies that provide 70 per cent of the water used in India and Pakistan”.

The quarrel is absurd. The 1948 Indo-Pak war ended with an agreed map that delineated the Line of Control (LoC) which reached the grid NJ9842. From this point onwards, the agreed map simply said “thence north to the glaciers”, thus creating a no-man’s land. India says Pakistan moved its troops into the region beyond NJ9842 before it ‘responded’ in 1984: Pakistan says the Indian move began the conflict and that Pakistan was taken by surprise. And the two repeatedly came close to signing an agreement over Siachen only to be pushed back by untoward incidents in the plains.

And now the first big disaster has taken place. The glacier is becoming unstuck because of unnatural warming and has killed Pakistani troops forced to be there because of Indian deployment, threatening the economy of a water-scarce South Asia. A UN official, whose book Biodiversity Conservation in Himalayas has just been released says: “The Siachen Glacier in Ladakh has receded by about 800 metres in the last 20 years and is facing threat of climate change caused by military activities in the region”.

Siachen is the most unlucky natural location in the world because 3,000 Indian troops are living and operating there, “hundreds of machines and scores of choppers flying daily over the region, with the result that the environment and ecosystem have deteriorated. The two armies survive by keeping themselves warm and by artificially making the high altitude surface suitable for their activities, depositing tons of chemicals on the surface of the glacier, thereby not only polluting the headwaters of the Indus river but also raising the temperatures in the area”.

Pakistan wants a climb down on what has become a ‘supplementary’ dispute to distract attention from the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir. In 1999, by staging the Kargil Operation, Pakistan provided an excuse for the Indian hawks to advise their government to stay put. A neutral observer once said that: “India should take a fresh look at the policy that has tied it down to a dangerous and costly strategy of defending every peak and hillock “for propaganda reasons, not because of military compulsions”.

The tragedy struck just before Pakistan’s peace-seeking president, Asif Ali Zardari, went on a visit to India during which he had lunch with the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, very much a man of peace himself. Now that both sides are committed to normalisation of relations through trade and Pakistan knows the consequences of its non-state actors perpetrating cross-border terrorism, perhaps, it is time for rationality to prevail over Siachen. Let us not destroy human life in South Asia just because the two states can’t find solutions to their bilateral problems.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2012.

Reader Comments (29)

  • G. Din
    Apr 10, 2012 - 1:05AM

    I do not know about Mr. Zardari, but Indian PM ManMohan Singh has no credibility as far as Pakistan goes (Or, anything else for that matter). Even Atal Behari Vajpayee lost his credibility when he was seen to be unnaturally too enthusiastic about peace with Pakistan (Nobel Peace Prize was in the balance). That is when the Great Commando threatened he would walk if what had been agreed to between him and Atal was not signed, sealed and delivered. Well, after a little awkward silence, the Great Commando lifted himself to his feet, turned around and started to walk away. There were no pleadings, no imploring, no beseeching from behind to come back. And, he kept on walking. I remember the picture of Atal and Advani looking at a miffed Musharraf with his back to them. He stopped only when he had reached his own Presidential Palace back, you know, where!
    Siachen may be a God-forsaken place to you but it is part of our motherland. And, we shall defend it at any cost. When Chinese occupied Aksai Chin, Nehru was asked what he was going to do about it. His reply: “It is not worthwhile. Not a blade of grass grows there.” That buried the Great Neta in the eyes of Indians for ever. If that happened to him, imagine what it could do to the minions scurrying around on the Raisina Hill these days!

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  • M Ali Khan
    Apr 10, 2012 - 1:12AM

    The only way to resolve this ridiculous Siachen dispute – a place which actually has NO strategic value for either Pakistan or India – is for both sides to withdraw all fighting troops from there and leave it as it was back until the early 1980s as an un-demarcated stretch of icy land left to its own devices.

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  • true_blue_pakistani
    Apr 10, 2012 - 3:09AM

    Pakistan should withdraw the claim to Siachen because even if we get it back it will be given to Chinese as happening in Gojal of GB.

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  • Disco
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:52AM

    @M Ali Khan:
    No Strategic value? The entire Gilgit Valley and the Karakorum Highway can be targetted with artillery from the peaks the Indians have occupied. Asking both India and Pakistan to resolve the issue is absurd. The Indians control the heights, the Pakistanis are in the valley. India must agree to revert back to pre-1984 positions, the Pakistanis will have no problem following suit. Get your facts right before you dish out your opinion.

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  • Hindi hain hum...
    Apr 10, 2012 - 5:32AM

    Spare us the crocodile tears. If Pakistan cares so much about the life of its soldiers and the ecosystem of the glacier, it should have no problem signing the agreement that commits it to not deploy troops to the glacier, which is the Indian demand for withdrawal. So long as Pakistan refuses to sign such an agreement, all this concern is hypocritical.

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  • Babloo
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:25AM

    Pakistan is to blame for the stalemate. Indian position is 100% clear. India and Pakistan must authenticate the actual ground positions of control on the glacier and sign a document not to violate it , exactly like rest of the line-of-control in Kashmir. After current position of control is mutually authenticated and signed up by two sides, both can withdraw. Pakistan refuses to acknowledge and authenticate current positions. No problem, India will be there as long as it takes and may even go deeper because there is no agreed line of control there. Its free for all, unless current positions are authenticated.

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  • AK MUrthy
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:27AM

    Why should India withdraw from Siachen or for that matter any where else? We will stay as long as It permits and just because Pakistan loses so many soldiers in Siachen does It now want a settlement.

    Here is a settlement for you Pakistan – Withdraw unilaterally without any conditions. This shows the world that you are serious about this issue. The rest including Indian withdrawal will naturally follow.

