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Let the dead remain buried


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Almost a year ago on April 7th a massive avalanche killed around 139 Pakistani soldiers stationed near the Siachen Glacier. They were buried under more than three million cubic feet of snow at Gyari sector in the war zone between India and Pakistan. In “Heights of Madness” written by the British journalist, Myra Macdonald, Siachen is described as the “world’s highest battlefield. An obscure, unwinnable war fought in the mountains far beyond the reach of ordinary men. A parable of India and Pakistan”. More soldiers have been killed by the weather and terrain in inhospitable Siachen than by enemy fire.

On April 7, 2012, most of the soldiers on the Pakistani side were indoors in the main compound area of their army post located at 13,000 feet when the fast moving avalanche/snow slide hit at 2 am. They were buried within a few seconds and there were no survivors. They say that avalanche victims have the greatest chance of survival if they are rescued within 15 minutes of being buried; but with the entire army post wiped out there was no chance of anyone being rescued any time soon. Besides, they were all buried under one square km of snow, slush and large boulders – apparently a big chunk of the glacier above just fell on them in the middle of the night. Professor Dave Petley, the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University in the UK described it as an “Ice-Rock Avalanche” in his blog.

The avalanche could have been triggered by strong blizzards or even by the frequent changes in temperature caused by climate change. A study looking into the causes behind the avalanche was commissioned by the Pakistan Army and Prof Petley was invited to visit the site but his findings are “classified information” for the army only.

Myra Macdonald, the journalist who visited Gyari years before the avalanche, described it as “built on a small plateau barricaded on one side by a huge vertical wall… there was a helipad, a collection of stone huts, fuel tanks and a bunker”. Gyari was the battalion headquarters located at the base of the Bilafond glacier leading up to the Bilafond-La pass west of the Siachen Glacier. She interviewed the young officers, one of whom told her “We are fighting in the cause of Allah and if we die, we will be martyred… We are not the aggressors. They have come into our territory”. Pakistan accuses India of sneaking into the barren Siachen Glacier in 1984, while the Indians insist that the posts they have gained over two decades of war should be recognised.

Shortly after the avalanche, several foreign teams flew in to help out but their equipment proved to be useless in the slush, snow and rocks of the Siachen avalanche. The Norwegian rescue team, that had plenty of experience of searching for survivors of avalanches, also flew in shortly after the incident to help with the rescue efforts, but they warned the Pakistan Army to just let the bodies remain buried under the ice since it would not be advisable to melt the heavy packed snow due to environmental concerns.

However, the army chose to continue with the search operation at Gyari despite the harsh April weather. Ground penetrating radar teams identified points for further digging and heavy equipment was brought in by road. The Chief of the Army Staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who visited the area along with journalists, insisted that the operation would continue until each one of the bodies was found.“The minimum we can do is recover the bodies,” said General Kayani, on his third visit after the disaster. On a previous visit, he had said: “If we need to dig out this mountain, we will do so to get the bodies”.

Excavation by a team of over 300 soldiers and engineers continued around the clock with dozers and dumpers and finally a month after the incident some bodies were found. The operation went on and by November 25th 2012, a total of 121 bodies had been recovered. Then freezing winter weather set in and the operation had to be put on hold. By the end of April, the snows start melting in this mountainous region and the Pakistan Army says the search operation will restart as soon as the weather permits.The Pakistan Army spent all summer trying to recover those bodies by drilling, excavating and melting the ice with chemicals. A large lake was created by the rescue efforts (and the earlier avalanche which had blocked the river) and the army had to drain its water to protect the site from being inundated. According to the army’s ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) statement, “efforts were undertaken to tackle the effects of water on the site in the shape of pondages, cutting and crevasses. The water has started draining and has resulted in the quick reduction of the water level in the lake to the tune of 27 feet”.

The construction has disturbed the area so much that it is no longer safe for habitation and it is probably quite risky for the soldiers and engineers to continue excavating the site in the coming months. The army might be proud of its tradition of not leaving a man behind regardless of the cost, but a year after the tragedy it does not make any sense for the operation to go on.

