Trouble Is Brewing on Roof of the World

Nearly three years after her father, Maj. C.B. Dwivedi, was killed by enemy fire on a strategic peak overlooking the disputed Kashmir Valley, 14-year-old Neha Dwivedi remembers every little detail surrounding the day she heard the tragic news.

It was July 3, 1999, at the height of a high-tension, high-altitude border conflict that erupted after India launched airstrikes against Pakistani-backed forces that had infiltrated Indian-administered Kashmir.

Along with her little sister and some of their cousins, Neha had been dispatched to a nearby ice cream parlor for a special summer treat. But when she returned to her uncle's home in New Delhi, India, where she was spending the holidays, she saw her mother weeping in a corner.

"There were lots of people in the house and when some of them saw me, they started crying," she recalls during a phone interview with "Then my older cousin told me, 'Your dad has attained martyrdom.' But I at once told him to stop lying — even though I knew people wouldn't lie about such things."

Maj. Dwivedi was just one of more than 400 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the blustery, shivering war fought on the frozen peaks of the western Himalayas in the summer of 1999 in a bid to win the strategic heights of Kashmir.

While Dwivedi fell to hostile fire, a number of casualties in the 1999 conflict were victims of the punishing rigors of fighting at altitudes of 18,000 feet and more, where avalanches, snowstorms and the very air — a rarefied atmosphere that can cause fatal conditions such as pulmonary and cerebral edema — pose a greater threat than enemy fire.

Almost three years after the armies of India and Pakistan fought what is popularly called "the war on the roof of the world," a blustery fight that cost the two impoverished South Asian nations an estimated $1 million a day at its height, the armies of the two rival nuclear nations are gearing up for yet another confrontation.

Amid intense international pressure to arrange a face-to-face meeting between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the sidelines of a summit in Kazakhstan, the international community has warned that a likely full-scale war between the two nuclear nations would be, in the words of U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, "somewhere between terrible and catastrophic."

Heights of Fear

Catastrophe is lurking on one of the world's dizziest and most spectacular landscapes, a soaring terrain sandwiched between the fertile plains of the Indian subcontinent and the vast wastelands of Central Asia that has, through the centuries, captured the imaginations of men yet persistently rebuffed the greed of conquerors.

In the fourth century B.C., Alexander the Great's troops mutinied after trekking through this blustery terrain, putting an end to his dreams of conquering the world. And in the 1800s, Britain and Russia waged a game of spying and stealth — which came to be called the Great Game — rather than subject their armies to the hell of waging war in such impossible topography.

But today, violence is threatening the entire Himalayan region. In the mist-drenched mountains of western Nepal, Maoist rebels are staging a brutal guerrilla campaign that threatens to slide the once-serene Himalayan nation, home to the world's highest mountain peak, into a vicious civil war.

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