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Dhruv all set to be inducted in Siachen sector

Jammu: The indigenously developed Dhruv helicopter is set to be inducted by the army in the Siachen sector after successfully completing trials at the icy heights.

The test trials were conducted in February, defence sources told PTI.

After its formal induction, the first advanced light helicopter would join the MI-17V, Chetak, Cheeta and Chetan helicopters, which fly daily in Siachen skies for over 35 hours in a month for logistic, communication, casualty evacuation and supply support.

Dhruv qualified for high-altitude glacier flying with flying colours on February 15, the sources said, adding the helicopter would prove as an air taxi with support system for all weathers to the Indian soldiers.

The helicopter has cleared its validation processes, including test for high altitude and low temperature flying, which makes it ready to hover above the Siachen, they said.

“Dhruv passed this test trials last month and it is now fit for flying in the Siachen sector in all conditions and conduct all types of operations,” a defence source said.

Manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore and inducted into the Indian Air Force in 1998, Dhruv as “a multi-role chopper proved best on all the fronts in terms of operations relating to search
and rescue, emergency airlift, air ambulance, evacuation, payload deliveries in high altitude posts and carriage of men and material”, the source said.

The trials were carried by commanding officer of the Chandigarh-based Dhruv squad, Squadron Leader Sandesh Mitra for over a six-months period at different times and weather conditions.

Dhruv, indigenously developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation, performed beyond its limits of expectations in Siachen and surprised even its pilots as flying a helicopter of 5.6 tonnes at 23,000 feet above the sea level is virtually impossible, the sources said.

The helicopter has of late become a favourite of the navy — operating to great effect in casualty evacuation in sea and coastlines alike.

While the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command has one unit of the helicopter specially designed for sea waters with rafts below them, Dhruv has two squadrons in Bangalore and Chandigarh.

While Bangalore has the world’s best Sarang squadron of Dhruv advanced light helicopters, the Chandigarh-based 114 Helicopter unit is famous as the ‘Himalayan dragons’.

What is Mountain warfare?

Mountain warfare refers to warfare in the mountains. This type of warfare is also called Alpine warfare (from the Alps mountains) where this warfare was first noticed. Mountain warfare is one of the most dangerous, as it involves fighting not only the enemy but also the extreme cold and inaccessible heights. The problems multiply due to avalanches of snow or rocks, either natural or induced by the enemy. The long nights and great distances on huge, snow-covered peaks at sub-zero degree temperatures demands much endurance and patience. Winning the warfare essentially boils down to holding the high ground in the battle. Mountains, at any time of year, are dangerous — lightning, high wind, rock fall, extreme cold, or falls into crevasses and cliffs all being able to cause death. In war, the dangers multiply exponentially. Movement, medical evacuation and reinforcements up steep slopes, often where even mules cannot go, involves an enormous exertion of energy. The term mountain warfare is said to have came about in the medieval age, after the monarchies of Europe found it difficult to fight the Swiss armies in the Alps. This was because the Swiss were able to fight in smaller units and took vantage points against a huge unmaneuverable army. Similar styles of attack and defence were later employed by guerrillas, partisans and freedom fighters who hid in the mountains after an attack, making it challenging for the army to fight back. World War I Mountain warfare came to the fore once again, during World War I, when some of the nations involved in the war had mountain divisions that had hitherto not been tested. The Austro-Hungarian defence repelled the Italians as they took advantage of the mostly mountainous terrain, where more people succumbed to frostbite and avalanches than to bullets. In December of 1914, another offensive was launched by the Turkish supreme commander Enver Pasha with 95,000-190,000 troops against the Russians in the Caucasus. Insisting on a frontal attack against Russian positions in the mountains in the heart of winter, the end result was devastating and Enver lost 86% of his force. Kashmir conflict However, the most dangerous and volatile of all mountain conflicts involves the ongoing one between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region. Since the partition in 1947, both countries have been constantly locked in skirmishes and wars mainly revolving around this mountainous region. The first hostilities between the two nations in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 showed that both were ill-equipped to fight in biting cold, let alone on the highest mountain region in the world, the Himalayas. Later wars were mainly fought on the valleys than in the mountains. This changed in the Kargil War when Indian forces were faced with the huge task of flushing out the infiltrators. This proxy warfare became the only modern war that was fought exclusively on the mountains. Since Pakistan-backed forces held the high ground and battles took place in peaks as high as 5,025 metres, it proved an immensely difficult task for the Indian Army, supported by massed artillery, to regain the heights and win the war. On a related note, the Siachen Glacier was named the highest battleground in the world with both the countries holding their respective positions at nearly 7 km above sea level. More than 4000 people have died in this inhospitable terrain, mostly due to weather extremities and the natural hazards of mountain warfare. Other countries At present, many major armies have a specialised alpine division. India, Russia, Italy and the USA are among the many countries with such divisions. In the Summer of 2004, various US special forces teams went to India to study the lessons learned by Indian Army units during the Kargil War. Other armies and military organisations also have units trained in mountain and cold weather warfare. In the United Kingdom the Royal Marines are the principal regular unit trained in mountain and cold weather warfare and have a specialised instructor cadre: the Mountain Leader Training Cadre. The capability is fielded by 3 Commando Brigade. The British Army also have the Mountain Troops of Special Air Service squadrons. Copyrights: Wikipedia information about mountain warfare

