NATIONAL

The ball is in India's court, says Pakistan

"India must withdraw troops from Siachen"

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday said the ball was in India's court to convert the Siachen Glacier into a "peace mountain."

Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani told journalists here that India occupied the Siachen heights in 1983 in violation of the Shimla Agreement and refused to withdraw its troops despite an agreement in 1989.

He was responding to questions on the statement made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh favouring the conversion of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, into a "peace mountain."

Addressing troops at the Glacier on Sunday, Dr. Singh said efforts should be made to create an atmosphere of peace where "nobody fears any threat, there is no scope for any conflict and this place becomes an example of peaceful environment."

"How long shall we allow such conditions to prevail [in Siachen]? Now the time has come for us to make efforts to convert this battlefield into a peace mountain," Dr. Singh said and added talks were on with Pakistan.

No headway in talks

Talks held here last month on the demilitarisation of Siachen failed to make any headway as both sides stuck to their known positions. India wants demarcation of the areas in the glacier under the control of troops from both sides before demilitarisation whereas Pakistan insists that the withdrawal be unconditional.

"India, as you know, committed aggression on Siachen in 1983. India has to vacate that aggression in order to make Siachen a peaceful area. We hope, following the [Prime Minister's] statement, India would unconditionally withdraw its aggression on the basis of past agreements," Mr. Jilani said.

He said the Siachen "aggression" is a violation of the 1948 Karachi agreement as well as the 1972 Shimla Agreement. "We hope the statement reflects a change in the Indian position. Pakistan has always maintained that the Siachen issue should be resolved peacefully between India and Pakistan," he said.

Mr. Jilani said that in 1989 the Defence Secretaries had agreed to unconditionally withdraw from Siachen but India went back on the agreement. "Once that [withdrawal] takes place Siachen would certainly become a mountain of peace."

Asked about Dr. Singh's observation that Baltistan was occupied by Pakistan, Mr. Jilani said: "We get an impression that India wants a `heads we win, tails you lose' policy."

Pakistan wanted the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their future.

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