September 17, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Siachen on the tourist trail

Makes the Pakistani foreign office wail

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Environmentalists may perhaps be unhappy. But India’s decision to allow tourists to visit Siachen is a masterstroke. Why?

Because it blows several of the Pakistani army’s carefully cultivated canards. The truth is, first, the Pakistani army (under Pervez Musharraf’s command) lost control of the commanding heights of the Saltoro ridge (and hence the Siachen theatre) in 1987. Second, India has effective (albeit expensive) control of the glacier. And finally, as a consequence, and contrary to the endless, unquestioning use of the phrase by the world’s media, the Siachen glacier proper is not the world’s highest battlefield.

It’s interesting to see the incredible Pakistani foreign office take yet another incredible position: that tourism should not be allowed in disputed territories’. That’s rich—for the roots of the Siachen conflict involve Pakistan’s decision to issue mountaineering permits after redrawing boundaries (with no little help from the Americans) to suit its designs.

Then, in 1974, Pakistan’s Ministry of Tourism decided to open the region again, issuing permits allowing foreign expeditions to climb on the Baltoro Glacier, near K2, and to explore the no-mans-land around the Siachen.

Between 1974 and 1981, at least 16 major expeditions climbed up to the Siachen and beyond - 11 from Japan, three from Austria, and one each from Britain and the United States. Pakistan’s motive for issuing the permits, it seems, was a desire to promote mountain tourism. But as expedition reports circulated through the mountaineering community made clear, the foreigners had concluded that the Siachen belonged to Pakistan. This impression also took root in the minds of the Pakistani government, and today the list of these expeditions is often cited as proof of ownership.[The Coldest War/Kevin Fedarko]

Moreover, Ms Tasneem Aslam should spare a thought for Pakistan’s tourism industry in an unfortunately designated Visit Pakistan Year 2007. After all, the part of Kashmir it occupies, including Gilgit & Baltistan, are major tourist destinations. They are also disputed territories.

Update: And now the Indian government turns tail

Sources say that the expedition was called off after it came to light that the Army had not sought requisite clearances from the Ministry of Defence. The issue of clearance was looked into by the Ministry only after Pakistan lodged a strong protest, warning that Indian plans to open Siachen to tourists could adversely affect the ongoing peace efforts and turn the whole process “on its head.” [IE]

Update 2:No, it doesn’t!

The first-ever group of 42 trekkers to Siachen glacier will set off for the icy heights in Eastern Karakoram on Wednesday as planned, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

There is no move to call it off,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said here as he asserted the expedition is taking place in an area which is ours.”

The trekking expedition comprising cadets from the National Cadet Corps will set off on Wednesday on a 22-day trip to the glacier area. [TOI]

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