Calls have been made by former soldiers (who have served in Siachen) to let the martyred soldiers stay on in Siachen. Perhaps a memorial could be made instead at Gyari to honour those who died. Drilling and digging further into the area, which is surrounded by glaciers, is not only dangerous, but it is clearly taking a heavy toll on the landscape. Already, environmental experts are saying that heavy military presence is speeding up the melting of the massive Siachen Glacier, which is the longest glacier in the Karakoram Mountains and the second-longest in the world's non-polar areas. This could have far reaching consequences on the local climate of the region.

According to Pakistani water expert Arshad Abbasi, the Siachen Glaicer is not melting because of climate change, but because of the military conflict on the glacier. In his view, “The reports with legitimate data confirm that Siachen is melting simply because of army presence. Whosoever claims it is because of global warming, let them conduct an independent audit by a panel of creditable glaciologists for the International Court of Justice so that the responsibility of the 32 years-long adventure can be fixed, which has caused colossal human, financial and environmental loss. Civil societies of both the countries, and world community at large, ought to take this case to demilitarise the third polar cap of the planet”.


The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues.

She can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (65) Closed

SAK Apr 09, 2013 11:51am
I think the author became very selfish while writing this blog. Think about the families who are still waiting for their beloved ones so that at-least they can bury them in their own graveyards. More importantly, these soldiers did not went on some personal adventure, they went their for us, for each Pakistani. So Gen. Kiyani is right, even if it takes 5 years, the search operation shall go on.
Avtar Apr 09, 2013 12:19pm
`` The army might be proud of its tradition of not leaving a man behind regardless of the cost, ....``However, in the Kargil adventure the Pakistan army did not want to take its dead when provided by India. Indeed, more Jawans have perished here than in some of the toughest military battles on the plains of Punjab. Mr. Kayani had vowed to resolve this conflict, people are still waiting.
tahir Apr 09, 2013 12:25pm
I would have appreciated if in the title of this article, you would have used "MARTYRS" and not mere "DEAD". They lost their lives for Pakistan and did not die an ordinary death. Rest, i agree with your point of view ma'am!
Amili Apr 09, 2013 12:39pm
Someone has said "Be the change you want to see" . So Pakistan should vacate this place . BTW nobody cares about environmentalists , though they are right manytimes.
Amin Aslam Merchant Apr 09, 2013 01:29pm
May the souls of the soldiers rest in peace.
proud hindu Apr 09, 2013 02:02pm
so whats the point?
Tariq Apr 09, 2013 02:15pm
If Siachin is the 3rd capped polar with environmental consequences for the immediate and global region then surely it is in the interests of both Pakistan and India to demilitarise by way of an agreement, demarcation of boundaries on the map under the auspicious of the International courts of Justice. And who so ever shall violate the agreement would be fined a pre-determined amount ($m100) in favour of the non aggressor?.
Assad Apr 09, 2013 02:23pm
Excellent article! Whether recovered or still buried, these boys are our heroes and martyrs and they will remain so! May their sacrifices be remembered by our nation.
Faruq Apr 09, 2013 02:54pm
Alternatively, India could vacate the place. Be the change you want to see, right?
chitrali Apr 09, 2013 03:26pm
If it were the writes child buried under the snow ,I'am pretty sure she would't have the same stand,as every mother wants to give their children a final goodbye also it is easy to say 'leave them buried .protect the environment ' when your sitting behind a laptop .p.s these were the best amongst us and I salute each and everyone of these lionhearts.
kumar Apr 09, 2013 03:47pm
Mahatma Gandhi is the one who said "Be the change you want to see" he also said "eye for a eye leaves the entire world blind" which seems to be more appropriate here
ejaz ali Apr 09, 2013 03:52pm
never mind "DAWN" newspaper has never been in the forefront to appreciate or been prompted to acknowledge the sacrifices made by Pakistani Armed Forces. The nation who forgets her HEROES will itself be erased from history.
Amjad Wyne Apr 09, 2013 04:17pm
We have to think about the loved ones - not the Army - that are still waiting for one last glimpse, one last touch. If the Army is still looking for its soldiers then more power to them - I hope they can bring back every one of them. If environment is your concern than propose an approach that protects the environment without compromising the need to bring back our soldiers.
Khan of Kalabagh Apr 09, 2013 04:18pm
Dear Maa'm !!! just close your eyes for once and think that if Your husband / brother/ son or father was buried there, would You have written the same words? i can predict the outcome, it would have been a BIG NOOOOOOOOOOO, please dont mix the environmental issue with the age long traditions of ARMIES. your words must have hurt many. regards
peace Apr 09, 2013 04:22pm
imagine, if similar mishap happens while search is going on...... I can see your point but also think alive people are more important that those who cannot come back to life... be it my very close one..
murtazarzai Apr 09, 2013 04:38pm
extinct Apr 09, 2013 04:38pm
I wonder if someone will miss your body if it is left behind just because it costed too much (in money or environment)... then again think about the one who is sent to the post after you knowing that if something to happen his/her body will not be recovered... very good for the morale, right? Lets pray that you are not faced with this choice in life... I am glad the Army does NOT think like that... :)
AHA Apr 09, 2013 05:12pm
We are talking about a territory that BELONGS to Pakistan. You get out of there.
Mandeep Apr 09, 2013 05:33pm
India has also suffered weather inflicted casualities in Siachin. An agreement on demilitrization could have been possible had Pakistan army not backstabbed India in 1998 in Kargil.
M. Salman Nazar Apr 09, 2013 05:54pm
Military Traditions and warfare do not much respect the Environment?
Khan Apr 09, 2013 07:10pm
It's India who occupied Pakistan territory not the opposite, so india need o vacate, Indians who cry loud of Kargil should face the fact that they are the one who occupied siachen in 1983-1984 before Kargil happens.
Muhammad Tariq Iqbal Apr 09, 2013 07:18pm
sell your logic to the 10 year old son who,s father does not have a grave to the wife and mother...SOME THINGS ARE SENTIMENTAL let them be ..BESIDES pak army does not leave soldiers behind.
Parvez Apr 09, 2013 07:35pm
Completely agree. There are many ways in which these martyrs could be honoured. This amounts to doing the right thing, the wrong way.
Haider Apr 09, 2013 08:08pm
have some apathy . its not just tradition but values not to leave behind a person . these personnels were stationed for pakistan and its people , they have the right that their dead bodies should be brought back , you dont see everything from logical persceptive .. only the army and the families know how they feel when someone is left behind ..
El Cid Apr 09, 2013 09:33pm
Not only selfish but shameless. The Americans are still digging for remains of 9-11. It is over eleven years now. Ever little bit of bone is being DNA identified and given honor and respect And they were civilians, not soldiers.
Xhizar Zuzat Apr 09, 2013 11:14pm
while I deeply sympathize with the families, does the environmental cost justify continuing to add chemicals to the area, causing flooding & further damage? A memorial to those lost is a good idea. ALSO, what is the point of continuing to lose lives in one of the most inhospitable environments of the world? More lives are lost to the weather than anything else. I say BOTH countries should back off from this madness.
Sain Ditta Apr 10, 2013 01:02am
You say so because none of the "dead" lying under the snow there happen to be your loved one?? And btw, have you ever worried and done something about the urban pollution across the country... before you stand up for the glaciated part of the country??
Uggarwadi Apr 10, 2013 01:04am
The withdrawal of forces should be mutually conducted from both sides, incident like this can happen on the Indian side as well. Good sense should prevail and both sides must withdraw. Salute to Pakistan Army. This nation stands with you in this time of grief.
Kamal Apr 10, 2013 01:42am
India should stay and Pakistan should evacuate. So cute..
Kamal Apr 10, 2013 01:43am
Not true about Kargil....stop
Yahya Apr 10, 2013 03:05am
There has to be a solution to this age old issue but i wonder why both the parties are so stiff on their stance and are even ready to sacrifice more lives?
avid_supporter Apr 10, 2013 03:15am
I agree with you Tahir. By the way, did you see the massive numbers of 'thumbs-down' to your vote. The Indians are taking over DAWN. May allah grant the martyrs a place in Jannat. Ameen.
Ahmer Jamil Khan Apr 10, 2013 03:19am
Please do bear in mind the grave environmental consequences of drilling and melting one of the world's largest glacier. Being the CoAS of Pakistan Army, doesn't give Gen. Kiyani the authority to take decisions that might have grave consequences for the entire world. Why were the soldiers there in the first place? What does each Pakistani, as you said, has ANYTHING to do at all with that baren glacier? We're WASTING resources worth billions and priceless human lives to protect those few square kilometers of ice, and extracting the bodies of the martyrs, when our country is going through one of the toughest crunches: literacy rate is shamefully low, poverty and unemployment is widespread, no law and order in many areas, economic crises etc.
janan Apr 10, 2013 04:40am
Very informative and knowledge base article.
Akhlesh Apr 10, 2013 05:42am
That someone was Mahatma Gandhi.
Pakistani Apr 10, 2013 05:45am
Siachin conflict was never started by Pakistan therefore, the onus is on the Indian Army chief to resolve the issue. Time and again Pakistan has tried to resolve this issue by pushing for demilitarisation of Siachend but the Indians in their stubborness refused to vacate their posts. Therefore, the 'people' should look at the Indian Army Chief for answers.
Rao Apr 10, 2013 05:45am
Pak Generals & politicians have only empty promises to offer. As they lurch from handling crisis after crisis, they do not find time to sort out the substantive issues concerning the country. When they are not handling any crisis, they will be busy lining up their pockets.
faisal Apr 10, 2013 05:51am
Salute to the dead soldiers. The memories of their services will remain forever.
Pakistani Apr 10, 2013 05:59am
Ask the Indians to
khatun Apr 10, 2013 06:18am
The soldiers families would appreciate more if their children are taken care of, they get some financial grants to build their lives. Emotion is good but it is time to be practical. And what better place to be buried than in the arms of nature?
Maulana Diesel Apr 10, 2013 06:37am
Same with your soldiers man.
Faysal Apr 10, 2013 07:27am
I would like to request the writer that the least she can do is also write an article on the fallen soldiers and their families as well. Please show your respect for these men who have fallen protecting all of us. For last three days our soldiers are fighting a fierce fight with militants in tribal areas and suffering casualties while our media is busy selling two faced siasat dans and farce elections to the public. Have some respect for these guys and please show our graduate before we ask them to sacrifice their right of a proper burial.
Ghalib Khan Apr 10, 2013 07:31am
Try explaining all this to the family of those Soldiers, They are my heroes, and Gen Kiyani is right on this issue,
Raoul Ciao Apr 10, 2013 07:44am
this is the sad result of unnecessarily carrying forward enmity which should have ended with pragmatic thinking pervading Pakistani elite. However, as the army remains Pakistan's main power centre , it will not give up a posture of enmity as that will reduce GDP spends on it and weaken funds flowing to it, making it an entity with lesser funding and money..... we hope the Pakistani establishment starts at least pragmatic thinking to end a 6 + decade long stand off by treating the eastern neighbour as enemy and stall all MFN and anything which helps reduce tensions. Let history be just that - history, instead of working up a frenzy a la jokers who remind us to remember partition, remember second partition of '71 (which was elite/establishment and army's creation to a large extent) and to fight for the religion.....they need to stop this nonsense and come down to earth. Yes, defend a nation, but why continue waging subversive wars??? Anad, statements like "The army might be proud of its tradition of not leaving a man behind regardless of the cost" are sheer hypocrisy and downright demeaning for the lives lost in kargil and dead bodies left behind and never claimed. The families of those from the NLI and others mourn soldiers never accepted !
gotya Apr 10, 2013 07:49am
What is the estimate of military hardware lost in this avalanche by Pakistan army ? Any opinioin ?
