China on Monday expressed its condolences for the at least 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians still missing following Saturday’s avalanche on the Siachen glacier, but did not say whether it would be providing either technical assistance or military support to help with rescue operations in the sensitive region.
“We express our condolences to the Pakistani victims in the avalanche and express our sympathies to the bereaved families,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin told reporters.
Rescuers on Sunday continued to struggle through the heavy snow and fallen boulders that had buried the headquarters of a battalion in the Giari area, as hopes for survivors faded in the harsh 15,000 feet-high terrain of Siachen.
Mr. Liu did not reply to a question on whether China would be sending financial support, technical assistance or personnel to Siachen to help with on-going rescue operations, although diplomatic sources said China was considering providing some form of assistance.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has close ties with the Pakistani Army, and sent several thousand troops, mainly from its engineering and construction corps, to assist in flood-relief in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in 2010.
China provided $ 250 million to aid rescue and recovery operations following the 2010 floods. This was the largest-ever grant of humanitarian aid by China to any foreign country, and also marked the first instance of China sending aid over land. The government and the PLA dispatched 101 trucks to Gilgit from the Xinjiang region, which neighbours PoK, over the Karakoram highway to the dry port at Sust through the Khunjerab pass.
Diplomats said China would most certainly send some form of financial and technical assistance to help rescue work. While the experience from two years ago would also enable China to dispatch personnel support quickly, it would carefully weigh the option of sending military personnel considering the concerns that were raised by the posting of PLA troops in Gilgit in 2010.
The presence of PLA troops in the disputed region worried India, even prompting Indian officials in Beijing to bring up the matter with the Chinese government two years ago. Chinese officials then assured India that the personnel were present only for flood-relief work and to provide humanitarian assistance.
Indian Army Chief General V.K. Singh said last year that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 Chinese military personnel present in Gilgit, including construction working teams and personnel for security purposes, according to Indian estimates. He said many of the troops were engineering corps but were also, as in the case of the Indian Army's support personnel as well, “combat engineers” and in some way still “part of the PLA”.
Keywords: Siachen avalance