Siachen: Can This Ice Melt?

and global level,” he added.

An earlier study by Pakistan American environmentalist Prof Saleem Ali said the Siachin stand-off is a “classic psychological-trap” that functions like a wolf trap – a wolf cutting his tongue while eating the bait in the trap and tasting his own blood and goes on licking the knife’s blade, eventually bleeding to death. Though the Indian army launched a symbolic clean-up operation last year, Ali says the huge garbage would need a host of investment and might require donations from the UN.

Fedarko wrote in Outside that top army officers at Leh suggested that they were airdropping about 13,000 tons of supplies onto the glacier each year to sustain the troops. “Out of this, nearly 2200 tons are left as waste: 1400 tons of packing materials, 330 tons of empty ammunition cases, 7.6 tons of canned food, and 55 tons of miscellaneous items, including dead batteries, discarded clothing, and used signal cables. On top of all that come the periodic kerosene spills, which can disgorge up to 1850 gallons in a day if undetected, and 372 tons a year of human feaces,” he reported. That makes, adds Fedarko, at least 41000 tons of trash on the glacier excluding “the 43000 artillery shells that India says are fired over the Saltoro Ridge onto the Siachen by the Pakistanis every year”.

Canon India Inc that was part of the ‘Save the Siachen Glacier’ campaign in 2004 estimated 216000 tonnes of load stands flown to the Glacier since 1984. “About 12000 tonnes of load is flown into Glacier every year, over 50 per cent of which has been dumped there as hazardous waste. Experts claim that 40 per cent of this waste is plastic and metal pollution,” its website reported. This situation has immensely strained the glacier that is shrinking by 310 feet and moving downstream by 200 feet a year. Once the wastes starts meltdown, it is likely to affect over thirty crore (300 million) people who depend on Indus river. The glacier is drained by Nubra river that joins Shyok, a tributary of the Indus River, at Khalsar.

The strategic significance of the glacier is highly questionable. American south Asia expert Stephen P Cohen, once termed the stand-off as “a struggle of two bald men over a comb”. Those supporting the continuation of the crisis discover interesting factors. The two countries had a series of negotiations but they failed to manage a turnaround on certain technicalities even though they had agreed to re-deploy the forces under the spirit of Shimla agreement.

There was some forward movement on the issue in 1990 and 1992 during which the two sides exchanged non-papers as well. But nothing much happened. India is insisting that the line needs to be demarcated beyond the point it was left without delineation. Pakistan is not interested and asserts the two armies should go back to the pre-1984 position. New Delhi is asking Islamabad to agree to a demarcation of the existing position on ground over the glacier but Pakistan is willing to acknowledge these positions and not on a map. Islamabad has been suggesting that the two countries should follow the sino-Indian model of managing their inhospitable borders. They have a fixed schedule in which one army patrols the borders in a particular period and then goes back to its base. Then the other army patrols the same area. While both the sides patrol, the borders continue to be disputed. But this model is not acceptable to New Delhi.

The stand-off is draining both the countries. Unlike Pakistan that drives the supplies to the Gyri base camp and then uses mules, India solely depends on the choppers. Flying in trying environment is a costly business. A recent report in the Hindustan Times suggested India spends about Rs 6 to Rs 7 crore a day. India and Pakistan are estimated to have spent around Rs 70,000 crore since they took positions over the heights. This is in addition to more than 3500 body bags that flew down the peaks since 1984.

Over the years, the concerned have evolved a couple of models. World Conservation Union (WCU), the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Himalayan Environmental Trust (HET) and the Himalayan Club want the glacier to be a trans-frontier peace park – the Siachen Peace Park (SSP). They see SSP as the only means of preserving the “catastrophically polluted” high mountain ecosystem. Environmentalists Aamir Ali, Harish Kapadia (whose son died fighting militants in Kupwara) and Mandip Soin and noted US minister Karl F Inderfurth have supported the idea.

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