Senator Mushahid Hussain's Speech on June 11, 2015
Senator Mushahid Hussain's Speech on June 10, 2015
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed Speech on December 26, 2014
For parliamentarians belonging to the Senate Defence Committee, it was truly a unique and unprecedented experience when they paid a historic visit to Siachen to express solidarity with the valiant soldiers and officers defending the motherland at the world's toughest terrain on behalf of the Parliament and the political forces. This was the first ever visit by any Parliamentary Committee to Siachen – the world's highest battleground at an all-weather-snow-capped height of over 7000 metres.
The Senate Defence Committee, during their two-day visit, first reached Skardu from Islamabad, where it was given an initial briefing before flying to Giyari, which is at a height of 12,500 feet. It is the same place where 140 soldiers and officers of Pakistan Army, including 11 civilians were martyred in an avalanche on April 7, 2012. The delegation also laid a wreath at the Monument for the martyrs of Giyari.
The Senate Defence Committee delegation next flew to a strategic military post located at Bilafond-la at Siachen, at the height of almost 17,000 feet, not far from where the Indian Army is based at the Line of Actual Contact (LAC).
We were all impressed by the troops stationed at the world's highest battlefield, particularly their valour, high morale and determination in discharging their professional duties under such difficult conditions, where temperature can even reach minus 60 degree centigrade in the peak winters. We expressed pride that people of Pakistan take in their armed forces and told them the nation would never forget their sacrifices in defending every inch of the country, despite being outnumbered by an adversary superior in number and weaponry, but not in fighting spirit, morale and motivation.
After return from Bilafond-la, the Senate Defence Committee was given another briefing at Goma, which is at the height of 10,500 feet. Addressing the troops over tea, our multi-party delegation conveyed to the spirited soldiers that we were their voice in the Parliament and would do utmost to protect and promote the good name and image of the Armed Forces which are performing very important role in defending Siachen with professionalism and commitment. The Committee also criticised the Indian military establishment for sabotaging all efforts for peace at Siachen, since India had consistently rejected all proposals that had been made by Pakistan for resolution of Siachen issue, even in the aftermath of the Giyari tragedy.
The committee expressed concerns over the consequences of Climate Change and Global Warming, which are having adverse effects on Siachen and causing freak weather incidents like the Giyari tragedy. The committee also urged India to cooperate with Pakistan and other South Asian countries to jointly formulate a regional strategy on the environmental issues. We also presented a media manual on Climate Change, prepared by the Senate Defence Committee.
The Senate Defence Committee delegation included Acting Chairman of the Senate, Senator Sabir Ali Baloch, Senator Haji Adeel, Senator Mohsin Leghari, Senator Abdur Rauf and Senator Dr Saeeda Iqbal, as well as Secretary of the Defence Committee, Dr Pervez Abbas.
Interestingly, Siachen Conflict, unlike Kashmir, is thirty years old, having begun with a sneak intrusion by Indian troops in an area which was till then a virtual No Man's Land. This brigade-strength intrusion soon became a permanent military occupation, starting in April 1984. Thirteen rounds of negotiations since then have been inconclusive, primarily due to Indian obduracy and obstinacy, and has added Siachen among the issues that are an impediment to Pakistan-India normalisation of relation.
Conditions under which our Soldiers live at Siachen
Conditions for soldiers stationed at the highest battlefield of the world are particularly harsh, with the highest post at 22,000 feet. To reach that height, it takes 21 days of slow climbing and stopping over en-route to acclimatise to the weather and terrain. They are specially trained troops who can survive such harsh living conditions in bunkers and igloo-like structures for months on end, with temperature that can peak at minus 60 centigrade.
90% of casualties are caused by the harsh weather, which include frost bite, lung and chest diseases, loss of memory, and depression. A captain who had served at such an outpost during the winter shared that usually soldiers pass their time talking to each other or playing games like Ludo. And, while they were on duty, guarding the outposts, sometimes the sun is not seen for many days. The most difficult moment is when a soldier falls sick and he has to be evacuated, which is quite a major logistic exercise.
Despite these horrendous conditions of existence in military bunkers, the morale of jawans and officers was very high, they were in good spirits, smiling with enthusiasm and have a zest to serve and defend the motherland.
An interesting feature about army jawans and officers present at Siachen is their representation from entire country, from all provinces and ethnicities of Pakistan, which shows that Pakistan Army is a national army serving at Siachen and elsewhere in the country.
3-Point Peace Plan for Siachen: More an Issue of Promoting Human Security and Protecting Environment, rather than National Security
On our return from the visit to Siachen, a media briefing at Islamabad was held with members of the Defence Committee at Parliament House. It was emphasised that the time was ripe for both Pakistan and India to treat Siachen as an issue of promoting human security and protecting the environment to face the consequences of Climate Change, rather than a needless waste of human lives, money and material in the name of national security.
