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Public debate on future of Siachen in Pakistan

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said on Wednesday said Pakistan wants a resolution on the Siachen issue and other matters with India. This is the first time an army chief in Pakistan has publicly supported a move to demilitarise Siachen.

world Updated: Apr 19, 2012 22:58 IST
Imtiaz Ahmed

A statement by Pakistan’s army chief, General Kayani on Wednesday seems to have set the ball rolling in Islamabad over moves to demilitarise the world’s highest battlefield. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said on Wednesday said Pakistan wants a resolution on the Siachen issue and other matters with India. This is the first time an army chief in Pakistan has publicly supported a move to demilitarise Siachen.

The army chief was visiting the area along with President Asif Ali Zardari, where both were briefed about rescue operations to search for 138 troops and civilians who were buried by a massive avalanche over a week ago. Following up on Thursday, the foreign office of Pakistan clarified it was ready to talk to India over all controversial aspects.

Foreign office spokesman Muazzam Ali Khan, during a weekly briefing on Thursday, said secretary-level defence talks with India would be held in Islamabad, but no date had been decided yet. He added that the Siachen issue was part of the talks, and demanded that India retreat back to the pre-1984 position. The foreign office spokesman further said no new soldiers were being deployed at Siachen. There is a growing consensus in Pakistan that Islamabad engage with New Delhi to demilitarise Siachen.

Opposition leader and Pakistan Muslim League chief Nawaz Sharif visited the site on Tuesday and had called on both Pakistan and India to “climb down” from the icy battlefield. He had advised the Pak government to take the lead and withdraw its troops from the glacier. There is also talk in Pakistan to make Siachen a ‘peace park’. At two separate seminars in Islamabad over the week, speakers said in light of the recent tragedy, Pakistan needs to engage with India to end the face-off.

Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, climate affairs advisor to the Pakistan government, said studies reveal the eastern glaciers are melting more rapidly than glaciers in western regions. He said military interventions was one reason for this.

Water and energy analyst and an expert on glaciers Arshad H Abbasi also said the rise in temperatures on the glacier is the direct result of large-scale military interventions.