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India, Pakistan in talks over disputed glacier

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- Indian and Pakistani defense officials held a fresh round of talks Monday seeking to end decades of dispute over the Siachen Glacier, dubbed the world's highest battlefield.

An avalanche on April 7 killed 140 people at a Pakistani army camp saw Pakistan's army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, call for a negotiated end to the stalemate and say that the glacier should be demilitarized.

But India, which captured the commanding peaks in 1984, sees the glacier as vital to monitor Pakistani positions below and important for the defense of its part of Kashmir, where a separatist insurgency has killed tens of thousands since 1989.

Pakistani troops have tried but failed to seize control of the sliver of territory, where sub-zero temperatures and high altitude have caused countless deaths.

The two days of talks between the most senior civil servants at India and Pakistan's defense ministries were being held at the Pakistani ministry in Rawalpindi.

India's Defense Minister A.K. Antony has warned against any breakthrough, saying that India would explain its “clear-cut position” on Siachen to the Pakistanis.

“Do not expect any dramatic announcement or decision on an issue which is very important for us, especially in the context of national security,” he said last week.

Twelve previous rounds of talks between the nuclear-armed rivals on Siachen have all ended in stalemate.

Pakistani officials were also tight-lipped about the talks.

“The two sides will discuss Siachen and other matters related to defense affairs,” Sohail Aftab, a spokesman for the defense ministry, told AFP.

The Indian delegation is being led by S.K. Sharma and the Pakistani side by Nargis Sethi. The Indian visitors also met Pakistan's Defense Minister Naveed Qamar and a joint statement will be issued on Tuesday, Aftab said.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided by a heavily militarized Line of Control and which both countries claim in full.

Last year they resumed their tentative peace process, which collapsed after Islamist gunmen from Pakistan killed 166 people in Mumbai in November 2008.

Analysts say there is growing support in Pakistan for rapprochement with India, which could help boost its flagging economy and quell tensions on the eastern border as Pakistan grapples with a deadly Taliban insurgency in its northwest.

But India shares increasing U.S. frustration with Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to clamp down on havens used by Islamist militants who attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan and who pose a threat to India.

India's Cabinet Committee on Security discussed the Siachen issue at a meeting last Thursday, but no details were made public.

“Our stand on Siachen is well known to the other side and the talks would continue within those parameters,” an Indian defense official told AFP of the Indian military's reluctance to withdraw from the commanding peaks.

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Major General Gurmit Singh, left, ADGMO of Indian Defense Ministry, chats with Chief of Pakistani military operations, Major General Ishfaque Nadeem, second left, and former Foreign Secretary and designated Pakistani high commission to India Salman Bashir, right, before start a meeting in Rawalpindi on Monday, June 11. (AFP)

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