Siachen avalanche highlights futility of the Indo-Pakistani conflict | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 09.04.2012
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Siachen avalanche highlights futility of the Indo-Pakistani conflict

As rescue efforts are underway to search for 135 Pakistanis buried under an avalanche in Siachen, many in Pakistan say it is time that both India and Pakistan stopped fighting over this frozen piece of land.

Most of the people buried on the 6,700-meter-high Siachen Glacier are soldiers from the Sixth Northern Light Infantry Battalion of the Pakistan Army. Some 11 civilian contractors are also missing after a massive avalanche hit a Pakistani military complex close to the Indian border early Saturday morning.

The avalanche in Siachen, which is located on the northern tip of the disputed Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan, drew attention to the risks of deploying soldiers to one of the coldest places on earth.

Pakistan Army spokesman General Athar Abbas said on Sunday that it was unclear whether any of the buried men were still alive.

"Miracles have been seen and trapped people were rescued after days ... so the nation shall pray for the trapped soldiers," Abbas said.

Pakistani authorities have also confirmed that the United States has sent a team of experts to assist the Pakistani military in search operations. India has also offered its help to Islamabad.

A cold hell for soldiers

A Pakistan Army helicopter flying in the outskirts of Skardu near Siachen

Both India and Pakistan have suffered non-battle casualties in Siachen

India and Pakistan have been locked in a protracted conflict over the world's highest battlefield since 1984 when India occupied the 78-kilometer-long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim it. Pakistan, too, deployed its troops to Siachen to protect its side of the border.

Pakistan and India have stationed thousands of troops on the glacier, where they brave extremely cold temperatures, altitude sickness, and psychological issues due to long isolation periods. More deaths have been caused by poor weather conditions than combat, as the area has been quiet since a ceasefire agreement in 2003.

'Peace park'

In Pakistan, people have begun mourning the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers and criticizing the Siachen conflict, which many believe is futile. Members of the Indian and Pakistani populations would like to see their troops brought home from the area, whose strategic and military significance is questioned by many experts.

Imtiaz Alam, General Secretary of the South Asian Free Media Association in Islamabad, told DW that it was very callous on the part of both governments to "put their soldiers at the mercy of a biting weather and inhospitable terrain."

"Without signing any agreement or contract, both parties should withdraw their troops from Siachen. I recommend the Pakistani government withdraw its soldiers after this horrible and sad incident in which 135 people have lost their lives," Alam said.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Zardari went on a 'private' visit to India this Sunday

Pakistani troops should withdraw first, Alam suggested, and a bilateral commission should be set up to overlook it. He also said that Siachen should be used for research on environmental protection.

Murali Krishnan, DW correspondent in New Delhi, said the Siachen issue was also brought up in the talks between the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday.

"There has been a long-held proposal that Siachen should be converted into a peace park. This was a subject of discussion in the earlier rounds of Indo-Pakistani talks before the 2008 Mumbai attacks," and it has now once again been brought up, according to Krishnan.

Fear of invasion

Pakistani journalist Nusrat Amin insists that the "paranoia" of the Pakistani state is the major hurdle in the peaceful resolution to the Siachen dispute.

"Pakistan always fears India will invade its areas, whereas history tells a different story. It is Pakistan that has always invaded Indian territories, either on a state level or with the support of non-state elements," Amin pointed out.

But after the Siachen avalanche, people in Pakistan are debating the heavy price of the conflict and the usefulness of keeping troops on futile land.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning

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