Seven years of
The deadly avalanche that
struck the battalion headquarters of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) in
Gyari sector of Siachen Glacier on Saturday, April 07, 2012 underlined the
appalling human and economic costs of the protracted bloody conflict over the
possession of the terribly inhospitable 50 miles glacier.
This, the world’s highest
battleground, has eaten up over 8,000 Indian and Pakistani soldiers since
April 1984, when the Indian Army carried out a covert operation code-named
‘Meghdoot’ and established permanent posts at the Siachen Glacier
situated at the height of 22,000 feet.
On April 7, the nature
delivered yet another bitter reminder to both India and Pakistan when a
massive avalanche buried 135 soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) of
Pakistani Army alive. This means, in one go, the nature deprived 135 families
of their near and dear ones in a region where no living creatures can
Certainly, it is not the
fault of nature but a direct consequence of national egos in New Delhi and
Both nations continue to
stick to their stated positions, thereby prolonging a conflict that, we
believe, was close to resolution in 1989 as a result of foreign secretary
talks in Islamabad.
Historical facts support
India committed aggression but still wants to retain the actual ground
position line (AGPL) that is slightly over 100kms. For the Indian military,
Siachen holds such a strategic value that prohibits it from thinking of
demilitarising the glacier — which is essentially a massive swathe of
useless territory comprising rocks and snow, where no living creature can
survive without proper protective gear.
According to careful
estimates by defence analysts, Pakistan spends approximately Rs15 million a
day to maintain three battalions at the Siachen Glacier, which makes Rs450
million a month and Rs5.4 billion a year. On the other hand, the deployment
of seven battalions at the Glacier costs India Rs50 million a day, Rs1.5
billion a month and Rs30 billion a year.
On an average, defence
experts say (reported in The News by Amir Mir), one Pakistani soldier is
killed every third day on the Siachen Glacier, showing approximately 100
casualties every year on an average. Similarly, one Indian soldier is killed
every other day on the Siachen Glacier, at an annual average of 180
casualties. According to unofficial figures, over 3,000 Pakistani soldiers
have lost their lives on the bloody Siachen Glacier as against over 5,000
Indian casualties. At present, there are approximately 7,000 Indian Army
troops and about 4,000 Pakistani troops stationed at the Siachen Glacier.
Both Pakistan and India
must urgently assign technical and legal experts to discuss complex
technicalities and legalities of the Siachen conflict which has become a
global environmental concern as well. Both the countries would do a great
service to humanity and the environment if they declared the disputed region
as a Peace Park and let international legal experts and scientists deal with
the consequences of the military presence and the impact of their activities
in the region. Both the countries must abide by Principle 19 of the June 1992
Rio de Janiero Declaration and address threats to the survival of lower
riparian countries such as Maldives and Bangladesh.
The Principle 19 commits
member states to provide prior and timely notification and relevant
information to potentially affected states on activities that may have a
significant adverse trans-boundary environmental effect and shall consult
with those states at an early stage and in good faith. (Rio Declaration on
Environment and Development made at the the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development, 3 to 14 June 1992).
To prevent any further
militarisation of what is at the moment considered as the highest and coldest
battlefield, both India and Pakistan can resort to an already existing
mechanism i.e. United Nations Military Observers Group for India and
Ahmer Bilal Soofi,
prominent lawyer of international law, told a round-table at the Center for
Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad that given mutual trust,
technical and legal experts from both the countries must first thrash out a
couple of options and place them for the consideration of politicians. It is
not impossible, he said, because there are clear guidelines in international
law for the solution of such disputes.
Looking at the history and
facts of the conflict, Pakistan is in an advantageous position. It can take
the issue to the International Court of Arbitration because in this case
India aggressed into the Glacier Region in 1984. What goes in favour of
Pakistan is the fact that in many pre-conflict atlases produced by
international organisations and encyclopedias Siachen was shown as part of
Pakistan and mountaineers needed Pakistani permission to trek up to the
Engineer and water resource
expert, Arshad Abbasi, opined that the accident might have been the result of
a glacier surge due to rising temperatures, movement of military men and
possible tectonic plate movements in the region. India occupies three passes.
