The News: Could a joint Siachen Science Centre help in shift the paradigm from politics and nationalistic positions towards a scientific resolution of the dispute?
Having made substantial headway in the domain of trade and commerce, New Delhi and Islamabad feel that this is the right time to also start discussing vexed issues such as demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier.
Famous as the highest battleground on earth, the glacier is subject to a significant military presence, and already thousands of lives have been lost as a consequence of weather extremes and mountain warfare.
Following an avalanche on April 7 that killed 124 soldiers of the 6 Northern Light Infantry and 11 civilians, the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani remarked that it is time to demilitarise the Glacier.
Articulating the need for a peaceful relationship between India and Pakistan, Gen. Kayani also spoke of how the physical deployment of troops at Siachen is having a detrimental impact on Pakistan’s rivers. The glacier is the source of the Indus River that is crucial to Pakistan’s irrigation needs.
What was significant about the Pakistan Army Chief’s statement was not just his endorsement of the peace process between both countries, but also the fact that he spoke about the need for looking the monumental economic and environmental costs of the Siachen dispute and the impact of climate change on the glacier.
Voices in India have also been calling for demilitarisation and even Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has often alluded to the need for making Siachen into a peace zone. While addressing jawans in 2005 the Prime Minister stated that “the world’s highest battlefield” should be transformed into a “peace mountain.” He added: “Now the time has come that we make efforts that this is converted from a point of conflict to a symbol of peace.”
After the tragedy in April, calls to put an end to this dispute, and finding a feasible solution to the satisfaction of both parties, have intensified.
However, the Defence Secretaries of India and Pakistan who met last week at Islamabad failed to make any substantial progress on the Issue. Both sides merely stated that they would “make serious, sustained and result-oriented efforts for seeking an amicable resolution of the Siachen dispute.”
The lack of progress on the issue was not unexpected as politics and notions of nationalism are bound to act as an impediment to any rational solution of this extremely vexed issue.
Talk of demilitarisation or the suggestion of making the Glacier a peace zone ruffles feathers and evoke at best a lukewarm response from sections of the establishment in India, who believe that Islamabad’s recent concern over the impact of climate change on Siachen is a tactical ploy for pushing India to demilitarise the glacier.
New Delhi has rebutted categorically rebutted Pakistan’s claims about the Glacier having retreated. According to study by the Ministry of Environment and Forests not all glaciers in the Himalayas are shrinking. “Siachen glacier showed an advance of about 700 metres between 1862 and 1909, followed by an equally rapid retreat of around 400 metres between 1929 and 1958, but hardly any retreat during the last 50 years.”
Amidst the disagreement between both countries, an interesting idea bereft of emotion and politics, purely based on science was mooted by the Institute of Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) in Washington DC. IMTD has come up with the idea of setting up of a joint Siachen Science Center (or Centers) based at the University of Srinagar and Muzafarabad.
The vision is that this centre could carry out research on a number of important technical fields – for example, the environment, glacial sciences, and studies in global climate change. Such a joint research mechanism could replace military conflict with scientific cooperation and also help in removing misconceptions on both sides with regard to scientific issues which have been given a political colour.
In fact, there are a plethora of regional glacier studies, both long- and short-term, that could be jointly undertaken by India and Pakistan, which would significantly add to the world’s understanding of glaciology in particular and global climate change in general.
To start this rather ambitious but innovative project the Centre proposes to invite up to three Pakistani and three Indian scientists, plus a regional expert from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD, Kathmandu to a three week study at Sandia National Laboratory.
IMTD was amongst the first organisations to push for the Srinagar-Muzafarabad bus service which has been an important Confidence Building Measure (CBM) in the context of the Indo-Pak relationship.
Could a joint Siachen Science Centre help in shift the paradigm from politics and nationalistic positions towards a scientific resolution of the dispute?
Author: Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based writer, associated with The Institute of Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD), Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal.
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