NATIONAL

Siachen: Pakistan's offer on troop authentication

Nirupama Subramanian

"Pakistan to authenticate troop positions on the glacier"

"India should agree to time-bound troops withdrawal"It should also not make claims on territory

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has agreed to authenticate troop positions on the Siachen glacier, demanding in return an Indian agreement for "a time-bound" withdrawal of troops to "pre-conflict positions" and a commitment not to claim territory on the basis of the authenticated line.

Quoting unnamed sources, the Daily Times reported that Pakistan had "softened" its position of total opposition to authentication of military positions. The two-day talks on the Siachen glacier between the two Defence Secretaries begins on Friday.

Pakistan has offered a package deal under which it has agreed to the Indian demand for authentication but "asked India for time-bound withdrawal of troops to the pre-conflict positions as a quid pro quo," the newspaper reported. "Pakistan would also like India not to use authentication for any sort of legal claims in future," the paper quoted its sources as saying. Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt, who arrived on Thursday for the talks accompanied by Director-General Military Operations Lt. Gen Mohan Pandey and seven others from the ministries of defence and external affairs, expressed optimism about a resolution.

"I'm sure we are heading for a resolution," he said on arrival at Rawalpindi.

The Pakistan side will be led by the new Defence Secretary, Kamran Rasul, the first civilian in the post since 1996. He succeeded Lt. Gen. (retd) Tariq Waseem Ghazi, whose two-year contract appointment ended on April 3. Mr. Rasul will be assisted by the Pakistan DGMO and other officials. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has said several times that the two sides were close to resolving the issue "given political will."

During the visit of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee here in January, Mr. Kasuri said Pakistan had proposed "a complete package" on Siachen that addressed both the Indian and Pakistani concerns.

Analysts here believe that the resolution of Siachen, as also the Sir Creek issue, is imminent, and that the two sides must clinch an early agreement to restore confidence in the peace process as a "dispute resolution" mechanism.

"We hope that Siachen and Sir Creek will really move forward. They are so close to resolution. It will be a step forward in bringing about a qualitative and positive change in our relations," said Lt. Gen. (retd.) Talat Masood, who heads the Pakistan chapter of Pugwash, an international conflict resolution group.