Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s call for peace talks and demilitarisation of the icy climes of the world’s highest battleground, Siachen, was welcomed by India on Thursday.
Though the reaction did not come from the highest offices in Delhi, it did come from a relevant office – that of Indian Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju.
Raju welcomed Pakistan’s ‘realisation’ of how difficult it was to maintain troops at Siachen.
“I am glad that our neighbouring country Pakistan is also realising the challenges and the economic problems of maintaining troops on the Siachen Glacier,” Raju told the Indian media.
The minister of state also noted the economic toll inflicted by the deployment of troops in glacial heights. “They have their concerns and we have our concerns but it does take an economic toll. This money can be better spent on development of both countries,” the minister said.
The stress on the concerns of each country also echoed in Pakistan.
The Foreign Office on Thursday clarified that there was no change in Pakistan’s stance over the dispute despite the army chief’s call for the demilitarisation of the world’s highest battlefield.
“This (Siachen) conflict should be resolved, but how it is resolved, the two countries have to talk about it,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Muazzam Ali Khan in his weekly briefing.
He said the two countries would begin the next round of secretary-level talks on Siachen in Islamabad but dates had yet to be finalised.
“We have made several proposals under the Siachen dialogue process, including the redeployment of forces,” he said, adding that the two countries would have to find some way to move forward.
Speaking at Skardu airport after visiting the remote Giari base on day 12 of the search operation in the sector, Kayani had said the high cost and environmental impact were good reasons why the area should not be militarised and stressed on the importance of “peaceful coexistence” between India and Pakistan.
Before Kayani, former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif even went so far as to say that Pakistan should lead the withdrawal from Siachen Glacier, insisting that India would automatically follow suit.
There have been several rounds of talks since the conflict began in 1984. The two sides had almost reached an agreement in 1989, but the Indian government is said to have backtracked after strong opposition by its military establishment.
During the last round of talks held in New Delhi last year, Islamabad handed over a “non-paper” envisaging a roadmap for resolution of the problem. Pakistan had proposed immediate disengagement as a way forward for resolving the dispute.
The Siachen conflict began in 1984 when Indian forces launched a successful operation to force Pakistani troops to retreat west of Saltoro ridge. Since then, the two countries have fought intermittently in the region until they agreed on a ceasefire in 2003.
India wants Pakistan to authenticate the 110-kilometre actual ground position line (AGPL) along the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro ridge in Jammu and Kashmir while Islamabad insists on reverting back to pre-1984 positions.
About 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have died at Siachen since 1984, about 90 percent of whom perished from weather-related causes, said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN ISLAMABAD)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2012.