ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reminded India on Saturday of a 1989 agreement for resolving the Siachen dispute and asked New Delhi to honour it.
“A 1989 agreement exists, which settled the principles for the resolution of Siachen conflict,” Zehra Akbari, Director General (South Asia) at the Foreign Office, said at a media briefing on rescue operations in avalanche-hit Gayari.
“Time has come for the implementation of that agreement. It has to be resolved to prevent such mishaps from happening again,” she said.
Last weekend’s massive avalanche in Gayari, which buried the army’s battalion headquarters in the region trapping 135 troops and civilians inside it, brought the conflict over Siachen into focus, with people on both sides of the border questioning the strategic value of the territory and calling for withdrawal of troops from the world’s highest battlefield where relentless sub-zero conditions have killed more people than the actual combat.
Ms Akbari said Pakistan had been persistently asking for resolution of the issue. She was referring to the Pakistan-India joint statement issued on June 17, 1989, after a meeting between the two defence secretaries.
The statement said: “There was agreement by both sides to work towards a comprehensive settlement, based on redeployment of forces to reduce the chances of conflict, avoidance of the use of force and determination of future positions on the ground so as to conform with the Simla Agreement and to ensure durable peace in the Siachen area. The army authorities of both sides will determine these positions.”
The agreement was made possible because of back-channel contacts between then prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi.
The 1989 agreement, which was soon afterwards denied by India, was lacking in three aspects — which point the troops should pull back to, how to ascertain the existing ground position and monitoring of demilitarisation.
Pakistan has, during various sessions on Siachen, proposed that troops return to pre-1972 positions, as agreed in the Simla Agreement, but India has insisted on authenticating the actual ground position line both on maps as well as on the ground.
Indians believe that accepting Pakistani proposals will imply a surrender of the glacier that has been under Indian control since 1984.
It is said that the Indian army has been at the forefront in preventing a resolution of the issue. At the back of Indians’ mind, an Indian source said, was a fear that China would benefit from any settlement because of its strong ties with Pakistan.
American diplomatic cables, revealed by WikiLeaks, had also pointed out to the Indian army’s resistance to a resolution of the dispute.
The cables cited the China factor, India’s distrust of Pakistan, Indian army’s internal corruption and its desire to retain the strategically advantageous territory as the factors stopping Delhi from agreeing to a settlement.
The cables said every time India and Pakistan came “very close” to an agreement on the Siachen issue, the prime minister of the day would be forced to back out by the Indian defence establishment, Congress Party hardliners and opposition leaders.
RESCUE EFFORTS: The Director General of Military Operations, Maj Gen Ashfaq Nadeem, said rescue efforts in Siachen were at “full-scale” and rescuers had been able to reach the ground level at two points, but did not find anyone.
Digging at other points, he added, was continuing. He admitted that chances of finding any survivors were slim, advising “prayers for a miracle”. He expressed the hope that rescue efforts would pick up pace in coming days after an expected improvement in weather.
Maj-Gen Nadeem said a new battalion headquarters had been raised at Goma to replace the one buried under the avalanche. The new headquarters has been properly staffed and equipped. It is fully operative now.