Siachen Glacier is well inside Pakistani Territory

By S i a c h e n Glacier is well inside Pakistani Territory. India wanted to Keep an Eye & wanted Control on Pakistan`s Strategic Route to China (the Karakorum Highway). Hence in 1982 India sent a Training Expedition to Antarctica to train under “Siachen Glacier Like” conditions. Then in April 1984, India conducted an Operation known as `Operation Meghdoot`, and INVADED Pakistani Territory.Since Siachen Glacier is Not Physically connected to India (meaning that there is No Natural Ground Routes connecting India & Siachen Glacier), India used its Air Force to drop all of its forces at Siachen Glacier. And still to this day uses Helicopters & Aircrafts to transport Supplies, Food & Soldiers.

Siachen Glacier is Well Inside Pakistan, and Pakistan is fighting an Aggressor who is 5 times its size.


Siachen Glacier is the Worlds Biggest Glacier outside the two Poles.
It is also the world`s Highest Glacier.
That is why it is referred to as “The Third Pole.”
It is also the World`s Highest Battle Ground EverBattles have occurred here in-excess of 22,000 ft

India is paying a heavy price at Siachen Glacier. According to a book on the War at Siachen Glacier, 50% of Indian soldiers, who make is back alive, suffer from Permanent Mental Retardation. Not to mention Amputations and other terrible things that Indian soldiers have to go through.

This war has been going on for about 15 year. Though the Price has been heavy for both sides (specially for India), Pakistan has been slowly driving the Indians out of Siachen Glacier (Pakistani Territory), and winning the war.


American, British, European & Japanese mountain climbers have always asked permission from the Pakistani Government to climb Siachen Glacier and its surrendering areas. American Tourist maps clearly show Siachen Glacier inside Pakistan. Indian in the early 80s trained its forces at Antarctica because Antarctica has Siachen Glacier like conditions. This clearly shows India`s Evil Intention which was to Invade Pakistani Siachen Glacier. Indian Majors secretly completed many Expeditions near Siachen Glacier in the early 80s.

Pak army stakes claim to Siachen

November 24, 2006 Islamabad: Giving a new twist to the Siachen issue, Pakistan Army has claimed the glacier is a disputed area as it is part of Kashmir and thus India has no justification to ask Islamabad to authenticate troop positions there.”Siachen is also part of Kashmir. We think the Indian army went there when there was no military presence and it (take over) was not justified,” Pakistan Army’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Ehsan-ul-Haq said in an interview to Geo TV on Thursday night.

Reacting to the Indian Army officials’ statement expressing reservations over pulling out troops from Siachan without the authentication of troop positions by Pakistan, Haq said such stand may have been taken on presumption that questions may be asked why the army marched into Siachen in 1984 and the criticism that why they have “occupied” it.

“That could be at the back of their mind. To ask Pakistan to authenticate, (positions held by Indians) it is not justified because the full area is disputed and to insist for such things, I do not think it is correct,” he said.

India, while favouring demilitarisation of Siachen, has maintained that it cannot take place till Pakistan agrees to “iron-clad” authentication of present deployment of troops of the two countries.
New Delhi is insisting on authentication because of the experience in Kargil in 1999.

As part of the Indo-Pak dialogue process, both sides have been treating Siachen and Kashmir as separate issues.

Haq said Pakistan wants to have normal ties with India for mutual benefit. “We want to have normal relations with India which is mutually beneficial” and it is the wish of the people of the region also, he said.

