BeyondHeadlines Staff Reporter
New Delhi: After a discontinuation of three years, talks between defence secretaries of India and Pakistan resumed today to discuss a disputed Himalayan glacier that brought the neighbours to the brink of war in 1984.
The two-day meeting in New Delhi between Indian Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and his Pakistani counterpart Lt General (retired) Syed Ather Ali is part of the slow-moving peace process aimed at bringing lasting stability to South Asia.
Kumar is leading the Indian delegation during the talks, a Defence Ministry official said, adding that “India and Pakistan decided to resume the talks last year after prime ministers of both countries met in Thimpu.”
The Pakistani defence secretary arrived here yesterday for the 12th round of talks, which will conclude on tomorrow.
While the Pakistani delegation has two civilian officials and four military officers, the Indian side includes Special Secretary RK Mathur, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt General AM Verma and Surveyor General S Subha Rao, defence officials said.
Siachen, the world’s highest militarised zone, has been a long pending issue between India and Pakistan over differences on the location of the 110-km long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) which passes through the Soltoro Ridge and Siachen glacier.
India broke off all contact with Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were carried out by Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to Indian and Western intelligence.
An Indian defence ministry official said the two defence secretaries met behind closed doors in New Delhi today where they were to discuss the highly militarised 6,300-metre (20,800-foot) Siachen glacier in Kashmir.
The countries clashed over Siachen in 1984, but the world’s highest battlefield — where the temperature drops to minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahreinheit) — has been stable since a 2003 ceasefire.
The icy mass is one of several unresolved issues which have been unsuccessfully discussed in 11 previous rounds of talks between the two countries’ defence secretaries.
Relations between the estranged neighbours, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, have improved over the last year after contacts between prime ministers and other senior government figures.
But India has recently sharpened its criticism of Pakistan and its alleged state funding of militant groups in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US troops in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
At the weekend, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the leadership in Islamabad must “wake up” to the “terror machine”, while Home Minister P. Chidambaram warned last week that Pakistan was becoming a “fragile” state.
India considers the Siachen glacier strategic because it overlooks China as well as a key highway linking divided Kashmir, which is administered in part by India and in part by Pakistan, to rest of the country.
The Indian army, which holds most of the 75-kilometre (47-mile) glacier since 1987, wants existing troop positions marked out to dissuade Pakistan from moving its soldiers forward in the event of a pull-out.
Pakistan fears that giving details of its outposts on the disputed frigid territory would be tacit acceptance of India’s claims to Siachen and the inhospitable area as a whole.
India wants Pakistan to authenticate the AGPL, both on the maps and the ground, as it occupies most of the dominating posts on the Saltoro Ridge, they said.
Pakistan, in turn, has been insisting on maintaining the pre-1972 troop positions as agreed in the Simla Agreement.
Retaliating to Pakistan Army’s advances in the glacier in 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot and deployed its troops in most of the dominating features in the area.
The defence secretary-level talks between the two countries on Siachen date back to 1985. The decision to hold joint talks was taken by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq.