SKARDU, Pakistan – Pakistan's powerful army chief on Wednesday called for the peaceful resolution of a Himalayan glacier dispute with rival nuclear power India, and suggested his country should spend less on defense and more on development.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's comments came after he visited the site of an avalanche near the Siachen Glacier that last week buried 140 people, including 129 Pakistani soldiers. The tragedy has refocused attention on what critics say is a futile standoff with India over an uninhabited stretch of ice where more troops have been killed by the elements than warfare.
Kayani noted that India began the conflict when its troops occupied the uninhabited Siachen Glacier in 1984. Pakistan sent in troops, and since then both armies have been facing each other on the glacier, which is located north of the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The Pakistani army chief said the conflict "should be resolved," and in order to do that "the two countries have to talk about" the issue.
Kayani did not set a timeframe, and his remarks were in line with Pakistan's general position that talks are needed to resolve all its disputes with its much larger neighbor.
Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since they both achieved independence from the British empire in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
Relations have warmed over the last year, especially regarding trade. But there has been little progress on other areas of disagreement.
Pakistan's conflict with India has cost it billions of dollars, a significant sum in a country where many of the 180 million residents struggle to get by. While its economy has tanked in recent years, India is a fast emerging global powerhouse.
Kayani said "you can't keep spending on defense alone and forget about the development."
In a rare question and answer session with the media, he said the security of a country was not just about borders but also the welfare of its people.
"In only that case a country is truly secured, and we understand this," said Kayani.