Islamabad, Oct. 4: India and Pakistan today set a deadline of January 2006 to reach an “understanding” on disengaging troops from the Siachen glacier. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to visit Pakistan around that time.
It costs Delhi Rs 1.5-2.5 crore a day to maintain troop positions on the world’s highest glacier.
Differences over a mechanism to verify the existing positions of the respective troops have been blocking an agreement.
After a meeting between foreign minister K. Natwar Singh and General Pervez Musharraf at the Pakistan President’s Rawalpindi residence this morning, the two sides agreed to work out a settlement by January. It is possible that the two sides will try to show the Siachen solution as the breakthrough during Singh’s visit.
The main worry for Pakistan in accepting a verification mechanism stems from how it will be seen by domestic detractors. From the time Indian troops took control of the glacier, Pakistan has been accusing Delhi of being the aggressor and violating the spirit of the Simla Agreement. Formal acceptance of the Indian position will mean endorsing Indian “aggression”.
India, on its part, does not feel confident Pakistan will honour an agreement, especially the advantage Indian troops have on the glacier, unless there is formal acknowledgement of the respective positions through verification by its leadership.
The apprehension has escalated after the Kargil invasion, of which Musharraf was the architect.
Musharraf expressed Pakistan’s problem in accepting an authentication mechanism at his meeting with Natwar Singh. So the best the two sides could do was to come out with the intent to resolve the dispute in a joint statement.
“The two sides exchanged ideas on the Siachen issue and agreed to continue their discussions so as to arrive at a common understanding before commencement of the next round of the composite dialogue in January next year,” the statement said.
Indian officials said Musharraf and Natwar Singh “welcomed the ongoing diplomatic discussions in a framework to promote a settlement on these issues ' Siachen and Sir Creek ' on a mutually acceptable basis”.
On Sir Creek, off the coast of Gujarat, there seemed significant progress. The two sides agreed to jointly survey the area to consider options to delimit the maritime boundary. The survey should begin before the end of the year and its report “will be considered in the next round of the composite dialogue”, the statement said.