US expert at Sandia wants Siachen converted into Science Centre
By Wajahat Ali
ALBUQUERQUE: India and Pakistan stand to gain by abandoning the zero-sum game in which they have locked themselves and working in collaboration with each other.
This is roughly the case most experts in the United States make to convince visitors from South Asia that India and Pakistan should bury the hatchet and begin anew. The argument generally revolves around how the two countries can benefit by realising their collective economic potential. Experts at the Sandia National Laboratories posit the same argument.
Situated in this picturesque city of New Mexico, Sandia started operating under the United States Department of Energy in 1945 as part of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Both labs were involved in the famous Manhattan Project to help the US build its first atomic bomb.
Sandia assumed a different character, however, as the Cold War came to an end and new threats to the international community began to emerge from non-state actors.
“Sandia National Laboratories applies advanced science and engineering to help our nation and allies detect, repel, defeat or mitigate national security threats,” reads its profile in the annual report.
Sandia has also started the “cooperative monitoring programme” not only to prevent mass destruction weapons from slipping into the wrong hands but also to build stability in different parts of the world by drawing upon its technological expertise and devising verification mechanisms for the implementation of different treaties and agreements.
It has also taken up the track II approach to develop creative solutions for regional disputes by inviting scholars from different parts of the world – including South Asia – to write “occasional papers” on the festering issues. Several experts from South Asia have also participated in the effort. But the most interesting solution to an India-Pakistan problem has come from Kent L Biringer, manager regional security and multilateral affairs at the Cooperative Monitoring Centre.
In a paper written some years back, Mr Biringer argued that the Siachin issue could be resolved by setting up a science centre there.
According to him, “the military forces in the region would be replaced with scientists and engineers from [India and Pakistan] who would advance the knowledge in science and engineering by operating a high-altitude research station for the study of basic sciences, engineering and human physiology”. This would “satisfy the requirement for a national presence in the area that would help ensure terms of a military disengagement agreement”, involving “other regional and international participants and sponsors”.
The science centre could thus carry out scientific missions in areas like astronomy, geology, atmospheric sciences, glaciology, life sciences, physiology and behavioural sciences.
Mr Biringer cites in his paper the Antarctic precedent in this regard. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington in 1959 and entered into force in 1961.
“Thirty-nine countries have become signatories to the treaty including the seven states that originally laid claim to portions of the continent. Under the terms of the treaty, all claims are held in abeyance for the term of the treaty and no new territorial claims can be submitted,” reads the paper.
The continent is now used for scientific research by various states, including India and Pakistan that have used the area to learn more about oceanography.
The paper admits that the resolution of Siachen will require “political will”, but stresses that “the Siachin Science Centre could serve the political needs of India and Pakistan while reducing costs, saving lives and contributing to the advancement of knowledge”. The people at Sandia believe this idea should be tabled by the two governments since they are now trying to resolve this problem once again. (The recent talks on the issue on Aug 5-6 have again ended with the two sides insisting on their traditional positions.)
One of the officials at Sandia claims that studying the glacier itself can help the two states decode the monsoon patterns. This is imperative, he adds, since the region depends heavily on that season and the two sides must ask what would happen if the monsoon failed for a handful of years.