India calls off talks with Pak

India calls off talks with Pak

India on Monday called off the Foreign Secretary level talks with Pakistan scheduled for next week, slamming Islamabad’s move to seek views of Kashmiri separatist leaders ahead of the parleys.

Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was to travel to Islamabad to meet her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on August 25. She, however, called up Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, on Monday and conveyed New Delhi’s displeasure over his invitation to the separatist leaders.

New Delhi made it clear that Islamabad would have to choose between talking to the Kashmiri separatist leaders and engaging with the Government of India. The talks would have been the first formal diplomatic engagement between the neighbours after the change of regime in both countries.

The High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi recently sent out invitations to top separatist leaders of Kashmir — Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who lead two separate factions of the Hurriyat Conference, Muhammad Yasin Malik, the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and Shabir Shah of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party — for meetings with Basit in New Delhi. While Shah met Basit at the High Commission on Monday, the others are expected to meet him on Tuesday.

Singh conveyed to Basit that his meetings with the Kashmiri separatist leaders undermined “the constructive diplomatic engagement” initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on “his very first day in office”.

“The Foreign Secretary conveyed to the Pakistan High Commissioner in clear and unambiguous terms that Pakistan’s continued efforts to interfere in India’s internal affairs were unacceptable,” Syed Akbaruddin, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, told journalists. He said the meeting was cancelled as it would not have served any “useful purpose”.

Islamabad, however, said New Delhi’s decision to call off the talks was a setback to the efforts by Pakistan’s leadership “to promote good neighbourly relations with India”.

It sought to justify the meetings with separatists by saying that it was a “longstanding practice” to do so before bilateral talks. Sources said New Delhi has also considered the current political unrest in Pakistan and the challenges Sharif was facing from the agitation led by opposition leader Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul Qadri.

Modi had invited Pakistan Prime Minister M Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony on May 26. He also met Sharif the next day and the two agreed that the foreign secretaries would be in touch and explore possibilities of restarting the bilateral dialogue, which New Delhi suspended after two Indian soldiers were brutally killed by Pakistan Army personnel near the LoC in January 2013.

“At a time when serious initiatives were being undertaken by the Government of India to move bilateral ties forward, including towards resumption of a regular dialogue process, the invitation to so-called leaders of the Hurriyat by Pakistan’s High Commissioner indeed raises questions about Pakistan’s sincerity, and shows that its negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs continue unabated,” the Ministry of External Affairs stated in New Delhi.

“The only path available to Pakistan is to resolve outstanding issues through a peaceful bilateral dialogue within the framework and principles of the Simla Agreement (1972) and the Lahore Declaration (1999),” the ministry added.

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