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Siachen surprise in truce for truce

New Delhi, Nov. 24: Unwilling to allow Pakistan to walk away with the honours, India today responded positively to Islamabad’s proposals for normalising relations but added the rider that cross-border infiltration must end to make the proposed ceasefire durable.

In a bid to keep the peace initiative firmly in its hands, Delhi also suggested extending the ceasefire to the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) on the Siachen glacier and “immediate” technical-level talks for early implementation of all proposals.

Welcoming Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s offer yesterday of a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control from Id, foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “We will respond positively to this initiative.”

Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri quickly welcomed India’s response. “Pakistan has made the offer (of unilateral ceasefire) that India has accepted, so it is a step forward,” he said and added that there was no need for a separate ceasefire for Siachen as his country’s offer covered the whole of Kashmir, which included the glacier.

Sarna said in his statement that Delhi proposed the ceasefire for Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, to take the peace process forward.

He added: “However, in order to establish a full ceasefire on a durable basis, there must be an end to infiltration from across the Line of Control.”

The apparent ambiguity in India’s response can be understood in view of the ground realities. Firing across the LoC takes place on three occasions: when the rival armies fire at each other, when the Pakistani army fires to cover infiltrators and when India fires at the infiltrators.

What Delhi is trying to say is that it would stop firing at the Pakistani army positions across the border, but would not give up this option if infiltration takes place across the LoC.

Kasuri maintained Pakistan desired peace with India and was willing to restart the composite dialogue to address all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. But he continued with his government’s ambiguity on stopping cross-border infiltration by saying his country had done the maximum it could.

Sarna also welcomed “the decision of the government of Pakistan to work for expanding the communication links proposed by us on October 22” and suggested “immediate technical-level talks for early implementation of these proposals”.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha had on October 22 offered 12 peace proposals — widely seen by both countries as a Diwali gift — to Pakistan, which included a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in the two Kashmirs and reviving the Khokrapar-Munabao rail route, closed since the 1965 war.

Delhi’s move on Siachen not only allows it to firmly control the peace initiative the Prime Minister kicked off this April but also to put the pressure back on Islamabad to address the glacier issue seriously.

The LoC is a line agreed upon that acts as an informal border between the two Kashmirs. But it extends only up to a point called 9842, beyond which is Siachen, where the positions of the two armies have not been demarcated or agreed upon. Both countries consider the glacier to be of immense strategic importance.

The position now taken by the rival troops on the glacier is known as the AGPL. India’s proposal to extend the ceasefire to this line is being seen in some quarters here as an attempt to formalise its position on Siachen.

The foreign ministry is of the opinion that international pressure on Pakistan and the Kashmiris’ negative response to Islamabad’s reluctance to respond favourably to the Indian proposals, perhaps, led Jamali to pop his formulation yesterday.

The move may also have been a bid to ensure that Atal Bihari Vajpayee attends the Saarc summit in Islamabad in January.

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