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All eyes on Siachen talks

Indians will only retreat if the actual ground position line can be jointly verified, writes Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: May 23, 2006 11:46 IST

On the eve of crucial talks between the Indian and Pakistani defence secretaries-- scheduled to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday in New Delhi-- at which they are expected to announce "significant progress" on Siachen, a top French official said a security dialogue initiated between Paris and Islamabad had stalled after the first meeting.

Declining to elaborate on reasons why the next round of talks between them has not been scheduled, officials said the large presence of French armed forces in the region, within Afghanistan, and the concerns over the AQ Khan proliferation network had made such a security dialogue necessary. But after a first, preliminary round, Pakistan had not been forthcoming on future dates, or on the likely agenda for future talks.

While the terrorist attack on a Congress rally on Sunday may again "queer the pitch" and set the process back, officials from India and Pakistan would like to be able to formalize an agreement on a pull-back of troops from Siachen, that would pave the way for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Islamabad later this year.

Talks on Siachen, where the cease-fire has held since November 2002, will be led by Shekhar Dutt, Defence Secretary, while Lt Gen (Retd.) Tariq W Ghazi, Secretary, Defence, will head the Pakistani delegation.

Indian troops will only retreat from presently held positions if the actual ground position line can be jointly verified by both countries, officials said.

Officials at the French Foreign ministry are clear that India and Pakistan are two separate entities. With India, they have a strategic dialogue and a "parity" of interests. They are seeking ways to expand the relationship beyond the "excellent" political relations both countries share. With Pakistan, it is "much more basic," a senior official said. "Pakistan exists," hence "we must engage them," an official said.