Pakistan on Friday appeared set to ignore India's advice that Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz should not meet separatist Hurriyat leaders before talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, putting the meeting of the NSAs scheduled for Monday in danger of being called off.
Pakistan responded to India's advisory by saying Aziz’s meeting with the Hurriyat would go ahead. The hardening of positions could jeopardise efforts to put the stalled bilateral peace process on an even keel.
Aziz's meeting with the Hurriyat is still on, Pakistani government sources were quoted as saying by PTI. The sources further said Pakistan will “not take dictation” from India and talks cannot be based on “conditional diplomacy”.External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup spelt out India’s position in a series of tweets on Friday morning. He also said India has sought confirmation of the proposed agenda for the meeting of the NSAs, which India has insisted should be confined to "terrorism-related issues".
Pakistan has said it plans to raise all important issues, including Kashmir, when Aziz meets his Indian counterpart on August 24. Aziz is expected to meet Hurriyat leaders shortly after he arrives in Delhi on August 23.
"India has advised Pakistan yesterday that it would not be appropriate for Mr Sartaz Aziz to meet with Hurriyat representatives in India," Swarup tweeted.
"Such a meeting would not be in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Ufa understanding to jointly work to combat terrorism," he said, referring to a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in the Russian city in July.
"We have also sought (confirmation) of our proposed agenda for the NSA level talks that was conveyed to the Pakistani side on 18 Aug 2015," Swarup said.
Earlier, an Indian government official said: "All options are open as we see this (inviting Hurriyat) as a provocative step. One option could be preventing Hurriyat leaders from meeting Aziz, which would put the onus on Pakistan to call off the talks, if they feel so."
A joint statement issued after Modi and Sharif met in Ufa said they had agreed the NSAs would meet to discuss only terrorism-related issues. But during a media briefing in Islamabad on Thursday, Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah indicated Pakistan wanted to expand the scope of the talks.
Pakistan "will raise all issues of importance, including Kashmir", when the NSAs meet, Khalilullah said.
He also said Pakistan "expects India to allow Kashmiri leaders to meet" Aziz. "Kashmiris are important stakeholders in the context of Jammu and Kashmir dispute and efforts to seek its peaceful settlement in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions," he added.
India has maintained that the separatist Hurriyat is a "third party" in the Kashmir issue that has no role in the formal dialogue.
Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will travel to Delhi to meet Aziz while JKLF leader Yasin Malik is likely to give a reception hosted for the Pakistani NSA a miss but will instead send a two-member delegation.
Last year, India called off talks between the foreign secretaries of the two sides after Pakistani envoy Abdul Basit ignored a warning from the external affairs ministry and went ahead with meetings with Hurriyat leaders.
India and Pakistan have hardened their positions on the separatists ahead of the talks between the NSAs.
The house arrest and release of Hurriyat leaders – all within 135 minutes — in Srinagar on Thursday added a fresh twist to the diplomatic tussle, with Delhi describing the proposed meeting between the Pakistani NSA and the Kashmiri separatists on the eve of talks as a grave provocation. Unfazed, Pakistan said the meeting would go ahead.
Read:Hurriyat arrest drama, chaos ahead of India-Pakistan NSA talks