El Cid Apr 10, 2013 08:31am
They are not buried. They are lost. They are not to be forsaken. Don't abandoned them. And it has nothing to do with emotion. It has everything to do with dignity, honor, self respect and trust. All these Pakistan has lost due to being "practical". Every single last one of those soldiers have to be recovered. Pakistan owes it to them...and to itself. It is not about them. It is about us. Learn to stand tall, hold your head high. Word and trust is all. All else is secondary. Dig the glacier. Melt it down. Get them out.
Hari Apr 10, 2013 10:20am
Same Pakistan army refused to take back bodies of their soldiers in Kargil. Indian army had to bury them with Islamic customs.
Faran Ali Apr 10, 2013 10:29am
But Gen Kiyani has no right to play with his men's life.. Siachen should be declared peace area by both sides.
rehan Apr 10, 2013 11:56am
This is the most heartless article I have ever seen . It would be better if the writer comes up with constructive ways to solve the problem of melting glaciers instead of blaming them squarely on the Army !!!
aqeel Apr 10, 2013 12:00pm
the writer obviously have no experience of fighting a war and no clue on what a motivation is. easy to talk sitting at home. if we act on her lines, we soon wont have an army to protect us
fareed Apr 10, 2013 12:37pm
why you wanted to know gotya? human cost is more valuable then hardware cost....
khalid Apr 10, 2013 01:10pm
point is that proud ignorant like you shouldn't be here
imran Apr 10, 2013 02:49pm
misplaced perception on the part of the writer, it is an altogether different domain fighting and not leaving behind any one!!!!
umair Apr 10, 2013 02:53pm
You missed it. the solution is proposed, built the memorial. Its not heartless, its logical and practical, she is talking about the environment in which our childern breath.
umair Apr 10, 2013 03:02pm
after all this 60 years of tyranny, you still believe on army protection??
extinct Apr 10, 2013 03:20pm
The Pakistan Army DOES take care of their fallen heroes' families and does so very well... do your research... It is not possible to ask for sacrifice on one moment and abandon them the next...
extinct Apr 10, 2013 03:21pm
Amen to that brother...
kamran Apr 10, 2013 03:55pm
Go say that to the mothers and children of the burried! The US army has organizations responsible for finding remains of fallen soldiers and bringing them back to be burried with honours. They keep recovering remains of solders killed in the world wars. As far the landscape is concerned it keeps morphing from glacial activity and landslides. Not only a heartless but also a professionally poor article
Imtiaz hamid Apr 10, 2013 04:29pm
Shame on a nation and those suggesting to its soldeirs buried in the ice and snow.Any self respecting nation honours its soldiers, least it can do is to bury them properly. In my adopted country Usa we still look for people missing in action in veitnam Though I was against the war. Imtiaz Hamid Ill Usa
Moh Apr 10, 2013 07:18pm
This may be a well intentioned attempt but silly as it does not involve any other perspective of people involved, military policy etc. Fact is that every Post Commander gets handed a list of people lost there and if they are found, they update the list. Its an ongoing record since a while back. The recent tragedy as it involved several jawans at once just brought this issue in the limelight.
Khalid Shafiq Apr 10, 2013 09:38pm
Aqeel and Rehan; I appreciate from my heart. Army did the right thing and totally agree with bout of you. The journalist lady have no idea what she is talking about. I do not want an other journalist like her writing with Dawn.
Uggarwadi Apr 11, 2013 01:56am
We acknowledge that you have better drama and movies facility, try coming up with a new story. Harri up
Rao Apr 11, 2013 04:28am
" It has everything to do with dignity, honor, self respect and trust"......These are big words which Pak Army is not capable of claiming. Remember what happened to the dignity of Pak soldiers who died in Kargil heights. Their country refused to accept them as their own and now their bodies lie buried in " enemy territory"
Durbullah Apr 11, 2013 04:59am
Mahatma Gandhi's logic worked against the British because they were humans. It won't work against descendants of Babar. So India shouldn't vacate.
malik Apr 11, 2013 05:18am
Last month an army soldier was stoned to death in tribal area. Just wondering if anyone dared to get his body back?