IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Siachen: An Environmental Disaster in the Making


Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has pointed out that presence of Indian forces on Siachen Glacier is harmful to the environment. Pakistan is facing a water shortage and Indian forces are damaging the virgin snow of Siachen on daily basis‚ which is one of the largest sources of Pakistani waters. Items of daily use disposed off by thousands of Indian soldiers are threatening the very existence of the glacier. Presence of Indian forces on Siachen is, indeed, a big issue and should be resolved as soon as possible. According to environmentalists‚ glacial retreat on Himalayas and Karakorum ranges has accelerated during the recent years because of human presence on the glaciers. Indian and Pakistani troops are face-to-face at Siachen for years in freezing temperature, since Indian troops occupied the major portion of Siachen in 1984. Before this act of Indian aggression, the glacier was a demilitarized zone, scarcely visited by human beings. Pakistan had to move its troops to the glacier as a necessity to halt further advancement of Indian troops. Ever since Pakistan has pursued restoration of status quo ante. Demilitarization of Siachen would mitigate the water scarcity of both the countries.Map_Siachen_Kashmir_Standoff_2003_HR

India and Pakistan are working on resolving their water issues. The two countries are doing this through multiple channels including Pakistan-India composite dialogue and Indus Water Commission. Planning Commission’s 2025 Vision is also concentrating on water resources and is preparing a comprehensive sustainable development strategy while keeping the water scarcity of the country in view.

United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Poland from November 11-22 has concluded that: “We’re being impacted by climate change right now. We have to fight sea level rise, we are looking at increases in the frequency and severity of storm events, so it’s about survival…this is the most important decade facing mankind…What we do in the next seven years will affect generations to come.”

Germanwatch presented its ninth annual Global Climate Risk Index at the onset of the Climate Summit in Warsaw. “The landfall of Hurricane Sandy in the US dominated international news in October 2012. Yet it was Haiti – the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – that suffered the greatest losses from the same event,” said Sönke Kreft, team leader for international climate policy at Germanwatch and co-author of the index. In the last two decades, the 10 most affected countries have without exception been developing nations, with Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti taking the brunt during the period 1993-2012. Haiti led the list of the three countries most affected by weather related catastrophes in 2012. The others were the Philippines and Pakistan.

The Germanwatch Climate Risk Index ranks countries according to relative and absolute number of human victims, and relative and absolute economic damage. The most recent available data from 2012 as well as for the 20-year-period 1993-2012 were taken into account for the preparation of this index. Results are really a wake-up call. The report also published a Climate Risk Index for 1993-2010, with Pakistan ranked as the 12th most affected country by climate-related events over the last two decades. The report also noted that Pakistan has been among the three most affected countries for three consecutive years. Pakistan, which had already suffered severe flooding in 2010 and 2011, was struck again by a rough monsoon season, in 2012 killing over 650 people. According to the report’s assessment, the extreme weather calamities caused Pakistan losses worth 0.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over 20 years.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has reported that this year is on course to be among the top 10 warmest years since modern records began in 1850. The first nine months, January to September, tied with 2003 as the seventh warmest such periods on record, with a global land and ocean surface temperature of about 0.48°C (0.86°F) above the 1961–1990 average. All of the warmest years have been since 1998, and this year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend, the coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998. Climate has always changed, however, now the concern is that the change, both in terms of scale and linkages, is unprecedented. Therefore Climate Change has moved swiftly to the centre-stage of public concern. There is a great deal of intense debate on the subject, and a wide-range of literature is available including numerous government response plans and documents. The politico-security narratives of Climate Change increasingly frame our understanding of other global challenges—from poverty and health to the food-energy-water connects.

United Nations’ Secretary General (UNSG) Mr Ban Ki-moon, addressed the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”(IPCC) on September 27, 2013, as world’s top climate scientists formally embraced an upper limit on greenhouse gases for the first time; thus establishing, at least, a glass ceiling beyond which humanity must stop injecting these gases into the atmosphere or face irreversible climatic changes. Ban Ki-moon, spoke to delegates at the meeting, via video link; he declared his intent to call a meeting of heads of state to push forward a climate change treaty.. The last such meeting, in Copenhagen in 2009, ended in a stalemate, with a clear divide between the positions taken by the developed and the developing countries. UNSG called on the world’s governments to listen to the IPCC’s findings: “This new report will be essential for governments as they work to finalise an ambitious legal agreement on climate change in 2015…The heat is on. Now we must act.”

Siachen and water disputes between India and Pakistan are parts of the overall Kashmir conflict.  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to Muzaffarabad served as an opportunity not only to highlight what should be the fundamental position of Pakistan on the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir but his meetings and utterances were also reassuring for Kashmiris who have been waging a relentless struggle to realize their right of self-determination.  The stand enunciated by the Premier on Kashmir dispute is in line with the aspirations of both people of Kashmir and Pakistan.

During his meeting with the APHC leadership, the Prime Minister expressed his dismay at the contradictory stance taken by the Indian government in addressing the issue of occupied Kashmir and added that it was his desire that the dispute is settled in accordance with the UN resolutions and wishes of Kashmiri people. He is perfectly right as India has always adopted an evasive attitude towards the issue and has failed to fulfil the categorical commitments made to the international community about grant of right of self-determination to people of Jammu and Kashmir through a UN supervised plebiscite. Disregarding its pledges, successive Indian governments have been taking steps to strengthen their illegal foothold on the occupied territory; occupation of Siachen was one such event.

However, there have been variations in approach to the issue by the successive Pakistani governments as well— varying from apologetic to jingoistic. There were also times when Pakistan insisted that there should be progress in tandem on all issues forming composite dialogue including Kashmir but then there was talk of granting MFN status to India and entering into more trade without any progress on the issue of Kashmir. These contradictory approaches have caused harm to Kashmir cause. Hopefully the new government would continue to pursue for settlement of Kashmir dispute at all forums throughout its term of office. A beginning could be made by pursing bilateral agreement on demilitarization of Siachen glacier.

Carried by “The Nation” on December 9, 2013



Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Search for Journals, publications, articles and more.

Subscribe to Our newsletter