IN a statement that possibly indicates some form of back-channel contact between India and Pakistan, Army chief General M.M. Naravane Wednesday said India “is not averse” to the demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier, on the condition that Pakistan accepted the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) dividing the two countries’ positions. He said the militarisation of Siachen was a result of an attempt by Pakistan to unilaterally change the status quo in late 1984, which forced India to take countermeasures. Though there has been no response to the statement from Islamabad so far, the Army Chief’s offer is seen as very significant under the circumstances. More than 800 Indian soldiers have so far lost their lives in Siachen due to extreme cold.
However, it is not the first time that the resolution of the Siachen issue is being discussed as a probability. Earlier, the two countries had almost reached an agreement on the issue several times in the past. But like in all the India-Pakistan engagements, the dialogues abort when they are close to breakthrough. And over the last more than a decade, the two nations have struggled to get back to a basic dialogue.
Early last year, the two neighbours failed to build on the goodwill after the re-affirmation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement. There have been no further measures, nor does it look likely there will be in the near future. New Delhi seems in no hurry to do this. If anything, this only goes on to show that India feels little pressure to relent. Nor does it want to pursue the engagement with Islamabad beyond a point. The unmistakable signal to Pakistan is to temper its expectation about the extent to which India can accommodate it on Kashmir. New Delhi, for sure, will not reverse the revocation of J&K autonomy. It is also loathe to restore statehood to J&K anytime soon. As always, India wants the terrorism to be the central issue in any dialogue with Pakistan and the latter doesn’t accept it backs terrorism.
But it would be great if somehow the two countries could get back to dialogue and put their relations on an even keel. But this is easier said than done. A sustained, meaningful dialogue between them has the potential to lead to a positive outcome with a potential to transform the region. But it looks unlikely that such a dialogue would take place for now and even if it does, it may not be easy to sustain it. In the past many such attempts have been aborted by a major attack in India traced to elements in Pakistan or sometimes the rigid negotiating positions of the two countries have undone the engagement. It would be thus interesting to see how the two countries negotiate their respective conditionalities before reaching out to each other.
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