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Siachen test for Pak bonhomie
- Defence secretaries set for first meet in 6 years

New Delhi, Aug. 4: The two-day talks between India and Pakistan to promote friendly exchanges ended today on a cordial note with both sides agreeing to consider proposals that will intensify contacts between their people, including a liberal visa regime.

All eyes are now on the talks that begin tomorrow on Siachen glacier, the control over which costs the South Asian neighbours millions of dollars each day.

A ceasefire on the glacier, the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) and the Line of Control has been on since November last year.

Attempts will be made to come up with proposals that ensure the ceasefire holds for a longer period. Pakistan may even push for a mechanism that will lead to phased withdrawal of troops, if not a total pullout.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a 90-minute meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security this morning that was also attended by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, foreign minister K. Natwar Singh and national security adviser J.. Dixit. They were briefed by the director-general of military operations, Lt Gen. A.S. Bhaiya, on troop deployment on the 72-km glacier.

Army chief General .C. Vij, who was also present, is likely to visit Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the glacier region, tomorrow. The defence minister will head to the glacier next week.

Pakistan’s defence secretary, Lt Gen. (retd) Hamid Nawaz Khan, arrived with his team this evening for the talks with Indian counterpart Ajai Vikram Singh.

The discussions will conclude on Friday. Defence secretary-level talks are being held for the first time in six years.

A joint statement was issued after the talks today with both countries agreeing to address humanitarian issues, particularly those concerning civilian prisoners and fishermen in custody.

Stress has been laid on increasing the number of cross-border pilgrims from 3,000 to 5,000 every year. Proposals have also been made to start issuing group tourist visas.

“The discussions were held in a very cordial and constructive atmosphere,” foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said. The two sides will try and come to an agreement on how the proposals can be implemented.

But the bonhomie will be tested when the defence secretaries begin talks on the Siachen Glacier.

Meetings in Delhi this week and in Islamabad next week are part of the composite dialogue. The progress made will play an important role in improving relations and indicate how long the peace process will stay on track.

Though the dispute is over the glacier, the armed engagement has been limited to the Soltoro range. Pakistan is at a disadvantage as its army posts are much lower than the Indian ones. Twice in the past, in 1989 and 1992, an agreement on Siachen appeared close but fizzled out at the last minute. India refused to agree to a troop pullout without demarcating the AGPL.

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