India called off foreign secretary-level dialogue with Pakistan on Monday, in a tough reaction to Islamabad’s decision to hold talks with Kashmiri separatist which New Delhi described as an “unacceptable” interference in India’s internal affairs.
Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh was to travel to Islamabad on August 25 to hold talks with her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry, nearly two years after their sluggish peace dialogue stalled due to skirmishes along their disputed border.
The move comes as a blow to peace efforts between the two countries which received a potential boost after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an unprecedented gesture, invited South Asian leaders, including his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration in May.
“They (Pakistan high commission) were told that the meeting (of separatists) was unacceptable to us but they chose to go ahead with it ... Under the circumstances, there is no use of sending the foreign secretary to Islamabad,” foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
He was commenting on Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit’s invitation to separatist leaders from Kashmir to meet for talks, the first of which was held in New Delhi on Monday.
Akbaruddin said Basit's invitation with "so-called" separatist leaders undermined a constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Modi. Pakistan has invited Kashmiri separatists to talks in the past.
"Indian foreign secretary had conveyed to the Pakistan high commissioner today (Monday), in clear and unambiguous terms, that Pakistan's continued efforts to interfere in India’s internal affairs were unacceptable,” Akbaruddin said, adding that Singh told Basit that Pakistan had to choose between "India or separatists" for talks.
Islamabad on Monday said India's decision to cancel talks with Pakistan over an envoy's meeting with Kashmiri separatists is a setback in efforts to improve relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
"The Indian decision is a setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighbourly relations with India," the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement.
Already, Pakistan’s domestic political scene is in turmoil with opposition leader Imran Khan and Canada-based firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri calling for Prime Minister Sharif to quit, accusing him of corruption and ballot-rigging during his landslide election victory last year.
Those protests involving thousands of people entered their fourth day Monday.
To be sure, the run up to the secretary-level dialogue had witnessed some ratcheting up of rhetoric from both sides.
Speaking to soldiers in Kashmir last week, Prime Minister Modi said Pakistan had lost the power to fight a conventional war and, instead, is waging proxy war on India. Islamabad reacted strongly saying such rhetoric was unfortunate. The episode was seen as sapping some of the goodwill generated from Modi and Sharif’s engagement in May.
Meanwhile, Separatists in Kashmir valley accused the Congress of playing “negative politics” on Indo-Pak dialogue as they regret the government decision to call off foreign secretary talks with Pakistan scheduled for August 25.
“The Congress hue and cry over the meeting of Kashmir leadership with the high commissioner of Pakistan in New Delhi once again proved it was never serious in finding a solution to the Kashmir issue,” said moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
“Kashmir besides being an internationally recognized dispute has been the main obstacle in developing good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan.”.
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