The glacier is under stress due to rising temperature in the area. There are
three airfields on the Indian side of the glacier and burning of fuels there
is contributing towards spike in temperature. Chemical blasting of the
mountains for making camps for the soldiers is also hazardous for the
glacier. Total mass of the glacier has dwindled considerably during the last
two decades. Moreover, in 2001 India laid down kerosene oil pipelines on her
side of the glacier and further made the situation climatically worst.
Abbasi suggests handing
over glacier to the UNESCO scientists for studying and assessing climatic
impacts. He also pleads for a third-party mediation to settle the dispute and
save the vital glacier from further damage.
Must Pakistan bleed itself
and continue losing precious human and financial resource by sticking to its
principled position on a useless stretch of rocks and snow? By taking a legal
position in reference to the UN Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir, and
adopting ill-thought mechanisms to pursue that objective, Pakistan has
already created multiple socio-political problems, economic adversity and
Must the present and future
generations of Pakistan be hostage to such principled positions? After all,
Pakistan lost East Pakistan too. Did it matter to the people of Pakistan? Did
it help improve governance and economy?
Must we care for useless
swaths of land or secure the future of young boys who committed suicides (the
Charsadda incident) because their parents cannot afford books and uniforms
anymore? Must Pakistan squabble over a treacherous forbidding piece of land
or try spending that precious resource on the education and well-being of
young and resource-less Pakistanis?
writer is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and
Those rendered homeless by militancy and military operations in the tribal areas are desperately seeking shelter either in Peshawar or Jalozai, a camp for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nowshera.
Thousands of individuals are coming to the Jalozai Camp on daily basis who need to wait in long queues for hours to get themselves registered at a special point set up by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In the last week of March, many were baton-charged, suspending the registration process, following a clash between the IDPs and the registration staff. Some of the IDPs fired at the vehicles of the UNHCR but the staff remained safe for being inside the armoured cars.
The registration was restarted within a couple of days. Now the UNHCR is planning to look for more facilities at Jalozai Camp to cope with the influx of thousands of tribesmen coming for registration everyday.
“We are receiving an average of 2000 families comprising around 10,000 individuals from Khyber Agency on a daily basis,” spokesman for the UNHCR, Qaisar Khan Afridi, tells TNS.
The official informs a total of 41,309 families comprising 209,855 individuals are registered at the Jalozai Camp by April 11. Most of these IDPs, however, prefer to live in rented buildings or at the houses of their relatives outside the camp.
“Almost 11,000 families are living inside the camp. UNHCR has distributed around 35,000 relief kits among the IDPs from the Khyber Agency,” says Qaisar Khan. He adds that the relief kits comprise blankets, plastic sheets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, buckets, jerry canes and other needful.
The IDPs living in the camps are provided educational, health, food and other facilities by the World Health Organisation, United Nations International Children Education Fund, Provincial Disaster Management Authority, Fata Disaster Management Authority and other bodies. They are given the registration cards to ensure that they face no problem while living in Peshawar and Nowshera after leaving Khyber Agency. There are a large number of other IDP families from Mohmand and Bajaur as well who are being provided all the facilities at the Jalozai Camp. These IDPs are living for the last many months at the camp in hope that peace would return to the two agencies, making their way back home.
The political leadership from the Khyber Agency wants the government and the world bodies to expedite the registration process and ensure provision of all the basic facilities to the IDPs.
Organiser of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf for Khyber Agency, Iqbal Afridi, informs TNS the government has recently issued notices to Sipah and Malik Den Khel tribesmen to vacate their houses, hinting at a military operation against militants in the area.
He adds that hundreds of families of tribesmen had to leave their houses in haste, but the authorities at the Jalozai Camp are not registering them. “The registration process is quite slow as the Provincial and Fata Disaster Management Authorities and other organisations have made no proper arrangements for the process,” says Iqbal Afridi.
However, the UNHCR officials say they are in the process to open two new points to expedite registration in the coming few days. “We are planning to open two additional registration points soon (to further expedite the registration process),” says Qaisar Khan.
