Troop withdrawal from Siachen is still to be resolved but Indian and Pakistani scientists have begun pushing for a geosciences lab to study the glacier and eventually convert it into a science park.
With them are scientists from the US and Canada. Separate meetings are being held in Islamabad and Dehra Dun to develop a suitable work plan for researching the high Karakoram ranges in what is being referred to as the "Siachen Science Laboratory."
What has given impetus to the initiative, according to geologist John H Shroder of the University of Nebraska, is the October 8, 2005, earthquake in Kashmir. "It was a message from the gods that India and Pakistan need to have urgent cross-border dialogue,''
he said. The little-understood Himalayas are rapidly changing due to human intervention. The still provide sustenance for over a billion-plus south Asians by ensuring fresh water and energy security. But there are dangers -- retreating glaciers, rivers changing
course, dams triggering earthquakes -- and geo-scientific research is vital.
Already, the initiative has faced roadblocks. A joint "Science for Peace" international conference, funded by the US National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research of the US Navy, was to be held in Islamabad in May. Over 100 researchers from
the US, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Italy, Afghanistan, Germany, and China were to attend. But at the last minute, Pakistan withdrew official recognition for the event.
Undeterred, the key organisers of the event, the University of Nebraska, Omaha, organised separate meetings, one of Pakistani scientists in Islamabad, and one of Indians in Dehra Dun early this week. Together, they have tried to formulate a "collaborative
research agenda for Indo-Pak scientific activities in the western Himalayas."
Topping the agenda are:
• Assessing seismic hazards
• Studying the impact of climate change on Himalayan ice
• Document glacial changes
The earthquake was a wake-up call, for it came as a surprise that the Muzaffarabad faultline turned out to be active, says Shroder. Researchers don't want to be caught napping and hope to install a dense network of seismic stations across the mountains to
understand earthquake risks.
The advice to the scientists from Shroder, who has researched the Karakoram for some 40 years, was not to get disheartened by the unique logistical hardships of the region. "Just keep pushing the edges, and little by little good science can be done. There
can't be a better natural earth science laboratory than the high Himalayas," he told the Dehra Dun meeting.
Concurring with him is Baldev R. Arora, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehra Dun. He says enough blood has been shed, and now the time has come for "the science for peace initiative to take off" for the good of all Himalayan neighbours.
Report from Indian Express, 4th July 2006