The call was made at a seminar 'Siachen glacier and global climate change: the role of South Asia' organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Monday, Sep 15. The speakers attributed the alarming glacier melting rate to human activities and underlined the need to address this issue at the earliest to avoid future natural calamities and threats to natural resources and human existence.
They also highlighted the military, environmental, climatic, health and socio-economic costs of militarisation and conflict over Siachen between India and Pakistan.
Glaciology expert Prof Khalid Rashid presented a detailed analysis of mass balance of glacier, temperature variation between 1850 and 2000 and human impact on the process of glacier melting or growing.
He lamented that due to military exercises and battles at Siachen, toxic wastes were buried in ice which would find their way into the Indus waters, the lifeline of Pakistan, in future.
He, however, identified three basic factors - sun, change of axis of earth and human activities - for the rapid climatic change and glacier melting over the last 500 billion years.
Talking about socio-economic costs of Siachen conflict between India and Pakistan and the associated cost of militarisation, Executive Director SDPI Abid Q Suleri lamented that deployment of troops on Siachen was a huge burden on the economies of both countries and the result of 24-year-long war was nothing except increasing poverty in the region.
Many rounds of talks held between senior defence officials of the two countries to demilitarise the glacier where their armies have been facing each other since 1984, failed to make any progress.
Suleri urged early resolution of this conflict by declaring it a 'peace park' and initiation of a debate in parliaments of both the countries.
Citing 'Gosh report' of 1986, he said a single 'chapati' a soldier ate at Siachen cost 34 dollars 16 per day to India and Pakistan, respectively, while the expenditures to maintain troops by India alone were calculated to be Rs 20 million per day in 1986.
In 2004, Niaz A Naik and Yeshwant Sinha had jointly conducted a study on the cost of maintaining troops at Siachen and warned their respective governments that the Siachen conflict alone would cost India Rs 720 billion and Pakistan Rs 180 billion in the next five years while together they will lose about 1,500 soldiers without fighting a war.
Glaciologist and environmentalist Arshad H Abbasi said the glacier was retreating at the rate of 110 metres per year.
He said the extraordinary melting of Siachen and other major tributary glaciers was caused by human activity, not natural changes, which had not only led to formation of glacial lakes and snow holes but was also responsible for destructive snow avalanches on both side of the Saltoro ridge.
Highlighting the worse effects of Siachen conflict over the years in the shape of natural calamities, he demanded immediate demilitarisation of Siachen, declaring all Himalayan glaciers as protected areas.
Environmental policy analyst Khalid Mustafa demanded that militaries of both the countries should immediately be withdrawn and infrastructures at Siachen dismantled and brought at the pre-conflict position of 1978/1984.
He said civil societies of both the countries should be involved to save this prestigious source of water. Glaciers in the Himalayas provide headwaters for Asia's nine largest rivers, a lifeline for the 1.3 billion people who live downstream.