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Patient wait for Pakistan payoff

Shimla/New Delhi/Islamabad, May 29: Talks with Pakistan to resolve outstanding disputes at the Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek that concluded between defence secretary-led teams in Islamabad today are likely to bear fruit in the short term even if immediate results are not visible.

The optimism on the peace process with Pakistan is strong with the government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Shimla today “nothing can be ruled out”.

The Prime Minister was also not dismissive of proposals to take the peace process forward, including the suggestion from General Pervez Musharraf that a part of Kashmir should be demilitarised and given autonomy.

“I welcome Pervez Musharraf's proposal. We want to improve our relations with Pak. The conditions are also favourable but a lot is required to be done to cement the relations,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference in Shimla.

But expectations that New Delhi and Islamabad would take definitive steps ahead to demilitarise Siachen in the ninth round of defence secretary-level talks and to demarcate the boundary in Sir Creek are yet to be fulfilled.

Even if reports from Rawalpindi, where the talks were held, say that nothing definitive was achieved, a positive feedback is hoped for from the bureaucracy-level talks that will lead to announcements from the political level.

The Prime Minister did not comment on the progress at the ninth round of talks to de-escalate and disengage militarily at the Siachen Glacier because he was waiting for the debriefing of the defence secretary, and his team.

According to reports from Islamabad, the defence secretaries, Ajai Vikram Singh of India and Tariq Waseem Ghazi of Pakistan, had agreed to continue with talks to settle disputes cordially but a breakthrough on disengaging militarily in Siachen and on demarcating the maritime boundary at Sir Creek on the Gujarat coast was still elusive.

“Talks are in progress on Siachen. Our defence secretary is in Islamabad and will return today. I will ask him about the progress in this regard. Indo-Pak relations are improving. We’re keen to find out a permanent solution to the problem by way of talks,” he said.

The Prime Minister had chaired a detailed session of the Cabinet Committee on Security that gave the political directive to the defence secretary before he led the seven-member team to Islamabad on Wednesday.

The government had asked its team to strongly push for disengaging military in Siachen without compromising on military compulsions to authenticate the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).

Both New Delhi and Islamabad have verbally committed themselves to pull back troops from eyeball-to-eyeball positions in Siachen where a ceasefire has held true since November 2003.

On Sir Creek, the two sides are searching for a solution to demarcate the boundary on the basis of a joint survey conducted in January this year to identify boundary markers that were erected by erstwhile rulers of Gujarat and Sindh.

In a joint statement in Islamabad, the defence secretaries said the talks on Sir Creek that concluded today “were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere. The two sides exchanged views on various issues involved”.

The Indian team for the Sir Creek talks was led by the additional surveyor-general, Major General M. Gopal Rao. Pakistan’s was led by Rear Admiral Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudhry, the additional secretary in the ministry of defence.

“The two sides agreed to continue their discussions aimed at an early resolution of the issue for the mutual benefit of the two countries,” the statement said.

This was the eighth round of talks on the subject and the second under the current round in the composite dialogue process.

In Shimla, Singh said the government would consider increasing the frequency of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.

Bilateral relations “are improving and our full and sincere endeavour will be to resolve all problems through talks. We want that the understanding and confidence-building measures become stronger and people-to-people contacts increase”.

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