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Bring the boys home – by Talat Farooq

Eighty-feet-deep snow, boulders and slush buried more than a hundred human beings, snuffing out life and subjecting families to unfathomable grief and sorrow. Was it worth it? Has the Siachen debacle been worth it since 1984?

States are driven by the desire to attain security from being attacked or annihilated. As John Herz puts it: “Since none can ever feel entirely secure in such a world of competing units, competition ensues, and the vicious circle of security and power accumulation is on.” This is how the security dilemma operates.

However, the ultimate goals of security and survival are perceived as achievable through power accumulation, and so the drive for security is linked not only with physical safety but also with the psychological urge of ego satisfaction or what Morgenthau would explain as the desire to exercise control over the minds of men.

Nowhere is this security-ego syndrome reflected more clearly than in the world’s highest combat zone at nearly 20,000 feet in Siachen. The Siachen Glacier lies in the extensively glaciated part of the Karakorums that is also known as the Third Pole. Wrangling over a frozen prize India and Pakistan have locked horns in this Godforsaken place since 1984 when India, as the aggressor, occupied the key areas and Pakistan responded by deploying its own forces.

In this inhospitable piece of frozen landscape, winter temperatures can plummet to minus 60 degrees Celsius and blizzards gust at the speed of more than 150 kilometres an hour. Bad weather makes it hard to deploy troops in large numbers and usually the clashes have been low-level skirmishes.

In the battle for frozen land, therefore, a far greater number of soldiers have fallen victim to blizzards, avalanches, crevasses and frostbite than have been killed in active combat. Troop maintenance obviously exerts heavy financial toll on both the adversaries that have large impoverished populations.

The conflict stems from incomplete demarcation of boundary as well as from long festering mutual resentment, anger and hatred; it is a sad reflection on the quality of leadership in the two countries.

Other than the physical hazards, the troops are vulnerable to acute mental-health problems. Lowered levels of oxygen at above 15,000 feet predispose soldiers to altitude illnesses and reduced mental and physical performance. In high-altitude combat, troops are subjected to extreme cold, intense ultraviolet radiation, heavy fog, treacherous weather, blizzards and avalanches. Physical conditions in such an environment become more hazardous than enemy gunfire.

Daily supplies of ammunition, water, food and heat are required for the combatants living in portable fibreglass shelters where, according to a research study, living conditions “are dark and dingy and unventilated. Kerosene stoves are used for shelter heating. Troops breathe air, mixed with thick soot, which, compounded by restricted movement, little or no recreation and monotonous routines in the background of freezing temperatures, predisposes them to develop psychiatric morbidity.”

At 10,000 to 14,000 feet a human being may experience feelings of fatigue and increased sleepiness; however, at heights above 15,000 feet clear psychiatric morbidity is reflected in depression, anxiety, paranoia, hostile behaviour and obsessive compulsiveness.

In another study visual and auditory hallucinatory experiences were associated with climbing at altitudes above 18,000 feet. Acute Medical Sickness is the most common sickness associated with high altitudes and is associated with headaches, nausea and insomnia, symptoms that may again be related to psychological triggers.

Such high altitudes, like the Siachen combat zone, blur the dividing line between psychological and physical symptoms. The issue is further aggravated by the fact that soldiers are there not for mountain climbing but to engage in active battle – a fact that by itself may be an acute stressor.

Deploying troops in such a dangerous and inhospitable location is inhuman, to say the least, and the decision-makers in India and Pakistan must be questioned as to the sagacity of such an endeavour. I am sure the tenets of human rights apply to military personnel too!

What needs to be taken into account is that heavy expenditure and loss of life are the effects of this decision; the real issue that needs to be analysed is the cause or the motivation behind a decision with such far-reaching financial, physical, mental and emotional costs as well as serious environmental implications. In analysing the Siachen situation one needs to take into consideration not only the Indian occupation of the glacial post in 1984 but the whole chain of events since 1947.

If decision-making is reactive and grounded in knee-jerk assumptions and perceptions and misperceptions of inflated egos, it will invariable lead to Siachen and Kargil; it will be grounded more in stubbornness and less in rationality. Nationalism is fine when like all else in life it is in moderation; taken to extremes it becomes paranoia.

The block of ice called Siachen is symbolic of the reactive relationship between India and Pakistan – hard, cold, uncompromising. How ironic that in Balti the word “siachen” means “an abundance of black roses.”

The tragedy at Gyari must open our eyes on both sides of the border; disaster when it strikes knows no nationalism and takes no sides. Indian soldiers are as much at risk of natural disasters as their Pakistani adversaries.

As more than a hundred people lay buried under multiple layers of snow we, who are still able to breathe, must raise our voice against such futile confrontation. One hopes that some thaw is in the offing after President Zardari’s “private” visit to India two days back and that the issue can be resolved with fairness and generosity.

Look at the way the Americans value their soldiers’ lives. Isn’t it time that Pakistan and India gave up on this martial way of life and stopped sacrificing human beings at the altar of inflated egos? Will there be a day when both states can resolve their differences across a negotiating table, rather than aggravating them in glacial theatres of useless war?

It is time Pakistani and Indian citizens came out on the streets holding placards that say “Bring the boys home, now!”

Source: The News

About the author

Junaid Qaiser


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  • تجھ کو کتنوں کا لہو چاہیے اے ارضِ وطن
    جو ترے عارضِ بے رنگ کو گلنار کریں
    کتنی آہوں سے کلیجہ ترا ٹھنڈا ہوگا
    کتنے آنسو ترے صحراؤں کو گلزار کریں.

