ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A rescue effort was underway Saturday to save more than 100 Pakistani soldiers buried by an avalanche that encased their headquarters in the Himalayas, on a remote glacier that has been the site of skirmishes between nuclear archrivals Pakistan and India dating back to the 1980s.
The soldiers were deployed at the Siachen Glacier, located on the far northern end of the disputed Kashmir region that is claimed by both India and Pakistan. Most of the soldiers were believed to be inside the battalion’s main building when a massive avalanche struck in the early morning hours, Pakistani military officials said.
The rescue mission involved at least five military helicopters along with search dogs, engineers, medical personnel and other troops deployed in the area. As of Saturday afternoon Pakistan time, there was no word on the fate of the soldiers, and the military had yet to establish any communications link with the men, said Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.
“It’s a very big avalanche and it covered a lot of area,” Abbas said.
Both India and Pakistan have hundreds of troops deployed in the Siachen region, regarded as the world’s highest battlefield. Soldiers have been deployed there at elevations as high as 22,000 feet, and have had to endure extremely harsh conditions that include an average winter snowfall of 35 feet and temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Avalanches in the Siachen region are relatively common, and soldiers deployed in the area are trained in avalanche survival and rescue techniques, Abbas said. However, the location of the headquarters that was hit Saturday -- toward the rear of Pakistan’s military presence in the region -- is a place where avalanches are more rare.
The dispute over the Kashmir region remains one of the primary obstacles impeding normalization of relations between India and Pakistan. It has been the flashpoint for two of the three wars that the countries have fought since their independence from Britain in 1947. Since 1984, when India established a military foothold on the glacier, skirmishes have broken out several times between Indian and Pakistani troops in the region.
Photo: A May 2005 photo shows a Pakistani security official keeping guard on the outskirts of Siachen, near the Siachen Glacier. Credit: Olivier Matthys / EPA