India, Pakistan ‘closer’ to agreement on Sir Creek (Lead)

May 21st, 2008 - 3:02 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Manish Chand
Islamabad, May 20 (IANS) India Tuesday said it was “determined” to make the Siachen glacier “a mountain of peace” and stressed that the two countries are “closer” to an agreement on the disputed Sir Creek marshland. “We are closer to an agreement on Sir Creek,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters, referring to the 60-mile long estuary in the Rann of Kutch that separates India’s Gujarat from Pakistan’s Sindh province.

“We have made considerable progress in narrowing down differences and in finding common ground. All these problems are solvable,” Menon told reporters here after he and his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir reviewed the fourth round of the two countries’ Composite Dialogue.

“But we have not reached an agreement on it. It will be discussed in External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi Wednesday,” he said.

The two sides have also been discussing demilitarization of the world’s highest battlefield where more Indian and Pakistani soldiers have died due to extreme weather than in fights for many years, but without a breakthrough.

The talks are still mired in differences over the actual ground position of troops. India insists on marking it on maps before it can consider troops pull-back, but Pakistan is not keen on mapping the positions as it would amount to legitimising what it considers the Indian occupation of the glacier.

“In Siachen, we have to deal with environmental consequences and explore the possibilities of mountain climbing. Another proposal is to make it a mountain of peace,” Menon said.

He was alluding to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposal for making Siachen a mountain of peace.

“We are determined to do it,” Menon stressed.

Last year, then Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri said the Siachen glacier could become a mountain of peace if India accepted Islamabad’s proposal for unconditional withdrawal of troops from the glacier.

“In the Sir Creek case, a lot of progress has been made. We have completed a joint survey and have a common map now,” Menon said.

India and Pakistan have conducted a joint survey and agreed on a common map of the estuary that will help in demarcating maritime boundary between them.

Some basic differences, however, continue to shadow negotiations over the issue. India asserts that the Sir Creek boundary lies in the middle of the channel whereas Pakistan claims that it is on the east bank.

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