Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has advised the Pakistani government to take the lead and withdraw its troops from Siachen Glacier where 138 troops and civilians were buried by a massive avalanche over a week ago.
On April 7, a giant wall of snow crashed down in the Giari sector, swamping the battalion headquarters of 6 Northern Light Infantry, where 124 soldiers and 14 civilians were stationed. Nine days on, rescuers have yet to pull out a single person, dead or alive.
The tragedy swung a spotlight onto the 65-year-old conflict between Pakistan and India, and ignited debates on the futility of the battle on ‘Earth’s ceiling’ for over two decades.
“Let’s not make it a matter of ego. Pakistan should take the initiative,” Sharif told journalists after surveying the Giari sector where a massive rescue operation is under way.
Senior leaders of his Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) – including Senator Mushahidullah, Marvi Memon, Mehtab Abbasi and Pervez Rasheed – accompanied Sharif.
Sharif advised both Pakistan and India to climb down from the icy battlefield, resolve the festering dispute and then spend the billions of rupees they would save on the welfare of their impoverished people.
He recalled that, during his stint as prime minister, he had launched a dialogue with then-Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee to resolve the Siachen issue. He called upon the incumbent governments in both countries to follow up on that in the “larger interest of humanity”.
In Skardu, the PML-N chief also spent time with the families of soldiers trapped under the snow and enquired about their issues.
He paid tribute to soldiers for defending the country’s frontiers. He also gave away cheques for Rs 500,000 to each aggrieved family.
He announced that the Punjab government will provide a job to each affected family and finance the education of their children.
Meanwhile, toxic gases hampered the search for the trapped soldiers, as American and Norwegian experts reached the site to help the operations.
Rescuers have dug tunnels in the hard mass of snow and ice to try to reach the buried soldiers and civilians, but toxic gases have built up inside one of them, the military said in a statement.
A rise in the temperature has increased the risk of further snow slides, the statement said, forcing workers on the site to take extra precautions. Specialist teams from Norway and the United States arrived at Giari, while Swiss and German teams have returned home after helping the efforts.
Search teams are looking for the trapped soldiers and civilians at six different points.
More than 450 rescuers are working at the site, though experts have said there is virtually no chance of finding any survivors.
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif also spoke about targeted attacks on the Shia community in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan and denounced the PPP-led government for its failure to stem the tide of sectarian violence in the country’s troubled spots.
The authorities had clamped a curfew in Gilgit town following a deadly bout of sectarian violence on April 3. But Sharif said curfew was not a solution to the problem. He said that the government should have brought the rival sects to the negotiating table to ensure durable peace in the region.
(with additional reporting by sumera khan in islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2012.