Majority of the IDPs prefer to live in rented buildings or houses of their relatives, having more facilities as compared to those provided in the camps. They, however, have to register themselves and family members at the registration points to get the relief package as well as the registration card, a proof for their stay in Peshawar. The district administration in Peshawar has already banned living of non-local people in the city without proper registration; for the IDPs with the UNHCR and for others with the concerned police station.
“We had to wait a full day to get registered at Jalozai Camp. However, we are living in a rented house in Pishtakhara so our children could get proper education and other facilities. Most of the families are from middle class and they can’t afford to live inside a tent,” says Jalal Afridi, a displaced tribesman.
Another IDP living in Peshawar, Azeemullah, hopes the government would launch a proper operation in Khyber Agency this time so that peace is restored to the area on permanent basis. “It’s been over seven years that Afridis and Shinwari tribesmen of Khyber Agency are being bombed, beheaded, kidnapped and made homeless. We have offered a lot of sacrifices for the restoration of peace to Khyber Agency and other parts of tribal and settled Pakistan and we hope it will bear fruit,” says Jalal.
Khyber Agency is volatile for the last many years since two groups of militants — Lashkar-i-Islami of Mangal Bagh and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan — are fighting against each other, mostly in Bara and its remote Tirah Valley. Both the groups claim to have killed a number of their opponents, including top leadership, in the recent clashes.
Troops have also been carrying out operations at various parts of the tribal town to restore peace to the area located between Peshawar and bordering city of Jalalabad. Most of the trailers and trucks carrying goods for Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan have to pass via Khyber Agency, where they have come under a number of attacks in recent years.
Pakistan detected, and successfully foiled an international conspiracy to make its cricket board more democratic. And the protector of our cricket is the same knight in shining, democracy-proof armour who has, for the last four years, struggled hard to save this country from the curse of this Western obsession called democracy.
The world has tried, and tried hard. Foreign governments and international NGOs are spending millions of dollars every year to teach our parliamentarians and voters what democracy is and how it works. To go with the carrot, the stick of sanctions and censures is often employed too. But it’s sheer resilience and grit of our political system, and the advantage of having a leader like Asif Ali Zardari, that our parliament continues to operate independent of established democratic norms like constructive debate, public good, accountability, avoiding conflict of interest, etc.
Pakistan Cricket Board being part of the government — with the president as its patron in-chief who can and often, if not always, does select board members on the basis of political patronage rather than merit — is also a target for the foreign conspirators who want to rid the sport in Pakistan of politics and corruption. But the PCB has withstood this pressure admirably, taking a principled stand that this is ‘our’ cricket and ‘our’ corruption, and if we are okay with it, the world should simply mind its own business.
“The circumstances in Pakistan are unique and cricket administration requires and deserves government support without which international cricket may not be able to return to Pakistan. Keeping in view the extraordinary security situation in the country, having the president as patron of PCB adds tremendous value and comfort,” the PCB said in its response to the ICC’s Pakistan Task Force report, last year.
The special task force was originally meant to review the security situation in Pakistan after the country failed to protect the visiting Sri Lankan team playing a Test series in Lahore, but later other cricketing issues like doping and integrity were also included in its terms of reference. The initial findings of the report came out in 2010 and were quickly dismissed by PCB as ‘faulty and superfluous’. The board was then headed by Ijaz Butt, the bull who lorded over the destruction of most of what Pakistanis love dearly in the china shop of Pakistan cricket. ICC tamed him with the threat of throwing him and his board out of the cricket playing league of nations, before he and his patron allowed some of the recommendations to be implemented. These changes related to selection matters, appointment of managers, anti-doping measures and central contracts.
The final report, submitted at the ICC executive council meeting last summer, had particularly hit out at the involvement of the president of Pakistan in cricket matters and the unilateral powers enjoyed by the chairman of the board. In a related development, the ICC had told all Member Boards to amend their constitutions and make them comply with the constitution of the world body ‘to prevent any government interference in board matters’. The PCB responded by appealing against this decision and succeeded in stalling its implementation for two years. The ICC then set March 2013 as the deadline for all members/boards to amend their constitutions, or face a maximum penalty of disaffiliation from ICC.
