Indian Decade

No Shift on Siachen Glacier

The Pakistani and Indian defence secretaries meet disappoints, with no progress on the strategic Siachen Glacier.

As expected, the two-day Indo-Pakistan Defence Secretaries’ talks this week in New Delhi concluded without any tangible results or forward movement concerning the key Siachen Glacier dispute. In fact, there was hardly anything meaningful discussed between India’s Pradeep Kumar and Pakistan’s Lt Gen. (Retd) Syed Athar Ali.

One new thing, though, was that the Pakistani side presented a non-paper on Siachen, which annexes the latest report by the Energy and Resources Institute on the sorry state of Himalayan glaciers. The non-paper – an off-the-record document that acts an unofficial presentation of a government’s policy – also urged India to involve China as a guarantor in the Siachen dispute. Both sides reportedly agreed to continue discussions in a meaningful and result-oriented manner. They also agreed to meet again, at a mutually convenient date, in Islamabad.

But according to sources, there was something troubling about the talks. The Pakistani defence secretary arrived in India on the evening of May 28. Typically, the foreign delegation arrives on the evening before the talks, meaning the Pakistani delegation had in this case arrived a day early. There’s certainly nothing wrong with arriving earlier than usual, and India extended a warm welcome to the visiting delegates, who used the opportunity to visit Wagah and to make the customary trip to the Taj Mahal.

The problem is that this sightseeing took up most of the discussion time when the two defence secretaries met. The big issue – the Siachen Glacier – barely merited a few minutes of talking time. The two sides reiterated their respective and oft-stated positions: India called for the authentication of the ground position of the two sides’ troops on a map, while Pakistan pitched for a pre-1972 troops’ position, essentially asking India to vacate the higher positions. India has rejected this demand for years, as it would mean surrendering its strategic leverage in Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, which has been under Indian control since April 1984.

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A joint statement was also issued by the two sides, which noted: ‘Both sides welcomed the ongoing dialogue process. The discussions were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere, contributing to an enhanced understanding of each other’s position on Siachen. They also acknowledged that the ceasefire was holding since November 2003. Both sides presented their positions and suggestions towards the resolution of Siachen.’

The meeting took place at a rather tense moment and against the backdrop of some blunt talk by India’s top political leadership. This week’s meeting was the first time senior officials of the two countries had shared the negotiating table since May 2, when Osama bin Laden was killed in Operation Geronimo in the heart of Pakistan.

On May 28, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Pakistan as ‘the epicentre of terrorism,’ echoing what his cabinet colleague Home Minister P Chidambaram told his US counterpart in New Delhi a day earlier. In an indication of the tougher line that India looks likely to take toward Pakistan over the terror issue, Singh said: ‘I would like Pakistan to take more effective action to curb jihad groups. Jihadi groups targeting countries like India must be dealt with effectively. The epicentre of terrorism is in our neighbourhood. The Pakistani leadership must recognise that some elements in the country patronise terror.’

As I said, a day earlier, Chidambaram told visiting US Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano at the first-ever Indo-US Homeland Security Dialogue that Pakistan was ‘the global epicentre of terrorism’ and said India was living in ‘the most difficult neighbourhood in the world.’

‘The vast infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan has for long flourished as an instrument of state policy,’ he said. ‘Today, different terrorist groups, operating from the safe havens in Pakistan, are becoming increasingly fused. The society in Pakistan has become increasingly radicalised. Its economy has weakened, and the state structure in Pakistan has become fragile.’ He also told Napolitano that terrorist infiltration, and the inflow of fake currency, doesn’t only take place through India’s western border, but is often routed through countries that India shares open borders with.

So what’s going on? Well, one thing seems clear – post-Osama, India has upped the ante and will have no more of Pakistan’s duplicitous behaviour on terrorism. The Indian diplomatic establishment is grinning from ear to ear since the United States handed over a most wanted list to Pakistan. They’re particularly pleased about the inclusion of Ilyas Kashmiri, who has been a thorn in the side of New Delhi for years having personally choreographed numerous terror strikes against Indian interests.