Saturday, 19 April 2014

Thirty-year hostility over Siachen

Thirty-year hostility over Siachen
Alarm bells have started ringing as the thirty years of war over the Siachen have caused melting of the world’s biggest Glacier at an unusual speed, and if it dissolves towards the mid 21st Century, it would not only ravage India, Pakistan and other countries in the region, but, according to Al-Gore’s award winning documentary on global environment, it would also cause huge tsunamis to inundate and even make countries of the Gulf region to disappear. Al-Gore was the vice president in the President Clinton administration. He urged the international community to help Pakistan and India resolve the conflict and withdraw their forces from Siachen as early ass possible.
The presence of thousands of troops since 1984 has introduced pollution and melting on the glacier. Dumping of non-biodegradable waste in large quantities and the use of arms and ammunition has affected the ecosystem of the region. Findings of a survey, by Pakistan Meteorological Department in 2007, reveal that the Siachen glacier has been retreating for the past 30 years and is melting at an alarming rate. The study of satellite images shows that the glacier is retreating at a rate of about 110 meters a year and that its size has reduced by 35%.
In 2001 India laid oil pipelines about 250km long inside the glacier to supply kerosene oil and aviation fuel to the outposts from base camps. As of 2007, the temperature rise at the Siachen was estimated at 0.2-degree Celsius annually, that causes melting, avalanches, and craters in the glacier. About 1,000kg of waste is produced and dumped in glacial crevasses daily by the Indian forces. The flora and fauna of the Siachen region are also affected by the huge military presence.
The region is home to rare species like snow leopard, brown bear and ibex, which are at risk because of huge military presence. The idea of declaring the Siachen region as a “Peace Park” was basically presented by environmentalists and peace activists only to preserve the ecosystem of the region. One of the worst experiences of environmental degradation in the glaciated region has been the mammoth avalanche that hit a Pakistan Army base in Gayari on April 7, 2012, wherein 129 military personnel and 11 civilians lost their lives.
Although the “useless” presence of armies is impacting the economy of both the countries wherein Pakistan is annually spending about $60m, almost 2.35% of its army’s budget, and India is spending $0.99bn, which is 6% of its army’s budget – yet most of the casualties are weather related e.g. India suffered 4,000 from 1984 to 2013 and Pakistan 1,000. More soldiers have died in Siachen from harsh weather than from combat. Indian deployment (4,000 soldiers) is double than Pakistan’s (2,000 soldiers). Thirty years ago, on April 13, 1984, India occupied Siachen as a move to what it calls “preempt occupation by Pakistan”, an unfounded assertion that disregarded the fact that it was India, which initiated patrolling in the area as far back as 1978 when they sent a strong expedition to scale a series of peaks on either side of the glacier under a colonel nicknamed Bull Kumar. India occupied two northern passes on the Saltoro Ridge, thus began the longest undeclared war on the highest battlefield in the world – located in the eastern Karakorum range in the Himalayas north-east of the grid point NJ-9842, the Siachen Glacier is 68km long and 2-3km wide. The conflict triangle is about 1,400sq miles. Average winter snowfall is 10.5m and temperatures can dip up to -50°C.
Pakistan had de facto control up to Line NJ 9842 – Karakorum Pass (KKP) since 1947 till 1984 when India violated the Simla Agreement and captured this un-inhabited and unoccupied territory. Article 2 (2) of Simla Agreement reads: “Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation.” Pakistan’s control on these areas was accepted by the Indian leadership in the past. Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to the Indian Parliament on May 7, 1962, acknowledged Pakistan’s de facto control up to KKP: “The defence of which is under the actual control of Pakistan.” Acceptance of Pakistan’s control by India is also evident due to the non-delineation or demarcation demand of the LoC beyond point NJ 9842 after the Tashkent (1966) and Simla (1972) agreements. Authorization of as many as 21 mountaineering expeditions in the area by Pakistan from 1974 to 1984 is yet another proof of Pakistan’s control over the area.
Pakistan has on a number of occasions tried to conduct talks and resolve the matter with India but Indian stubbornness on achieving an agreement on its own terms has produced no results. Pakistan wants both sides to pull back to the positions they held more than 20 years ago before India occupied most of the ice field. India agrees but says the withdrawal should be preceded by marking the current position of the two forces. An understanding reached between the two countries during the talks to disengage in 1989 and 1992 but peace could not materialize, thanks to Indian insistence on authentication of actual ground position line (AGPL) along Saltoro Ridge before disengagement and Pakistan’s refusal to give in on any condition which alters the status of the area.
Why Pakistan cannot authenticate these positions is that it would be tantamount to authenticating Indian aggression in 1984 and elsewhere later.
Thus, Indian Army is a stumbling block to a negotiated settlement. Pakistan is willing to show flexibility and solve the issue despite the fact that it has the superior strategic orientation because India operates on exterior lines and is at verge of its culminating point being at the optimum distance from its logistic basis with virtually no communication infrastructure; less the aerial route to support it. Pakistan will be willing to go to any length to make peace dream come true, short of legitimizing India’s violation of the Simla Agreement.
Indians can draw strength from disengagement precedents and processes at the Chumik Glacier in 1989, Kargil in 1999, and the ceasefire in force since November 25 2003, rather than succumbing to the apparent trust deficit and play in the hands of forces (Indian army and extremist Hindu political leadership) bent to disrupt the march towards peace.
It is evident that Indian government and their army are not on the same page on the issue. If the successive governments have been trying to resolve the issue, the army has always been opposing peace initiatives. Scholars and environmentalists around the world, including those from India, suggest that sanity should prevail, sooner the better, and Siachen must emerge as a Peace Zone from a War Zone. If both are able to reach an agreement to disengage from Siachen, the money saved can be spent on human security and development. The same budget can be used for the uplift of the conflict-hit areas.
The writer is PhD scholar (Peace & Conflict Studies) and author of “Human Security in Pakistan” book published in 2013.

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