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India talks tough as Basit defends meeting separatists

india Updated: Aug 21, 2014 00:28 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times

Sharpening its aggressive position on the Pakistan envoy’s meeting Hurriyat leaders, New Delhi said on Wednesday the principle that India and Pakistan are the only two stakeholders on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir is the bedrock of the bilateral relationship between the neighbours.

India also said the 2008 Mumbai terror strike showed India shouldn’t go beyond this approach laid out in the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration as allowing Pakistani envoys to meet the Hurriyat in the past was based on an assurance that Islamabad was committed to a peaceful dialogue on the Kashmir issue and would not allow its territories to be used for terrorism against India.

But the assurance was breached with the Mumbai strike, which was hatched and executed from Pakistani territory.

The Indian reaction came after the Pakistani high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, defended his meeting with Hurriyat leaders, who he termed stakeholders in Kashmir issue.

India called off the foreign secretary level talks slated for August 25 on Monday in a tough reaction to Islamabad’s decision to meet with Kashmiri separatists, which New Delhi described as an “unacceptable” interference in India’s internal affairs.

“After 1972 and the signing of the Simla Agreement by prime ministers of India and Pakistan, there are only two ‘stakeholders’ on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

“This is a principle which is the bedrock of our bilateral relations. This was reaffirmed in the Lahore Declaration of 1999 between PM Nawaz Sharif and PM Vajpayee,” he added.

Earlier, the Pakistani envoy defended his meeting with the Hurriyat, but he also struck a conciliatory chord, saying his government was committed to the dialogue process with India.

“We strongly believe that our interaction (with Kashmiri separatists) is helpful to the process itself. It is helpful to find peaceful solution to the problem. It is important to engage with all stakeholders. So that is the bottom line for us.”

Basit said he had not breached any protocol by meeting with the separatists and the cancellation of the August 25 talks was a setback, but added that Pakistan wanted to improve ties with India and there was no need to be “pessimistic” the talks being called off.

“This has been a long-standing practice. We have been meeting the Kashmiri leaders ... It is important to engage with all stakeholders to find a peaceful solution to the issue. This is not an either-or situation,” Basit told a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

Calling off the talks came as a blow to peace efforts between the two countries which received a boost after PM Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May. Pakistani envoys have in the past too talked to separatists and the Indian government has tolerated such meetings.

“This is a setback, but the setback should not disappoint us, discourage us to finding ways and means as to how to take the process forward in line with our leadership’s visions on both sides of the border. So we will try our maximum to see as to how this process can be taken forward,” Basit said.

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