The build-up to talks between the national security advisers of India and Pakistan turned into a battle of nerves between the South Asian rivals as top Kashmiri separatists were put under house arrest but released within two hours on Thursday.
Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz will be in New Delhi on August 23 and 24 for the talks with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, and, much to New Delhi’s discomfiture, will meet Hurriyat leaders even as the two sides are engaged in last-minute negotiations to decide the exact timing of the meeting.
The crux of the issue is the timing of the talks with Hurriyat, who India sees as a third party that doesn’t have any role in India-Pakistan bilateral issues. India would like Aziz to meet them after the talks with Doval, but Pakistan says all Hurriyat leaders have accepted their invitation to the reception hosted by the high commission on August 23 evening.
Aziz arrives around 11:30 am on August 23 as of now, and it would work better for India if the meeting were held on Sunday. The visiting dignitary will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and call on President Pranab Mukherjee before leaving for Islamabad on Monday.
When India cancelled foreign secretary-level talks last year, the logic was that the Pakistani high commissioner had met Huriyat leaders before the bilateral talks which were to be held in Islamabad.
But for Pakistan, meeting Huriyat first is important as it says “inputs from them would help them in talks” where Aziz will also raise the Kashmir issue.
Indian sources say the talks are only on all issues related to terrorism as agreed upon between the two prime ministers in Ufa last month. Pakistan says the two sides had agreed to discuss “all outstanding issues” and when “two very high level functionaries meet it is incumbent on them to discuss all these issues”.
“Meeting with Kashmiri leaders and inviting them to various occasions that are hosted by our High Commissioner is a long-standing practice... and meeting with Kashmiri leaders is common practice before consultations and talks between the two countries," Pakistani foreign office spokesperson said Khalilullah said.
Responding to questions on the house arrest of Hurriyat leaders, union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he would not comment on the "policing exercise" of the government of Jammu and Kashmir as the state police "is free to take appropriate action".
Asked whether India was "okay" with the Pakistan NSA seeking a meeting with Kashmiri separatists, the minister said foreign policy initiatives are not determined via media debates.
The arrests came under severe criticism from opposition leaders as they accused chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed of toeing the government’s line and trying to sabotage the talks.
“I’ve never seen an Indo-Pak dialogue where both sides are so keen to sabotage it. Shelling, infiltration, terror attacks & now Hurriyat arrests, clearly no side wants to talk & yet neither side has the guts to call it off,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.