September 28, 2005

India, Pakistan agreed on need for Siachen pullout

By Y.P. Rajesh and Palash Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and Pakistan are agreed on the
need to withdraw troops from the Siachen Glacier but are stuck
on verifying each other's positions before they pull back, the
Indian defense minister said on Wednesday.

Several thousand soldiers of the two countries have died on
the world's highest battlefield, 18,000 to 22,000 ft

high in the mountains of northern Kashmir.

The nuclear-armed rivals have held several rounds of talks
to end the stand-off but have never been able to agree on
finalising a deal.

"We have agreed, they have agreed to withdraw troops from
the present positions," Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee told
Reuters in an interview.

"The disagreement is, where we are demanding that we must
identify the places ... where we were before withdrawal so that
there is a record that the respective country's troops occupied
these places," he said.

"Pakistan's point of view is when we have agreed to
withdraw ... what is the relevance (of this) after the
withdrawal agreement is signed," Mukherjee said in his first
interview to a foreign news agency.

India was insisting on marking positions as it wanted to
record evidence in case the glacier was reoccupied, he said.

Siachen is an icy wasteland close to where the frontiers of
India, Pakistan and China meet in the disputed Himalayan region
of Kashmir, at the heart of nearly 60 years of enmity.

The South Asian rivals are involved in a slow peace process
to resolve a range of differences, including the central
dispute over Kashmir. But some analysts question the glacier's
strategic value to either nation.

They have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and
were near the brink of a fourth in 2002 before pulling back and
launching new peace moves.


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President
Pervez Musharraf held talks on the sidelines of the United
Nations General Assembly in New York this month but failed to
announce any breakthrough.

However, Musharraf said the two sides had made considerable
progress on Siachen, without elaborating.

The two countries' foreign ministers are due to hold talks
next week to review the peace process.

There has been no fighting on Siachen since November 2003,
when a ceasefire came into effect. But both sides have lost
more troops there in the past two decades to altitude sickness,
sub-zero temperatures and avalanches than to enemy action.

India accuses Pakistan of fomenting violence in Kashmir
where tens of thousands of people have been killed in a
Islamist revolt against New Delhi's rule which erupted in 1989.

Pakistan denies the charge and says the insurgency is

Mukherjee said India had "positive information" that
Pakistan retained bases to send Muslim guerrillas into Indian

"The number of infiltrators have come down but the
infiltration attempts have not been reduced substantially
because we have frustrated a large number of attempted
infiltrations," the minister said.

"We have repeatedly been telling Pakistan that this is one
area which you should address."