Towards a Siachen peace park

Published: April 18, 2012
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The avalanche that engulfed the Gayari camp located on the Siachen Glacier, burying 124 soldiers and 14 civilians, is a national tragedy. It has also brought attention to the Siachen Glacier conflict and questions are now rightly being asked of the tactical and strategic importance of having troops posted on the world’s highest battlefield.

Nawaz Sharif has called for Pakistan to be sensible and to withdraw its troops from Siachen. This is the first time I can think of a mainstream Pakistani politician (and former prime minister) calling for a troop withdrawal with respect to India.

For a number of years now, several academics and environmental activists, have been arguing that the environment can be an effective means of conflict resolution. Specifically, he has been advocating for both sides to declare the Siachen Glacier a peace park. He is not alone. Civil society, opinion makers and academics from around the world have been advocating the same.

The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas has nearly 200 transboundary protected areas. The UNESCO world heritage list identifies important natural heritage. There are also numerous examples of transboundary management of contiguous protected areas where countries have joined hands for the preservation of the environment. There are too many instances to list here, but noteworthy examples are the cooperatively managed Indian Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and Rann of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuaries. Even Israel, Egypt and Jordan have recognised the paramount importance of the environment and have agreed to jointly manage the marine ecosystem near the Sharm-el Sheikh Peninsula.

There is good reason to be concerned about the environment in Siachen. It is the world’s largest non-polar glacier and sits — along with the other glaciers of the Hindukush, Karakoram and the Himalayan ranges — on the earth’s Third Pole: the waters of these glaciers provide food and drinking water to nearly one billion people. Both India and Pakistan are extremely vulnerable to climate change and face similar food and water security issues. Meanwhile, Siachen has turned into the world’s highest waste dump as none of the supplies, food, oil, equipment — and quite often soldiers — ever return. The IUCN has estimated that the Indian occupation of the Glacier results in about 2,000 pounds of human waste being dumped into it every day. Information about the Pakistani side is tough to come by, but Colonel (retd) Tahir Kardar told me that it includes a helicopter that landed, froze and could never be salvaged.

The human occupation of Siachen is an environmental hazard.  The effects of climate change on glaciers is a subject of topical concern, but little research on Siachen has been undertaken because of security issues. The waste produced at the Glacier feeds the Nubra River and then flows into the Shyok River and eventually joins the Indus.

In an excellent paper published in the Stanford Law Review, Neal A Kemkar set out strong grounds for legal intervention because of these environmental concerns. Both India and Pakistan are signatories to the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states that “States shall … respect international law providing for the environment in times of armed conflict”.  Both countries are also signatories to the Hague Conventions, Geneva Convention and Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification, which all stress on the four fundamental principles armed conflict must follow: necessity, proportionality, selectivity and humanity. The Siachen Glacier dispute, in terms of lives and money cost versus strategic benefit obtained, fails on these counts.

Both countries also have robust environmental rights and laws. The Supreme Courts of both countries recognise the fundamental rights of citizens to a clean and healthy environment, as well as access to unpolluted water. Both countries also have legislation that protects the environment.  However, the problem with the legislation is that it is of the ’command and control’ variety, in that it sets limits for pollution in industry and then enforces those limits. However, neither state has an industry on Siachen to command or control. The Glacier is in the control of the armed forces and the governments of India and Pakistan do not have control over the Siachen ecosystem. Herein lies the problem.

Both countries can make enormous headway using the environment as a platform of exchange. The platform is uncorrupted by Kashmir, the war on terror or other issues that form the composite dialogue. A declaration or accord recognising both countries’ commitment to protecting the environment and acknowledging the challenges of climate change could easily pave the way for a Siachen peace park management system, where elected representatives from either side act as co-chairs along with representatives from the armed forces and an international NGO (such as the IUCN or the WWF), and line ministries could set about demilitarising the Glacier and preparing a transition of control from the military to environment managers. The international goodwill that would be generated by such an act could also be leveraged by either country to its advantage.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Ali Hasan
    Apr 18, 2012 - 11:38PM

    Goodwill+Environment+Pollution+Health&Safety+Populace < Army belligerenceRecommend

  • Pollack
    Apr 19, 2012 - 12:20AM

    I doubt if anyone can send their children to the hypothetical siachen peace park. As we already know, it’s susceptible to avalanches.

