Bald Men Fight­ing over a Comb

Both In­dia and Pak­istan need to ad­dress the is­sue of demil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Si­achen Glacier be­fore it takes away a ma­jor chunk of their mil­i­tary and eco­nomic as­sets.

Southasia - - Region - By Anees Jil­lani

Ire­cently got a chance to meet Pak­istan’s Chief of Army Staff at a din­ner. Luck­ily, oth­ers were re­luc­tant to talk to him per­haps be­cause of his po­si­tion but I de­cided to avail this op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss var­i­ous facets of Indo-Pak re­la­tions with him, know­ing that he would refuse to talk about pol­i­tics. When it came to Si­achen, I urged that re­solv­ing the is­sue was im­por­tant due to the ex­or­bi­tant price that our bank­rupt nation is pay­ing to re­tain the glacier. He even­tu­ally ir­ri­tat­ingly told me that why don’t I get it re­solved.

In­dia and Pak­istan have been talk­ing about a res­o­lu­tion of the Si­achen glacier dis­pute since In­dia oc­cu­pied it in 1984. The glacier was un­manned prior to its oc­cu­pa­tion and In­dia in­sti­gated the whole is­sue by oc­cu­py­ing it. The two coun­tries have since then talked about its res­o­lu­tion in 12 rounds of talks, the most re­cent hav­ing been held from May 30 to 31 in New Delhi.

The Si­achen glacier is de­scribed by some as the third pole and by some cyn­ics in the mil­i­tary as the `rose gar­den’ and was, till the achieve­ment of cease­fire in Novem­ber 2003, the high­est bat­tle­field of the world. Tem­per­a­tures some­times reach cryo­genic lev­els like mi­nus 70 de­grees Cel­sius. In such a cli­mate, what to talk of fight, one finds it hard to breathe. The troops need twice the nor­mal amount of calo­ries daily just to keep warm. Al­most all the time is spent in­side igloos, watch­ing be­lieve it or not, In­dian movies. And as one rel­a­tive told me, the troops, once in a while, fire mor­tars at each other just to over­come their bore­dom.

In­dia moved its troops to oc­cupy the dom­i­nat­ing heights of the Sal­toro Ridge in 1984 in an op­er­a­tion code- named `Megh­doot’ while Indira Gandhi was Prime Min­is­ter. Pak­istan was then be­ing ruled by Gen­eral Zia ul Haq, an un­pop­u­lar gen­eral who had de­fense as the last thing on his mind at the time. En­force­ment of shariah to jus­tify his `90 day rule’ to 11 years was then his pri­mary pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. Around 2000 sol­diers of both sides have died since then on Si­achen while 6,000 have been in­jured, mostly in bat­tling the fierce weather rather than each other.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­cently re­leased Wik­iLeaks ca­bles, pres­ence at Si­achen costs the In­dian army 3,000 crore ru­pees per year ($670 mil­lion), with he­li­copters be­com­ing the life­line for lo­gis­tic sup­port, kerosene sup­ply to the troops cost­ing as much as Rs. 6,000 a liter. Each sol­dier re­quires Rs. 20,000 worth of warm clothes ev­ery month. The daily ex­penses to main­tain a bri-

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