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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


May/June 2008

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The Siachen Peace Park Proposal: Moving from Concept to Reality

For the past several years, various constituencies in South Asia and beyond have been attempting to establish a jointly managed conservation area, or “peace park,” in the Karakoram mountains, which divide the hostile nations of India and Pakistan. Researchers, mountaineers, and conservationists have joined forces to promote their vision of using environmental cooperation to make the magnificent Siachen Glacier region—militarized since 1986—safe for geographers, tourists, and snow leopards.

“Peace parks” are transboundary conservation areas that seek to mitigate conflict through environmental cooperation between neighboring countries. The idea can be traced back to the time-tested tradition of postwar memorials aimed at healing wounds between adversaries. Most existing peace parks, however, are located between parties that are not actually fighting; one example is the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park between the United States and Canada. A more ambitious project in the Cordillera del Condor region was key to resolving the decades-long dispute between Ecuador and Peru; the 2004 treaty between the two nations explicitly used environmental conservation as a conflict resolution strategy by establishing a jointly managed protected area between the two countries.

The Siachen Peace Park, while unlikely to bring peace to India and Pakistan singlehandedly, may be a catalyzing variable that not only hastens the peace-building process but also makes it more durable. To that end, the project continues to push forward, bringing the proposal to policymakers and attempting to overcome some of the concept’s physical constraints and political hurdles. For example, what would be the role of the militaries in the peace park? As absolute demilitarization is unrealistic in this case, the project is considering encouraging the militaries to act as rangers and assist in managing the park, which would allay fears about security and allow the two armies to work together for a constructive purpose.

Another issue facing the project is delineating the park’s border, a task that would have to be undertaken in phases to develop trust between the countries. Visitor access, too, poses a problem: do tourists visiting the park need visas for both countries? More realistically, visitors from either India or Pakistan could be allowed to enter the peace park on their entry visas from either country—but not permitted to cross over the park’s boundary into the other country.

To begin the process, both countries must overcome their institutional inertia and sign an agreement in principle. In 2004, a unified grassroots campaign, combined with a strategic push from influential groups, sought to usher in the fiftieth anniversary of the first ascent of K-2 (a mountain in the Karakoram range that is the second-highest peak in the world) by pushing the effort forward. The Italian government, which facilitated this process, established a meteorological measurement site near K-2. The proposal was submitted to both Pakistani and Indian governments, and during his 2006 visit to Siachen, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that he hoped the area would some day become a “peace mountain.” Since then, the project has focused on using science as the conduit for peace building, as does the Antarctic treaty. In March 2008, Indian and Pakistani glaciologists met for the first time and established a detailed plan for research partnerships that might ultimately reduce tensions and pave the way for a peace park.

Saleem H. Ali
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
University of Vermont

SOURCE: Adapted from Understanding Environment, Conflict, and Cooperation (UN Environment Programme and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2004).

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