Signalling the hardening of India’s position after the Centre revoked the special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Sunday that talks with Islamabad will be held only on the issue of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Addressing a public meeting at Kalka in Haryana, Singh said: “Whatever talks take place, that will be on the issue of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. No talks will be done on another issue.” His remarks indicate Delhi’s new position, which shifts from India’s stated view that the J&K issue will be resolved bilaterally. The understanding in the earlier position was that peaceful resolution will mean that the issue is resolved to mutual satisfaction.
A new red line
After scrapping J&K’s special status, Delhi has gone a step further in laying out a new, hardened line on talks with Pakistan. While both countries have engaged in bilateral talks, recent efforts were aimed at resolving the issue peacefully. But Delhi’s new red line is expected to elicit a sharp and negative response from Islamabad.
Singh, who was earlier Union Home Minister, also said, “The people of Pakistan say there should be talks between India and Pakistan. On what issue talks should take place? Pakistan is aiding and abetting terrorism from its soil. There is no reason for talks until Pakistan puts an end to terrorism.”
The Defence Ministers remarks also come days after he said at Pokhran Friday that India remained “firmly committed” to the doctrine of “no first use” for nuclear weapons but indicated that this may not be etched in stone.
With the changed status of J&K, India is now drawing the red line that there is no point in talking about the Kashmir under India’s control and administration. Delhi will be approaching future conversations with Islamabad on the issue of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This stems from Delhi’s understanding that the changes to J&K are an internal matter for India, since it makes Kashmir an “integral part of India”.
Known for his carefully chosen use of words, the Union Defence Minister was in Haryana to flag off the ‘Jan Aashirwad Yatra’ of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar which will be carried out in all 90 constituencies of the state ahead of the Assembly polls due in October this year.
Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal told The Indian Express, “This is a hardening of Delhi’s position. With Musharraf’s four-point formula on Kashmir, waters had been muddied on this issue. The government has rightly said that now, the only discussion is about the PoK, apart from stopping terrorism.”
Referring to Pakistan, Singh said, “Our neighbour wants to destabilise India with the help of terrorism and wants to weaken India. With the help of terrorists, it wants to break India.” Singh said that India has abolished Article 370 of its Constitution but “our neighbour is upset”.
“It (Pakistan) is knocking doors of different countries. It is saying, save Pakistan, save Pakistan. In between, it also threatens. But President (Donald) Trump of America, which people consider the most powerful country, has asked Pakistan to go and hold talks with India, there is no need to come here.”
He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given Pakistan a befitting reply after the February 14 Pulwama attack and that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, a few days ago, said that India is planning a bigger airstrike than what happened at Balakot.
“It means that the Pakistan Prime Minister has accepted that India had conducted airstrikes to kill terrorists while earlier he had stated that nothing has taken place (at Balakot),” he said.
Responding to Singh’s remarks, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “We have seen the comments made by the Indian Defence Minister today. These are reflective of the predicament that India finds itself in after its illegal and unilateral actions imperiling peace and security in the region and beyond.”
He said that the “completely indefensible” lock-down of the entire population in J&K is “equally condemnable”. The world community, including the United Nations Security Council, have taken cognizance of this utterly untenable situation, he said.
“As for the Jammu & Kashmir dispute, Pakistan’s position is based on UN Charter principles and international law and remains unchanged. The Jammu & Kashmir dispute is to be decided on the basis of UNSC Resolutions and in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” he said, in a statement.