|Rezaul H Laskar,
Islamabad, Jun 11 - The Defence Secretaries of India and Pakistan today began talks on the military standoff on Siachen against the backdrop of calls from Islamabad to demilitarise the Himalayan glacier in the wake of an avalanche that killed 139 people at a Pakistan Army camp.
The two-day talks on the Siachen issue, part of the resumed dialogue process between India and Pakistan, are being held at the Defence Ministry in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
The Indian delegation is led by Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma while the Pakistani side is headed by Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi, a close confidant of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Despite Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's call for the resolution of the Siachen issue after an avalanche buried 139 people at the high-altitude army camp on April 7, analysts believe the two sides are unlikely to make progress in the talks on ending the standoff that began in 1984.
Ahead of the talks, Indian Defence Minister A K Antony cautioned against expecting any breakthrough at the meeting of the Defence Secretaries.
"Do not expect any dramatic announcement or decision on an issue which is very important for us, especially in the context of national security," he told reporters in New Delhi last week.
India has a "clear-cut position" on the Siachen issue which the Defence Secretary will explain to the Pakistani side during the talks, Antony said.
India's Cabinet Committee on Security discussed the Siachen issue at a meeting last Thursday. The avalanche has led to questions in Pakistan about the troop deployment in the hazardous terrain.
Despite an extensive search involving hundreds of troops, less than 20 bodies have been found so far at the site of the avalanche. Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in a standoff on Siachen, described as the world's highest and coldest battlefield, since 1984.
The guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, but more troops have died on the glacier due to the adverse weather than combat.
Officials said Sharma will also hold talks with Pakistan's Defence Minister Naveed Qamar, who recently took over the portfolio as part of a minor reshuffle.
An unnamed Pakistani official told The Express Tribune that Islamabad was awaiting New Delhi's response to a "non-paper", with a roadmap for resolving the Siachen issue, that was handed over to India during the last round of talks.
"We expect to hear India's response in the discussions," the official said. According to the proposal, Pakistan wants India to pull back troops to the positions in 1984. India has called on Pakistan to authenticate and demarcate the 110-kilometre Actual Ground Position Line on the Siachen glacier.
The Express Tribune quoted Pakistani officials as claiming that India feared that a troop pullback "would set a troubling precedent and put pressure on New Delhi to resolve the festering dispute of Jammu and Kashmir".
During a visit to the site of the avalanche at Gyari on May 3, Pakistan Army chief Gen Kayani too contended that India had hardened its position on the Siachen issue, especially compared to the situation in 1989, when the two sides were "close to a resolution".
Stung by the occupation of strategic heights in the Kargil sector in 1999, India has insisted on the authentication and demarcation of current military positions on Siachen.
The move is aimed at thwarting the possible re-induction of troops by Pakistan after any demilitarisation of the glacier.
President Asif Ali Zardari raised the issue of demilitarising Siachen when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a private visit to India a day after the glacier hit the Pakistan Army camp. PTI