Opening Of IHK Peaks May Result In Indo-Pak ‘clash’10 April 2010
New Delhi: The Indian Defence Ministry’s decision to open 104 mountain peaks in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) for foreign climbers is likely to initiate a new war of words with Pakistan. But it has raised hopes amongst environmentalists and scientists, who believe the government may also relax rules to permit access and release information about these peaks housing most of the glaciers. IHK Tourism Minister Rigzin Jora stated that it will open new avenues for tourism in the backward Ladakh region, however, experts say the decision was politically motivated to assert claim over the region. Both countries, along with China, have indulged in ‘oropolitics’ in the region – using mountaineering for political purposes. They have been sending expeditions to explore and assert their control over the eastern Karakoram. The Siachen dispute also emerged when the three countries started sending climbers to the glaciers. In the past, Pakistan has officially protested against permitting foreign civilians trekking to Siachen. Two years ago, the Indian Army sent its expedition to Khatling Glacier in response to Chinese incursions. Exercising rights: Rejecting Pakistan’s protests, Indian officials said they have all the right to take trekkers to Siachen and other peaks in the region, which are under India’s control and part of IHK. Environmentalists are of the view that opening of these peaks to “consumer tourism” would expose these mountains to an ecological catastrophe, while scientists are glad the move would allow them access to glacial data in the region, otherwise classified due to their strategic locations. Protests: Prominent Indian ecological expert Vandana Shiva said environmentalists worldwide have been campaigning for reducing tourist flow to mountains and glaciers, adding that many governments have limited access to the peaks to save their fragile ecology. She, however, added that it might help her retrieve “secret data” on the Himalayan glaciers to study ice melting in the region. “We hope that when the government opens these peaks to foreign climbers, it will also release data on their ecological health to its own scientists,” she added. At the forthcoming SAARC summit in Bhutan, India will be under pressure to share this data with Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan, as the leaders discuss climate change. Both the ministries of environment and science have referred the issue to the Defence Ministry to examine their proposal to release the data.