Friday, June 15, 2012
From Print Edition
Slowly the ice is giving up the dead. One by one the bodies of the soldiers killed in the April 7 avalanche are being recovered – 13 so far. There were 129 soldiers and 11 civilians who died on that dreadful day and an international team of over 450 continues to work at retrieving their remains; and the army has said the operation will continue until all are found. As that work continues the work of finding a resolution to a dispute that takes lives almost daily on both sides edges forwards. There was a brief period of hope that matters may move forward more swiftly in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but the latest round of talks (the 13th) in which we Pakistan proposed disengagement and a simultaneous withdrawal of forces on both sides has ended inconclusively.
The sticking point was that the Indians insisted on authentication of the present positions of the troops of both countries before they could move forwards. This would give the Indians a notional advantage as they hold the higher ground, but ten percent of nothing is still nothing. The entire Siachen imbroglio has been on hold since 2003 when a ceasefire was declared, and there has been no actual fighting since then. Soldiers, Indian and Pakistani, have continued to die or be maimed by injury associated with operating at extreme altitude or frostbite. Neither side has gained anything by holding this sterile white wasteland, and there is environmental degradation as a result of human activity in a fragile environment. Although the Indian insistence on the authentication of positions may be construed as sly and devious, let us again seize the initiative. The ‘push’ for resolution seems to be greater from this side of the border. Can we solve the Siachen problem? Yes we can, and there is no time like the present.