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Futile Fight on Earth’s Highest Battleground

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Download 134 Pakistani soldiers and civilians were buried under heavy snow during an avalanche on Siachen glacier this April.

Siachen glacier is the highest battlefield on earth – where India and Pakistan have fought over the disputed region of Kashmir for decades.

But more troops die from bad weather than warfare.

People in both countries say it’s time the futile conflict is resolved.

Naeem Sahoutara has the report.

Special prayers are being held in Lahore’s Saint Anthony Church.

The whole nation is mourning the 134 Pakistani soldiers and civilians killed in the avalanche on Siachen glacier last month.

Intensive rescue operations were launched in the formidable terrain, but not one survivor was found.

The glacier is the unlikely headquarters of Pakistan Army’s Battalion.

Located more than 6 thousand meters above sea level, Siachen glacier is the world’s highest battlefield.

And for the past 28 years Indian and Pakistan troops have been fighting there over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Between 10 and 20 thousand troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.

But many say the conflict is in vain.

Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, President of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, agrees.

“It has become difficult for the armies of both countries to be at a height of more than 6 thousand meters. Both governments should resolve this issue as a foremost priority as much is being done with free trade between Pakistan and India. Besides this, the dispute should also be addressed in a honourable way, which will be acceptable to both sides.”

Siachen is not only the highest, but the most expensive battlefield in the world.

India spends an estimated 800 thousand US dollars per day on its troops there, while Pakistan spends around 600 thousand US dollars.

But more troops on the glacier die from poor weather than bullets.

Troops have fought in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius – and over the years more than 2,000 people have died from the extreme weather conditions.

Imran Khan from Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf, one of the country’s mainstream political national parties, says the dispute is “madness.”

“Why can’t the two countries resolve this issue through dialogue? India faces abject poverty, while hunger is also increasing in Pakistan. A single day of this fighting at the height of more than 6 thousand meters costs immensely. And imagine that 90 percent of the deaths taking place on both sides are not due to bullets, but to poor weather.”

11 days after the rescue team failed to find any survivors this April, Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani made a rare call for demilitarization.

“There’s no other reason. I think there’s only one good enough reason that this area should not militarized, you can’t afford firing guns on the glacier regions. We have been there since 1984 not because we wanted to be there, but because of the Indian troops that came here. We want to resolve this, but there’s a method of resolution. And, of course, we’ll have to talk about it. There will be a number of rounds of negotiation. Hopefully, we’ll be able to resolve it. And I think we should resolve it.”

The glacier conflict is also having repercussions elsewhere.

Due to the troop deployment the glacier is melting fast – and there are concerns this will cause rivers in Pakistan to flood, says the Army chief.

“This is a glacier that feeds our rivers, and the main Indus River. So, we understand that the physical deployment of troops in these areas that the glaciers get affected, the environment is affected. We understand that water management is very important. So, it does not only affect the environment in the region, but it affects in some ways the environment of the world.”

But Pakistan’s Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira says the government has ruled out the possibility of withdrawing troops.

“If both countries honourably stand by their positions and our international claims are that position, Pakistan would not backtrack from its words. This is possible if the efforts of both sides are honourable. But, if there is a price to pay...then I would say that nations always pay the price through their money or blood to defend their territories.”

Earlier this month, media groups from India and Pakistan took part in an international peace conference to boost the resolution process between the South Asian neighbours.

Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani inaugurated the conference.

“I can say with confidence that both my government and the government of Dr. Manmohan Singh are deeply committed to the process of normalization. We’ve lost precious time and should not allow its wastage anymore.

Pakistan and India recently took landmark steps to improve bilateral ties by agreeing to boost free trade and free up visa processes.

It’s definitely progress, but achieving durable peace in Siachen glacier will take a great deal more.


Last Updated ( Monday, 21 May 2012 10:31 )  

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