Pakistan Avalanche Renews Calls for Glacier’s Demilitarization

Posted April 9th, 2012 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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A massive avalanche that buried more than 135 Pakistani soldiers and civilians at a military base in northern Kashmir has revived calls for the region's demilitarization.

A 20-meter wall of snow plowed into the military complex in the high-altitude Siachen Glacier region near the Indian border early Saturday.

Pakistan and India both claim the glacier, located on the northern tip of the Line of Control — a de facto border that divides Pakistani- and Indian-controlled Kashmir. The two nuclear-armed neighbors have deployed thousands of troops to the region at an altitude of around 6,000 meters, making it the world's highest battleground.

On Monday, poor weather conditions hampered recovery efforts and rescue workers have not recovered anyone dead or alive three days after the disaster.

An eight-member team of U.S. military experts arrived in Islamabad to aid in rescue operations, but were unable to travel to the site. U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Stroh told VOA Washington is ready to do whatever it can to help Pakistan deal with what he called a “horrific incident.”

Pakistan's military said a team of experts from Germany and Switzerland is also due in the country to provide help.

Pakistan and India have thousands of troops stationed on either side of Siachen, which has been violently disputed since 1984, when Indian troops seized the heights of the 78-kilometer-long glacier. But the region has been calm in the last decade, with the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain claiming more lives than gunfire.

Critics have long urged India and Pakistan to pull their troops from the Siachen region, calling it a “pointless conflict.”

Saturday's snowslide has revived those demands, which had been echoed Monday in Pakistan's parliament. Lawmakers urged President Asif Ali Zardari to aggressively pursue a diplomatic resolution with India in an effort to prevent further financial and human losses.

Pakistan and India both claim the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in full. Territorial disputes over control of the rugged region have sparked two wars between the nuclear-armed neighbors.