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India, Pakistan Consider Ending Conflict on World's Highest Battlefield


Pakistani helicopter patrols Siachen Glacier
India and Pakistan start high-level peace talks Thursday aimed at resolving a two-decade military standoff on a glacier high in the Himalayan Mountains.

India and Pakistan have been fighting over the uninhabited Siachen Glacier for more than 20 years.

At 6,000 meters above sea level, the glacier is considered the world's highest battleground.

Military experts say the isolated expanse has little or no strategic value. More soldiers have reportedly died there from the freezing temperatures and altitude sickness than from enemy fire.

Similar talks held last year failed to effect any meaningful change. Retired Pakistani General Talat Masood says that neither side trusted the other then to honor an agreement.

But he says there is a good chance this week's talks in Islamabad could end the conflict.

"I think they realize the folly of staying at such heights, and they are willing to come down," said General Masood.

The two countries reiterated their positions before starting the negotiations. Pakistan wants both sides to pull their troops off the glacier. India says its army will stay in place, but would agree to avoid aggressive maneuvers and freeze troop levels.

Mr. Masood says the conflict on the glacier has become a symbolic test of wills for the two armies. The countries together spend an estimated $500 million a year trying to protect their claim to the disputed territory.

But Indo-Pakistani relations have improved recently following a series of so-called confidence building measures.

A tentative cease-fire agreement in divided Kashmir signed in 2003 has largely held firm. In April, the two governments opened a new bus route linking the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir.

Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, who recently traveled to New Delhi to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, says he believes the peace process is now irreversible.

Mr. Masood says an agreement on the Siachen Glacier would be a major breakthrough, helping erase decades of accumulated mistrust between the two sides.

"I think once this confrontation is reduced or eliminated, it will definitely help the overall peace process," he said. "I am certain about that."

The two-day talks on the glacier battleground are scheduled to end Friday.

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