Following Pakistan's objection to India allowing tourists to go to the Siachen, an expert at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) has said that treks to the glacier are not new. Teams of various nationalities have been touring the glacier for over a decade.
“Both the countries are trying to seek political mileage out of the issue,” said M. Ashraf, spokesperson of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) and an expert on adventure tourism, on the controversy over the trekking expedition to the Siachen glacier that started on Wednesday.
India and Pakistan have competing claims on the glacier. The two countries have stationed their armies on this 76-sq km glacier at a height of 18,000 to 21,000 feet above sea-level since 1984.
“The Ministry of Defence should have known that expeditions to the glacier are not new,” he said.
“The IMF has organised several joint expeditions with Japanese, French, British and other nationalities to the Siachen. This has been going on for more than a decade. Every year, there are two or three expeditions to the glacier.”
Harish Kapadia, vice president of IMF, has trekked extensively at the Siachen and written a book on the history of the glacier, Ashraf said.
Some mountaineers have written accounts of their treks in journals like Alpine and Mountaineer and Pakistan is fully aware of this.
“Raking a controversy over a non-issue only makes us feel that there is an attempt to stall the resolution of the Siachen issue,” Ashraf said.
Director of Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies (CSRS) of Jammu University, P Stobdan, a resident of Ladakh region said, “It is unfortunate that the issue is being politicised.” He is known for his expertise on strategic affairs of South and Central Asia.
He said the process of politicisation started when members of an Indian expedition named peaks at the glacier. One such peak was called Indira Col. “But today I am more worried about regional and environmental issues,” Stobdan said.
“Instead of launching expeditions, the glacier should be opened to the locals of Shyok and Nubra Valley, so that the environment is protected,” the strategic expert said.
But Ashraf felt that the “two countries should recognise the reality that the glacier is nothing but rocks, ice and snow and should allow geologists, glaciologists, trekkers and climbers to visit it. The first priority should be to clean the glacier, which has become the dirtiest in the world”.
Indian and Pakistani armies have fought with each other on the glacier from 1984 to 2003. The guns have been silent since November 2003, when the ceasefire between the two countries on the Line of Control and Sichaen glacier came into effect.