TOPICS : Ceasefire to hold on world’s highest battlefield

Ranjit Devraj

The good news, as two days of talks ended on Friday between India and Pakistan’s top defence officials, is that an 18-month ceasefire on Siachen glacier — the world’s highest battlefield — will hold. A brief statement issued jointly, at the end of the talks in the Pakistani cantonment town of Rawalpindi, by India’s defence secretary Ajai Vikram Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Tariq Wazim Ghazi and made available here said both sides had agreed to “resolve the Siachen issue in a peaceful manner” and to continue a ceasefire in the region.

“The two sides held frank and constructive discussions with a view to taking the process forward. They expressed satisfaction at the ceasefire currently in place since November 2003 and agreed to its continuation,” the joint-statement said. On Thursday, India’s army chief Gen J J Singh virtually gave away India’s bottom line saying that New Delhi’s position was that the present AGPL between the coordinate NJ9842 to Upper Saltoro Ridge should remain as it is to safeguard the country’s future interests.

Pakistan’s position refers to a 1989 accord between the two sides, under which soldiers from both countries would pull back to where they were at the time of the signing of a historic 1972 deal. Nevertheless, the negotiating teams in Islamabad discussed issues such as disengagement, redeployment of troops and mechanisms to monitor the ceasefire. The two countries, nuclear-armed since 1998, have so far held eight rounds of talks.

The breakthrough in India-Pakistan ties was made in January 2004 at a South Asian summit in Islamabad. Both countries suddenly began to see reason and initiated a “composite dialogue’’ designed to address all outstanding issues. Most importantly, New Delhi and Islamabad agreed to talk about Kashmir. Since then the only sour note to progress between the two countries was a disagreement that cropped up over a dam being built by India at Baglihar in Kashmir.

According to Pakistan, the building of the dam violates the 1960 World Bank-mediated Indus Waters Treaty between the two countries, which lays down the rules for sharing the water flow of the Indus River and its tributaries. Pakistan appro-ached the World Bank to arbitrate in the matter. A neutral expert was appointed to help both sides reach a settlement on the dam design.

Much hope was placed on the latest round of talks on Siachen this week since it was taking place in the background of a quickening thaw in relations between the two countries, since Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s visit to India in April. Since that visit, the two countries have taken initiatives aimed at converting the Line of Control, that divides Kashmir into its Pakistan and Indian held parts, into a ‘’soft border’’ — with an emphasis

on people-to-people contact between the Indian and Pakistanis as part of the so-called confidence building measures.

Last week, Musharraf hinted that a solution to the long-festering dispute over Kashmir lay in making borders irrelevant. — IPS