Conflict & Justice

Pakistan offered withdrawal from Siachen glacier


An Indian Army armoured personnel carrier (R) is lifted by cranes before maneuvers during the Shoor Veer military exercise near Hanumangarh, located near the India-Pakistan border, on May 3, 2012. More than 300 combat vehicles and 60,000 troops took part in the exercise held in the Indian desert state which borders Pakistan.

Is Pakistan finally ready to talk peace?

Maybe, if President Asif Ali Zardari can muster enough support to act as more than a figurehead in the army-ruled, nearly-failed state, new revelations by India's defense minister about the content of the April 8 lunch meeting between Zardari and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh suggest.

According to defense minister AK Antony, Zardari made a formal offer to withdraw Pakistani troops from the contested Siachen glacier -- where more than 100 Pakistani soldiers had recently been killed by an avalanche -- at the otherwise low-key lunch, reports Business Standard.

"While several Pakistani decision-makers, including the army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) chief, Nawaz Sharif, have issued media calls for a mutual withdrawal, only now has it emerged that Pakistan officially broached this proposal with New Delhi," the paper said.

Apparently, the Pakistani army is also in favor of demilitarization of the glacier, known as the "highest battleground on earth." Subject to periodic skirmishes since the 1980s, Siachen has been under ceasefire since 2003. But loss of life remains high due to the extreme weather conditions at altitude of greater than 20,000 feet. Frostbite, avalanches and other altitude- and weather-related causes have killed more than 2,000 soldiers -- from both sides -- in the contest over the grim piece of ice and rock.

However, Indians like former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal argue that there is no reason for New Delhi to make what amounts to territorial concessions for the sake of peace.

"Those who advocate withdrawal from Siachen - or more appropriately Saltoro as Siachen lies to its east - need to clarify whether we are occupying Pakistani territory," Sibal writes in the Daily Mail. "If we are, withdrawal could be mooted. If we are not, then why should we withdraw from our own territory simply because Pakistan contests India's sovereignty over this part of J&K and insists we accept its position?"

"We were compelled to occupy the Saltoro Ridge to prevent Pakistan (under a certain Brigadier Musharraf) from occupying it and threatening our hold over the Shyok valley and potentially Ladakh itself. Why should Pakistan have wanted to occupy these punishing heights if they have no strategic value?"