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PM may do deal on Siachen troops' withdrawal in July

With talks on troop withdrawal from Siachen nearing conclusion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may pay an official visit to Pak in the second half of July.

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PM may do deal on Siachen troops' withdrawal in July
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NEW DELHI: With negotiations on troop withdrawal from the Siachen glacier nearing a successful conclusion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may pay an official visit to Pakistan in the second half of July.

But the visit hangs on the level of infiltration this summer. May and June are peak months for border crossings by terrorists. The government’s assessment is that so far Pakistan has stuck to its commitment to crack down on infiltration.

If infiltration does not increase in the next two months, the PM’s visit would be on, an official source said. It would be Singh’s first trip to Pakistan as Prime Minister.

The highlight of the visit would be the accord on troop withdrawal from Siachen. National Security Adviser MK Narayanan told reporters accompanying the PM to Germany last week that negotiations on the issue are in an “advanced stage”.

Troop withdrawal from Siachen has been on the Indo-Pak talks agenda for over two decades but has been stuck on the question of demarcating current positions.

Pakistan has been insisting on unconditional withdrawal, but India has refused to vacate the glacier without delineating the areas under each side’s control.

Official sources said Pakistan has finally agreed to a demarcation, paving the way for an accord that will see troops from both sides withdraw from the world’s highest battlefield. Narayanan has been in touch with his Pakistani counterpart on this.

But analysts here are divided on the proposal. Brajesh Mishra, NSA in the AB Vajpayee government, was critical. “The question that must be asked is: what do we get in return? Siachen is a part of Kashmir. We can consider troop withdrawal if there is an overall settlement on Kashmir. Otherwise we are giving up territory we occupy in return for nothing,” he told DNA.

But strategic affairs expert K Subrahmanyam felt it would be a pragmatic move. “It’s a good thing for both sides to withdraw together because we are spending a lot of money to keep our troops there.”

Siachen is about 20,000 feet above sea level. India spends between Rs2 crore and Rs3 crore a day on the brigade stationed there. A brigade has 3,000 men.

An accord on Siachen will mark another milestone in the Indo-Pak peace process and reinforce current international perception that India is trying to reduce tensions in its  neighbourhood.

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