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  • Abbas
    Apr 19, 2012 - 12:24AM

    If Kargil did not happen, Pakistan would hve been in a better position to demand an end to this. Just forget about India geting out of Siachen. Not after the Musharaff’s Kargil adventure. India from its history has never treated religious nations with respect. Pakistan will never have India listen to it….Who will hear an islamic Pakistan talking of peace after what is happening in Pakistan society on daily basis….Recommend

  • Shahrukh
    Apr 19, 2012 - 1:45AM

    What an excellent idea! Only a dedicated environmentalist such as ARA could think so well and pen it down. I hope I live to see this materialized one day.

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  • fahim
    Apr 19, 2012 - 3:01AM

    The best option is to accept AGPL line and put an end to this mess. We are not even in Siachen. We are in some obscure low lying area in west of Saltoro range at heights of 6-8000 feet. Indians are sitting at heights of 20,000 and no way we can remove them. Its only wise to accept the offer and save the billions we spend there every year.

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  • Raja
    Apr 19, 2012 - 3:29AM

    Yawn…another boring piece on Siachen.

    Probably the 100th piece on the topic in Express Tribune.

    So many columns blabbering this and that but no one
    suggesting Pakistan should authenticate and accept AGPL
    and vacate Siachen.

    All b.s! usual b.s!

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  • SoundOfFury
    Apr 19, 2012 - 3:57AM

    @Abbas:

    Actually Iran and India have relatively good relations, not to mention Afghanistan.

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  • Sam
    Apr 19, 2012 - 7:33AM

    What a great idea! Turn what India occupies into a peace park. Can Pakistan turn FATA, BALOCHISTAN OR Karachi into a peace park for just 24 hours?

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  • Azeem
    Apr 19, 2012 - 8:47AM

    This battle has to come to an end someday. Agree with Rafay…..We have to find some alternate grounds to solve this issue …A total wastage of all kinds of resources and yet no gains whatsoever !!!

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  • gp65
    Apr 19, 2012 - 9:13AM

    @Abbas: “India from its history has never treated religious nations with respect.”

    India has excellent relations with Malaysia and Indonesia pretty good relations with Bangladesh and Gulf countries. Stop with the the pity party already. It is not because Pakistan is Muslim that India does not trust. It is because Pakistan has repeatedly breached trust. Even today Pakistan allows people like Hafiz Saeed to openly propagate hate speech against India.

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  • Apr 19, 2012 - 9:30AM

    Look Pakistan is going to be a water stressed country very soon. Its in its interest primarily to sign the AGPL so that everyone can go home!

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Apr 19, 2012 - 9:48AM

    @Abbas:

    India from its history has never
    treated religious nations with respect

    Please cite a few instances.

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  • Sadhu
    Apr 19, 2012 - 11:29AM

    All these peace overtures and suggestions are coming from Pak as it is no more in a position to sustain an anti – India stance due to variety of reasons like pressure from the US, no real help in money and materials coming from the all weather friend China, tottering economy, helpless condition of the armed forces due longtime harrassment by the terrorists, Balochistan etc. India should wear out Pak.

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  • vasan
    Apr 19, 2012 - 11:50AM

    Abbas : Even with Saudi, India has very good relationship. The Saudi King or prince was our chief guest for an Independence day recently. With Pakistan the problems are unprovoked wars by Pakistan and terrorism sponcership. Religion is not the issue.

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  • Nazir Tanoli
    Apr 19, 2012 - 2:30PM

    This is high time that Pakistan and India should delve into the logic and revisit the issue of the presence of their troops in very inhospitable, harsh, and frostbite terrain, where both the countries are spending enormous funds which can be used for the development of the country apart from saving the live of their troops, the present incident of a catastrophe, where 135 lives have been buried under the avalanche, should be based the reason for the withdrawal of the troops from the Siachen, which is the highest altitude battlefield in the world, and make ti the symbol of peace.

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  • G. Din
    Apr 19, 2012 - 4:29PM

    @BruteForce:
    “Its in its interest primarily to sign the AGPL so that everyone can go home!”
    Even after AGPL is signed, if ever, India will have to maintain a token presence on the glacier to keep a sharp eye on mischief-making of a proven unprincipled adversary. Pakistan has given words to all and sundry which it never had the intention of keeping!

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  • observer
    Apr 19, 2012 - 4:55PM

    @Abbas

    India from its history has never treated religious nations with respect.

    History? Really?

    A. When the Jews were being persecuted where did they run to? Hint- Search for Bghdadi Jews and the Synagogue in Kerala ( one of the oldest).

