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28 Apr - 04 May , 2012
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VIEWPOINTSiachen Issue: India's
Belligerency Defies Solution

by TARIQ BUTT

Both Pakistan and India admit that Siachen front is extremely difficult, and it is the weather that is the most lethal enemy of the armed forces deployed by them. But still there are no signs of demilitarisation. Pakistan is more than willing to withdraw its forces provided India agrees to do the same. But New Delhi's aggressive and belligerent designs stand in the way of an amicable resolution of the conflict. Indian occupation of the Siachen Glacier in 1984 when General Ziaul Haq ruled Pakistan was part of its greater strategy to use force in capturing the territory. Reacting to the aggression, the then dictator remarked that not even grass grows there, thus undermining its importance to Pakistan. Had such a stupid comment been made by a civilian ruler, he would have been instantly dubbed as a traitor, deserving hanging for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution.
The issue has come into prominence once again as 136 soldiers and civilians of Pakistan were buried Siachen Issue: India's Belligerency Defies Solutionunder an avalanche in the Gayari sector earlier this month. A huge chunk of ice and rock fell over the battalion headquarters. Hectic efforts are afoot to retrieve the buried men. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Nawaz Sharif was the first top civilian leader to pay a visit to the tragedy struck area on April 7. In a widely reported remark he urged the governments of India and Pakistan to withdraw troops and said Islamabad should take the lead. This caused uproar in certain sections of Pakistan. He attracted criticism from some jingoistic political figures, who hardly did any serious deliberations before opening their mouths. On the face of it, they spoke someone else's language, proving as if they are more loyal to Pakistan than Nawaz Sharif. The most silly comment came from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan when he said that the PML-N chief paid the visit to Siachen because he has resources while "we will pray for the safety of the soldiers buried under tons of snow."
Regardless of such inane comments, almost every politician of Pakistan and military leader wants an end to this wasteful war on the highest battle field of the world, which neither Pakistan nor India can win. The fundamental objective New Delhi wants to achieve is to bleed Islamabad to the maximum by keeping its troops at Siachen. But to think that Pakistan would unilaterally pull out is wrong. Islamabad can't forego its right over the territory however inhospitable it may be, and how costly the keeping of troops there may be. No country would surrender an area for the mere fact that it is not productive and is covered with glaciers.
President Asif Ali Zardari has also ruled out unilateral withdrawal from Siachen and said if India calls back its forces from Siachen, Pakistan will follow suit. During his visit to Siachen after the tragedy, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaque Parvez Kayani called for the resolution of the conflict and other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, but he said Siachen is a difficult front for both the countries and the troops should be pulled out from the area. "We should spend less on defence and more on the well-being of the people and development. Pakistan would be more secure and stronger if development takes place and people are happy. The focus should be on people's welfare and every country should do this," he said.
During the first tenure of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister, Pakistan and India reached close to a resolution of the Siachen issue, but things did not move further. Since then, there have been many rounds of talks between the two countries with the last one having been held at the defence secretaries' level about one-and-a-half years ago.
The world knows that Pakistan is not responsible for the Siachen issue. Islamabad deployed its forces on the Siachen Glacier after the Indian occupation of a part of it. Siachen is located in the eastern Karakoram Range in the Himalaya just north of the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan. At 70 km long, it is the longest glacier in the Karakoram and second-longest in the world's non-polar areas. It falls from an altitude of 18,875 feet above sea level at its head at Indira Col on the China border down to 11,875 ft at its terminus. The Siachen Glacier lies immediately south of the great watershed that separates the Eurasian Plate from the Indian subcontinent in the extensively glaciated portion of the Siachen Issue: India's Belligerency Defies SolutionKarakoram, sometimes called the Third Pole. The glacier lies between the Saltoro Ridge immediately to the west and the main Karakoram Range to the east.
The Saltoro Ridge originates in the north from the Sia Kangri peak on the China border in the Karakoram range. The crest of the Saltoro Ridge's altitudes range from 17,880 ft to 25,330 ft. The major passes on this ridge are, from north to south, Sia La at 18,336 ft, Bilafond La at 17,880 ft, and Gyong La at 18,665 ft. The average winter snowfall is 35 ft and temperatures can dip to minus fifty. Including all tributary glaciers, the Siachen Glacier system covers about 270 sq miles.
In 1984, India launched a military operation and gained control over most of the Siachen region. Between 1984 and 1999, frequent skirmishes took place between India and Pakistan. However, more soldiers have died in Siachen from harsh weather conditions than from combat. Both India and Pakistan continue to deploy thousands of troops in Siachen and attempts to demilitarise the region have so far been unsuccessful.
Aside from Indian and Pakistani military presence, the glacier region is unpopulated. The nearest civilian settlement is the village of Warshi, 10 miles downstream from the Indian base camp. The region is also highly remote with limited road connectivity. On the Indian side, roads go only as far as the military base camp at Dzingrulma, 72 km from the top of the glacier. The Indian Army has developed various means to reach the Siachen region, including the Delhi-Manali-Leh-Siachen route.
After the Kargil war in 1999, India abandoned plans to withdraw from Siachen without official recognition of the current LoC in Kashmir, wary of further Pakistani incursions if they vacate the Siachen Glacier posts without such recognition. During her tenure as Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto became the first premier from either side to visit the Siachen region when she went to the area west of Gyong La. On 12 June 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first Indian chief executive to visit the area, during which he called for a peaceful resolution of the problem. In the previous year, the President of India, Abdul Kalam, became the first head of state to visit the area.
Pakistan International Airlines flies tourists and trekkers to Skardu, which is the jumping off point for K2, the world's second highest peak 21 miles northwest of the Siachen area, although bad weather frequently grounds these scheduled flights. Since September 2007, India has also opened up limited mountaineering and trekking expeditions to the area. The first group included cadets from Chail Military School, National Defence Academy, National Cadet Corps, Indian Military Academy, Rashtriya Indian Military College and family members of armed forces officers. The expeditions are also meant to show to the international audience that Indian troops hold almost all dominating heights on the key Saltoro Ridge and to show that Pakistani troops are not within 15 km of the main 70 km-long Siachen Glacier. Ignoring protests from Pakistan, India maintains that it does not need anyone's approval to send trekkers to Siachen, in what it says, is essentially its own territory. In addition, the India's Army Mountaineering Institute (AMI) functions out of the region.

 
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