Angered by Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s decision to engage with Hurriyat leaders, the Narendra Modi government on Monday called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad. With this, the euphoria generated by inviting Pakistan Prime Minister to Mr. Modi’s swearing-in has effectively ended.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh telephoned and told Mr. Basit just minutes after he met the leader of Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party Shabir Shah that the meeting “with these so called leaders of the Hurriyat undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Modi in May on his very first day in office.”
According to the government’s statement, “the invitation to so-called leaders of the Hurriyat by Pakistan’s High Commissioner does indeed raise questions about Pakistan’s sincerity, and shows that its negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs continue unabated… Under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by the Indian Foreign Secretary going to Islamabad next week.”
In its reply, the Pakistani Foreign office called India’s move to cancel talks a “setback to the efforts to promote good neighbourly relations with India,” and said the meeting with Kashmiri leaders was a “long-standing practice” prior to Pakistan-India talks. Officials at the High Commission in New Delhi said the decision had come as a “surprise.”
In the past, India has raised objections, but taken no action when Pakistani diplomats and leaders met with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Sources say the decision was taken at the “highest political level” by the government, and came on a day Defence Minister Arun Jaitley had toured forward areas of the LoC and international borders, criticising Pakistan for “deliberate ceasefire violations”. “Pakistan and “powers within” it clearly do not want ties with India to be normal,” Mr. Jaitley said.
Foreign Secretaries of the two countries were set to meet after a hiatus of two years in the dialogue process, to discuss the way forward in talks. While the two diplomats were set to discuss “all outstanding issues”, they were specifically tasked with deciding the agenda for talks between the Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly summit in September. The decision to cancel these talks effectively calls into question those meetings as well as ends the bonhomie since May this year, marked by the summit-level talks, exchange of letters, and gifts between the two leaders.