  • Lol.
    Cold blooded animals successfully accomplished the task and sympathomimetic seems working. Good fame is here and envy extinguishth. Cognitive dissonance hath arrived.
    ‘I am sure the tenets of human rights apply to military personnel too’!.They don’t apply here. They don’t apply anywhere. And all the political and philosophical discourse supporting security dilemma isn’t even applicable here. Its not war hawkishness. Its not grievance. Its greed . And we the poorer are more greedy. Our greed suffices by accumulating weapon , using them to carry out genocides, conducted by our favorite pets i.e Frankensteins, which invites the sympathies and in the end we emerge as victims ‘all pure’. They are mercenaries. If they aren’t then its their duty to to follow their nationalist authority and let their bosses and their children have good time this summer somewhere in Europe. Such is the worth of their blood.
    Come out with placards and let us know when it works.Don’t forget to get photographed.

  • After Himalayan avalanche, many in Pakistan call for patching ties with India

    By Tom Hussain

    ISLAMABAD — The probable loss of an entire garrison of Pakistani troops to a Himalayan avalanche on the country’s disputed border with India has firmed national support for settling the longstanding political disputes between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

    In particular, the avalanche has refocused the attention of Pakistanis on the futility of posting thousands of troops on the Siachen Glacier, where 6,200 troops have died since it notoriously became the world’s highest battlefield in 1984. Ninety percent of the troop deaths were due to hypothermia and other climate-related ailments, according to peace activists.

    The Pakistani military has all but acknowledged the deaths of 124 mountain soldiers and 11 civilians, whose garrison at an altitude of some 16,000 feet was buried under 80 feet of snow early Saturday. The military’s spokesman, Gen. Athar Abbas, has asked the Pakistani public to “pray for a miracle.”

    Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani effectively signaled the government’s acceptance of the massive loss, offering the Muslim fateha prayer — offered for the dead — for the soldiers at a meeting of the federal Cabinet on Wednesday.

    Some 240 rescue workers, using detection dogs, earthmoving machinery and shovels, have braved subzero temperatures and blizzards since Sunday to work around the clock to find the men of the Northern Light Infantry buried alive at the Gayani garrison.

    An eight-member U.S. search-and-rescue team joined the increasingly desperate efforts this week as infantry troops and earth-excavating machinery dug five tunnels into the snow in attempts to detect survivors, but to no avail. No bodies have been recovered, either.

    The tragedy coincided with a one-day visit to India on Sunday by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the first in seven years by a Pakistani president, ostensibly for a pilgrimage to a Sufi shrine in the northwest Indian city of Ajmer. Politics trumped spirituality, however, with Zardari and his son first stopping in New Delhi for a lunch with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and top officials of the ruling Congress Party.

    The cordial meeting, coming against the tragic backdrop of the avalanche, has sparked calls from across Pakistan’s political spectrum for the acceleration of negotiations with India, with which it has fought four wars since the countries gained independence in 1947.

    Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif set aside a war of words with Zardari to voice support earlier this week for improving relations with India and resolving their dispute over the disputed territory of Kashmir, where the glacier is located.

    Sharif was particularly supportive of the president’s suggestion that India’s world champion cricket team should tour Pakistan.

    “I am ready to do my part in reviving ties. … I want to be part of the Pakistani team when India comes to play,” joked Sharif, a cricket enthusiast.

    Politicians from Pakistan’s ruling coalition government have called on India to accept its proposal to “demilitarize” the Siachen Glacier. Defense officials from both countries discussed proposals in May 2011, but the talks stalled after India insisted that Pakistan first recognize its troop positions so that Pakistani forces would not subsequently occupy them.

    “What we want is the honorable withdrawal of forces to pre-1984 positions,” said Qamar Zaman Kaira, spokesman for Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party.

    Pakistan and India had in 2006 come close to reaching an agreement on their core disputes over Kashmir, said Khurshid Kasuri, Pakistan’s foreign minister at the time. The process was scuttled, however, by the Pakistani militant organization Lashkar-i-Taiba, which days later launched a four-day killing spree in Mumbai, India’s largest city, that cost 166 lives.

    Peace talks were tentatively resumed last year after Singh invited Gilani to watch the Pakistani team play a semifinal match in the cricket world cup in India.

    In the absence of agreement on any substantial political issues, talks on reducing trade restrictions have taken the lead. Prodded by its closest ally, China, Pakistan agreed in December to remove restrictions on Indian imports of fresh produce, petroleum products and newsprint. Both countries have agreed to remove restrictions on most other goods by the end of 2012.

    Indian and Pakistani trade ministers on Friday are expected to open a dedicated trade facility at a border post located between the cities of Lahore and Amritsar. And interior ministry officials on both sides are scheduled to meet later this month to approve a new, streamlined process for issuing business visas.

    After their meeting Sunday, Zardari and Singh told reporters that they had discussed “all possible issues” over delicacies that included gushtaba, meatballs from Kashmir. They agreed to work toward talks on the less controversial aspects of their bilateral relationship, and Singh accepted Zardari’s offer to visit Pakistan this year.

    But Singh is adamant that talks on the countries’ core disputes, particularly Kashmir, hinge on Pakistan taking action against Lashkar-i-Taiba and its founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.

    The U.S. Justice Department last week offered a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed’s arrest or conviction, in a move that was widely seen as increasing pressure on Pakistan. But the Pakistani government has said it cannot act against Saeed because Pakistani courts — which have a fierce independent streak — acquitted him in 2009 of involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

    “The problem of terrorism … is a major issue by which the Indian people will judge progress in the bilateral relationship,” India’s foreign secretary, Ranjan Mathai, told reporters after the meeting between Singh and Zardari.

  • Acute insomnia is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of less than a month. Insomnia is present when there is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep or when the sleep that is obtained is non-refreshing or of poor quality. These problems occur despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and they must result in problems with daytime function.-.’*

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