At the annual general body meeting last week, the PCB Chairman, Zaka Ashraf, relayed a decision of the patron, President Zardari, that no amendments are to be made to the board’s constitution. The president also showed his displeasure at the unwanted ‘interference’ from ICC in the ‘internal’ matters of Pakistan.
Here we are then, a proud nation rejecting foreign interference and celebrating our uniqueness in colouring our cricket with the same grey of patronage politics and corruption as we do with everything else.
But we have seen the PCB bravado rise up like bubbles in a soda drink that settle down within seconds. Towards the fag end of his chairmanship, Ijaz Butt blamed English team of match fixing. The allegation was as incredulous in content as silly was the manner in which it was leveled. The English board demanded an apology and our brave leader publicly announced that he’ll never apologise. Within days he not only did tender an apology, he was made to visit England and read out a humiliating statement in front of the media, drafted by the hosts.
Come next March, the PCB will either have to do a repeat of this self-abasement, or its ICC membership will be revoked, to the relief of the rest of the cricketing world.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a beautiful place popular with tourists and adventurers, but lately the news coming out from this vast mountainous area has been mostly tragic. In one case nature and in the other men were responsible for the two tragedies that together claimed at least 152 lives — and saddened Pakistan.
The bodies of the 138 soldiers and civilian auxiliary staff buried under the snow following a massive avalanche that hit their military camp at Gyari in the Siachen Glacier on April 7 have still not been found. The efforts by 450 rescuers working at an altitude of around 4,000 metres have been hampered by sub-zero temperatures and also the difficulties in flying heavy equipment to the site due to bad weather. The military authorities immediately knew the enormity of the tragedy as they had spoken about the miracle of finding survivors and asked the nation to pray for those trapped under heaps of snow in an area of one square kilometre. It was an admission of the fact that hopes of saving lives were slim.
Last year also, nature had shown its might when the Attabad Lake was artificially created in Hunza following landslides and many people were displaced. According to a new study sponsored by the EU and UNDP, Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the most hazard-prone regions in the world.
And now its people are also becoming restless in view of the intermittent incidents of sectarian strife in the region.
The other recent tragic incident in Gilgit-Baltistan involved men rather than nature. The sectarian killers struck in Gilgit city and Chilas. Mercifully, the bodies were recovered and buried though the anger caused by the killings hasn’t subsided. In this case, one group of men attacked another on April 3 followed by retaliatory sectarian killings to take the death toll in the bloody events in Gilgit city and Chilas to at least 14.
The pattern of violence is by now familiar. Attacks on one sect lead to retaliation against the other. Sunnis are mostly killed in the Shia majority areas, including Gilgit city, while Shias are attacked in the Sunni-populated districts such as Diamer. In one incident on February 28, some 18 Shia passengers returning from a pilgrimage to Iran were waylaid by suspected militants wearing army fatigues and shot dead in nearby Kohistan district, which is part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Though the government claimed to have arrested some suspects, the real killers remain at large. The tribal elders and elected assembly members from Kohistan denied involvement of anyone from their district in the killings. In their view, elements from Gilgit-Baltistan were behind the incident but they chose Kohistan district for carrying out the killings to divert attention from their involvement in it. Sunni elders in Gilgit-Baltistan also pointed out that the Kohistan killings may have been planned to avenge the murder of two Sunnis in Gilgit.
The sectarian divide became more pronounced after the second round of violence on April 3. Though these weren’t the first incidents of its kind in Gilgit-Baltistan, the government’s inability to apprehend the perpetrators of previous sectarian killings has led to accumulation of grievances and anger among the victims and made reconciliation difficult. As emotions ran high after the two recent rounds of sectarian strife, the government decided to continue to enforce curfew in Gilgit city and also close the Karakoram Highway at certain points due to security concerns.
Curfew was still in place 10 days later on April 12 with relaxation for a few hours every day to enable the people to stock supplies of essential items and perform other necessary chores.
During the break in curfew hours, wearing of a jacket or chaddar was banned and congregation of two or more people was disallowed as part of precautionary security measures.
