The devestating news of an avalanche in the Northern Areas, at the battalion headquarters at Goma, which left 124 army personnel and 11 civilians feared dead, came to the nation as not just a painful shock, but also as a reminder of the great sacrifices made our brave soldies, in their service of the motherland. Troops belonging to the Northern Light Infantry, which had been included in the ranks of the regular regiments of Pakistan Army in recognition of the performance of its units particularly during the Kargil conflict, had been manning posts in direct conflict with India on what has been called ‘the highest battlefield in the world.’ In addition to illness, crippling frostbite, emphysema and a host of other ailments, avalanches are just one of the fatal dangers faced by soldiers on Siachen.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has made a statement expressing deep shock, and at the same time saying that the incident would not undermine the morale of soldiers and officers. While it is true that the incident will lead to soul searching within the military about the sacrifices they ask of our soldiers in the task of defending the country, as well as conducting a search and rescue operation with all possible resources at their disposal, this is essentially a human tragedy, makes us all think of the terrible fragility of life. While those defending the borders are laying down their lives doing the jobs asked of them, is our leadership doing theirs? From judiciary, to military to civilian, are they investing in thinking of Pakistan’s future, instead of each trying to tip the balance of power in their favour? Are they prepared to barter away the lives of their soldiers for petty personal gains in the short term?

The entire nation is indebted to the brave soldiers who gave up their lives defending at so difficult a battlefield. Those engaged in the rescue efforts also deserve the thanks of their countrymen, for their excellent and noble work. Military policymakers also need to discern whether there is a likelihood of more avalanches than before. Avalanches are ascribed to the melting of snow, which does occur at this time of the year, but the factor of global warming must be taken into account. The battlefield cannot be abandoned because of this, but methods of combat can be varied to allow for the new reality and every effort made to end the conflict as soon as possible with a decision in Pakistan’s favour.