Pakistan has taken lot of initiatives and lot of CBMs have been agreed upon by both governments which are being implemented. “The most important issue from Pakistan’s point of view is Kashmir,” he said adding that Pakistan leadership has made it clear that unless there is progress on Kashmir tthe CBMs will fall apart.

“The biggest CBM is to resolve Kashmir. These is complex issue but with a sincere approach and direction it can be resolved,” he said.

Denying that Pakistan army was in arms race with India he claimed New Delhi was now rated as the highest procurer of defence equipment in the world and Pakistan was only matching to reach the deterrence level.

India does not appear to share Pak view on Siachen

New Delhi, PTI: India today did not appear to share Pakistan’s view that a resolution to Siachen issue was a “matter of days” as it said the talks on the subject are going on.

“Our position has been stated earlier,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters here responding to claim by Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri yesterday about possibility of settlement on Siachen in the near future.

New Delhi has made it clear that the vexed issue can be settled promptly if Islamabad agrees to its terms, particularly proper authentication of present troop positions of the two countries at the world’s highest battlefield.

India wants “iron-clad” authentication of the troop positions as it is wary of a repeat of Kargil when Pakistani forces occupied mountain heights in 1999.

Siachen Glacier: The story with pictures

Indian army on PatrolFor more than 17 blustery, shivering years, the Indian and Pakistani armies have been fighting a “No-Win” war on the 20,000-foot-high Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground. Pakistan, like India, has about 10,000 soldiers camped on this glacier. For a soldier, this is where hell freezes over, a 46-mile river of slow-moving ice surrounded by stupendous towers of snow. Temperatures swoon to 50 below, and sudden blizzards can bury field artillery in minutes. Men sleep in ice caves or igloos and breathe air so spare of oxygen that it sends their hearts into a mad gallop. Fainting spells and pounding headaches are frequent. Frostbite chews its way through digits and limbs. They are prepared, both sides say, to battle on the roof of the world forever.

Map of Siachen TOIThe Siachen(the place of roses) glacier, 72 km, in the East Karakoram is one of the longest glaciers in the Himalaya and Karakoram. It has number of peaks, side valleys and at its head lies the Indira Col, the divide between South and Central Asia. The Nubra river drains the glacier and ultimately joins the Shyok river near Khalsar. On the west lies the West Karakoram (now under Pakistani control) and towards the east is the Shyok basin, forming the border with China. The northern slopes of the Indira Ridge leads to the Shaksgam valley.

Cheetah helicopter at SiachenIn 1949, after the first of three wars,the nations agreed to a cease-fire line that unfortunately stopped short of the remote massifs of north-central Kashmir — a disputed area on the map where India, Pakistan and China rub shoulders.The wording in the agreement merely said the line was to continue “north to the glaciers.” For two decades, this vague phrasing was of more concern to map makers than soldiers, but then in the 1970s and early eighties Pakistan permitted several mountaineering expeditions to climb high peaks on this glacier. This was to reinforce their claim on the area as these expeditions arrived on the glacier with a permit obtained from the Government of Pakistan. In many cases an liaison officer from the Pakistan army accompanied the team.

Indian Army using snowmobiles for patrolPakistan gave permission to a Japanese expedition to attempt Rimo peak in 1984. This peak is located in the side valley, east of Siachen. It overlooks the eastern areas of the Aksai Chin. Such an expedition would have firmly linked the western routes with the eastern routes, — the trade route leading to Karakoram Pass and China. The Indian army decided to take action and to prevent such an expedition from proceeding. In April 13, 1984, the Indian Army made a “pre-emptive” move into the glacier to defend the territory and the peaks and passes around it when it launched “Operation Meghdoot”. Within weeks, Pakistani forces swept in to oppose them, but the Indians have been able to hold on to the tactical advantage of the high ground. The last major gunbattle in the region was reported September 4, 1999, when India said Pakistani artillery and mortar fire killed nine Indian soldiers on the craggy slopes of Turtuk, near the 47-mile-long Siachen Glacier.

