The decision to call off the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan was taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in consultation with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, at about 1:30 pm on Monday. Following the high-level “political” consultations, it was decided that the talks would be called off if Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit went ahead with his meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah at 4 pm on Monday.
It is reliably learnt that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials were not kept in the loop. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was informed after the decision was taken, and she then called up Basit at about 2:30 pm and told him that the talks would be called off if he met Shah.
Soon after Basit’s meeting with Shah got over at about 5 pm, Sushma consulted Modi, and then told MEA officials to announce the decision to cancel the talks. Singh did not call up Basit again to inform him about the cancellation of talks. Instead, the MEA’s official spokesperson was asked to make the announcement public.
Reacting to India’s decision, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said on Tuesday, “The High Commissioner of Pakistan did not interfere in India’s internal affairs. Pakistan is not subservient to India. It is a sovereign country, a legitimate stakeholder in the Jammu and Kashmir dispute… That is just a pretext. It was not the first time that meetings with Hurriyat leaders took place.”
She asserted that “Kashmir is not a part of India… It is a disputed territory.”
Meanwhile, other separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, met Basit on Tuesday.
While officials conceded that they do not have a problem with the Pakistan envoy meeting the Hurriyat leaders, what rankled them was the “timing” of the meeting.
“There have been meetings between the Pakistan High Commissioner and the Hurriyat leaders in the past. But have they met before an Indian Foreign Secretary or an Indian Foreign Minister goes to Pakistan for bilateral talks? That was the key issue before us,” said a top government source.
South Block was particularly peeved at the fact that when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not meet the Hurriyat leaders in May this year, why did Basit meet them now.
However, there are no straight answers to this question. While a section in South Block feels that it was a “misreading” of the situation by the Pakistan High Commissioner — having seen positive statements from Modi — another section believes that this could be a deliberate move.
But government sources confirmed that there was no move to send back the envoy — as was being demanded.