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Optimism as Siachen talks begin today

May 26, 2005


ISLAMABAD, May 25: India and Pakistan dialogue on the Siachen issue begins here on Thursday amid guarded optimism of some forward movement on the two-decade old conflict over the world’s highest battlefield. This will be the ninth bilateral meeting on the Siachen issue and third under the composite dialogue framework agreed between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in 1997.

Siachen is one of the eight issues on the composite dialogue agenda.

The last round of talks on Siachen were held in Delhi in August 2004 but remained inconclusive.

The two-day talks, to be led by the defence secretaries of the two countries, will take place at the Defence Ministry in Rawalpindi.

An eight-member Indian delegation headed by Defense Secretary Ajay Vikram Singh arrived here on Wednesday night on a special aircraft from Delhi.

The Pakistani delegation, headed by Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (Retd) Tariq Wasim Ghazi, includes Director-General Military Operations Major Gen Mohammad Yusaf, director-general South Asia at Foreign Ministry Jalil Abbas Jilani and other senior officials from relevant departments.

When Dawn asked Foreign Office spokesman Mr Jilani on Wednesday if the government was optimistic about making some headway on the Siachen issue during the talks, he refused to prejudge the outcome but said: “We hope that our discussions result in resolution of Siachen issue in accordance to the 1989 bilateral agreement.” The agreement is already in place, it just needs to be implemented, he underlined.

India on the other hand insists that Pakistan authenticate the positions held by the two armies on the Sicahen heights. Pakistan, however, rejects this demand, saying such a move would mean authenticating aggression by the Indian side.

Given that both sides remain sharply divided on the basic issue a major breakthrough seems unlikely. However, there are indications of a forward movement with a likely agreement on “some incremental measures” aimed at minimizing stress and losses on both sides.

According to an informed Indian source the delegation from Delhi will be carrying some specific proposals essentially pertaining to such “incremental” measures. Significantly, the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security met on Monday to discuss what kind of progress was possible on the Siachen issue.

Ruling out the possibility of redeployment or withdrawal of troops by India from Siachen at this point, the source said: “The shadow of Kargil continues to raise a big question mark on this issue even among the moderates in Delhi.”

Siachen heights had been under Pakistan’s control since 1947 but these were occupied by India in 1984 in a move that was seen as an aggression by Pakistan as well as the international community.

In 1989 an understanding had been reached between the two governments for disengagement of troops to the time of 1972 when the Simla Agreement was signed.

The defence secretaries of Pakistan and India met in June 1989 and agreed that both sides would work towards the comprehensive settlement based redeployment of forces to reduce the chances of conflict, avoidance of the use of force and the determination of future positions on the ground so as to conform with the Simla Agreement. It was decided that the army authorities would determine these positions.—Q.A.