Sending a strong message to Islamabad, the Narendra Modi government on Monday called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, an hour after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah here. Two other Kashmiri separatist leaders — Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik — are scheduled to meet Basit on Tuesday.
This is a serious setback to the efforts to re-start the dialogue process, which have been stalled since January 2013. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was scheduled to travel to Islamabad for talks with her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary on August 25. The last meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries took place in Islamabad in September 2012.
Sources told The Indian Express that following a “high-level political consultation” on Monday morning, Singh called up Basit and asked him to desist from meeting the separatist leaders. This phone call took place before his scheduled meeting with Shah at 4 pm today. “He was told in very clear terms that if he went ahead with the meeting, the talks will be called off,” a source privy to the seven-minute phone conversation told The Indian Express.
After Basit’s meeting with Shah, South Block lost no time in announcing its decision. Sources attributed this tough stand to the “new BJP-led NDA government” among other factors.
“Foreign Secretary (Sujatha Singh) conveyed to the Pakistan High Commissioner today, in clear and unambiguous terms, that Pakistan’s continued efforts to interfere in India’s internal affairs were unacceptable. It was underlined that the Pakistani High Commissioner’s meetings with these so-called leaders of the Hurriyat undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Modi in May on his very first day in office,” said the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin in a sharply-worded response.
“Therefore, under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by the Indian Foreign Secretary going to Islamabad next week. Foreign Secretary’s visit to Islamabad for talks on 25 August stands cancelled,” he said.
Akbaruddin underlined that at a time when serious initiatives were being undertaken by the Centre to push bilateral ties, including resumption of a regular dialogue process, the invitation to “so-called leaders” of the Hurriyat by the Pakistan High Commission “does indeed raise questions about Pakistan’s sincerity, and shows that its negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs continue unabated”.
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 and the Lahore Declaration, he said.
A few hours later, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam responded. “It is a longstanding practice that, prior to Pakistan-India talks, meetings with Kashmiri leaders are held continued…