Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has called for the demilitarization of the disputed high-altitude Siachen Glacier where thousands of Pakistani and Indian troops have been stationed for decades.
Kayani's call came 11 days after a massive avalanche flattened a key military base in the disputed Kashmir region under 20 meters of s now, burying some 140 Pakistani soldiers and civilians.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday after visiting the disaster zone known as the world's highest battlefield, General Kayani said his country is seeking resolution of all disputes with India, including Siachen. He said “peaceful coexistence” between the two neighbors is vital to both countries, so they can “concentrate on the well-being of the people.”
Pakistan and India both claim the disputed Kashmir region in full. The glacier is located on the northern tip of the Line of Control — a de facto border that divides Pakistani- and Indian-controlled Kashmir. Territorial disputes over control of the rugged region have sparked two wars between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Siachen has been violently disputed since 1984, when Indian troops seized the heights of the 78-kilometer-long glacier. The Indian move prompted Pakistan to deploy troops at positions as high as 6,700 meters.
General Kayani has dismissed growing calls for the unilateral withdrawal of Pakistani forces from Siachen in light of the human and financial toll.
It is estimated that the dispute over Siachen has claimed more than 8,000 lives on both sides since 1984. Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain on the glacier have claimed more lives than actual fighting.
India and Pakistan spend hundreds of millions of dollars on maintaining the troops on the glacier. Critics say all that money could be diverted to the public welfare if the dispute is settled.