John Shroder and Michael Bishop know that one scientific workshop next spring won't erase a half-century of rancor between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. But the two geoscientists at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, believe turning the Karakoram mountain range and Siachen Glacier into a scientific peace park could help ease tensions between India and Pakistan and advance knowledge of various scientific processes at 8000 meters.
The idea of turning the war-torn region into a peace park has been around for a long time. But the concept began to gel only 2 years ago when Harry Barnes, a former U.S. ambassador to India, contacted Shroder about organizing a workshop. Shroder used his 25-year-long scientific ties to the region to sign up Syed Hamidullah, director of the National Centre of Excellence in Geology at the University of Peshawar in Pakistan, and Syed Iqbal Hasnain, vice chancellor of Calicut University in India.
This month the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) made a $70,000 grant to what Shroder and Bishop have labeled the Karakoram Science Project. Combined with $30,000 from the Office of Naval Research and $25,000 from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation in Washington, D.C., the money will enable some 30 to 40 scientists from the United States, India, Pakistan, China, and elsewhere to meet next May in Lahore, Pakistan, to discuss an array of geological, climactic, and environmental questions. "NSF was particularly interested in including younger scientists," says Shroder. "It's the first time they've ever given me more money than I've asked for."
In June, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed his support for the idea during an unprecedented visit to Siachen. "The NSF grant is a step in the right direction," says Hasnain, "in building bridges that might lead to the ultimate demilitarization" of the glacier. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, believes that the workshop, if it leads to a peace park, is "proof that enmities are not forever."
Bishop and Shroder plan to concentrate on the science and leave the peacemaking to others. But they readily acknowledge that the workshop could be the start of something much bigger. "If we can get people to work together, there's no telling what could come of it," says Bishop. "We just want to get the ball rolling."
With reporting by Pallava Bagla in New Delhi.
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