In a race against time and nature, rescuers continued to desperately search for survivors of an avalanche, with flagging hopes as the rescue operation at Giari entered its fourth day on Tuesday.
Unfavourable weather conditions continued to prevent American, German and Swiss rescue teams, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, from reaching the rescue site where a wall of snow crashed into a Pakistan Army camp near the Siachen Glacier on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the military released an updated list of the victims which now stands at 138 — of which 127 were soldiers of the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion and 11 civilian employees including waiters, barbers and a tailor.
After a search of almost 72 hours, officials acknowledged that bad weather coupled with the inhospitable terrain continued to hamper the progress of finding any survivors.
“It may take days … probably weeks when rescuers reach the Giari camp,” said a military official.
The official added that the inclement weather had prevented foreign experts, including an-eight member US team, to reach the site in order to assist the Pakistani rescuers.
According to the military’s media cell, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), rescue efforts continued despite weather hazards. A total of 452 persons, including 69 civilians, are employed for relief efforts along with two dozers, two earth movers, three excavators and two dumpers, a military statement revealed.
The military has also identified five points on the site where rescue work is in progress. Two points are being dug with equipment while three points are being dug manually.
The ISPR said foreign rescue teams – including six Germans and three from Switzerland – arrived in Pakistan and were waiting for weather clearance to proceed to Giari via Skardu. A seven-member military rescue team is using life-detection kit and thermal imaging camera during the rescue operation, the release added.
At least 40 feet of snow has been removed so far with the help of heavy machinery.
A military official at Giari told The Express Tribune that as hopes of recovering survivors fade, the tragedy has taken an emotional toll on the soldiers deployed for rescue efforts at the site.
Many of the posted soldiers are not willing to leave their positions despite orders to take rest — and insist on continuing the rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed sorrow at the tragic incident, in a statement released on Tuesday.
Stressing on the need for measures to avoid any such untoward incident in future, the HRCP said that the current situation demanded an inquiry into ‘conditions in which soldiers are stationed’ at the glacier. The commission also said there was a need to reflect on the safety and protection offered to the soldiers posted on the glacier in light of ‘harsh climate’ and ‘fickle nature of the terrain’.
Demilitarisation of Siachen
The tragedy has renewed calls for demilitarisation of what is known as the ‘world’s highest battlefield’, where more soldiers from both Pakistan and India have died because of natural calamities than the combat.
Legal and environmental experts, journalists and think-tanks gathered on Tuesday to push for a quick solution of the protracted conflict zone.
Speakers at the round-table discussion, organised by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), suggested that the region should be declared as a ‘Peace Park’. The inhospitable 50 miles of glacier has killed over 5,000 Indian and 3,000 Pakistani soldiers between April 1984 and April 2012.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.
Correction: In an earlier version of the story, one of the foreign rescue teams was incorrectly mentioned as ‘Swedish’ instead of ‘Swiss’. The correction has been made.