No India-Pakistan agreement on Siachen troop withdrawal
Islamabad, April 7 (IANS) India and Pakistan ended their two-day defence secretary-level talks Saturday without a breakthrough on withdrawal of troops from the Siachen glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.
"There was no significant breakthrough in the talks," a Pakistan defence ministry official was quoted as saying after the talks ended.
The talks between their top defence ministry officials were held in Rawalpindi near Islamabad as part of the ongoing peace dialogue between the South Asian neighbours.
The official said the Indian side did not budge from its position that Pakistan should disclose the current location of its forces on the 6,300-metre (20,800-foot) high glacier before any withdrawal of troops.
The Pakistani side said such a move would mean acceptance of "their occupation" of the barren heights.
Pakistan wants to go back to the pre-1987 positions.
"The two sides have agreed to continue the dialogue process," the official said.
The joint statement issued at the end of the talks said: "The discussions were held in a candid and constructive atmosphere. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the November 2003 ceasefire between the two countries which is holding successfully.
"The defence secretary agreed to continue the discussions to resolve the Siachen dispute in a peaceful manner."
However, no date was fixed at the meeting, indicating a wide gap between the two sides.
The nine-member Indian side was led by Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt while the Pakistani side was headed by his counterpart Kamran Rasool, the first civilian official to head the defence ministry in many years.
The Indian Army, which launched an operation in 1984 and has covered most of the high-altitude battlefield since 1987, wants "iron-clad" evidence of existing troop positions to dissuade Pakistan from moving its soldiers forward in the event of a pullout.
Experts say India has around 5,000 troops on the glacier while Pakistan has less than half the number on the frigid wasteland where temperatures plummet to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit).
Pakistan has recently shown willingness to concede an Indian demand for authentication of ground position of troops on the glacier as a prelude to withdrawal of troops, provided it is not seen as a legal validation of Indian claims.
The talks had been held immediately after the completion of the 14th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in New Delhi April 3-4.
That such early dates were fixed on the eve of the summit and the bonhomie that prevailed in New Delhi during the meet had given rise to optimism.
Observers, however, recall that Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz raising the Kashmir issue, albeit outside the conference, meant that he had an anxious audience back home to deal with.
With elections due this year - President Pervez Musharraf reiterated his commitment Saturday - it is hardly likely that Pakistan would be able to engage in any give and take with India on any of the contentious issues, the observers said.
An indication was available from media reports Saturday morning indicating that both sides had decided not to budge from their respective positions.