There was no wind to disperse the odor that hung over Kumar like a malignant bouquet: raw kerosene, raw vegetables, raw sewage. I breathed it in, tasted it. Even by the standards of men who are too busy fighting one another to care about the damage they've done to a magnificent ecosystem, this was too much.
Yaseen, however, seemed oddly cheerful about it all. "I am so happy to have come here and been given the chance to see this garbage!" he declared. I asked why.
"Why? Because many of my friends in the army told me about how much trash was here and how it has spoiled the glacier, and I didn't believe them. But now I've seen it for myself. Now I know that my friends were telling the truth."
THE MOST CRITICAL SECTION of the 1,800-mile border between India and Pakistan is a 450-mile line that cuts through the valleys and mountains of Kashmir. Here, for more than half a century, at least 500,000 Indian and Pakistani troops have faced off. In 1965 and again in 1971, the armies fought two conventional wars, both of which Pakistan lost. Since the late eighties, the border has also been the focus of a brutal guerrilla-style conflict. While thousands of Islamic militants trained in Pakistan have crossed the border to wage jihad, Indian security forces in Kashmir have imprisoned, tortured, or executed hundreds of civilians suspected of collaborating with the militants. In the past 14 years, more than 36,000 Kashmiris have died. These facts alone would probably qualify it as the most dangerous border in the world, even if it did not harbor the potential to trigger a nuclear holocaust.
Ten years ago, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Kashmir was emerging as the most likely place on earth for a nuclear war to break out. This seemed imminent in the early spring of 1999, when 800 Pakistan-supported militants seized a 17,000-foot ridge overlooking the cities of Kargil and Dras in India-controlled Kashmir and began shelling a vital Indian military road that connects Srinagar to Leh and the Siachen Glacier. India responded with full force, and by early May of that year there was heavy fighting along 100 miles of the border. The situation was especially unstable: Only twelve months earlier, India and then Pakistan had each carried out successful nuclear detonations for the first time. By July 4, when the Clinton administration forced Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to back down, both sides had reportedly put their nuclear strike forces on alert.
The origin of this larger conflict can be precisely dated to midnight on August 15, 1947, when Britain's Indian Empire was officially partitioned into the new nations of India and Pakistan. The upheavals of Partition produced one of the largest migrations of refugees in modern history—some ten million people—and the slaughter of as many as one million Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims as neighbor killed neighbor during the chaos that ensued. Another casualty was the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to simply as Kashmir), which had a Muslim-majority population ruled by a Hindu maharajah and would soon become the object of a bloody tug-of-war. Two months after Partition, India and Pakistan crossed swords over Kashmir, and they've never really stopped.
When the first round of full-blown fighting ended in January 1949, two-thirds of Kashmir was in Indian hands, including Jammu, the Buddhist region of Ladakh, and the biggest prize of all, the legendary Vale of Kashmir. Pakistan got the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan, which it now calls the Northern Territories, plus a sliver of southwestern Kashmir. According to the United Nations, the final disposition of the entire region—pending to this day—is to be determined by a plebiscite among Kashmiri citizens, the majority of whom are still Muslim. Until that vote takes place or an acceptable alternative is put forth, the de facto border has been the cease-fire line, now known as the Line of Control, which begins near the Indian city of Jammu and cuts a wobbly path northeast toward China.
That line stops well short of the Chinese border at a map coordinate known as NJ9842. At the time of the cease-fire, no fighting had taken place beyond this point because the area was too remote. Negotiators from both countries simply agreed that, starting at NJ9842, the line would be understood to extend "thence north to the glaciers."