The scheduled NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan plunged into uncertainty less than 24 hours before they were to take place with neither side ready to blink.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Saturday that Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Pakistan Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security, was welcome in New Delhi if Pakistan could give an assurance by midnight that talks would be confined only to terror.
She ruled out talks if the Pakistanis insisted on Aziz meeting Hurriyat leaders and other Kashmiri separatists invited to New Delhi by the Pakistan High Commission. Asked what if Aziz doesn’t agree to the Indian position or doesn’t give assurances, Swaraj said, “Toh baat-chit nahin hogi (then talks won’t happen).”
She called a press conference to outline the Indian stand on the talks two hours after Aziz told a press conference in Islamabad that he was ready to travel to India for the NSA-level talks “without any pre-condition”.
“Cancellation (of the talks) is yet to be confirmed from either side. Therefore, we are ready to go as per schedule without any pre-condition,” Aziz said. He was due to reach New Delhi Sunday afternoon.
In New Delhi, Swaraj maintained she was not laying down any new condition for talks between Aziz and National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval. She delinked these talks from the composite dialogue between the two countries which involves discussions on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.
“I am only invoking the Simla spirit under which two countries are committed to resolve issues bilaterally, and the recent agreement in Ufa where Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi had agreed that the NSAs would meet only to discuss terror.”
She accused Pakistan of trying to undermine the NSA-level talks under pressure from “known sources” in Pakistan — it was a reference to the Pakistan military — opposed to dialogue with India.
“We are not running away from talks. It is Pakistan, not India, that is running away from dialogue. If the Hurriyat leaders are kept away and issues other than terror are not raised by Aziz, he is welcome to come for the talks,” she said.
She said the Pakistanis sat on an Indian request for the talks agenda for 22 days and got back only on August 14. She said they agreed to a meeting of the Pakistan Rangers with the Border Security Force on September 6 though the Indians wanted this meeting before the NSA-level talks.
The Pakistanis, she said, were still to get back on a date for a meeting of the DGMOs. She said there had been 91 incidents of ceasefire violations by the Pakistanis since the Ufa meeting.
Taking a swipe at Aziz for waving a dossier on ‘R&AW’s involvement in Pakistan’, she said dossiers are not waved in public but are given in “sealed envelopes”. “They are supposed to be given in a meeting in New Delhi, not in the corridors of New York.”
Earlier, Aziz had said that Pakistan will hand over the dossier in New Delhi if the talks take place, or else, it will be handed over to Doval in New York next month when they meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
“After handing over these dossiers to Mr Doval, I can then also share them with the UN Secretary General,” he said.
This fetched an angry response from Swaraj: “If they give us a dossier, we have a live terrorist from Pakistan, Naved with us, we can produce him before them.”
Aziz said he was disappointed that India had “virtually cancelled the talks” and it would be the second time that New Delhi has gone back on a commitment to hold talks — in August 2014, India had called off Foreign Secretary-level talks in Islamabad, protesting the Pakistan High Commissioner’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi.
“The reason for this regretful second cancellation, if it is happening, would be the same,” Aziz said, adding that the invitation to three-four Kashmiri leaders to a reception organised in New Delhi on Sunday was to “enable me to meet a cross-section of Indian political and business leaders”.
He urged global think tanks and foreign policy experts to ponder why India wanted to cancel the first ministerial interaction on such “flimsy grounds”.
“Even more ironic is their alibi that Pakistan was trying to distort the agenda agreed upon at Ufa and was imposing ‘new conditions’ for the talks,” he said.
Accusing India of going against the Ufa summit, he said: “Everybody knows what is the most important outstanding issue: it is Kashmir”.
On the road ahead, Swaraj said that the road is “full of potholes” and in the process sometimes “tyres get punctured”, but “war is not a solution”.
“Talks are the only way ahead, but we want to talk on terrorism and ceasefire violations,” she said.