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Pakistan, India Hold Talks on 'World's Highest Battlefield'

June 11, 2012

by VOA News

Pakistan and India are holding talks on whether to demilitarize the Siachen glacier, known as the world's highest battlefield.

The two-day meeting that began Monday in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi is the 13th round of talks and the first time both sides have met on the issue since April, when an avalanche buried 140 Pakistani troops and staff stationed at a Siachen base. The site is located at an altitude of 4,000 meters and is just a few kilometers away from Indian outposts.

The incident prompted calls for Pakistan and India to pull their troops from the disputed glacier, where more troops have lost their lives due to bad weather than fighting.

Indian Defense Secretary Shashikant Sharma is meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nargis Sethi, with a joint statement expected to be issued at the end of talks on Tuesday.

The editor of the Indian "Hindu" newspaper, Siddharth Varadarajan, said it would be overly ambitious to assume a breakthrough is around the corner, but that "sooner rather than later, both countries will devise a way to end the conflict up on the glacier, which is completely meaningless from a strategic point of view."

The standoff at Siachen began in 1984 when Indian troops occupied positions on the northern tip of the “Line of Control” dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Pakistan responded by establishing posts on Siachen.

Since then, the nearly three-decade conflict has cost billions of dollars and killed more than 8,000 soldiers on both sides, giving it the reputation as the world’s highest, coldest and most expensive battlefield.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, including two over the disputed Kashmir region. A peace process that was stalled by the 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, was restarted last year. Both countries have also recently taken significant steps to boost trade.

Pakistani analyst and former air force officer, Khalid Iqbal, saidwhatever progress Pakistan and India make on enhancing ties and developing a dialogue should not be "held hostage" to any single crisis event and that bilateral institutions must be strengthened.

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