The two-day Defence Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan on Siachen began here on Monday without much hope of any breakthrough, as both sides stuck to their stated positions in the run up to this engagement.
At the end of the first day, there was no information forthcoming from either side, on how the day's deliberations proceeded. The talks will continue on Tuesday, after which a statement is expected. The Indian side is being led by S. Sharma and the Pakistani delegation by Nargis Sethi.
The talks this time around had assumed particular significance for Pakistan, as it lost 140 men in an avalanche in the Gayari area of the glacier on April 7. Since then, the civil and military leadership of the country have been advocating demilitarization of the glacier, pointing out the huge human costs of maintaining troops on the highest battlefield on earth, where the climate has claimed more lives than combat.
On his second visit to Gayari after the avalanche, Chief of Army Staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, surprised many by calling for peaceful co-existence with India, and followed it up a fortnight later with an advocacy for more confidence-building efforts between the two countries.
That the Indian side would stick to its long-held position of demilitarization only after delineating and authenticating the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) was made amply clear, ahead of talks by Defence Minister A. K. Antony, who warned against expecting any “dramatic outcome” from these deliberations. Pakistan wants to demilitarize first and then discuss positions, and sees the Indian proposal as tantamount to turning the AGPL into the Line of Control.
At the last round of talks in New Delhi in May 2011, Pakistan had submitted a non-paper on Siachen, in which it had apparently made out a case for including China in future talks on the issue. The reasoning given was that since it had ceded Shaksgam Valley — an area India claims to be part of the undivided Jammu & Kashmir state — to China in 1963, Beijing should be made a party to the discussions.
This proposal, according to reports, has been rejected by India, due to growing concern regarding the increased presence of the Chinese in Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir'. Articulating this in a recent article, former Indian Chief of Army Staff, Shankar Roy Chowdhury, said: “The Siachen glacier and the Saltoro range must be viewed in the overall context of their location near the India-China-Pakistan tri-junction…”