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Pak cites water crisis, asks India to withdraw Siachen troops (Dec.)

Hindustan times,  New Delhi, December 4, 2013

Pakistan on Wednesday asked India to withdraw its troops from Siachen, claiming their presence on the glacier in Kashmir was damaging the environment and polluting one of its main sources of water supplies. Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's advisor to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, claimed Indian forces on Siachen posed a "serious threat" to the country's environment.

His remarks come against the backdrop of the Dawn daily quoting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday as saying Kashmir was a flashpoint in the relations between the two neighbours and can trigger another war. However, a statement from Sharif's office later clarified, “Prime Minister of Pakistan never uttered these words.”

Pakistan is facing a water shortage and Indian troops are damaging the "virgin snow" of Siachen- one of the largest sources of water in Pakistan, Aziz said.

He added that items of daily use disposed of by Indian soldiers were threatening the glacier's existence. Describing the presence of Indian forces on the glacier as a "big issue", he urged India to resolve the Siachen matter "on priority basis by pulling out its troops".

Pakistan's 'Free Siachen' cry comes close on the heels of its prime minister saying India has forced the country to join an arms race.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on Siachen, the world's highest and coldest battlefield, since 1984.

Aziz said Pakistan and India are engaged to resolve outstanding water issues through multiple channels, including the composite dialogue and Indus Waters Commission. He said the implications of water scarcity were grave in view of climate change.

The guns have been largely silent along the Actual Ground Position Line since the two sides put in place a ceasefire in 2003, but adverse weather conditions on the glacier have claimed many lives on both sides.

India has insisted that the demilitarisation of Siachen must be preceded by recording the existing troop positions, but this has been rejected by Pakistan.

According to environmentalists, glacial retreat in the Himalaya and Karakoram ranges has accelerated in recent years because of human presence on glaciers.

Aziz stressed the need to make proper use of water in Pakistan as well as its conservation and the building of new reservoirs. He said parliament had formed a committee to discuss water-related issues and to make recommendations.