The curfew and the closure of the 840-kilometres long Karakoram Highway, which serves as the lifeline for Gilgit-Baltistan and has generated much-needed economic activity in the region, led to shortages of food and medicines and some increase in prices. Educational institutions and most offices and businesses remained closed in Gilgit and mobile service was suspended all over the region. Life was disturbed and concerns grew whether it would be safe to travel by the Karakoram Highway in future.
Lacking resources and commitment, the government would have to provide both to secure the Karakoram Highway to make it safe for every traveller and also enable the Chinese engineers to complete the project to widen this critically important road.
Blocking the highway in protest to pressurise the government to accept their various demands has been a favourite and effective tactic of the people in Abbottabad, Mansehra, Battagram, Shangla, Kohistan and Diamer that fall on the way, but the protestors in those cases didn’t threaten another community or sect. The problem is now more serious because Shias have to travel through these Sunni-populated districts to reach Gilgit, Skardu, Ghizar, Hunza, Nagar and all other places in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is similar to the situation in Kurram Agency where Shia tribes living in Parachinar and other parts of upper Kurram valley have to drive through Sunni areas infested with militants. The road, which the Shias were unable to use for four years due to repeated attacks and general insecurity, was made relatively safe some months ago after revival of the old Sunni-Shia peace accord.
The latest sectarian violence started when six people were killed in a grenade attack on a rally organised by the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a hardline Sunni religious group, in Gilgit city to protest the arrest of one of its leaders Attaullah Saqib. Reportedly, affiliated with the banned outfit, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, Saqib was arrested for his alleged role in the February 28 attack on Shia passengers in Kohistan. The April 3 grenade attack in Gilgit killed six people, provoked riots and prompted the government to impose curfew. As has happened so often in the past, revenge killings took place in Sunni-populated Chilas when news of the Gilgit incident reached there. Gunmen pulled passengers from a bus heading for Gilgit and shot dead several men. This, in turn, led to big protests in the Shia areas in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The kidnapping of 34 Sunnis, including a civil judge, district health officer, truck drivers and labourers, who were mostly Pakhtuns, inserted a new and dangerous dimension to the already uncertain situation. They were seized by gunmen in Hunza, which is populated by the Ismailis who are followers of the Aga Khan, and taken to the adjacent Nagar valley inhabited by Shias. When efforts by politicians and government officials failed to secure the release of the kidnapped men, leading Shia cleric Agha Rahatul Hussain was requested to intervene and finally on April 10 his efforts bore fruit. His success showed the influence of the clerics among both the Shias and Sunnis.
After their release, some of the freed men complained that they were tortured. They pledged never to return even for work to Gilgit-Baltistan. This is probably what some of the more radical elements want because the local people, all Shias in the case, have been articulating opposition to outsiders coming to Gilgit-Baltistan to find work or do business. As the new arrivals are almost all Sunnis and mostly Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is concern that the Shia majority could be diluted in case the settlers kept coming.
A demand for banning buying of property by non-residents in Gilgit-Baltistan is also being made. The nationalist Balawaristan National Front, whose leader Nawaz Khan Naji last year won a seat in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly defeating PPP and PML-N candidates, has been critical of the posting of civil and police officers from outside in their area. It also doesn’t want settlers and militants and is angry that Gilgit-Baltistan still lacks a constitutional status. In his victory speeches and while taking oath as a lawmaker, Nawaz Naji had made it clear that Gilgit-Baltistan was a disputed territory like Kashmir and Pakistan was its caretaker until its status was decided in keeping with the aspirations of the people. It is obvious that such views would become stronger if the people of Gilgit-Baltistan become alienated from the rest of Pakistan due to sectarian violence and insecure conditions on the Karakoram Highway leading to economic difficulties in their isolated region.
author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Has the PPP given up on
Punjab or at least a major part of it? President Zardari’s recent visit to
Lahore after more than two years and the aggressive tone he used against his
traditional rivals, the Sharifs, were an indication it hasn’t.
