Baltistan region is a part of the erstwhile Kashmir state. During British rule of India, Baltistan region was a part of the Jammu &Kashmir state ruled by the Maharaja of Kashmir. After Indian independence in 1947, Maharaja of Kashmir remained undecided about joining India or Pakistan. Pakistan Government under disguise of tribal warriors, invaded the region. When the Pakistani army reached on the outskirts of the state capital Srinagar, Maharaja of Kashmir signed Instrument of accession with India and Indian army rushed to Kashmir to defend the state against Pakistani invaders. Indian army cleared most of the Kashmir valley, but Prime minister of India decided to refer the matter to United nations security council and a cease fire was ensured. At this time a small portion of Kashmir valley and norther regions remained in Pakistani hands.
In 1972, after creation of Bangladesh, an accord was signed between Pakistan and India, in which a line of actual control was legalized. This line however was not demarcated west of a point known as NJ9842 and which lies west of the Soltoro ridge .
Siachin glacier also flows north to south on east of both Soltoro ridge and this point NJ9842 . The entire Siachin region was left unmarked during 1972 agreement. In 1984, suspicions of Pakistani maneuvers in Siachin, India launched operation Meghdoot and took control of the entire glacier region along with Soltoro ridge on the east side of the glacier and the mountain passes. Siachin glacier is strategically extremely important and crucial for control of the entire Karakoram region. Pakistan made many attempts during eighties to dis-launch the Indians from Siachin, but were unsuccessful. Eventually they were forced to take control of the area west of Soltoro ridge, which consists of high altitude mountain ranges and deep ravines.
Pakistani army has several bases and forward posts in this entire area. Pakistani military headquarters was located at Gayari in a deep valley( most of the peaks around are above 20000 feet high ), with an height of 3,775 metres (12,400 feet) above mean sea level. The Gayari base, which was about 40 miles north of Turtok, the last village under Indian control, and about 40 miles west of Siachin glacier, was one of the most important Pakistani bases in the area. It was a vital supply hub for troops and materiel passing through to more remote bases, and was not far from a military hospital. Recently, base was occupied by soldiers of the 6th Northern Light Infantry battalion, a unit “trained in mountain operations”. Avalanches are very uncommon in the area of Gayari. Because of this low avalanche risk, Gayari was a bigger complex and housed many more soldiers than other bases in Pakistan controlled area west of Siachin.
Around 2:00 am, Pakistan Standard Time, on 7 April 2012, a massive ice avalanche struck this base , which originated from a point 4560 meters above sea level and at a distance of about 1300 meters from Gayari camp. The winter of 2011–2012 in Kashmir was unusually harsh, marked by numerous heavy snowfalls and sharp temperature drops. Due to this reason or something else, the entire mountainside just slid eastwards towards the camp and Battalion headquarters was instantly buried deep in soil. The avalanche was so massive that the camp covering an area of 1 square KM was buried under 21 meters or 70 feet of snow, which made the rescue efforts almost impossible. As per official reports of Pakistani Army, 124 soldiers, including a Colonel and a commander , 11 civil labourers have been buried deep down and hopes of any survivals are very remote.
By 9 April 2012, rescue crews which consisted of about 300 Pakistani’s and 8 experts sent bu US were working at the scene of the disaster and had managed to clear an area of snow measuring approximately 12 meters in length, 9 meters in width, and 3 meters (10 feet) in depth. Official statements suggest that no bodies have been yet found. Inclement weather and fear of new avalanches generated by use of heavy excavating machinery hampered the operation.
A controversy has now come up within experts regarding whether Gayri incident is an avalanche or a landslide. Many experts believe that the difficulties faced by rescuers have arisen because the camp is not buried under snow but loose earth, which makes it almost impossible to dig under given conditions.
Pakistan has already started sending feelers to India about possible withdrawal of soldiers of both countries from Siachin area. However, considering the strategic importance of Siachin and the past history, India is unlikely to take any action of real substance. It is up to Pakistan military to take necessary steps which could prevent such mishaps for them in the future.
Surprisingly, a Chinese military website has released photo’s of Gayri disaster, indicating some involvement of China in the rescue work. A video of the disaster site can be seen here. There is nothing much that India can do except offering sympathies to Pakistan. But that is life isn’t it?