The Kashmir Curse; India, Pakistan come under spell yet again

Pakistan calls off NSA-level talks with India after Delhi sets midnight deadline

New Delhi: Just hours before crucial talks were meant to begin in Delhi, Pakistan announced that it cannot meet the two terms India said were non-negotiable. The much-anticipated resumption of dialogue stands cancelled.

On a day of intense sparring, Pakistan Foreign Office issued a statement, saying it had “carefully analyzed the contents” of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s press conference today and that, “We have come to the conclusion that the proposed NSA level talks between the two countries would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by the Minister.”

The announcement from Islamabad came after Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj set a midnight deadline for Pakistan to accept that Kashmir would not be part of the agenda of the talks, and that Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani National Security Advisor would not meet Kashmiri separatists in Delhi. “He is welcome to come,” she said, provided Pakistan declared it would comply.

Pakistan sources said that the talks cannot be focused on terror and Kashmir must be on the agenda. Pakistan also said that NSA Sartaj Aziz cannot come to India if he is not allowed to hold talks with Hurriyat leaders.

Pakistan’s move came just hours after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that the NSA-level talks would focus only on the issue of terrorism and nothing else.

While addressing a press conference, Swaraj said, “There cannot be talk with terror, but there can be talk on terror, and it is a must. The understanding in Ufa clearly stated in writing that the agenda was decided.

On the issue of not allowing Sartaj Aziz’s meet with Hurriyat leaders, the Union Minister said that it was decided in the Shimla accord that no third party should be involved when India and Pakistan sit to talk.

Stopping short of cancelling the talks, the External Affairs Minister said, “We are ready to welcome Sartaj Aziz if he doesn’t involve any third party and if talks remain confined to terror, as discussed in Ufa by the leaders of the two countries.”

Pakistan on the other hand reacted strongly to insist that it would not depart from the “established past practice” of interacting with separatist Hurriyat leaders, rejecting India’s advice not to go ahead with their meeting with Aziz.

“This is the second time that India has chosen to go back on a decision mutually agreed upon between the two Prime Ministers, to engage in a comprehensive dialogue, by coming up with frivolous pretexts,” he said.

Tension between the two countries has increased alarmingly as a result of frequent violations on the Line of Control and Working Boundary, in the past months.

“The need of the hour was for the two countries to engage in sincere and serious dialogue to immediately reduce tensions and to undertake the task of normalization of relations, with sincerity and seriousness,” he said.

The spokesman said Pakistan High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit’s invitation to the Kashmiri Hurriyat leadership to a reception in honour of Aziz on 23 August, was “very much in keeping with the practice and tradition of the past many years.”

Pakistan sees no reason to depart from this established practice, he said, adding, “After all, the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders are genuine stakeholders in efforts to find a lasting solution of the Kashmir dispute.”

“For India to refuse to engage in talks with Pakistan on this pretext, is a repeat of what it did when it cancelled the Foreign Secretary level talks that were scheduled to be held on 25 August last year, pursuant to the meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Delhi in May 2014,” he said.

The spokesman said for the NSA talks in Delhi, Pakistan had proposed a comprehensive agenda, consistent with the decisions taken by Prime Mininisters Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, which included discussion on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, as well as terrorism related matters, and other issues such as religious tourism, release of fishermen and peace and tranquility on the LoC.

“However, regrettably, the Indian side’s desire to restrict the agenda to terrorism-related issues only, amounts to a negation of the decisions taken by the two Prime Ministers,” he said.

Rejecting India’s contention that Pakistan was shifting its goalposts and introducing new conditions for talks, he said, “It is not Pakistan that has placed any condition for the talks.

Earlier on Saturday, Sartaj Aziz told a press conference in Islamabad that he is ready to travel to India as per schedule but without any pre-conditions.

He criticised the Indian government for its insistence that he should not meet Kashmiri separatist leaders while in New Delhi.

“Pakistan wants to discuss modalities of Kashmir issues, it is a complex issue. We never expected any breakthrough in the meeting, but current issues could be resolved,” said Aziz.

He further said that Pakistan was worried about the arrest and detention of Hurriyat separatist leaders ahead of the NSA-level talks.

In Lucknow, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “We are firm on our stand that whatever talks, dialogue are held with Pakistan, that should only and only be on terrorism.”

He also said that talks and terrorism can never go together.

The Home Minister said India’s intentions are clear to have dialogue with Pakistan, but that should be only on terrorism.

“We stick to commitment between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa to engage in a substantive discussion on terrorism,” he said, adding, “It is to be seen what our neighbour have to say.”

Pak decision ‘unfortunate’: MEA

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Saturday described Pakistan’s decision to call off the NSA-level talks as unfortunate, saying that India did not set any preconditions.

“Pakistan’s decision is unfortunate. India did not set any preconditions,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swaroop said in a tweet.

In another tweet, he said, “We only reiterated that Pakistan respect the spirit of the Simla & Ufa Agreements to which it was already committed.”

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