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Siachen talks seen making little headway

June 12, 2012


ISLAMABAD, June 11: Defence secretaries of Pakistan and India met on Monday in a fresh round of talks on Siachen dispute amid low expectations of progress that has for decades been complicating their relationship.

The two days’ talks will conclude on Tuesday after which a statement is likely to be issued.

The Monday’s meeting at the defence ministry was the 13th on Siachen since the two countries engaged in a long drawn-out conflict in 1984.

The Pakistan side at the meeting was led by Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi and the Indian side by her counterpart Shashikant Sharma.

On 11 previous occasions they failed to break the stalemate. The June 1989 meeting of defence secretaries, was the only one at which both countries were able to reach an agreement on working for a comprehensive settlement on the basis of Shimla agreement.

Dehli, however, reneged on the pledge days later.

The only difference this time was that of the context. This round is happening after Gayari tragedy in which 139 Pakistani soldiers were killed because of a massive avalanche in April that buried their battalion headquarters. Bodies of the dead soldiers are still being retrieved from the site of the avalanche. The incident brought Siachen back into the limelight with more voices on both sides of the border underscoring the futility of the confrontation and calling for an immediate resolution of the conflict in which more soldiers have died because of accidents and extreme weather than the actual combat.

Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani during his visit to Gayari after the April 7 incident also called for a negotiated settlement and demilitarisation of Sicahen.

“The preliminary discussions were held in a very pleasant and cordial atmosphere. Both sides explained their respective stances on the Siachen issue; they will hold further discussion on the subject tomorrow and a joint statement will be issued after the concluding session,” a brief statement issued by defence ministry on the first day of talks said.

Gayari tragedy had generated hopes of some forward movement on the issue. To quote the words of a Western diplomat closely following the discussions, India must have seized the moment.

However, India’s Defence Minister A. K. Antony watered down any hope of progress even before the defence secretaries sat down to discuss the matter.

“Do not expect any dramatic announcement or decision on an issue which is very important for us, especially in the context of national security,” he had said, adding India would reiterate its “clear-cut position”.

India’s Cabinet Committee on Security last Thursday discussed the Siachen issue and is said to have finalised the strategy for Rawalpindi parleys.

Indians believe that accepting Pakistani proposals would imply a surrender of the glacier that had been under Indian control since 1984.

At the back of Indians’ mind, an Indian source said, were fears of China benefiting from any settlement because of its strong relations with Pakistan.