Defiant Kashmiri separatist leaders continued to meet Pakistan’s envoy to New Delhi on Tuesday, a day after India cancelled talks with its nuclear-armed neighbour that prompted a strong reaction from the Pakistani media and the United States to term the move “unfortunate”.
Three Hurriyat Conference leaders called on Basit in the Capital while in Islamabad, his country’s foreign office said Pakistan was “not subservient” to New Delhi and Kashmir was not a part of India.
In an unprecedented move, India had Monday called off foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad after Basit met Shabir Shah. Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh had called up the high commissioner, asking him not to meet the separatists but the Basit chose to go ahead with the meetings.
The first Hurriyat visitor at the Pakistan mission Tuesday was 84-year-old hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani who spent almost two hours with Basit.
After the meeting, Geelani said Kashmir was a fundamental issue and without the participation of Kashmiris, no lasting solution could be found. The decision to call off the talks was childish, the hawk, once a votary of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, told reporters at the airport earlier in the day.
"We have been visiting Pakistan embassy several times to hold talks,” he said, referring to an almost two-decades-old practice of Kashmiri separatists holding dialogue with Pakistani officials, including during the tenure of the previous BJP-led government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
“Kashmir is an internationally recognised issue and this ground reality cannot be changed...,” Basit told Geelani, according to Hurriyat spokesman Ayaz Akbar.
The next caller was Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik. A former militant, Malik said the resolution of Kashmir was far more important than trade and commerce between the two countries.
He said seven past Indian PMs had “facilitated” meetings between Kashmiri separatists and visiting Pakistani leaders and wondered if they were all wrong and if Narendra Modi was “Mr Right”?
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, too, was critical of the government. “New Delhi over-reacted...There has to be a peaceful, political resolution to the Kashmir issue,” the moderate leader said. Kashmir was not an economic problem but a political one that could only be addressed through talks, said Farooq, who is also Kashmir’s head priest
Basit met separatist leader Shabbir Shah on Monday, ignoring the Indian government’s warning that doing so could jeopardise the foreign secretary-level talks that were planned for August 25.
India’s move was seen as dampening expectations that the two countries would resume a tentative peace process under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who raised such hopes by inviting South Asian leaders, including his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration in May.
Following Monday’s decision by New Delhi, that bonhomie is looking like a distant dream, prompting Washington to call the move “unfortunate”.
"It is unfortunate that planned talks between India and Pakistan have fallen through," US state department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters after the cancelling of talks.
"We continue to support efforts by India and Pakistan to improve all aspects of their bilateral relations. And that is a position we will continue making clear to both parties here."
Reactions were stronger from the Pakistani media which said hopes of the two nations working their way back to normal relations had received a major setback.
A major daily, Dawn, said India had taken a “giant step back” from Modi’s surprise move in May.
Meanwhile, the Congress came down hard on the government for scrapping the talks. The government, it said, was first in a “sonorous slumber” and then resorted to a “kneejerk reaction”.
“The question is why they started it in the first place. They have followed an opaque and incoherent foreign policy towards Pakistan,” former commerce minister Anand Sharma said at a press conference.
Calling for a consistent and coherent policy, he accused the BJP and Modi of taking an extreme view on relations with Pakistan. Party colleague Manish Tewari said the Modi government had “completely walked itself into a corner”.
The decision to call off talks after permitting the Hurriyat meetings was inexplicable, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said. “Whenever some Pakistani leaders come, they (separatists) meet them and they do so in our country itself. And, this is not possible without the permission of our government,” he said.
But the government sought to defend its move. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "The point is very simple. Either Pakistan should talk to the government of India or they should talk to separatists.
“They chose to talk to the separatists first in spite of clearly being told that if this persistence is there, it will be difficult to pursue the dialogue."