Mi-17’s on a supply dropping missionAs of date, some 10,000 troops are deployed by Pakistan and a befitting number faces them on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. To cater to such a large number of troops, about 6000 tonnes of load is flown into the Siachen Glacier every year. An almost equal amount is para-dropped there. This is achieved by the IAF’s AN-32 aircraft and helicopters which serve as a ‘lifeline’ for the Northern Sector. The Kargil fighting showed India that the most uninhabitable, frozen land was not a sufficient barrier to intrusion. The Indian air force, trying to show that it is on the alert in a region even harder to defend than the sheer Kargil cliffs, has arranged a series of trips for photojournalists to see the Siachen operation. “Particularly since the Kargil war, the load of responsibility of the air force has increased,” Air Vice Marshal S.K. Jain told journalists during the tour. “The forces are on alert, ready to meet any threat.” The sound of incoming gunfire could be heard as the air force transports loaded up at Leh, on the approach to the Siachen Glacier.

Despite five layers of clothing, paratroopers shiver as they wait to board an air force transport at the world’s highest air base at Leh. The AN-32A planes approach the stark runway at Leh in snowy mist, pushed by tail winds. The pilots navigate the steep mountains by sight. Higher on the icy Himalayan peaks, helicopter pilots battle downdrafts as they land on helipads to deliver precious supplies or rescue injured soldiers. The pilots stay on the ground no more than 30 seconds for fear of being shot. But cold kills more troops than bullets. Soldiers brought down to base camp often suffer hearing, eyesight and memory loss because of prolonged use of oxygen masks. Many lose eyes, hands or feet to frostbite. At the glacial heights, where even drinking water is from melting the ice on stoves, bathing is a rarity. Washing of clothing, too, is not possible. Hence, 14 pairs of thermal socks per individual are given for a 90-day stay so that the problem of washing at the posts is eliminated. But soldiers have to wash their clothing before depositing it back and leaving the glacier. Clothing used in the glacier is washed at the hot water sulphur springs on the banks of the Nubra at Panamik, a village near the base camp. Such is the rotation schedule that the washing goes on round the year. A serving Captain, just back from his glacier tenure, describes Panamik as the “world’s biggest and highest dhobi ghat”.

Indian igloosSome army posts on the peaks are only 1,000 feet from Pakistani entrenchments. Cheetah helicopters fly in to retrieve wounded or sick soldiers and drop supplies to their comrades, who remain behind on the lonely promontories. The enemy is hard to see in the crags and craters in the vast whiteness — and harder to hit. Rifles must be thawed repeatedly over kerosene stoves, and machine guns need to be primed with boiling water. At altitudes of 18,000 feet, mortar shells fly unpredictable and extraordinary distances, swerving erratically when met by sledgehammer gusts. While some troops fall to hostile fire, far more perish from avalanches and missteps into crevasses that nature has camouflaged with snow. This is especially so now in springtime, as the sun licks away several feet of ice and opens new underground cracks and seams.

But for all these logistical peculiarities, the Siachen conflict might be thought of as just another low-intensity border war — were it not being fought between the world’s two newest nuclear powers. Their combat over a barren, uninhabited nether world of questionable strategic value is a forbidding symbol of their lingering irreconcilability. “This is like a struggle of two bald men over a comb,” said Stephen P. Cohen, an authority on the Indian subcontinent at the Brookings Institution. “Siachen is the epitome of the worst aspects of the relationship. These are two countries that are paired on a road to Oslo or Hiroshima, and at this point they could go either way.”

Mi-17 dropping suppliesMost of India’s many outposts are west of the glacier along the Saltoro Range of the Karakoram Mountains. These pickets are reachable to an enemy only after a strenuous climb and then a frontal assault, a near-hopeless task in such thin air. After 50 strides, even a well-conditioned man is gasping for breath with his muscles in a tremble. Seventeen years of refrigerated combat have brought only 17 years of hardened stalemate. The Pakistanis cannot get up to the glacier; the Indians cannot come down. “Nobody can win, no matter how long we fight,” said Maj. Gen. V. S. Budhwar, the Indian commander in Leh, whose region includes Siachen. “But this is our land. It is a portion of our nation-state, and we will not cede it.” Occasionally, some vital strategic importance is assigned to the Siachen area, with hypothetical aggressors flooding across mountain highways. More often, the conflict is described as a simple matter of principle. Imagine, people say, how America would respond if the Russians overran even a small, barren chunk of Alaska.

