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Opinion

September 8, 2015

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Who will save Siachen?

Whenever any high-ranking US officials visit Pakistan, we brace ourselves for the mantra of ‘Do More!’. However, this time when the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice made an ‘emergency visit’, Pakistan needed to counter the same mantra to the ‘dictating’ party.
This was the best opportunity to do so as the agenda of the visit was not only to reduce the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan but also to outline President Obama’s Global Vision on Climate Change.
Obama is now all-out for science; the greatest threat to future generations is neither terrorism or nuclear weapons, nor Isis – but climate change. The US and China have reached a landmark agreement to take significant action to reduce carbon pollution.
What better time would there have been to highlight the most crucial issue of the melting of the Siachen Glacier? This is not only a regional issue but is a global issue. Sadly, the official rhetoric of India over the melting of Siachen is global warming; this is only a red herring and issuccessfully sold by India, while Pakistan keeps mum over the melting.
When India occupied the glacier in April 1984 it became the highest battleground on earth. Both countries defend their positions by maintaining permanent military presence there. India is trying to prove its hegemony by developing forward base camps, cantonments, training schools, aviation workshops and huge ammunition storage in the area.
The Indian Army has also laid down a kerosene pipeline to facilitate troops in the inhospitable terrain where temperatures dip to minus 40 Celsius. That, and hourly helicopter flights to carry logistics to forward posts along the Saltoro Ridge, has further accelerated the unprecedented rate of glacier meltdown.
The mass balance of Siachen, which is a key value to climate variation, has reduced tremendously. Satellite images at different intervals, grounds reports, and hydro-logical techniques to measure the mass balance of

Siachen, all substantiate its unprecedented melting. But this hardly bothers India, even when reduction in mass balance was confirmed by a study conducted by its own Military Engineering Collage, Pune in 1998.
In the past, when various independent and credible environmentalists initiated the move to convert Siachen into a peace-park, India did not move. On meeting with Indian military commanders, particularly who served at Siachen, former army chiefs of India and climate change experts, this writer was told that they all agreed that military presence at Siachen is the main cause of its melting.
Renowned Indian environmental activist Sunita Narain once bluntly said that the Indian army would not allow Delhi to demilitarise Siachen. Her words came true. I remember in one of the Track-II dialogues, the joint statement had agreed to demilitarise Siachen in stages but later the Indian army chief categorically refused to accept any such move by his own government.
Why is India trying to cover up by using the excuse of global warming, without looking at the man-made direct interventions? Without accountability, climate change becomes a lame excuse. Dr Kenneth Hewitt, also known as the pundit of the Karakoram glaciers, prepared an inventory of glaciers and coined the term ‘Karakoram Anomaly’ to describe the expansion of glaciers. Nasa too, in 2012, disseminated a new glaciological, geodetic report, indicating that the Karakorum glacier has expanded and grown thicker.
The report, ‘Conflicting Signals of Climatic Change in the Upper Indus Basin’’, by the University of Newcastle gives the complete picture of differences in climate change in Gilgit-Baltistan-Ladakh and Indian Held Kashmir.
Nevertheless, the single most amazing field-based joint study, conducted on the 63km long Baltoro Glacier by renowned glaciologists of three institutions of Italy, Austria and Germany is enough to prove that major military presence is the actual cause of Siachen’s melting. The report asks why global warming is sparing the Baltoro Glaciers. This study alone is sufficient to convince that Siachen’s melting is not because of global warming but due to the heavy military presence there.
A new study by the University of Grenoble on mass balance of the Karakoram glaciers made the job easy for the US and UN. French research provided a detailed glacier-scale evaluation of mass evaluation using 3D altitude maps, which are more accurate than glaciological and hydrological methods to access mass balance.
Scientists tried to solve this climate-change anomaly by connecting it with seasonal rain and snow cycle, but it is still unclear. However, the biggest challenge for glaciologists is to understand why the Karakorum glaciers are growing. The hard reality of massive reduction of human traffic over glaciers is completely ignored.
Sectarianism in Gilgit-Baltistan and the war on terror in Pakistan have reduced mountaineering expeditions. In the Gilgit-Baltistan region, where 90 percent of Pakistan’s glaciers are concentrated, the inflow of tourists has reduced tremendously. A paper by Punjab University shows the tourist inflow in 1998 was 114,000 which reduced to 2,500 in the year 2009. This reduction in human traffic has made glaciers rebreathe.
In India, though, glacier tourism has turned into an industry, with religious festivals staged at glaciers – another example of how humans are directly responsible in the receding mass balance of glaciers.
There can be no doubt that glacier health is inversely proportional with human traffic. Even global warming has human footprints, high carbon emissions, fossil fuel burning, use of weaponry and explosives. But the enlarged military establishments at Siachen is a unique case on natural climate. When 97 percent of climate scientists unanimously endorse that climate-warming trends are due to human activity, then who is responsible to save Siachen and the Himalayas? And who will plead Siachen’s case?
It is the epitome of apathy that, instead of pleading the case of the melting of Siachen, Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance says that 5,000 glaciers in Pakistan are retreating faster than any other part of the world – without consulting international studies on the Karakorum glaciers.
The demilitarisation of Siachen and preservation of the Himalayan glaciers is the most cost-effective way to accomplish goals set for climate change.
This is Obama’s chance. A resolution passed on conservation and preservation of glaciers – before the Paris Conference on Climate Change – will help the cause immensely.
Email: [email protected]

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