Pakistan's army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday said all issues between India and Pakistan should be resolved to ensure "peaceful co-existence" which would allow the two countries to focus on development and the welfare of the people.
In his first public remarks on the peace process that was resumed by New Delhi and Islamabad last year, the powerful army chief said: "All issues should be resolved and peaceful co-existence is very necessary for both countries. There is no doubt about that".
Speaking to reporters in the northern town of Skardu after reviewing the search for 138 people who were buried by an avalanche that hit a high-altitude army camp, Kayani said Pakistan hoped that the Siachen issue is "resolved so that both the countries don't have to pay the cost".
"There will be a resolution and we want that there should be a resolution (of the Siachen issue). There should be a resolution of Siachen and other issues," Kayani said in response to questions during a rare media interaction.
Peaceful co-existence between the two countries "is very important" as it will enable everybody to "concentrate on the well-being of the people", he said.
"We in the army understand very well that there should be a very good balance between defence and development," he said. The two countries cannot "keep spending on defence alone and forget about development" because the security of a country depends not only on securing the borders but on ensuring that the people "are happy and their needs are being met", Kayani said.
Responding to public concerns about the deployment of troops on Siachen in the wake of the avalanche, the army chief said: "Everyone knows why the army is here – because in 1984, the Indian Army occupied the area and in response to that, the Pakistan Army was sent in".
He contended it was the army's duty to defend the country "whatever the cost".
Kayani noted that India and Pakistan had held several rounds of talks on the military standoff on Siachen, with the most recent negotiations being held about a year ago in New Delhi.
"You know that they were close to a solution but then nothing came out of it," he remarked. "We want this issue to be resolved and it should happen.
It is a tough mission for us and them, which has its costs," he added.
Kayani evaded a direct response to a question on former premier Nawaz Sharif's suggestion that Pakistan should take the initiative for resolving the Siachen issue, saying, "Let me not comment on what (Sharif) has said. I think that's his opinion. I don't want to get into this discussion".
He said a resolution of the Siachen issue was important to Pakistan for environmental reasons too as the glacier feeds the Indus, the main river in the country.
"So we understand (that) the physical deployment of troops in these areas and (if) the glaciers and environment get affected, ultimately it is going to affect the Indus river adversely," he said.
The Pakistani soldiers deployed on Siachen would continue doing their duty and it was "for the leadership, both military and political, to find a resolution", he added.
Kayani said the operation to trace the 127 soldiers and 11 civilians buried by the avalanche on April 7 will continue irrespective of whether it takes "six months or six years".
Earlier in the day, Kayani accompanied President Asif Ali Zardari made an aerial survey of Gyari, the location of the battalion headquarters that was hit by the avalanche.
The avalanche has raised questions in Pakistan over the troop deployment in the hazardous terrain. Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in a
standoff on Siachen since 1984.
The guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, and more troops have died due to the adverse weather than combat.