Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Everywhere: The Highest Battlefield On Earth

Himalayan avalanche buried scores of Pakistani troops, army says

By Richard Leiby, Washington Post, April 7, 2012


A huge avalanche buried more than 120 soldiers at a major Pakistani army base on a Himalayan glacier close to India on Saturday, military officials said. Prospects for finding survivors seemed slim, given the fiercely inhospitable climate and dangerous terrain.

    “We haven’t really been able to recover anyone dead or alive so far,” Major Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman in Islamabad, said more than 12 hours after the avalanche, at the entry to the Siachen Glacier in the northern reaches of the disputed Kashmir region.

  At the time of the disaster, the troops were sleeping in a headquarters building now covered with 80 feet of snow, the army said. The military deployed tracking dogs, helicopters and snowmobiles in its search but to little effect, state television reported. A total of 135 people were confirmed missing — 124 troops and 11 civilians.

    The base at Gayari, where the avalanche hit, sits at about 15,000 feet, near a border where thousands of Pakistani and Indian troops stand guard across a no man’s land at elevations up to 22,000 feet. The Siachen Glacier often is called the highest battlefield on Earth.

    More Pakistani troops have died there because of harsh weather than in combat. Soldiers endure winter temperatures as low as 90 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

India and Pakistan have fought intermittently at Siachen since 1984, but a cease-fire went into effect in 2003. Before that, more than 2,000 Pakistani and Indian troops died in the mountainous terrain, mostly because of avalanches, frostbite and other weather hazards.

   Together, the nuclear-armed nations have about 150 manned outposts along the glacier.

    A former Pakistani Army brigadier general, Muhammad Saad, said two Pakistani brigades of three battalions each are stationed in the region. Troop strengths have varied, but each brigade, with support staff, can number up to 3,000 troops.

 Previous causes of avalanches, Saad said, include glacial melt and the loud retorts caused by cross-border exchanges of gunfire.

    Officials estimate that the cost of maintaining the outposts is $200 million for Pakistan and $300 million for India. The nations have gone to war twice over Kashmir, a source of dispute since the 1947 partition of India.

Special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.



  1. When I was working in a research lab at UNC-Chapel Hill, two post-docs on in the lab were a married couple. The wife was a member of an "upper" caste in India, and her husband was Pakistani. She was, as a result, ostracized by her parents, although her she and her sisters who remained in India were in contact.

    This article is very sad, on a number of different levels. Nell

  2. Also, I hope Caroline is feeling better.

  3. It certainly is. In a remote-ish way, it reminds me of the WWI-era in-the-trenches play Journey's End by R.C. Sherriff (the play was actually written and performed inthe late 1920s). Throughout the drama, you just knew that all the characters were doomed. The India-Pakistan conflict is so strange and dead-end on every level. I have a good friend who lives in India now who keeps me informed and I regularly read The Times of Bombay (Mumbai) and The Dawn (Karachi) to try to stay somewhere on the curve. Easter Everywhere is the name of an lp by the great, but thwarted (in part self-thwarted) Thirteenth Floor Elevators from Austin, TX. I love the title and it seemed appropriate. Caroline is feeling very slightly better. Whatever she contracted (and I believe it was in fact a food-borne illness) is horrible. So I'm packing up Tuxedo with Jane's assistance and hope to get on the road soon. Beautiful day. Curtis

  4. Wow, you really brought this story to life. I had no image of it. One of my daughters' friends has lived in a series of troubled or failed states, including Iraq, but he found Pakistan the scariest of them all.

    Happy Easter. I hope you are all well!

  5. My fellow Indians, This could very well happen to Indian troops too considering the snow layers are soft and unstable. Lets not rejoice but hold vigilance. Only cowards rejoice over the unfortunate and untimely death of enemy. Even going back to scriptures, there is historic proof that there existed mutual respect among the enemies and death only in battlefield was rejoiced and considered as victory. RIP.

  6. Nin and Rajesh -- Thanks so much for writing. Coming across this today, I was at a loss for breath and words. The picture it paints -- but of course it's not a picture, but an unbelievable, tragic news story involving people with parents, siblings, friends and perhaps their own children. I hope you both had good days. My wife's recovering from a nasty bout of something-or-other, so when we returned to Pennsylvania, Jane and I went to see a silly movie and had fun. Tomorrow I'm going for a corporate windmill tilt in the big city and after that....who knows? Time to feed and water the cat herd and parade the dogs around once more before their bedtime. Curtis