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Secy-level talks: Pak for demilitarisation of Siachen

Last updated on: June 11, 2012 21:39 IST

Pakistan on Monday called for the "amicable resolution" of all issues with India as their defence secretaries began talks to ease the military standoff on Siachen against the backdrop of calls to demilitarise the world's highest battlefield.

During a meeting with an Indian delegation led by Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, Pakistan Defence Minister Naveed Qamar said it was in the interest of both countries to "seek the amicable resolution of all the outstanding issues, including Siachen, as it would tremendously contribute towards the peace and prosperity of the South Asian region".

Qamar discussed matters of bilateral interest during the meeting with the Indian side, officials said without giving details.

This was one of Qamar's first meetings with a foreign delegation after he recently took over the portfolio as part of a minor reshuffle.

Islamabad has stepped up calls to demilitarise the Siachen glacier in the wake of an avalanche that killed 139 people at a high-altitude Pakistan army camp on April 7.

The two-day talks on the Siachen issue, part of the resumed dialogue process between India and Pakistan, are being held at the defence ministry in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The Indian delegation is led by Sharma while the Pakistani side is headed by Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi, a close confidant of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Despite Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's call for the resolution of the Siachen issue after the avalanche, analysts believe the two sides are unlikely to make progress in the talks on ending the standoff that began in 1984.

Ahead of the talks, Indian Defence Minister A K Antony cautioned against expecting any breakthrough at the meeting of the defence secretaries.

"Do not expect any dramatic announcement or decision on an issue which is very important for us, especially in the context of national security," he told reporters in New Delhi last week.

India has a "clear-cut position" on the Siachen issue which the defence secretary will explain to the Pakistani side during the talks, Antony said.

India's Cabinet Committee on Security discussed the Siachen issue at a meeting last Thursday.

An unnamed Pakistani official told The Express Tribune that Islamabad was awaiting New Delhi's response to a "non- paper", with a roadmap for resolving the Siachen issue, that was handed over to India at the last round of talks in 2011.

"We expect to hear India's response in the discussions," the official said.

According to the proposal, Pakistan wants India to pull back troops to the positions in 1984.

India has called on Pakistan to authenticate and demarcate the 110-kilometre Actual Ground Position Line on the Siachen glacier.

The Express Tribune quoted Pakistani officials as claiming that India feared that a troop pullback "would set a troubling precedent and put pressure on New Delhi to resolve the festering dispute of Jammu and Kashmir".

During a visit to the site of the avalanche at Gyari on May 3, Pakistan Army chief Gen Kayani too contended that India had hardened its position on the Siachen issue, especially compared to the situation in 1989, when the two sides were "close to a resolution".

Stung by the occupation of strategic heights in the Kargil sector in 1999, India has insisted on the authentication and demarcation of current military positions on Siachen.

The move is aimed at thwarting the possible re-induction of troops by Pakistan after any demilitarisation of the glacier.

President Asif Ali Zardari raised the issue of demilitarising Siachen when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a private visit to India a day after the glacier hit the Pakistan army camp.

The avalanche has led to questions in Pakistan about the troop deployment in the hazardous terrain.

Despite an extensive search involving hundreds of troops, less than 20 bodies have been found so far at the site of the avalanche.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in a standoff on Siachen, described as the world's highest and coldest battlefield, since 1984.

The guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, and more troops have died on the glacier due to the adverse weather than combat.

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