The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Warmth of plains after icy talks

New Delhi, May 22: A delegation led by the Pakistani defence secretary reached here today for the 10th round of talks on Siachen to find that their Indian hosts have put more on their agenda than the glacial heights over which the jaw-jaw makes progress at glacial pace.

Far removed from the polar climes of the eastern Karakoram, the Pakistani delegates will be given tours of the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Pink City of Jaipur and the Ajmersharif Dargah in the roiling heat of the Indian plains shortly after tomorrow’s talks.

There were some in the 13-member team led by defence secretary Lt Gen. (retired) Tariq Waseem Ghazi, who have expressed a preference for more time in the bazaars of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk.

Drafting the post-talks programme has been a difficult exercise for the hosts in the Indian defence ministry but the energy with which officials were going about it suggested that it was important in itself. The way things are, Siachen talks come and go, only the members of the teams change.

There has indeed been a little more optimism this time because of the perception that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intends carrying a little gift for Musharraf on a visit to Pakistan likely in July. But the bigger reason is the ceasefire that has held on the Saltoro Ridge since November 2003.

There has been little change in the Indian and Pakistani positions but observers still believe that there has never been a better chance for peace over Siachen.

Gurmeet Kanwal, a retired brigadier and fellow with the Observer Research Foundation who has drafted a demilitarisation proposal for Siachen along with a Pakistani military officer, says: “Maybe the time has come for India to take a political and military risk. Any violation of an agreement will render Pakistan into an international pariah. I do not think Pakistan will want its troops stuck where Indian troops have been (on the Saltoro) for 22 years.”

On Friday, the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the brief for the talks for the defence secretary. The military concern has been clearly enunciated to the political leadership: if Indian troops are brought down from the heights it will be next to impossible to retake the vantage positions in the event Pakistani forces occupy them first.

The political leadership has to take a call.

Pakistan has less to lose in Siachen than India. Delhi wants the Actual Ground Position Line on which the troops are to be authenticated. Pakistan has consistently refused to do it on a map but has suggested that the positions should be marked on an annexure to any agreement that may be drafted.

Last week, both defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and minister of state for external affairs E. Ahmed told Parliament that demilitarisation of the glacier has not been authorised. India says geography and terrain favours Pakistan as it has easier access to the Saltoro.

Apart from Ghazi, the Pakistani 13-member delegation includes among others Aziz Ahmed Khan, high commissioner, Major General (retired) Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhary, additional secretary, defence, Major General Bilal Umar Khan, joint staff officer in service headquarters and the director general of military operations, Major General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The 11-member Indian delegation for the talks is led by defence secretary Shekhar Dutt and will include Shivshankar Menon, high commissioner to Pakistan, Lt Gen. Madan Gopal, director general of military operations (DGMO), DGMO designate Lt Gen. Mohan Pandey, Bimal Julka, joint secretary (general) in the defence ministry, Dilip Sinha, joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) in the ministry of external affairs and Major General M.J.S. Virk, additional director general, military survey at army headquarters.

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