How a compulsive PPP voter
looks at the situation could only be judged at the time of election (he may
feel a tad embarrassed to see Raja Riaz, effectively PPP’s face in the
province, defending his party on tv screens) but analysts have mixed views on
the subject. On its part, the party seems complacent with the scheme of
things, as if in agreement with the mind of its leader where everything has
already been calculated, worked out. Of the many professional groups that met
with the president in Lahore was one that was the most politically organised
— of lawyers, or winners shall we say.
Actually, analysts pick up
newsy indicators to support their analyses. And nothing represents the
PPP’s ‘failure’ in Punjab better than Aslam Gill’s defeat in the
recent Senate elections. Compare the roaring Shahbaz Sharif with the dull
Imtiaz Safdar Warraich or look at the media coverage of surging protests
against power shortages in big urban centres of Punjab and PPP’s fall
appears imminent if not permanent.
For journalist and analyst
Suhail Warraich, the historical context is important too. “When the PPP was
ousted from power in 1977, it was as popular in Punjab as it was in Sindh,
probably more. By 1988, the party was more popular in the cities while the
IJI was popular in rural areas. In the subsequent years, the IJI organised
itself in Punjab in a way that, by 1993, the PPP had to move away from the
cities into the rural areas — to seek the support of electable
He thinks the party has not
been able to regain the organisational structure it had till 1977 and today
its votebank has shrunk considerably. He attributes it to the PPP’s
structure existing at tehsil and district level only while the Muslim League
has been strong even at the local level.
The compulsions of
governance may have put party matters on hold everywhere (there is no Sheikh
Mohammad Rashid to organise it) but the absence of the party leader from a
province that matters most is being increasingly felt. “Benazir Bhutto
maintained a contact with the workers even if on email. President Zardari, on
the other hand, who cannot tour or meet people for security concerns, does
not have any such channel open,” says Warraich.
Zardari’s best bet for
the Punjab in recent months and years has been none other than his own sister
Faryal Talpur. For all her apparent sincerity, party workers in the Punjab
meet her only as a representative of Zardari. They are not ready to accept
her as an heir of Benazir or respect her genuinely.
Senior columnist Nazir Naji
refuses to buy this grim view of the situation or the belief that the PPP has
given up on the Punjab. “The party has its own strategy. It is the most
comfortable player on the scene and it has solid reasons — it’s been
there for more than 30 years with its overall votebank still intact.”
Naji thinks there has been
a swift change in the sensibility of urban and rural voters. “The urban
voter does not believe in class relations. The urban middle class has
shifting loyalties and that is why it keeps electing different sets of
people. In the next election, the PML-N’s votebank will see a change and
its beneficiary will certainly not be the PPP.”
The party’s new formula,
in Naji’s view, is to run the election with the PML-Q. “Now, the PML-Q
may not be a popular party but it has candidates that are traditional
winners. This is how elections are contested and this is the party
Naji’s optimism apart,
there are some genuine lapses: old loyalists like Khalid Kharal leave the
party and no one is bothered; the party is not ready to inject new blood or
create space for the youth; there’s internal party politics which is quite
dirty; and the party appears stale to outsiders. By declaring to make
Bahawalpur a province, the PML-N has pre-empted the PPP’s strategy in South
Punjab to an extent.
Then there’s another
important factor the PPP may have overlooked — the urban centric media.
Warraich thinks they let go of their biggest media asset in the shape of
Musawaat. He also thinks the PPP’s media handling or propaganda has been
Naji, who incidentally
happened to be associated with the Musawaat in the ZAB days, could not have
disagreed more. “It has been proved worldwide that the media handling by
political parties is the most unsuccessful practice. Whoever has tried to
manipulate the media failed; the BJP did it in India by bringing forth the
‘India Shining’ slogan and look what it did to them.”
Naji would side with the
media as long as it stays within its limits and in touch with reality.
“When it starts exposing itself and opposes or favours one particular
party, people react against it. For all the media campaign against Zardari
from day one, it was’nt able to oust him.”
Naji may be right in this
but aren’t we talking about a party that won the Punjab without any PML-Q
in 1970. There is a progressive downward slide and a serious reflection is in
order; one that looks beyond the next general election.