India calls off Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pak

New Delhi, Aug 18: Angered by Pakistan’s consultations with Kashmiri separatists, India today called off next week’s talks between Foreign Secretaries, telling it bluntly to choose between an Indo-Pak dialogue or hobnobbing with the separatists. In a dramatic setback to efforts to resume the stalled bilateral dialogue, India cancelled the talks scheduled to be held in Islamabad on August 25, raising strong objections to consultations held with separatist Hurriyat leaders by Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit.

Shortly before the first of the separatist leaders Shabir Shah drove into the Pakistan mission here, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh telephoned Basit and told him “in clear and unambiguous terms that Pakistan’s continued efforts to interfere in India?s internal affairs were unacceptable.

“It was underlined that the Pakistani High Commissioner?s meetings 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,” official Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. Officials said Singh, who was to reach Islamabad on August 24, told the High Commissioner that “you can have dialogue with India or separatists.”

Since Basit went ahead with the meeting with Shah which was to be followed with consultations with other separatist leaders tomorrow, India announced cancellation of the talks agreed upon by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in May in a bid to break two-year- old stalemate in the bilateral dialogue process. ”Indian Foreign Secretary had conveyed to the Pakistan

High Commissioner today, in clear and unambiguous terms, that Pakistan’s continued efforts to interfere in India?s internal affairs were unacceptable,” the Spokesperson said. ”At a time when serious initiatives were being undertaken by the Indian government to move bilateral ties forward, including towards the resumption of a regular dialogue process, 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,” he said.

The only path available to Pakistan is to resolve outstanding issues through a peaceful bilateral dialogue within the framework and principles of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration, he said. ”Therefore, under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by the Indian Foreign Secretary going to Islamabad next week. The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Islamabad for talks on 25 August stands cancelled,” the Spokesperson added.

Ahead of the talks in Islamabad, Basit had invited separatist leaders from Kashmir “for consultations” here. Pakistan envoys had in the past too talked to separatists from Kashmir before any major diplomatic initiative with India. However, Islamabad broke from this practice when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May this year. Sharif was severely criticised in Pakistan for not meeting Kashmiri separatists.

Meanwhile, there is a spurt in ceasefire violations by Pakistani army along the LoC which is seen as an attempt by the neighbouring country’s armed forces to scuttle the upcoming Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two sides by defence experts.