[Obama adviser urges introduction of British troops as "neutral force" (SEE: Russian Roulette in South Asia)
NEW DELHI: China was the unspoken but ominous presence in the South Block room when the two-day talks between India and Pakistan on the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region ended on Tuesday with no significant breakthrough in the long-standing dispute.
China’s expanding strategic footprint in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, in fact, seems to have led India to harden its stand, which till now was largely about Pakistan providing iron-clad guarantees to “authenticate” the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) along the Saltoro Ridge, on maps and on ground.
India remains open to discussing the “modalities” for the verification of the AGPL and the proposed demilitarized zone but would “insist on map coordinates, obtained through aerial or satellite imagery, and other methodologies to show the relative positions on the ground”. Till it gets them, troop disengagement, withdrawal and the final demilitarization of the glacier is not on the cards.
Some may scoff at the strategic significance of the forbidding glacial heights but the Indian Army, which beat the Pakistan Army by just a whisker to occupy most of the dominating posts in the region in April 1984, has repeatedly drilled it into the political leadership.
For one, the Army is clear that if Pakistani troops occupy the heights vacated by it, then dislodging them from there would be virtually impossible. For another, if Indian soldiers had not been sitting atop heights ranging from 16,000 to 22,000 feet, Pakistan from the west would have long joined up with its “all-weather ally” China from the east through the Karakoram Pass to threaten Ladakh.
The ever-growing presence of Chinese personnel, including military engineers, in PoK on the pretext of civilian infrastructure development in recent times has only served to accentuate these concerns.
So, at the end of the 12th round of defence secretary-level talks on Siachen, despite the “good atmospherics” and “enhanced understanding of each other’s position”, there was no perceptible movement towards bridging the “trust deficit” between India and Pakistan.
“Both sides agreed to continue discussions in a meaningful and result-oriented manner. They agreed to meet again at a mutually convenient date in Islamabad,” said the joint statement, which also appreciated the fact that the ceasefire along AGPL was “holding since November 2003″.