“Siachen is an awful place where you can step on a thin layer of snow and, poof, down you go 200 feet,” said Gen. Khalid Mehmood Arif, the retired former vice chief of Pakistan’s military. “But no nation ever wants to lose a single inch of territory, so Siachen has psychological and political importance. Its value is in ego and prestige.” Arduous to live in, the Siachen area is beautiful to look at. Some of the world’s tallest mountains fill the landscape, their snowy tops giving way to rivulets of white that glitter against the black and purple rock. It is a moonscape of mesmerizing pinnacles and ridges and drops. Ice formations rise a mile high. Clouds seem at arm’s reach. The Indian base camp is at the very start of the glacier, which gently curves upward like a giant white tongue. Barracks, helipads, supply sheds, satellite dishes, a hospital and Hindu shrines are spread across several acres. It is clear the Indians have been here awhile and are ready to stay. The command post is carpeted. Curtains hang along the windows. “We have the heights,” said Brig. P. C. Katoch, who runs the operation. In contrast with the superior vista those heights afford, he said, the Pakistani soldier sees nothing: “He hears a helicopter and shoots. He hears artillery and shoots. It’s stupid. He doesn’t know where he’s shooting.”

Supplies packed for loading on Mi-17But being king of the hill is costly. The Pakistanis can resupply most of their posts by road and pack mule. At their forward positions, some as high as 21,000 feet, the Indians must rely on helicopters. The whirlybirds strain against the altitude like oversized bumblebees. Many an airdrop is swallowed by the snow. Both sides deploy about 3,000 soldiers. While the Pakistanis refuse to divulge how much they spend in Siachen, the Indians estimate the cost at about $350,000 to $500,000 a day, said Lieut. Gen. R. K. Sawhney, the army’s director general of military intelligence. Transporting kerosene is one major expense. Some Indian soldiers live in igloos made of fiberglass panels. Six soldiers can sleep in jigsaw configurations, crowded into a room the size of a king-size bed. Others live in ice tunnels gouged out with a pickax. Either way, small kerosene stoves are the hearths they huddle around. The hissing competes with the howling of the wind. Black smoke seems to color everything, including a man’s spit. The highest perches are occupied by only a handful of soldiers, and sleeping is rarely done at night, for this is the most likely time for the enemy to sneak up. Sentry duty is bleak work. Hot water bottles do not stay hot for long. A relay must be set up to exchange frozen rifles for defrosted ones.

During storms, the heavy snowfall seems as thick as long, white drapery. The wind does pinwheels, and the basics of a hard life gets that much harder. “At my post, you have to use a crawl trench to get to the toilet,” said Cpl. Joginder Singh. “When it snows, the trench fills up and you have to stand. The enemy can see you and that’s how you die.” It is difficult to know how many men have been killed. Some local news reports put casualty totals for both sides in the thousands, but this seems based on conjecture. The Pakistanis do not release such details, and the Indians say they have lost only the 616 soldiers whose names appear on a stone memorial at the base camp. The inscription reads: “Quartered in snow, silent to remain. When the bugle calls, they shall rise and march again.”

Indian army on PatrolTo this day, Kashmir is the issue that most heats the blood of Indians and Pakistanis. “The roots of the Kashmir problem are very tangled, but as far as the glacier goes, this is simply a matter of Pakistanis sneaking their way into a place that doesn’t belong to them,” said India’s Lieut. Gen. M. L. Chibber, retired, who is central to the Siachen saga. An amiable man who left the army in 1985, General Chibber now follows the guru Sai Baba and speaks easily about the futility of war. In 1978, however, he was a commander with responsibility for Siachen. He was alarmed to learn that the Pakistanis were accompanying mountaineers to the glacier. Just as troubling were maps printed in the West. They showed Siachen as part of Pakistan. By the early 80’s, both armies were sending expeditions into the area, and suspicions accumulated like fresh snow. In late 1983, the Indians became convinced the Pakistanis were about to seize the glacier, General Chibber said. This was inferred from intercepted communiqu├ęs. If further evidence was needed, he said, it came when India sent procurers to Europe to buy cold-weather gear. They ran into Pakistanis doing the same shopping.

India’s “pre-emptive” takeover of Siachen was called Operation Meghdoot after the divine cloud messenger in a Sanskrit play. It soon came to seem a burdensome success. Like over-eager chess players, the Indians had failed to plan several moves ahead. “No one had ever carried out military operations at these altitudes and temperatures, so we figured after the summer ended, we’d have to pull out,” General Chibber said. “But with the first snows, we realized it was possible to stay up there all winter. If we left, the Pakistanis would take the glacier and then we’d never get it back.” In the conflict’s first years, with the armies inexperienced at such a cold war, the number of casualties mounted quickly. Valiant, if foolhardy, assaults were attempted. Frostbite, snow blindness and pulmonary and cerebral edema took a huge toll. Daring raids are now rare, the Pakistanis say, though the Indians often boast of victorious defensive skirmishes, killing three here and a dozen there. Each side makes claims the other vigorously denies.

