Pakistan and India on Tuesday ended a 12th round of talks over the Siachen Glacier without a hint of agreement on the modalities of a proposed demilitarisation and other key issues related to their tense standoff.
The sole sign of optimism, if any, on the second day of the talks was that both Pakistan and India decided to meet again at a mutually convenient date in Islamabad. New Delhi insists that Islamabad must authenticate present troop position of the two sides.
While Pakistan insists on maintaining the pre-1972 troop positions, as agreed in the Simla Agreement, India wants its neighbour to authenticate the Actual Ground Position Line both on the maps as well as on the ground.
Islamabad emerged as a strong proponent of demilitarisation, raising the issue of climate change due to the continued presence of troops from both sides and its impact on the environment.
An anodyne, neutral joint statement acknowledging cordiality in talks and an enhanced understanding of each other’s presence brought to a close the defence secretary-level talks on the Siachen Glacier.
“Both sides presented their positions and suggestions towards the resolution of Siachen,” it said following the two-day talks between Defence Secretary Syed Athar Ali and his Indian counterpart Pradeep Kumar. They also acknowledged that the ceasefire was holding since November 2003.
They presented their positions and suggestions towards the resolution of Siachen. The Pakistan side presented a non-paper on Siachen. A non-paper, in government parlance, is an off-the-record, unofficial presentation of a stated policy.
The Indian side offered to “study” the non-paper and discuss it with their Pakistani counterparts when the both sides meet next time.
Apart from the delegation-level talks, the two defence secretaries met one-on-one, and the head of the Pakistani delegation also called on Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Both countries’ foreign secretaries, commerce secretaries and home secretaries have held meetings in the past three months.
The statement said both sides “welcomed” the ongoing dialogue process. “The discussions were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere, contributing to an enhanced understanding of each other’s position on Siachen,” it said.
Siachen is considered the “low-hanging fruit” of the India-Pakistan peace process. India and Pakistan will, sooner or later, find a way to bring their troops back down from Siachen. But when they do, the move will be of greater significance than clashing over icy wasteland. It will be a major move towards peace and trust. However, nothing seems to suggest that it is going to happen anytime soon, especially in the midst of conditions as disturbed internally as they are in Pakistan.
The meeting in New Delhi was part of the start-stop peace process aimed at bringing lasting stability to South Asia and Tuesday’s statement said the two countries “welcomed the ongoing dialogue process.”
New Delhi broke off all contact with Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were staged by Lashkar-e-Taiba according to Indian and Western intelligence.
With input from news wires
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2011.