Talks between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in the Russian city of Ufa last month appeared to have laid the foundations for a meeting between the NSAs but on Saturday India and Pakistan were sparring over the agenda.
While India said “all issues connected to terrorism” would be taken up at the meeting of the NSAs, which now appears to hang by a thread, Pakistan insisted Kashmir was very much part of the agenda according to its interpretation of the joint statement issued in Ufa.
Confusion persisted over the meeting between India’s national security advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz on Monday as the two sides bickered over Aziz’s plans to hold consultations with Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders, with New Delhi saying they cannot be a stakeholder.
A war of words erupted on Thursday after Pakistan insisted on going ahead with the meet between Aziz and the separatist leaders before the formal diplomatic engagement.
Ready for talks but without any pre-conditions: Pak NSA Sartaj Aziz
Stressing that Kashmir will have to be part of the agenda because it is the “most important outstanding issue”, Aziz said on Saturday: "No serious dialogue with India is possible unless Kashmir is on the agenda. This is a reality that India has to recognise...India cannot wish away that this is not an issue."
Reiterating Pakistan’s rejection of India’s advisory that he should not meet the Hurriyat leaders, Aziz described it as a “new condition” and a “wishful narrative”. He said he was disturbed by reports of the detention of Hurriyat leaders.
“The political leadership and people of Pakistan are committed to support Kashmiris and their right to self-determination,” he said.
But India stuck to its guns and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj hit back at the nuclear-armed neighbour hours after Aziz's press conference in Islamabad.
Swaraj said: “The Pakistani NSA is welcome if they don’t expand the scope of the talks beyond terror and if they don’t involve a third party...The Hurriyat cannot be made a stakeholder."
She added Pakistan has time till midnight on Saturday to give an assurance that the meeting of the NSAs will focus only on terror or else there will be no talks. Bilateral engagements will not cease if talks between the NSAs are not held because there is “no full stop in diplomacy”, she added.
New Delhi feels Islamabad has gone back on the Ufa agreement as "some forces" in that country do not want the talks to go forward.
Sharif was criticised by Pakistan’s opposition parties because the Kashmir issue found no mention in the joint statement issued in Ufa but Aziz reiterated on Saturday that the document’s reference to “all outstanding issues” between the two countries mean Kashmir too is on the table.
India said Pakistan's stance on the Hurriyat is a departure from the understanding at Ufa, where the NSAs were mandated to talk only about terrorism, and a specific agenda on the issue of terrorism was given to Pakistan three days ago.
India has also conveyed to Pakistan that it remains committed to talks but the "new unilateral" conditions imposed by it cannot be the basis for "going forward."
New Delhi believes it has specific evidence to nail Islamabad on the issue of sponsoring anti-India terror groups. Pakistani sources said they too had evidence on “Indian involvement in Pakistan”.