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Siachen issue may remain buried at frozen heights
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 5
The long awaited talks between the Defence Secretaries of India and Pakistan got underway here today to discuss the demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier, but the indications available at the end of day one pointed to the matter remaining unresolved and buried at the frozen heights of the world’s highest battlefield.

There was no official word available either from the Indian or the Pakistani side. A joint statement is expected tomorrow, but sources said a breakthrough on the issue was unlikely in this round of talks or even at a later date.

Both sides are expected to stick to their respective positions over the issue without actually giving any room to the other for manoeuvring. While Pakistan will not be ready to authenticate the Indian control over Siachen Glacier, New Delhi will be pressing for a formal acceptance of the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) by Islamabad.

Official sources said although both sides would strike a friendly chord, these would be ready for hard bargaining on the issue. The talks between the Defence Secretaries, being held after six years, would form part of the overall composite dialogue between the two countries.

A nine-member defence delegation from Pakistan, headed by Defence Secretary Lieut-Gen Hamid Nawaz Khan (retd) reached here last evening. Other members of the Pakistani delegation include Director-General (South Asia) Major-General Mohammad Yusuf, Director-General (Military Office) Major Jamal-ul-Rahim Afridi, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Ajij Ahmad Khan and Additional Secretary (Defence) Rear Admiral Ahsal-Ul-Haq Choudhary.

Among members of the Indian team, being led by Defence Secretary Ajai Vikram Singh, are Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Shiv Shanker Menon, Surveyor-General of India Dr P. Nag, Director-General of Military Office Lieut-General A.S. Bhaiya, Joint Secretary (Ministry of External Affairs) Arun K Singh, Joint Secretary (Ministry of Defence) Vimal Julka and Additional Director-General (Military Office) Major-General J.S. Liddal.

Before going for official-level talks, Pakistan’s Defence Secretary was closeted with his Indian counterpart Ajai Vikram Singh for about an hour.

Reports emanating from diplomatic circles suggested Pakistan would press India for return to pre-Simla accord position in Siachen Glacier. However, New Delhi was apparently expected to point to Islamabad that the positions being held by India in Siachen area were actually those confirming to the pre-1972 era.

A senior official pointed out that India was exactly at the pre-1972 position and would not be entertaining any of the Pakistani suggestions other than that.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was briefed about the Indian position on Siachen in the “War Room” of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the South Block yesterday during a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

The Pakistani delegation is also expected to press for both countries adhering to the June 1989 agreement between the Defence Secretaries of their countries. An agreement was then reached between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan over the redeploying of troops to the 1972 position which, however, did not come through.

In fact, Pakistan has always nursed a grudge against India for its refusing to ink the agreement reached earlier. According to officials here, the agreement was not reached due to Pakistan’s reluctance to authenticate the ground positions held by both countries.

Pakistan apparently believes that India will be ready to accept any suggestions as New Delhi is paying a heavy price for maintaining troops at the icy heights. But officials here say India is ready to cough up the costs and will not give any room to Pakistan atop Siachen.

The issue has been discussed six times so far by both countries before it was formally placed on the composite dialogue agenda in 1998 along with Kashmir and other issues.

The talks on Siachen will be followed by parleys on Sir Creek Island in the Rann of Kutch. Another Pakistani delegation, headed by Rear Admiral Ahsan-ul- Haq Chaudhry, Additional Secretary of Defence Division, will hold discussions here on Sir Creek tomorrow and day after.
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