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Indo-Pak talks on Siachen from May 23

The two sides will discuss a proposal for withdrawing their troops from the icy battlefield.

india Updated: May 22, 2006 13:07 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Shadowed by the killing of civilians by suspected Pakistan-based terrorists in Srinagar, India and Pakistan on Tuesday will begin another round of talks to end their conflict over the Siachen glacier and discuss a proposal for withdrawing their troops from the icy battlefield.

The two sides are said to be close to what could be a historic breakthrough on mutual withdrawal of troops from the 76-km long Siachen glacier where thousands of soldiers have died not so much due to war, but because of altitude sickness, accidents and deadly avalanches.

But the latest attack by militants on the eve of the Siachen talks and the second roundtable on Jammu and Kashmir, which will be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, can affect the atmospherics for the defence-secretary level talks on demilitarisation of the glacier, sources said.

The Indian side will be lead by Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and the Pakistani side will be headed by Lt Gen (retd) Tariq W Ghazi.

New Delhi will press for marking of troop positions on a map as well as on the ground, what it calls actual ground position line, as evidence in case the area is reoccupied after a deal, official sources said.

Islamabad opposes authentication of ground positions on the Siachen, located at a height of 22,000 feet in the Himalayas, as it believes such an exercise would legitimise New Delhi's occupation of the strategic glacier in 1984.

However, if both sides are able to resolve differences and pull off a breakthrough on the over-two-decades old issue, the deal could form the basis of a likely visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan later this summer.

"It is much too early for me to announce it," Manmohan Singh had told reporters accompanying him to Germany last month when asked about a likely breakthrough on the Siachen issue.

The Cabinet Committee on Security has already approved the framework of India-Pakistan talks on Siachen and Sir Creek issues.

Ahead of the talks, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: "During the meetings each side will put forward their perceptions."

Mukherjee said Sunday did not rule out the possibility of Pakistan's involvement in the terror attacks in Srinagar, in which seven people were killed.

"May be in order to frustrate the peace process, terrorists want to demonstrate to the world that they exist. It is high time Pakistan stopped aiding and abetting them."

The talks on Siachen, part of the third round of composite dialogue between the two countries, will be followed by two-day talks on the demarcation of Sir Creek -- the narrow strip of marshland that separates the two countries along their western border.

The two countries will hold home-secretary-level parleys on terrorism and drug-trafficking May 30-31 in Islamabad.

This will be followed by talks between culture secretaries on the promotion of friendly exchanges June 1-2 here.

First Published: May 22, 2006 12:59 IST