Talks on Siachen troops may fail to break ice

Defence secretary-level parleys on the issue to begin on Monday

The 12th round of defence secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan on Siachen will be held here on May 30 and 31with the aim of finding out a permanent solution on how to withdraw the troops from the world’s highest, coldest and costliest battlefield.

At the last meeting at Rawalpindi in 2007, Pakistan did not agree to India’s argument of authenticating the actual ground position line legally and internationally before troop withdrawal. This would ensure that the Pakistan army did not fill up the vacant slots once Indian troops retreat from their position. India is holding all the dominating heights on the Saltoro ridge since 1984.

The Siachen talks were initiated by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Pakistan president Gen Zia-ul-Haq soon after India foiled Pakistan’s misadventure in capturing the heights along the Siachen glacier.

The controversy on Siachen stems from the fact that both the Karachi agreement of 1949 nor the Shimla agreement of 1972 which describe the Cease Fire Line and the Line of Control respectively are not clear on Siachen beyond a point called NJ 9842.

The Karachi agreement describes the CFL up to point NJ 9842 and mentions that “it thereafter lies northwards towards the glacier.”  The Shimla agreement too is silent beyond NJ 9842, leaving scope for Pakistan to claim that the line joins NJ 9842 with Karakoram Pass, which is north-west of NJ 9842.

The Indian position, on the other hand, is that the line runs towards the glaciers along the watersheds formed by the Saltoro range as per the internationally accepted principle of border delineation.

Unless the contention is resolved amicably there is no possibility of converting Siachen into a “mountain of peace” as envisaged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The 12th round of Siachen talks is the outcome of the bilateral dialogue on all outstanding issues following the meetings of the prime ministers in Thimpu in April 2010. The two foreign secretaries met in February 2011.

The Indian side will be led by Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar who will be aided by other senior officials in the Ministry, director general of military operations in the Army and the Surveyor General of India. The Pakistan delegation would be headed by defence secretary Lt Gen (rtd) Syed Ather Ali.

The Siachen talks have become a part of the composite dialogue with Pakistan since the eighth round in August, 2004, official sources said.

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