    Can you do this Pakistan?

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  • ashok
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:40AM

    The LOC in Kashmir ends at a point located on a snow clad peak known as NJ 9842. The 1949 Karachi agreement between India and Pakistan mentions this point and says that this line would go further to “thence NORTH to the glaciers” which was agreed to by both Pakistan and India in the 1972 Simla Agreement.

    Siachin glacier line is truly north of the point 9842. Google the globe and you will see the truth yourself.

    Accordingly the LOC would go along the Saltoro ridge keeping Siachin glacier within India till a point on Rimo glacier, where it would meet the Chinese border. Pakistan according to its convenience decided that this line would run to EAST from NJ9842 to Karakoram PASS near Aksaichin which is not what was agreed to.

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  • Mustafa Kamal
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:32AM

    It is high time to sense the threat and calling back the military leaving the glacier alone.

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  • Lobe
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:34AM

    After kargil there is no trust as far as Pakistan Army is considered. It is an entity which listens to none and frankly cares for none. So don’t blame Indian Army for being extra cautious.

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  • Shyam
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:16AM

    Pakistani soldiers die and Pakistanis here want India to withdraw??? As per this logic India should have withdrawn from Kargil during kargil war since a lot of Pakistani soldiers were dying.

    Dont fight a war if you cannot stomach casualties. More Europeans died every hour in WW2 than in all India-Pakistan wars put together.

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  • Senman
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:25AM

    The minute we withdraw Pakistan will occupy it, Civilians and Pakistan President are no way the voice of Pakistan and have no power, Only if there is a written agreement by the Pakistan army, which is ratified by UN , we should go through with this.

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  • Concerned
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:36AM

    Line of actual control in Siachin should be accepted as IB and both sides troops should totally withdraw from the whole region, which is the only solution.

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  • Abbas, ZA
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:37AM

    India owns Siachen and it is its birthright. No further discussions. Pakistan can keep its troops or not is its choice. Entire Jammu n Kashmir is Indias and cannot be asked for discussion. Recommend

  • Apr 10, 2012 - 4:41PM

    first remove lessons of hate from Pakistani text books. Then we will talk. No agreement on anything till then.

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  • kaalchakra
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:02PM

    Pakistan is a great country, not inhabited by cowards . Pakistan must fight for Siachin til her last soldier is left standing. What kind of a nation does not fight for its shah-rug, its dignity, its right to walk tall with its head held high?Recommend

  • DILU
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:07PM

    Just read Indians posts and came to know that they dont want any solution to this problem. It appears as if they think that such avalanche can only fall on Pakistani troops. They dont know that it can happen on any side of border. After reading their posts I have come to know that Pak army knows the best how to deal with Indians and they are doing it.

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  • hra
    Apr 10, 2012 - 8:54PM

    @ DILU I agree with you, just look at their ego and hate for us and then they blame us for all the indo pak hatred.

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  • huzaifa
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:59PM

    I think these Indians are non realistic people who live in dream land. Why , because they have not listened the word MAD( Mutually Assured Destruction). they wouldn’t be talking with hotheadedness if they knew what it means. When two nuclear adversaries clash, who is strong is immaterial because both are destroyed beyond recovery. I think we all should support those of our people who are talking peace. These people who are talking war have been playing lots of video/ strategy games on computer.

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  • Deb
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:03AM

    If it doesn’t have any strategic importance as the author suggests then why Pakistan can’t withdraw unilateraly?Let the Indians stay and foot the bills.

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  • G. Din
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:08AM

    @DILU:
    “Pak army knows the best how to deal with Indians and they are doing it.”
    How? We have not seen them since 1971. Forty-one years and counting is an awfully long time for a “no show”. Incidentally, were you born then?

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  • Abbas
    Apr 11, 2012 - 1:04AM

    @huzaifa:
    You are right but the chances of Pakistan get wiped out altogether are way too much.It is mutual destruction but one nation wiped out from civilization.

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  • huzaifa
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:25AM

    @Abbas:
    You are too clever to know that your statement is not true, you are just instigating me. Pakistan off the Map means one Muslim nation wiped out. India off the map means all Hindus wiped out, i think now you and G. Din Understand correctly.

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  • SADHU
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:58AM

    @DILU:
    You worry for yourself. Do not bother about India.

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  • SADHU
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:59AM

    @huzaifa:
    If you are so concerned tell your military to behave. Do not shed crocodile tears for Indians. You worry about ys only. Period.

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  • Shyam
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:13PM

    @DILU
    Pak army knows the best how to deal with Indians and they are doing it

    How?? By mass surrendering or running back everytime Indian army retaliates

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  • Ismail
    Apr 11, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Every war bears casualities / injuries, we should not be dishearted of it. As entire kashmir, Ladakh & G-B (including entire region of siachan) is un devidable part of Pakistans, we should continue our fight till last soldier, till last bullet. Accordingly we should avoid saying like “Why the Siachen issue must be resolved” etc. indian rats are much afraid of siachan issue and its their implicit wish to get rid of it as early as possible. thier statistics in terms of casualties, expenditures and morale are extremely deteriorated.

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  • khalil Ahmed
    Apr 11, 2012 - 2:03PM

    The Giari Tragedy is the worst outcome of Indo-pak animosity in recent times. The two poor nations are wasting their resources on high mountains in an invincible war. Many many millions of peoples are languishing in poverty on both sides because of unending hostility. It is high time for the people n political leaderships to bury the bitter past and take afresh start for a better future of their next generations.

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  • Apr 11, 2012 - 7:09PM

    Is Pakistan ready to withdraw from Siachin if India through UN declares that it will not move beyond its present posts?

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