This was capped by our proposal for a 3-point plan for peace at Siachen, given Siachen has emerged over time, as I underlined, as “a pointless conflict of the last 30 years, waste of human and material resources.” Ingredients for such peace can include following elements to defuse military tensions on the world's highest battleground:
• Demilitarisation of Siachen, withdrawal of forces of both Pakistan and India;
• Conversion of Siachen into a Peace Park where mountain tourism and expeditions could be encouraged under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and World Tourism Organisation (WTO);
• Collaboration between Pakistan and India to prepare a joint strategy for preserving the environment and combat the consequences of Climate Change and Global Warming in the Siachen region whose impact will be felt by a fifth of humanity that resides in South Asia. We should learn a lesson from the Giyari tragedy which resulted in loss of precious lives, regarding the futility of the conflict at Siachen.
In this context, it is also relevant to mention the track record and efforts for peace at Siachen which were sabotaged on at least three different occasions by the Indian military establishment. On all these three occasions, the Indian Army Chiefs of that time overruled the Indian political leadership to sabotage any possible peace agreement of India with Pakistan over Siachen:
• June 1989, when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had agreed with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for a Siachen agreement but the then Indian Army Chief, General V. N. Sharma, opposed it and the agreement was overruled. The agreement was based on an understanding arrived at between the Defence Secretaries of Pakistan and India during talks in March 1989.
• On June 13, 2005, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, during a visit to Siachen, proclaimed Siachen as a “mountain of peace” and publicly sought to convert Siachen from a “point of conflict to a symbol of peace.” However, General J. J. Singh, the then Chief of Army Staff of India opposed it citing “security concerns” and termed it as being “not in national interest.”
• On the eve of the 13th round of talks on Siachen between Defence Ministries of Pakistan and India which was scheduled in June 2012, the then Indian Army Chief, General V. K. Singh publically and outrightly rejected Pakistan's proposals of peace at Siachen saying that “these are not realistic,” thereby undermining any possibility of a peace agreement prior to talks. This statement came, interestingly enough, in the wake of the Giyari tragedy.
Some of these factors have also been confirmed in the recent book by Sanjaya Barua, former Press Secretary to the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the “The Accidental Prime Minister.”
While all parliamentarians lauded the sacrifices of the valiant soldiers of Pakistan Army who are defending the motherland against heavy odds at the world's most difficult terrain, I told the troops that they were a role model for the entire nation and the Parliament of Pakistan fully stood behind our men in uniform at Siachen. The soldiers are a source of inspiration, a symbol of courage and commitment.
For the future, the way forward is that Siachen be no longer treated as an issue of national security by India and Pakistan, rather this is more an issue of human security. The need to protect and preserve the environment and ecology of the region is of prime importance as it is adversely affected by the Indian occupation, particularly the cutting and melting of ice using chemicals to construct military barracks. It is somewhat silly for the Indian Army in the 21st Century to insist on militarising an area where the most brutal conditions of existence, including the harsh weather, are the biggest enemy for both sides.
Pakistan and India are both Asian countries and nuclear neighbours. In the 21st century, which is Asian Century, the time has come for both countries to collaborate, for starters, on such areas as environment, climate change, and global warming.
We should approach issues with a big heart and even take pride in each other's achievements as Asians. For example, we congratulate India on its achievement on Mars while India should also take pride in Pakistan's achievements in areas of science, technology, IT, arts, literature, and culture because some of the best brains and talented professionals reside in South Asia, and we can learn from each other.
The Nobel Peace Prize, won jointly by citizens of both countries with Pakistan's Malala, the youngest ever recipient, can be the starting point of pride in South Asian success which needs to be transformed into peace at Siachen.
Let Siachen be a test case for India's new leadership led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whether he can match his words with deeds to settle Siachen with maturity, large heartedness and common sense, keeping in mind the paramount interests and future of South Asia's teeming millions, soldiers and civilians alike, or remain hostage to an outmoded approach of the hawks in the Indian military-security establishment, that still somehow believe that hegemony can be imposed by bullying and browbeating through military diktat.
Indian Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley's remarks to an Indian media interview on October 22, 2014, that “our conventional military strength is far more than theirs (Pakistan)," and his warning of more 'pain' to Pakistan given the context of unprovoked shelling across the Line of Control and Working Boundary, smacks of an immature arrogance, a throwback to the bloated self-importance exuded by Indian policy-makers like L.K.Advani, in the aftermath of the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998. Once Pakistan responded in kind on May 28, 1998, the situation changed and Indian leaders realised then that South Asia now had a new balance of power.
Regrettably, India's short-sighted policy-makers do not learn from history where one lesson is clear: size does not equal strength, and military miscalculations can have dangerous consequences as the Soviets in Afghanistan, Americans in Vietnam, and Israelis in Lebanon, learnt to their lasting regret!
The writer is Chairman of Pakistan's Senate Defence Committee. He is an eminent scholar and practitioner of international repute on issues of security, international relations and politics. He has been the Editor of a prestigious national English daily, and author of three books. As Leader of Pakistan's Delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva in 1993, he was proactive in promoting Pakistan's position on Kashmir and Siachen.