New Delhi, May 30: Top defence officials from India and Pakistan kicked off talks on Monday to discuss a disputed Himalayan glacier that brought the neighbours to the brink of war in 1984.
The two-day meeting in New Delhi between Indian Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Ather Ali is part of the slow-moving peace process aimed at bringing lasting stability to South Asia.
India broke off all contact with Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were carried out by Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba, according to Indian and Western intelligence.
An Indian defence ministry official said the two defence secretaries met behind closed doors in New Delhi on Monday where they were to discuss the highly militarised 6,300-metre Siachen glacier.
The countries clashed over Siachen in 1984, but the world's highest battlefield — where the temperature drops to minus 70 degrees Celsius — has been stable since a 2003 ceasefire.
The icy mass is one of several unresolved issues which have been unsuccessfully discussed in 11 previous rounds of talks between the two countries' defence secretaries.
Relations between the estranged neighbours have improved over the last year after contacts between prime ministers and other senior government figures.
But India has recently sharpened its criticism of Pakistan in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US troops in Abbottabad.
At the weekend, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the leadership in Islamabad must “wake up” to the “terror machine”, while Home Minister P. Chidambaram warned last week that Pakistan was becoming a “fragile” state.
India considers the Siachen glacier strategic because it overlooks China as well as a key highway linking divided Kashmir, which is administered in part by India and in part by Pakistan, to rest of the country.
The Indian army, which holds most of the 75-kilometre glacier since 1987, wants existing troop positions marked out to dissuade Pakistan from moving its soldiers forward in the event of a pull-out.
Pakistan fears that giving details of its outposts on the disputed frigid territory would be tacit acceptance of India's claims to Siachen and the inhospitable area as a whole.
PTI adds: After a gap of three years, defence secretaries of India and Pakistan today met here to discuss the long-pending Siachen issue.
India and Pakistan decided to resume the talks last year after Prime Ministers of both the countries met in Thimpu and decided to take forward the dialogue process.
While the Pakistani delegation has two civilian officials and four military officers, the Indian side includes Special Secretary R K Mathur, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt General A M Verma and Surveyor General S Subba Rao, defence officials said.
After the talks, the Pakistani Defence Secretary will call on Defence Minister A K Antony this evening.
Siachen, the world's highest militarised zone, has been a long pending issue between India and Pakistan over differences on the location of the 110-km long Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) which passes through the Saltoro Ridge and Siachen Glacier.
"The AGPL is not clearly marked beyond the grid reference point of NJ-9842. The two countries have decided to de-militarise the Siachen Glacier, but the matter is stuck as there are apprehensions on both sides," officials said.
India wants Pakistan to authenticate the AGPL, both on the maps and the ground, as it occupies most of the dominating posts on the Saltoro Ridge, they said.
Pakistan, in turn, has been insisting on maintaining the pre-1972 troop positions as agreed in the Simla Agreement.
Retaliating to Pakistan Army's advances in the glacier in 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot and deployed its troops in most of the dominating features in the area.
The defence secretary-level talks between the two countries on Siachen dates back to 1985.The decision to hold joint talks was taken by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq.The Pakistani delegation arrived in India on Saturday and yesterday visited Agra to see the Taj Mahal.