By Bibhudatta Pradhan/Bloomberg
New Delhi: India and Pakistan will aim at resolving border disputes in the Siachen glacier area in the Himalaya and the Sir Creek marshland when their officials meet on 6 April as part of efforts to improve ties.
The 11th round of talks between the defense secretaries of both countries on the 23-year-old Siachen dispute follows a meeting in May 2006 that ended without agreement. The two countries conducted a survey of the Sir Creek waterway in January and February.
India and Pakistan have been seeking to improve ties since April 2003 after coming close to war in 2002, by restoring diplomatic, sporting and transport links. The nuclear-capable rivals have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two over the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which is claimed in full by both.
Resolving the border dispute along the Sir Creek waterway in the Arabian Sea will help India and Pakistan establish their maritime territories near the oil-rich Gulf. In the north, India wants troop positions on the Siachen glacier, considered the world’s highest battlefield, to be authenticated before redeploying soldiers. Both countries suffer more casualties from Siachen’s inhospitable terrain than from gunfire.
India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri said they were “optimistic” about the two-day talks in Pakistan. The ministers discussed the Siachen and Sir Creek issues in New Delhi this week, India’s Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters on 2 April.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz have expressed hope they will make “substantive progress” in the talks.
“I am not very hopeful that anything much will happen in the official-level talks unless any political decision is reached,” said P R Chari, a strategic analyst at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. “On these two issues, both sides have equally strong points.”
Aziz and Kasuri were in New Delhi to attend the 14th summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which comprises India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan.
India and Pakistan are trying to pull back troops from Siachen, located 6,300 meters (20,670 feet) above sea level, after having extended a cease-fire accord to the glacier in 2003. India wants the present troop positions verified before a pullback, a condition Pakistan hasn’t accepted so far.
The armies of both countries will stand in the way of any settlement over the 75-kilometer (47-mile) long Siachen glacier, Chari said.
On their southern border, Pakistan and India agreed in December to conduct a joint survey of the 100-kilometer (62 miles) Sir Creek waterway that lies between the western Indian state of Gujarat and the Pakistani province of Sindh. Apart from clearing territorial ambiguity, control of Sir Creek is considered important because of oil and gas prospects.
“We have, therefore, one common map of the area, from which we will now work and try and see how far we can take this issue to a resolution hopefully,” Menon said.
India’s team is led by defense secretary Shekhar Dutt and the Pakistani side is headed by his counterpart Kamran Rasool.
These talks are part of the fourth round of the so-called “Composite Dialogue” between India and Pakistan that started in March.