Neena Vyas

Jaswant Singh voices concern to Pranab on `settlement'

India must get a commitment against reoccupationEnsure no terrain advantage to PakistanTime-schedule needed for ecological cleaning up of the glaciers

NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party would support a "settlement" of the Siachen issue with Pakistan only if certain factors are in place, including a "confirmation" of the actual ground position line (AGPL) in Siachen and the icy Saltora glacier, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh has said.

In a letter to Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee dated April 24 a copy of which was released to a group of journalists here on Friday Mr. Singh expressed his concern over reports that a "settlement" was near. He pointed out that statements had come from the Army that no solution should be arrived at without due deliberation.

He referred to reported statements attributed to National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan without naming him that an accord on troop reduction and withdrawal was "imminent." His letter cautioned the Government against "alterations to the AGPL" saying that it was disturbing to note that "a number of officials have been quoted as suggesting such alteration to the AGPL as almost a done." This was causing "great disquiet in the Army."

In response to questions Mr. Singh said the BJP would not oppose troop reduction in Siachen and Saltora glaciers only if certain factors were in place. One, there must be "confirmation of the AGPL as the defining line." Two, India must get a commitment from Pakistan against reoccupation of the Siachen heights. Three, the extent of troop reduction/withdrawal must ensure no terrain advantage to Pakistan leading to any surreptitious reoccupation. Four, there should be a time-schedule for an agreement on environmental and ecological cleaning up of the glaciers with each country cleaning up the mess made by it.

Mr. Singh did not favour joint patrols to monitor/prevent reoccupation as it was the job of each country to ensure that no changes or alterations are made on the AGPL.

He emphasised the "inviolability" of the Line of Control (LoC) as of "central importance" Pakistan was isolated diplomatically during Kargil as a direct result. And this was as true of the Siachen sector where the LoC had been termed the AGPL. The Government must not treat the AGPL "casually."

He said the party was not against a settlement. "I would be the first to bring our troops to a more habitable terrain." But, any solution must fully recognise the sacrifices made by our soldiers since 1984.

Also, the Government must share with the Opposition what exactly was happening on the Siachen issue.