M A I N   N E W S

India, Pak take step forward on Sir Creek
Siachen issue remains frozen
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, October 4
India and Pakistan failed to achieve a thaw on Siachen issue despite hectic back-room diplomatic efforts that continued well past midnight last night, though the two nuclear neighbours did take a step forward in resolving the Sir Creek maritime boundary dispute.

The two issues — Siachen and Sir Creek — had been discussed at length both at the Foreign Minister-level and delegation-level talks yesterday and there was expectancy in the air that External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh might return home after securing a framework agreement on working out modalities for eventual withdrawal of troops from the world’s highest battlefield.

The situation changed after Mr Natwar Singh called on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at his official residence at Rawalpindi. Ministry of External Affairs spokesman told reporters after this meeting that Gen Musharraf and Mr Natwar Singh welcomed the ongoing diplomatic initiative as a framework to promote settlement on the issues of Siachen and Sir Creek on mutually acceptable basis.

But when the Mr Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri addressed a joint Press conference in the afternoon, Siachen had taken a backseat. The four-page-long Indo-Pak Joint Statement, read out by Mr Kasuri, dismissed Siachen issue in three lines as follows: “The two sides exchanged ideas on the Siachen issue and agreed to continue their discussions so as to arrive at a common understanding before commencement of the next round of the Composite Dialogue in January.”

Both Foreign Ministers read out their respective remarks at the joint Press interaction. While Mr Kasuri made a brief mention of Siachen, Mr Natwar Singh’s remarks had no reference to Siachen. Mr Kasuri said: “On Siachen, we have exchanged concrete ideas and we will continue discussions for reaching a common understanding.”

Neither of the two sides was willing to answer the question: What went wrong on Siachen? As Mr Kasuri went to see off Mr Natwar Singh from the Foreign Office, he was asked by this correspondent whether the two sides progressed by an inch or a yard, Mr Kasuri parried the question. When a Pakistani woman journalist persisted with the question, he replied that he would not say anything more than what he had said in his remarks. 

He also added that that is why he had read out from prepared remarks. It is open to analysis whether Gen Musharraf instructed his Foreign Office to go slow on Siachen and predicated it upon a resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue because it is India which is spending a fortune in maintaining its troops on Siachen since March 1983.

Diplomatic sources said the Siachen talks got stuck in the groove as the two sides refused to dilute their stated positions. India wants a demarcation of the troops’ position from the two sides in Siachen before the area is declared a no-activity zone.

Pakistan’s retort is whether India wants demarcation, authentification and verification of its own aggression in March 1983 when it occupied Siachen heights. The Indian position is that Siachen is its own territory and it can get ready for redeployment of troops only after the due verification process, which includes verification of the troops deployment beyond NJ 9842.

However, on Sir Creek, the two sides agreed, without prejudice to each other’s position, to undertake a joint survey of the Sir Creek itself, similar to the joint survey of the horizontal section of the boundary in the area. The two sides also agreed to consider options for the delimitation of their maritime boundary.

They agreed that the joint survey should commence before the end of the year and its report will be considered in the next round of the Composite Dialogue. Ideas relating to the delimitation of the maritime boundary would also be addressed in the Composite Dialogue with a view to its early resolution.

On the Sir Creek issue, Mr Kasuri said: “We have agreed for the first time to consider options for the delimitation of the maritime boundary between the two countries and to undertake joint survey of the Creek. This should enable us to work for the resolution of this issue in a concrete manner.”

Mr Kasuri echoed Gen Musharraf’s words when he said: “We need to have a mature outlook to be able to manage our disputes while trying to resolve them. In other words, we should be and are engaged in a process of conflict management and conflict resolution.”



Natwar takes up Sarabjit issue

New Delhi, October 4
External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh today urged Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to consider Sarabjit Singh's case on humanitarian grounds and Gen Musharraf assured him that he would keep the Minister's remark in view whenever the Indian condemned prisoner's matter is put before him. — TNS


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