The Indian government did not appear too concerned and claimed it would "study” the contents of an official Pakistani protest to the Army’s plan to promote tourism on the icy Siachen glacier before it responds to Islamabad’s concerns, senior officials said on Monday.
Pakistan on Monday officially protested the Indian move to open the Siachen Glacier to tourists and warned the step could adversely affect ongoing peace efforts.
Instead, India went ahead and announced dates for the next meeting of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism, stalled since its first formal meeting was held in Islamabad in March. The day-long meeting at the level of senior officials, will take place in New Delhi on October 22.
The Pakistani Foreign Office on Monday summoned Indian Deputy High Commissioner Manpreet Vohra and handed over a demarche (formal protest letter) saying the Siachen glacier was a disputed area. Pakistan opposed the Indian army's plans to permit tourist activity there.
With External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon both away from Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) would take its time to respond to the Pakistani protest, officials indicated.
“If tourists can go up to the Line of Control (LOC) which is also disputed, why should tourists not visit Siachen?” an official said.
According to agency reports from Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said the Indian Army’s plan to allow tourists to Siachen could negatively impact the bilateral peace process and affect CBMs.
"The area (Siachen) remains a conflict zone and the reported move by India to open this for tourism could aggravate the situation with serious consequences that vitiate the atmosphere for the ongoing peace process," Aslam told a weekly briefing. "It's like turning the whole (peace) process on its head," Aslam said.
The MEA also announced dates for India-Pakistan meetings in New Delhi on crucial conventional confidence building measures (CBMs), on October 18, and for nuclear CBMs on October 19, indicating that the bilateral peace process was on track.
The Indian army said last week it would permit trekking expeditions to the 72-km long glacier and the first group of trekkers would leave later this month for the 20,800-feet high Siachen glacier. The world's highest battlefield has been occupied only by Indian and Pakistani troops since 1984.