Indian artilleryThese days, the blasts of artillery and mortar shells are the war’s steady cadence. “We fire at them and they fire at us, but this is not a place where the usual calculations of trajectory and distance apply,” said Capt. Hamid Mukhtar, a Pakistani artillery officer. Captain Mukhtar was serving at a forward post at 18,000 feet, near a ridgeline known as the Conway Saddle. “There are crevasses on either side of these paths,” he cautioned as he walked. “Step into the wrong place and you will go to meet God beneath the snow.” Daily patrolling is necessary, if for no other reason than to tread on a marked trail so it will not disappear. In February, in a typical catastrophe, an avalanche crushed 13 Pakistani soldiers tethered together with rope. A single survivor led the search that later recovered the pristine dead, their bodies preserved as if locked in cold storage. Melting leads to snow slides. The noontime temperature in early spring was 10 below, but the sun was bright enough to rapidly turn an exposed nose the color of a radish. Sweat is a problem because it becomes ice in a soldier’s gloves and socks. Frostbite is then quick with its work. Even after a day’s exertion, most soldiers have little appetite at these heights. Rations come out of tin cans. Fresh produce is rare. An orange freezes to the hardness of a baseball; a potato cannot be dented with a hammer.

Despite the hardships, both sides report an oversupply of volunteers. Stints in Siachen usually last three months or less. “This is my country’s soil, and whether something grows here or not, I would gladly die to protect it,” said Cpl. Mohammad Shafique, a Pakistani. Few soldiers know much about the other side’s territorial claims, but they seem untroubled by doubt of the enemy’s murderous skulduggery. While many people in India and Pakistan hope for rapprochement, others merely heap fresh animosity upon the old. Evil is presumed. General Budhwar, the Indian regional commander, said Pakistanis suffer from a “deformed growth,” becoming brainwashed in school “with all the dos and don’ts” of Islamic fundamentalism. “Their very existence depends on being inimical to India,” he said. One of his counterparts is Brig. Nusrat Khan Sial, who commands Pakistan’s Siachen operation from the city of Skardu. He called the Indians “cowards” whose Hindu beliefs lack reverence for human life. He said he suspects they have used chemical weapons in Siachen, which the Indians vehemently deny. “It will be the Indians, not us, who will trigger this situation up to the level where both sides resort to nuclear weapons,” he said.

Siachen service medalOver the years, Siachen itself has been the subject of seven “major rounds of talks,” said Robert G. Wirsing, a scholar at the University of South Carolina. Under various Governments ruled by various parties, negotiators have agreed that the conflict is futile — and some have even called it lunatic. But one side or the other has always been too afraid of a double-cross to complete a deal. Domestic politics are also a hitch. Any compromise involving Kashmir looms like a lit fuse, especially to unstable Governments. So the two armies fight on, proud of conquering the elements if not each other. Their doctors have become experts at high-altitude medicine, their helicopter pilots adroit at skirting the cliffs. Solar panels are affixed to some igloos, over the roofs, that are installed by companies as The Roof Clinic and others. On the Indian side, a kerosene pipeline is being completed. A ski lift will ferry soldiers across the canyons. A pulley system has begun to hoist supplies up the mountainsides. Bacteria are eating human waste in machines called biodigesters. “We have become specialists at high-altitude fighting — probably the best in the world,” boasted General Sawhney, sounding as self-congratulatory as his Pakistani counterparts. “We can tolerate the harsh elements. We have made livable conditions.” They are prepared, both sides say, to battle on the roof of the world forever.

A greener peace in the Himalayan peaks

TV Padma
22 September 2003
Source: SciDev.Net
The Siachen glacier may be the world?s highest war zone. Here, bullets whistle over the wild roses and snow leopards? dens, endangering the fragile environment as they perpetuate the decades-long war between India and Pakistan. But this beleaguered bit of no-man?s-land high up in the Himalayas could be in for a radical recasting. Last month, a group of Pakistani and Indian mountain climbers gathered in the Swiss Alps to highlight the plight of Siachen and other threatened cross-border regions. The solution? Designating the glacier a ?peace park? where the two hostile nations can cooperate for the sake of sustainable development.

