The dispute over and in the Siachen glacier is emblematic of the dispute between nuclear armed rivals India and Pakistan.(A couple of days ago, 10 Indian soldiers died due to an avalance). It reflects the irrationality of the dispute and the deep and wide emotions vested and grafted onto the dispute which render the conflict/dispute into a zero sum game- a conflict wherein one side views the other sides gain as its loss. This is overlain by a crude, jingoistic sovereigntism which makes resolution of the dispute, at least over this barren, icy patch less prone to resolution. The costs to both India and Pakistan over latching onto Siachen have been immense- economically, financially and in terms of men and materiel. Most of the deaths have been caused not by combat between the troops of the two countries but due to harsh weather conditions.
The dispute and the loss of lives thereof also suggests that life is cheap in the subcontinent and soldiers- be they from the Indian or Pakistani side- are viewed as expendable. This assumes salience given that the territory in contention is essentially a barren piece of high altitude territory- a snow desert that has no utility except as some sort of misplaced prestige and honour.
The death of 10 soldiers and the that of countless others, regardless of their nationality(Indian or Pakistani) must focus and concentrate minds on the need Tarrive at , if not a resolution, but some kind of a Modus Vivendi, on this barren glacier filled mountain peak. This review could even serve as a prelude to a wider conflict resolution paradigm between India and Pakistan. The idea is neither new nor bold; it has been mooted before but the gratuitous deaths can serve as catalysts for this review. Both psychological and tangible benefits can accrue. Psychologically, a Modus Vivendi over the glacier can mean and lead to a semblance of rationality in India and Pakistan. This could lead to a potential climbing down from maximalist positions and then a multi tiered and structured dialogue over other issues including finally Kashmir. Materially and tangibly, cost savings would accrue and the money saved could be spent on more salubrious ideas, say for instance, schools in inaccessible areas; more importantly, lives of soldiers would be saved. A corollary of this would be lessening the damage to the environment that has been caused by the militarization of the dispute over the glacier.
There are then multifarious benefits accruing from the resolution of the dispute over Siachen. The primary one is the potential removal of the mental block that precludes an Indo Pak rapprochement. In this sense, a modus Vivendi between the two countries over the glacier can form part of a staggered approach to conflict resolution- a paradigm that is more effective and prudent than the big bang approaches. It will, to use a metaphor that may be apt, break the ice between arch rivals and antagonists and could be a prelude to a new beginning that privileges lives over territory.
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