India Seeks More Time To Resolve Siachen3 June 2011
New Delhi: With India and Pakistan agreeing to continue talks on the Siachen Glacier, Defence Minister AK Antony Friday said both countries needed more time to debate issues concerning the world’s highest battlefield. Antony told reporters here that the talks between the neighbours were “free and frank” and the atmosphere at the meeting was “cordial” “But they were not able to come to a conclusion or agreement. So ultimately, they decided they needed more time. So India and Pakistan will meet again at a mutually convenient time and the next round will be in Islamabad,” he said. At a meeting on May 30-31 between the defence secretaries of the two countries, it was decided that they would meet again for the 13th round of talks on Siachen Glacier at a mutually convenient date in Islamabad. At the 12th round of talks, the two sides reiterated their respective positions on the 70-km-long glacier dispute lingering over 27 years now since 1984. Pakistan also gave a “non-paper” to India explaining their suggestions and proposals for the peaceful resolution of the conflict along the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) on the Saltoro Ridge. “It is a very complicated issue. Both sides need more time to study this,” Antony added. India and Pakistan are estimated to have spent over $10 billion in cumulative budgetary allocations for fighting the battle at altitudes ranging from 16,000 to 20,000 feet, where they have lost nearly 2,300 troops, mostly due to inhospitable weather with temperatures dipping to minus 50 degree Celsius in winter. A truce has been holding on the glacier since November 2003. Antony said India’s “unique” friendship with Afghanistan is not aimed against any other country, an obvious reference to Pakistan which has been voicing concern over New Delhi’s involvement in rebuilding the war-torn nation. “Whatever help India is extending to Afghanistan is not against any country. It is a unique relationship. India is willing to extend more training facilities for their armed forces and also support the Afghan government as per their requirement,” he said. ARMY HAMPERING SOLUTION: WIKILEAKS Meanwhile, according to US diplomatic cables, the Indian army, and not just the civilian government, has played a role in the ongoing deadlock with Pakistan over Siachen dispute. On Siachen, Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) T C A Raghavan, who has also served as the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan, reported that the Indian army has drawn a line with its political leadership. It has told the government of India that withdrawal was tantamount to ceding the area to Pakistan due to the difficulty of retaking it should Pakistan occupy it,” wrote the New Delhi embassy in September 2008. While talks held on Siachen this week between the two countries’ defence secretaries may have been inconclusive for a variety of reasons, cables reveal that the Indian army has historically had a role to play. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is described as having to fight intense domestic pressure, and not just from political hardliners. “Were any deal to crystallise, PM Singh would need buy-in from the army and the BJP to avoid handing himself a political firestorm,” noted a 2006 cable in anticipation of talks on Siachen scheduled for May that year. The cable also noted that Gen Singh’s position on the issue “is reflected in the Foreign Ministry as well”: India would not make a deal on demilitarisation without Pakistan signing a map laying out Indian and Pakistani troop positions before withdrawal. The primary purpose of this would be to justify action if Pakistan reneged on the withdrawal agreement. Any deal, the cable implied, could only come after a go-ahead from the army: “The most telling signpost indicating the GOI is preparing the country for [a deal] would be Gen Singh publicly adopting a neutral (or supportive) position on a Siachen deal to signal in advance that the Army is on board, and that the GOI no longer needs to point to Army concerns to explain why a deal is not possible.” This pressure is seen as holding back Prime Minister Singh, who is described as being in favour of a deal - former National Security Adviser M K Narayan tells American officials in May 2005 that “the PM had instructed all his subordinates that ‘we need to accept Musharraf’s bona fides, even on Siachen’. With this guidance in mind, the Ministry of Defence has been instructed ‘to take as flexible a position as possible’”.