Battling against the elements as well as each other, thousands of soldiers from these South Asian neighbours have been killed over the past 20 years, the vast majority succumbing to the bitter weather. Despite bearing the scars of war, the glacier and its surrounding region remain rich in biodiversity, the abode not just of the elusive leopards but also of brown bears and herbivores such as ibex. But ecologists believe that these and other species are now under severe threat from the military presence in the area. Troop movements around strategic locations and firing practice ? as well as the military detritus left behind ? disturb wildlife, affecting their breeding and spreading disease.

A 1997 report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on India-administered Kashmir estimated that more than 30 per cent of the region?s endemic flora is threatened. Some species are believed to be extinct. [Ref. 1] Meanwhile the World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists nearly half the region?s mammalian diversity as threatened. Several species, such as the Tibetan gazelle, are understood to be on the brink of extinction ? if not already over the edge.

Such concerns from ecologists have now prompted calls for the governments of India and Pakistan to reduce their military presence in the region, and jointly begin the task of regenerating its biodiversity by setting up the peace park.

Paradise regained

Peace parks ? protected areas straddling the boundaries of neighbouring and sometimes hostile states ? are not a new idea. The first, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, was established nearly 70 years ago between the United States and Canada.

The premise behind peace parks is that neighbouring states, by jointly managing common protected areas, can foster more peaceful relations. It?s an ambitious notion, and one that is now undergoing a renaissance ? the number of new parks nearly tripled (to 169) between 1988 and 2001. Only three years ago, for instance, South Africa and Botswana announced their own first officially designated transfrontier park.

Although most of these transboundary parks lie across areas that aren?t in conflict, the IUCN has advocated creating ‘parks for peace’ for several years. The organisation believes that ?protected areas along national frontiers can not only conserve biodiversity but can also be powerful symbols and agents of cooperation, especially in areas of territorial conflict”.

And India and Pakistan are no strangers to such conflict. The countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, mostly over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Relations between them ? at best lukewarm ? have been tense over the past five years, following the election of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India in 1998, tit-for-tat nuclear tests, and a military coup in Pakistan in 1999. After an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, an estimated one million soldiers faced each other in a lengthy stand-off along the border, which many analysts thought would lead to a fourth war.

Thankfully, the governments stepped back and have begun to talk again in recent months. Transport links have been restored, and in August a visit to Pakistan from an all-party delegation of 30 Indian MPs was regarded by both sides as a success. But can this goodwill extend to the idea of a peace park at Siachen?

A handful of success stories round the world are hinting it just might work. In 1998 Peru and Ecuador resolved a long-running territorial dispute with an innovative plan to create two national peace parks near the most contested stretch of land on their border, according to IUCN chief scientist Jeffrey McNeely. Until then the countries had fought three wars along their border, with Ecuador demanding sovereign rights over the disputed territory. Four mediators ? Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States ? brokered the agreement and granted Ecuador free trade and navigational access to the economically important shipping routes in Peru?s Amazon region.

Similarly, two years ago, Colombia?s rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), agreed to jointly manage with the government large swathes of protected areas that were under FARC control. The rebels did not want the areas to deteriorate, but also knew that they lacked the expertise to do the job themselves.

Around the same time a peace park was proposed for the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. Nelson Mandela said that such a project could “help peace take root in one of the world’s last Cold-War frontiers”. The area has been untouched by humans for nearly half a century following its devastation during the war, and is a sanctuary for native plants and animals. A group of eminent scientists and conservationists have given their support to the ‘DMZ forum’ initiative, which is urging leaders of the two Koreas to work together to transform it into a world peace park and environmental laboratory.

Greening Asia

The idea of turning the glacial region at Siachen into a transboundary peace park was first mooted several years ago, notably by Aamir Ali, then at the International Labour Organization. Ali believes that such a concept “would work not only toward disengagement [from military activities] but also toward the creation of a park to protect the environment”. [Ref. 2]

The idea was proposed again at a workshop in Dhaka in June organised by the IUCN and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) in preparation for the World Parks Congress, held earlier this month in Durban, South Africa. A statement adopted at the Dhaka meeting said: ?As part of the normalisation process / confidence building measures, the governments of India and Pakistan are urged to establish a Siachen Peace Park to protect and restore the spectacular landscapes which are home to so many endangered species including the snow leopard.?

Lending support to the initiative is Bittu Sahgal, from the Mumbai-based environmental organisation Sanctuary Asia. Sahgal is running a petition calling for the establishment of the Siachen peace park and plans to take up the issue at Durban. ?The response to the signature campaign has been very positive,? he says.

