Hillary to lead campaign for peace in Siachen
16 October 2003
The Daily Times
NEW DELHI: Legendary mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary will join an environmental campaign in an effort to reduce tension between India and Pakistan. World environmental organisations are joining hands and roping in Sir Hillary to call upon India and Pakistan to reduce their military presence in the Siachen region and begin the task of regenerating biodiversity by setting up a peace park. The World Conservation Union (WCU), the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Himalayan Environmental Trust and the Himalayan Club in a joint appeal have said a trans-frontier park is the only peaceful way to settle the Siachen issue between the two countries.Recently a group of Indian and Pakistani mountaineers took up the plight of the Siachen at a meeting in the Swiss Alps. Earlier in June, the issue was raised in Dhaka during a workshop on the environment, jointly organised by the WCU and the WCPA. 'As part of the normalisation process and confidence-building measures (CBMs), the governments of India and Pakistan are urged to establish Siachen Peace Park to protect and restore the spectacular landscapes which are home to many endangered species including the snow-leopard,' said a press release issued at the end of the Dhaka meeting.Environmentalist Aamir Ali, member of the WCPA, along with Harish Kapadia and Mandip Soin had suggested the idea a few years ago. They have now approached Sir Edmund Hillary to lead the campaign. Sir Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first humans to set foot on the summit of Everest, the highest point on earth, in 1953. Troop movement around strategic locations, firing practice and the garbage generated from the presence of troops disturbs wildlife, affects their breeding and spreads diseases.The concept of peace parks is not new. Almost 70 years ago, the United States and Canada established the first peace park. Now there are 169 peace parks in the world. But the first officially designated trans-frontier park was set up three years ago between South Africa and Botswana. However, the WCPA has cautioned that the creation of protected area will not in itself resolve a dispute but can be part of the resolution settlement. 'No direct settlement should be expected from the initiative but it could help to erode some of the mistrust and misinformation that five decades of hostility have helped to spread in the minds of ordinary Indians and Pakistanis,' said a WCPA report.The 77-km long and 3-km wide Siachen glacier has been a battleground for several decades. The war is costing India US$1 million a day and Pakistan only a bit less. Of the 3,500 soldiers dead and 10,000 injured on the glacier so far, only three percent are reported to have died from bullets while the rest succumbed to harsh weather.