    B. And where did the Armenians go to when they were being ethnically cleansed by you know who? Hint- Try history of Kolkata.

    C. And on whose shores did the Zorostrians (Parsees) come after being chased out of their homeland in Persia and who did the chasing? Hint- Try Surat in Gujarat and Mumbai.

    D. And how many Sufis were there who managed the conversions in India? If the same numbers of Christian missionaries land in the neighbouring countries of India, with an aim to convert, what is likely to happen? Hint- Dial M for ….

    History, INDEED!

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  • sashayub
    Apr 19, 2012 - 5:42PM

    @Pollack:
    its not about sending children….its in fact about starting a peace process by withdrawing both armies creating a dump of this beautiful place……and this starts with reducing human interference in the area, not vice versa

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  • Apr 19, 2012 - 6:01PM

    I agree with every word of what writer has said. BUT BUT SIR Is there a world guaranteeing that Pakistan will do what it says? BIG QUESTION.From 1947 onward right up to Kargil Pakistan always tried to force its way by deceit and deception. In such world wide distrust, I beg every CITIZEN of Pakistan to tell us what Should India do please;except say that “Its in its interest primarily to sign the AGPL so that everyone can go home!”Recommend

  • ayesha khan
    Apr 19, 2012 - 10:22PM

    @Azeem: “We have to find some alternate grounds to solve this issue “

    There is noo need to find alternate grounds. If Pakistan autheinticates the AGPL and withdraws trops, so will India. It is Pakistans unwillingness to autheinticate the AGPL which is resulting in the standoff. Until Pakistan is willing to do that any number of OpEds and statements from Sharif or Kayani will not change the ground reality.

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  • ayesha khan
    Apr 19, 2012 - 10:31PM

    @G. Din: “Even after AGPL is signed, if ever, India will have to maintain a token presence on the glacier to keep a sharp eye on mischief-making of a proven unprincipled adversary. Pakistan has given words to all and sundry which it never had the intention of keeping”

    You have a legitimate concern. ?But with the tools available now including unmanned drones for keeping oversight on region, it should be possible to monitor without keeping a physical presence. Of course the document signed should also clearly state that any country crossing over to the other side of AGPL will be deemed an aggressor.Inida is a status quo power so it is not going to try to cross. If Pakistan truly intends peace, it should be willing o sign that too.

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  • let me tell you something
    Apr 20, 2012 - 8:51PM

    Gayari camp is not on Siachen Glacier, in fact Pakistan is no where near Siachen even its view of it is blocked by Soltoro Ridge which is in west of the Glacier and in Indian control. Indian Army controls entire Siachen and its tributaries. The incident happened on the camp which is well connected through road (ever wondered how the heavy machinery involved in rescue reached there) and is some 30 km away from Siachen Glacier and nearly 15 km from the nearest Indian Post. So it is very much clear that it lies in the area which is in control of Pakistan and if such a incident of either avalanche or landslide happens, demilitralization of Siachen will not benefit since such incidents will continue to happen and even if Siachen becomes a zone of disengagement Pakistan army will not vacate Gayari or any of the camp which falls on this route.

    P.S. Gayari is south of Bilafond Glacier, anyone can easily see where it is and where Siachen is.

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  • Concerned
    Apr 21, 2012 - 8:37PM

    Gen Kayani suggestion is worth persuing provided Pakistan acknowledges the present AGPL that it holds. The Indian Army however fears that Pakistan would violate the agreement and send troops dressed as mujahideen to occupy Siachen as it brazenly attempted such adventures in 1947, 1965 and 1998. There is another option available if there is clear acceptance of 1949 CFL cum LOC and both sides should withdraw or redeploy from there. Thereafter, Siachen can be designated as an International glacier and World Weather Park.

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  • kaalchakra
    Apr 21, 2012 - 10:42PM

    India should first vacate Siachin, then Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Goa. Only then can there be peace. While India keep oppressing local people, Pakistan cannot sit on its hands and do nothing.

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  • Apr 22, 2012 - 10:09AM

    Some time I wonder why does Pakistan maintain such a strong and modern Army when most of the time this Army is busy doing business, running banks, bakeries, factories, marriage halls and so on, And out lets the main business of fighting to GOOD Taliban and underground agents etc who carry out their tasks like Mumbai , Afghanistan, Kashmir, Kargil and also doing fine job in many other areas of the world including areas of north Pakistan like carrying explosives, attacking targets etc. The only answer I find is that may be, at times, to rule the country.

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