Who Will Take High Moral Ground?
Circumstances suggest that the overwhelming number of casualties in the Siachen region has resulted from the extremely adverse conditions (hypothermia, avalanches, falling into crevasses, high-altitude illnesses, and accidents) than from combat. According to unofficial figures, quoted by a national daily, over 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives on the bloody Siachen Glacier between April 1984 and April 2012 as against over 5,000 Indian casualties. At present, there are approximately 7,000 Indian Army troops and about 4,000 Pakistani troops stationed at the Siachen Glacier. And we don’t have the exact figures about soldiers who lost their precious body limbs to frostbite and deadly lungs infections.
The latest tragedy dictates that both states should address this issue on an urgent basis for a win-win situation by agreeing to demilitarize the region in the larger interest of 1.5 billion inhabitants of South Asia.
In the current circumstances, Pakistan can perhaps take lead in approaching the issue from an environmental point of view. It can, perhaps, demand that the entire region be declared a Peace Park after both militaries disengage, or at least retreat to their 1984 positions. It can refer to the Principle 19 of the 14 June 1992 Rio de Janeiro Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which binds member states to be cognizant of the impact of their actions on neighboring states. Glacial melt, for instance, impacts low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and Maldives, so both India and Pakistan must act to protect these countries from adverse affects of their conflict.
(Principle 19 :States shall provide prior and timely notification and
relevant information to potentially affected States on activities that
may have a significant adverse trans-boundary environmental effect and
shall consult with those States at an early stage and in good faith)
This way Pakistan can also underscore its commitment to the challenges arising out of the global climate change. An amicable solution to the Siachen conflict can provide both states with a huge confidence building measure which can create an enabling environment for taking on tougher issues like Kashmir and water resources.