New Delhi: India and Pakistan failed on Tuesday to agree on how to demilitarize the world’s highest battlefield in the Himalayan region in a sign of how far apart the nuclear-armed rivals are even on less contentious issues.
Defence secretaries from both countries held two days of closed-door talks in New Delhi on how to reach an agreement on withdrawing troops from the mountainous no-man’s land above the Siachen glacier and defining the official border.
Indian media reported that both sides had stuck to their long-standing positions. Defence ministry officials declined to comment, saying the details involved sensitive military information.
Failure to make progress on one of the less contentious issues between the arch enemies will worry those hoping for progress on broader peace talks, which resumed in April this year following pressure from the United States.
India and Pakistan have long accepted the need to demilitarize the Siachen glacier, located as high as 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level, which.
A joint statement on Tuesday said India and Pakistan welcomed the dialogue but made no mention of any progress. Instead the two countries announced they would meet again in Islamabad, which would be the 13th round of talks on the issue.
“Both sides presented their position and suggestions towards the resolution of Siachen,” the two sides said in a statement.
The talks in Delhi were the first meeting of the top ministry officials in the respective defence ministries in more than three years.
The odds were always stacked against a major breakthrough but Indian officials said they had hoped to make some progress in the long-running dispute.
The two armies have faced off in the Siachen region since India first stationed troops there in 1984.
New Delhi broke off a stumbling peace process that came close to agreeing a solution to Siachen in 2008, after the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani-based militants that killed 166.
India has long maintained that it was unwilling to bring its forces down from Siachen until Pakistan authenticated the positions they held. Pakistan in turn has said it was willing to do so, but on the condition it was not a final endorsement of India’s claim to the glacier.
A ceasefire has held on the remote battlefield since 2003.
The strategic importance of the glacier, in the Karakoram range, is debatable. Until 1984, no troops were permanently stationed there but now there are at least 10,000 Pakistani and Indian soldiers.
India controls the heights and is loath to back off for fear Pakistan might walk in.
The neighbours have fought three wars since independence in 1947, and their rivalry complicates Western efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and the South Asia region.
The divided, mostly Muslim Himalayan region of Kashmir is at the heart of their six-decade-old hostility, with New Delhi accusing Islamabad of training and harbouring militants to strike targets in the Indian-controlled state.
India and Pakistan have long struggled to normalize ties, with both deeply suspicious of each other, but Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was born in what is now Pakistan, has staked his foreign policy legacy on improving ties.