The talks over Siachen between India and Pakistan may have ended inconclusively, but the fact that they were held after an interval of three years and are likely to be resumed again in Islamabad marks a major movement forward in the bilateral ties between the two neighbours. With the inclusion of Siachen, the talks have come within inches of the full reinstatement of the composite dialogue process, which was suspended after the Mumbai carnage in 2008. It is remarkable that the peace process has survived provocations from either side and has been carried forward despite Pakistan’s unwillingness to proceed with the trial of the suspects in the Mumbai case and the flood of evidence against Pakistan that has surfaced from the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana in the United States of America. The reappearance of Siachen in the talking list, in fact, shows that India, despite the misgivings of its political establishment, has delinked the dialogue process from the terrorism issue. There has, of course, been a series of sharp retorts from India’s top leaders on Pakistan’s inaction on the terror front in the run-up to the Siachen talks. But the comments were all event-specific and should not be presumed to be deliberately intended at scuttling the “atmospherics” of the defence secretary level talks on Siachen.
In other words, the reason why the Siachen talks could not achieve a much-desired breakthrough is not India. Siachen, despite being a “low-hanging fruit” in the wider conflict over Kashmir, is not an easy issue to resolve. This is not merely because of Pakistan’s reluctance to demarcate the actual ground position line, which India has been insisting on as the first step towards the gradual demilitarization of the area. This is because unlike India, Pakistan comes to the table with a mandate from the army, and the latter would not sanction any move that shows it in poor light. The delineation of Pakistan’s outposts would clearly mark out India’s superior position in the region post-1984, which Pakistan is not willing to accept. As the pressure mounts on the Pakistan army to rein in militancy within its borders, it might try to refocus all energies on the conflict with India. Siachen may become a victim of this end game, resulting in the issue becoming more fraught than before. To make Siachen a mountain of peace, it has to be isolated from the emotive and strategic content it has been burdened with.