Speakers on Monday called for a unanimous political solution and a bilateral peace agreement to withdraw all troops from Siachen.
There was consensus among the panelists that the loss of lives on the glacier could increase in future if the two governments failed to take timely decisions and make Siachen a ‘peace park’.
These views were expressed by speakers at two different seminars organised on the Siachen issue in light of the recent tragedy in which 138 soldiers and civilian support staff were buried alive by an avalanche. The seminars were held at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Kuch Khaas and were organised by the venue hosts.
Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, climate affairs advisor for the Government of Pakistan, said that scientific studies reveal that the eastern glaciers are melting more rapidly than glaciers in western regions. He said average temperatures in the northern areas have increased by 0.76 Celsius, with an increase in the frequency of heat waves that adversely affect the environment in the region.
Dr Chaudhry added that the Siachen glacier is under stress from factors such as global warming, black carbon and human military interventions. He said that it would be in the interest of both nations to withdraw forces from Siachen.
Renowned lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi said that Siachen is a political issue and is tied to the delineation of the Line of Control (LoC).
Many times in past, he said, Pakistan and India initiated talks on the Siachen issue, but they kept failing when the time to draft an agreement came, usually due to conflicts over the language and contents of any agreement.
He suggested that political and legal experts from both the sides must first deliberate and frame an applicable bilateral agreement for withdrawing forces from the area.
Meanwhile, SDPI Water and Energy Advisor Arshad H Abbasi and an expert on glaciers said that the rise in temperatures on the Siachen glacier is the direct result of large scale military interventions from both sides. He said soldiers on the glacier have used chemicals to melt and cut through the glacial ice to construct bunkers, camps, helipads and airfields.
He rejected the notion that global warming is melting the glacier and cited a NASA report titled “Advancing Glaciers and Positive Mass Anomaly in the Karakoram-Himalaya”, which states that more than 65 per cent of glaciers in the Karakoram range are growing.
An army officer shared his experiences at Siachen, saying that despite weather and health issues, the soldiers’ morale is always high and they are always committed to their mission. “The real enemy is not the person sitting across the LoC, but the weather, which envelopes a person from every side,” the officer said.
He narrated that soldiers cannot communicate with their families from Siachen sector for many months and are often unable to even bathe for two months at a time.
Besides the freezing temperature, he said, frustration is all time high due to the isolation and often causes scuffles among brothers in arms.
He shared that they often talked with their Indian counterparts at the Siachen sector on duty and even exchanged dishes and gifts on some occasions. “But you don’t know how and when things change in the military, as a war zone is always a war zone and we don’t know when orders will come. It is a question of survival, and the winner is the one who manages to survive.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2012.
More in PakistanBook fair: Feast for readers and collectors