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Talks on Siachen demilitarisation begin

Thursday 26 May 2005, by MURALIDHAR REDDY*B.

Differences persist between India and Pakistan on interpretation of 1989 pact

ISLAMABAD: With India and Pakistan sticking to their known positions, there was little progress on the issue of demilitarisation of Siachen on the opening day of the Defence Secretary-level talks held in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

The Indian delegation, led by Defence Secretary Ajay Vikram Singh, reiterated New Delhi’s commitment to redeployment of troops only if both sides agreed on the methods for authentication of current troop positions.

The Pakistan side, led by Defence Secretary Tariq Waseem Ghazi, on the other hand, insisted on the withdrawal of troops to the pre-1984 position as per the 1989 "agreement" without any pre-conditions. Pakistan claimed that India backed out of the pact at the last minute.

Despite eight rounds of talks, differences persisted on the interpretation of the 1989 pact. While India maintained that the understanding, not an agreement, clearly stipulated the authentication of troop positions, Pakistan said the "agreement" was unconditional.

`Useful ideas’

Both sides exchanged "useful ideas" on ways of achieving demilitarisation, the basic objective being to work towards it through the implementation of confidence-building measures such as avoiding aggressive manoeuvres to capture additional points and freeze on existing troop levels in the glacier.

A senior official confirmed the exchange of the new ideas and said they were under discussion. However, both sides were tight-lipped on the deliberations.

A statement by Pakistan Foreign Office said the talks were held in a "cordial and friendly atmosphere." Both sides would hold further discussion on the subject on Friday and a joint statement would be issued at the concluding session of the talks.

Ahead of the talks, Mr. Singh, who arrived on Wednesday night by a special aircraft, told journalists that the Indian delegation was approaching the talks with an "open mind" and was hopeful of progress given the positive atmosphere in both countries. He declined to comment either on the Pakistani position or reports in a section of the press on additional proposals for demilitarisation of the glacier.

The Indian delegation led by Defence Secretary also called on Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and Defence Minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal and Minister of State for Defence Zahid Hamid separately and discussed matters of bilateral interest. Mr. Kasuri told the visiting delegation that it was in the interest of both India and Pakistan to seek an amicable solution of all outstanding issues, as it would tremendously contribute towards the uplift and prosperity of the South Asia.

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