Islamabad will not push for revival of the dialogue after New Delhi called off foreign secretary-level talks objecting to the Pakistan high commissioner meeting Kashmiri separatists, said Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister on security and foreign affairs.
“Talks were suspended by your government and the ball is squarely in India’s court,” Aziz said over the phone from Islamabad.
Senior officials in Nawaz Sharif’s office said that Aziz echoed the views of the Pakistan government, its Prime Minister included. “Sharif was shocked when he first heard of the talks being cancelled and felt personally let down because he had walked the mile to travel to Delhi for Modi’s swearing-in,” one official said.
Pointing to the fact that its high commission often sought the views of Hurriyat leaders, another Pakistan official said, “Kashmir is an important issue for us. We cannot be dictated to by India. A way could have been found to postpone talks with separatists ahead of the foreign secretaries meeting but Abdul Basit (the envoy) got the call after Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah had already entered the high commission.”
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Modi and Sharif are likely to be in New York this month for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Leaders of both countries have always met on the sidelines of the UNGA but a formal meeting between the two is improbable. When asked, Aziz said, “There is no such proposal.”
Sharif did send mangoes to Modi and, Aziz said, “We are courteous and several interactions continue.” He was referring to an exhibition to be hosted by Pakistan in Delhi next week.
Many in the Pakistani establishment still question India’s “harsh step” of cancelling talks. A government insider there said that Modi had initiated back-channel contact with Sharif even before winning the Lok Sabha election. “We were told through our high commission in Delhi to wait for the new government before moving ahead on granting India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status,” the insider said.
When asked, the high commission spokesperson said, “Pakistan was aware of the fact that the Indian election code of conduct had entered into force.” HT spoke to several BJP leaders who said they were not aware of this move.
The MFN nomenclature was changed to Non-Discriminatory Market Access to overcome some stiff resistance from the fundamentalist lobby in Pakistan. India still awaits a decision on this but as a Pakistani official said, “From our perspective, we thought Modi and Sharif were beginning to establish an equation and were, therefore, surprised by the abrupt calling-off of talks."
Many on both sides now say that any meaningful forward movement will only take place after the Jammu and Kashmir elections this year.