M A I N   N E W S

Despite Pak protest, Siachen trekking on
First-ever group of 42 to leave today
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 18
Scoffing at protests from Pakistan, India has decided to go ahead with the plan to throw open the icy heights of Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, for adventure tourism with the first-ever group of 42 trekkers being allowed to go to the Eastern Karakoram mountains from tomorrow as had been planned earlier.

The ministry of defence said here today that there was no move to call the trek off and asserted that the expedition would be taking place in an area, which was ours.

Pakistan had yesterday protested India’s move to open the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the world’s coldest regions and also disputed by Pakistan to be theirs, to adventure tourism.

In Islamabad, the Indian deputy high commissioner was summoned yesterday to the foreign ministry and handed a formal protest. The Indian move could have a negative impact on the ongoing peace process between the two countries, ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam had said.

Indian and Pakistani troops have fought a bitter two-decade-long conflict for controlling the 76-km-long glacier, where the heights rise to 22,000 feet and the temperatures plummet to minus 50 degree Celsius in winter.

The guns have been silent since a truce was declared in 2003 and the two countries are attempting to resolve the dispute over the glacier through their composite dialogue process.

However, officials in New Delhi have shrugged off the Pakistani protest and said the trekking expedition comprising cadets from the national cadet corps will set off tomorrow on a 22-day trip to the glacier area.

The ministry of defence views this as a routine adventure-cum-mountaineering activity. This should not be seen in any other way, the spokesman for the ministry said.

According to sources, the trekking expedition, which will commence from September 19, will go on till October 11.

Initially, the trekkers will get acclimatised at Leh, the capital of the frontier district of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. After acclimatisation, the trekkers will leave for Siachen base camp by road, where they will undergo another spell of conditioning before actually leaving for the Kumar camp, located in the centre of the 72-km-long glacier.

The actual trek will take the participants eight days of going and coming and one day has been kept as a reserve for recouping, the sources said.

Besides the cadets, the trekkers will also comprise personnel from the media, who would be escorted by 10 or more Army guides with expertise in glacial craft, they added.

MoD officials here said “if foreign trekkers are involved, this is cleared by the external affairs ministry. If Indian civilians are involved, their participation is cleared by the defence ministry”.

“Pakistan itself permits trekkers on its side of the glacier. In fact, it was Pakistan’s attempts to clandestinely occupy the glacier in the name of promoting mountaineering expeditions was what had prompted us (the Indian Army) to move into the area (in 1984), officials said.

Chief of Army Staff Gen. J.J. Singh himself had announced last week that Siachen was being opened for adventure tourism. “We have decided to allow adventure tourism in Siachen...We would be opening a facility at the base camp to provide information about Siachen to the people,” Singh had stated.

“The Siachen glacier is ideal for adventure tourism and the weather is just right for this at this time of the year,” officials explained, adding that since the 2003 ceasefire, “the area has become safer and it is possible to conduct such activities.”

Incidentally, there is no letup in the Indian position that there can be no pullback of troops till Pakistan agrees to ground realities on the glacier.

Indian troops currently occupy advantageous positions along the glacier and New Delhi says Islamabad must accept the actual ground position line (AGPL) before pulling back its forces that have been on station on the glacier since 1984.

Pakistan says Indian troops should retreat to the positions they held in 1972 as laid down by the Simla Agreement of the previous year.

This, India says, would negate the very reasons it sent its troops into Siachen in 1984 to nullify Pakistani designs on the glacier.

For New Delhi, Siachen is also important as it serves as a strategic wedge between Pakistani and Chinese troops deployed on their borders with India.



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