Siachen is not the only cross-border area in the region that is crying out for conservation, says Ejaz Ahmad, deputy director general of WWF-Pakistan. For example, Pakistan contains five of the ecoregions ? large areas of relatively uniform climate that harbour a characteristic set of species and ecological communities ? ranked among WWF’s ?Global 200? areas critical to global conservation. [Ref. 3] And three of these regions border India.

What is the outlook for such eco-gems? If a number of green projects on both sides of the border are anything to go by, it will be positive. Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are exploring how the two countries can work together to conserve biodiversity. WWF-Pakistan, for example, is discussing with its Indian counterpart ways of conserving marine turtles and river dolphins. And the International Crane Foundation is encouraging India and Pakistan to collaborate in the conservation of migratory cranes and flamingoes.

Elsewhere across the region, the idea of joint conservation has taken off in a modest way. Bangladesh and India, for example, are working to preserve the Sunderbans ? the world?s largest mangrove system ? three-quarters of which lies in Bangladesh. And in August, Bangladesh and India announced plans to begin the world?s largest tiger census.

Meanwhile, India and Nepal have set up a permanent transboundary biodiversity conservation network. Prakash Rao of WWF-India says the two countries are also working closely on conservation projects in the Himalayas, concentrating on the Terrai region where endangered tigers and rhinos roam. WWF estimates that almost half the native species in the eastern Himalayas are threatened with extinction, including the golden langur monkey, the lesser panda and the Himalayan black bear.

Pie in the sky?

Conservation NGOs are optimistic that a joint India-Pakistan initiative over Siachen could be on the cards.

?With the situation improving, all this might happen in the years to come,” says Abdesh Gangwar of India?s Centre for Environment Education. “NGOs and institutions from both sides would like to have collaboration and partnership.”

But others point out that there has been little real collaboration among the biodiversity research community of the two countries. ?There have been no systematic attempts ? let alone interaction between the countries ? to study biodiversity hotspots on either side of the borders,? says P. S. Ramakrishnan, scientist emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University School of Environmental Sciences in Delhi.

Gangwar accepts that significant progress in the dialogue between the two countries is probably needed before the park can leave the drawing board. He believes that policies within each country will decide the way forward, a view widely shared by others.

Robert Bradnock is one. A South Asia specialist at King’s College London, United Kingdom, Bradnock says he cannot foresee the two countries making peace based on a commitment to shared conservation alone. “It is an area that could be included down the line as a positive result of achieving peace,” he says. “But I find it difficult to see any of the participants to the conflict currently putting this high on their agendas as a reason for making peace.”

One New Delhi-based wildlife scientist puts it more bluntly: ?You cannot have a peace park with armies sitting out there, shooting left, right and centre.? Even the WCPA acknowledges that plans for peace parks should not be too ambitious. A report on its activities in 2000 states that “the creation of a protected area will not in itself resolve a dispute but protected areas can be part of the resolution settlement”. [Ref. 4]

Most observers doubt that the current thaw in relations between India and Pakistan will lead to a political agreement between the two countries any time soon, if at all. The past five decades are too full of false starts and dashed expectations. What is clear from the past, however, is that improved relations have led to progress in other areas.

For instance, there has been a boost in officially sanctioned contact between different groups of professionals in India and Pakistan, such as journalists, teachers and parliamentarians. In recent years there has also been an easing of travel restrictions for ordinary citizens, and there is talk of reviving exchange visits by school children.

What the NGOs seem to be arguing for now is that this contact be taken a stage further by lobbying the two countries to think about working together on a shared problem. A peace park at Siachen ? or in another cross-border area ? will not directly result in peace between India and Pakistan. But it could help to erode some of the mistrust and misinformation that five decades of hostility have helped to spread in the minds of ordinary Indians and Pakistanis, as well as symbolise a genuine desire for peace.

As Ali Habib, director-general of WWF Pakistan, says, ?there are possibilities for future collaboration, and given the improved political climate, it may now be easier to initiate some modest early measures?.


[1] M Ahmedullah (ed.) (1997). Biodiversity of Jammu and Kashmir: a profile. Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre, World Wide Fund for Nature ? India.
[2] A Siachen peace park: the solution to a half-century of international conflict? (2002)
[3] WWF: Global 200
[4] WCPA: Protected Areas: Benefits Beyond Boundaries (2000)