Monday, April 23, 2012

Our obligation towards our fallen sons of Siachen

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.



Our obligation towards our fallen sons of Siachen

Avalanche in the Giari sector of Siachen glacier destroyed a battalion headquarters along with its 139 inhabitants. It’s certainly a national tragedy but much more serious for the families and their dear ones. All of these were someone’s sons, fathers, and brothers. One of them was like a son to me and a father of a very young lady who would never remember her loving father. Sleeping deep in the snow with diminishing, maybe extinct, possibilities of survival the nation owes a lot to its fallen sons. It owes to them a confirmation that their sacrifice was really necessary and nothing could be done to prevent the disaster. Finding answers to these questions might be even more important than singing their praises and mourning them ritually.

How this senseless war got started at the top of the world where nature becomes the biggest enemy might be debatable because of the policies of our neighbors so I won’t comment on it. Let’s focus on the reasons within our control.

This is not the first time that we have lost men due to natural calamities nor would it be the last time but there is a difference here. As an old amateur trekker I know one thing for sure and that is that everyone in the mountains must know the places where avalanches are a possibility and camping must be avoided there. Some daredevils do camp at such places for a night or two but then they are taking a calculated risk with their lives. Constructing a whole permanent battalion headquarters in the line of a possible avalanche risking hundreds of lives might simply be gross incompetence bordering on stupid. As Oscar Wilde said “there is no sin except stupidity” this negligence might have caused more loss of Pakistani lives than any single act of terror and must be investigated as seriosly. It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.

We spend millions of dollars to keep our men at these heights. We buy equipment and stuff for them from the most expensive professional stores and spend a fortune supplying them. When we spend this much on our soldiers why couldn’t we simply get expert advice of professionals about where to camp and where not to. We didn’t have to import expensive experts for this; any local guide could have done that accurately. Apparently this was not done here.

Our state apparatus has caused us serious losses and embarrassments but has never been held accountable. This matter-of-fact impunity has encouraged the negative behaviors of criminal negligence and incompetence causing further pain to the nation and its people. Gross misjudgments and incompetence embarrassed the nation in Kargil misadventure, Afghanistan’s strategic depth policy, East Pakistan and 65 war to name a few. The earthquake of 2005 in which over a lakh people lost their lives was for many more of a massacre by corruption rather than a natural disaster because most of the government buildings collapsed whereas the privately built stood better. Government schools full of innocent children were the first to fall killing many. We seem to have acquired some strange habits to stay in the news; I hope it’s not vanity. All these ill thought of actions cost this nation very dearly economically, in reputation and also human lives nearly making it an isolated pariah nation where no tourists or sports teams visit.  Memory is the mother of all wisdom and we should not forget our mishaps only because they suit certain segments.

Corruption and incompetence by the state and its functionaries has caused more deaths and sufferings of Pakistanis than all the enemies combined. Pakistan and the Pakistanis cannot let off this incompetent state apparatus unaccountable for long and must start questioning and making it accountable. An independent investigation must be carried out to figure why a battalion headquarter was constructed on the way of possible avalanche. Who didn’t follow the procedure or maybe who made the wrong procedures. Once we are able to identify the people and procedures responsible for the avoidable disaster we can take steps to avoid future embarrassments and loss of lives. We can’t afford to let people responsible for deaths of Pakistanis go scot-free just because at a stage they were holding Pakistani passports, would be unfair to our heroes.

To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible and responsibility we must ascertain accurately. Only if it is established by independent inquiry that no one was responsible for this tragedy should it be considered a natural disaster until then it should be treated like a case of criminal negligence as is the routine for police firings across the globe. If not, we must hold the people responsible either due to malicious reasons or incompetence accountable for the tragedy they caused. Even if they are retired while enjoying their privileges they should be made to pay as they owe them to the fallen heroes and their kin.

Let us for a change assure our children in the service of the nation that we value their lives and do everything to secure it. Praying and giving monetary compensation to their families with the national exchequer might not be enough. Holding the people responsible accountable and punishing them might be much more important in this endeavor. This taking away of impunity might be the most important step to avoid further unnecessary disasters. We have to do it; we owe it to our fallen heroes/sons and make sure their sacrifice at Siachen doesn’t go in vain this time.

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