Friday, 20 April 2012

Pakistan's army chief calls for the demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier

Pakistan's army chief has made a rare call for the demilitarisation of the world's highest battlefield after touring the site of an avalanche that buried 129 Pakistani soldiers near the border with rival India.

General Ashfaq Kayani was speaking 11 days after a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near the Siachen Glacier in the disputed Kashmir region was engulfed.

Eleven civilians were also trapped.

The tragedy has revived criticism of the 28-year conflict over the glacier, which critics say is futile.

General Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, said the stand-off has been costly in many ways, from defence spending to the environmental impact of deployments in the area.

"I think this is one good enough reason that this area should not be militarised," he told reporters in the northern town of Skardu after viewing the avalanche site with Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari from a helicopter.



Rescue efforts are still under way for the buried soldiers and civilians near Siachen, with workers pushing through snow, mud and boulders using heavy machinery, life-detection equipment or even their gloved hands.

Brigadier Saqib Malik, the Siachen brigade commander, said a 61-metre deep mix of snow, ice, boulders and small rocks have covered the headquarters.

Highlighting the constant dangers of operating in the forbidding expanse, he instructed reporters to drop their equipment and run to a safe spot if avalanche warning whistles are heard.

The army has listed the names of the missing soldiers and civilians on its public relations website.

There have been no death announcements and the military says it will not abandon the search and rescue effort.

"We will continue to make all efforts. Whether it takes 10 days or 10 months or if it takes three years, we are not going to give up on this," General Kayani said.

"If we have to dig out this mountain, we'll dig it out."


General Kayani says the stand-off has been costly in many ways. (AFP: Aamir Qureshi)



Costly conflict

Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man's-land is 6,000 metres above sea level.


Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars


The disaster renewed questions about the worth of the inhospitable disputed territory

Indian and Pakistani troops in Siachen have fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus-60 degrees Celsius.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.

Although General Kayani stressed that it was the duty of Pakistani soldiers to defend their country no matter how harsh the conditions, he also said a political solution was needed to end disputes like Siachen.

"It is for the leadership of both countries to find a solution," he said.

"We hope and we wish that the issue is resolved, so that both countries do not have to pay this cost, pay this price."

Generals have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64-year history, through coups or from behind the scenes.

They set security and foreign policy, even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now. Military spending consumes just over 17 per cent of the state budget.

A tentative peace process is under way and ties between Islamabad and New Delhi are at their warmest in years, with recent high-level meetings.

13 comments:

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Let us hope General Kayani's thoughts are heeded by both countries. That men of two generations have lived and fought over such inhospitable terrain is just a brutal reality, as is all war.
Cheers,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Ora Robb,

I too am hopeful Gen. Kayani can build a dialogue with his colleagues across the border, as no one can win this futile conflict in such an inhospitable region. The money saved could go towards poverty alleviation.

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