Siachen glacier trek kickstarts despite Pakistan protest

September 30th, 2008 - 8:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Leh (Jammu and Kashmir), Sep 30 (IANS) Despite Pakistan’s opposition, India Tuesday kickstarted its second edition of a civilian trekking expedition to Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, for a second year in a row, reiterating its control over the territory.Nearly 30 civilians from across the country reached Leh to take part in the 21-day trek organised by the Army Mountaineering Institute (AMI). The trek will start at Leh and end at Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani armies have been standing eyeball to eyeball for more than two decades even though the guns have been silent for a long time.

“Pakistan’s protest is completely unwarranted. As the territory belongs to India, we can carry out trekking expeditions without anybody’s permission,” a senior army official said on the condition of anonymity.

The trekkers will cross a maximum of height of 18,000 feet above sea level battling against vagaries of nature like lack of oxygen, extreme cold and height-induced sickness.

India’s maiden move to carry out “adventure tourism” in the Siachen Glacier region last year provoked a controversy after Pakistan accused Indian authorities of undertaking trekking expeditions in the disputed territory.

The Siachen civilian trek has come at a time when India-Pakistan relations have experienced a new thaw, with the two countries deciding to open up the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir for trade.

India has also slightly toned down the expedition with only 30 participants, including school children, mountaineers and media persons. There were 40 trekkers last year.

“Nearly 30 civilians are in the trek. The acclimatization began today (Tuesday). After six days of acclimatization the trekkers will set off for the base camp to Siachen,” the official added.

This time Pakistan has not lodged a protest formally with the Indian government, which on its part did not hype the expedition unlike last year.

Although both India and Pakistan have accepted the need to demilitarise the glacial heights from 1989, the bone of contention in the protracted negotiations has been the “authentication” of the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) beyond the NJ-9842 grid reference point.

All the well-delineated Line of Control simply stopped dead at NJ-9842 in the 1972 Shimla Pact - right till the Karakoram Pass. India wants the AGPL to be “authenticated” first as an international safeguard before any troop disengagement, withdrawal and the final demilitarisation of the glacier.

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