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India links Siachen demilitarisation to progress on Mumbai attacks

By Khalid Mustafa
ISLAMABAD: In a major breakthrough, India has agreed to demilitarise the Siachen Glacier and resolve the Sir Creek issue provided ‘reasonable’ progress is made on the Bombay attacks.

The Siachen Glacier is the second longest glacier of the planet that regulates the climate in the region and is also the water tank for both Pakistan and India. India showed its willingness during the three-day dialogue with Pakistan held in Dubai under Track-II diplomacy on December 3-6. Noted international experts also attended the meeting.

India acknowledged that its troops’ presence on the Siachen Glacier played a major role in its fast melting, putting the agrarian economy of Pakistan at stake. Experts of both sides will send to their respective governments their recommendations on demilitarising the Siachen Glacier and for joint watershed management in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to reinstate the degraded environment for sustainable flow in rivers that also include Jhelum and Chenab Rivers, for the initiation of an official dialogue to develop a framework for the implementation of the proposed measures. Former chief secretary Ashok Jaitley, General Ashok Mehta and Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal represented India at the talks while General Hamid Khan, Ayesha Siddiqa, General Moin Uddin Haider, former foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmad Khan, Rahimullah Yusufzai, Arshad H Abbasi represented Pakistan. Sectray Saarc Muhammad Iqbal Tabish also participated in the talks.

The News had highlighted on November 26 and 29 that the Siachen Glacier could disappear in future, as major cracks, streams, lakes and even rivers had appeared in the glacier mainly because of the ‘human intervention’ much before the Cancun climate conference that was currently held in Mexico.

Although, Pakistan’s delegation that attended the Cancun moot on climate failed to highlight the issue of the fast melting Siachen Glacier, but during the dialogue under Track-II diplomacy, experts from Pakistan succeeded in highlighting the issue and prevailed with arguments due to which Indian water experts, intelligentsia and the international community acknowledged the fact that the cause of these cracks was not global warming; rather it was the presence of the Indian Army on the Siachen Glacier since 1984. The glacier is melting at an unprecedented rate and this has already been reported. The melting has been attributed to the deployment of troops and establishment of permanent cantonments.

Both sides in the Dubai talks also developed an agreement that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for all trans-boundary hydropower development projects should be carried out. This is allowed under the provisions of Annexure ‘D’ and should be conducted before physical execution of projects and India ought to send all the EIA reports to Pal-EPA for comments, reservation and mitigation measures, if any.

India has also agreed for joint watershed management in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to reinstate degraded environment for sustainable flow in rivers that also include Jhelum and Chenab Rivers. Reports have appeared in the Pakistani media that water flows in these rivers has decreased manifold. Both these rivers play a pivotal role in irrigating the province of Punjab, the food basket of the country.

When contacted, General (retd) Hamid Khan, who participated in the Dubai dialogue, confirmed that India had agreed to demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier and resolution of Sir Creek but linked it with progress on the Mumbai attacks. The Indian side has agreed to submit its recommendations on demilitarisation of Siachen to its government. This is really a positive development.

According to water expert Arshad H Abbasi, who also participated in the Dubai talks, the watershed of the two rivers in Kashmir has been destroyed because of the massive cutting of trees by the Indian troops to apprehend the freedom fighters. Now India has agreed to jointly develop and monitor the watershed of the said rivers in held Kashmir.

The joint statement issued after the Dubai dialogue, a copy of which is exclusively available with this scribe, says: “It is a matter of immense satisfaction that Indian water experts, intelligentsia and international community have acknowledged and endorsed the following steps of cooperation between the two nations under the domain of Real Time Water Monitoring Quality and Quantity: i) To preserve Siachen and other Himalayan glaciers, it is the only effective strategy to declare protected areas and immediate demilitarisation from Siachen should be done immediately to save the second longest glacier of planet; ii) An EIA for all trans-boundary hydropower development projects should be carried out. This is allowed under the provisions of Annexure ‘D’ of treaty and should be conducted before physical execution of projects and India ought to send all EIA reports to Pal-EPA for comments, reservation and mitigation measures if any; iii) Independent Indus Water Commission (IWC) must be reinforced with experts of international independent agencies such as UNEP, World Bank and working of new IWC should be benchmarked with organisations dealing in similar nature of task such as Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), Mekong Rivers Commission, International Commission for the Protection of the Danube; iv) Joint Watershed in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to reinstate degraded environment for sustainable flow in rivers.

“The aforementioned points were deliberated upon and there was a unanimous agreement on them. This has to be sent to respective governments for the initiation of an official dialogue to develop a framework for the implementation of the proposed measures. This is the only way to consolidate the linkage between the two countries, with respect to trans-boundary dialogues.”

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