An avalanche smashed into a Pakistani army camp yesterday, burying at least 100 soldiers in the area on the de facto border with India billed as the world’s highest battleground, the military said.
Troops with sniffer dogs, aided by helicopters, were frantically trying to find signs of life in the snow after the avalanche engulfed the remote camp in mountainous Gayari, Siachen, in disputed Kashmir.
A team of doctors and paramedics has also been rushed to the high-altitude region, which suffers extreme weather conditions — temperatures on the strategic Siachen glacier plummet to minus-70oC.
“More than 100 soldiers of NLI [Northern Light Infantry] including a colonel were trapped when the avalanche hit a military camp,” army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said. “The rescue mission is continuing and rescuers are trying to rescue the soldiers.”
The heavily militarized glacier is 6,300m above sea level and has been occupied by Indian and Pakistani troops since 1984.
Experts have previously said that India has around 5,000 troops on the glacier, while Pakistan has less than half that number. Harsh weather and the high altitude claims many more lives than actual fighting over Siachen.
Kashmir is owned in part by both India and Pakistan, but claimed in full by each of the nuclear-armed rivals.
Pakistan and India launched a peace process in 2004 and the guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent, but Siachen remains a bone of contention in negotiations.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been the main bone of contention in two of the three wars between the neighbors since their independence in 1947 from Britain.
A Pakistani military statement said the avalanche struck early yesterday morning, raising the possibility that soldiers were asleep at the time.
“Around 100 persons of army came under a snow slide early this morning in Gayari sector near Skardu,” it said.
“Rescue efforts are on. Sniffing dogs, helicopters and troops on ground are employed on rescue efforts,” the statement said.
State-run Pakistan television said rescuers were facing difficulties getting heavy machinery to the far-flung area.
Avalanches and landslides frequently block roads and leave communities isolated in the mountains of Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan and in Kashmir.