India calls off FS level talks with Pak for meeting Kashmir separatists

NEW DELHI, Aug 18:
page1-3Angered 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  August 25 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.
Meanwhile, separatist leaders today said they will go ahead with their meeting with Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit in Delhi tomorrow even after India cancelled the Foreign Secretary level talks with Pakistan.
“Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will go to meet Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi tomorrow,” spokesman of the moderate Hurriyat Conference said.
He said it was unfortunate that the Centre had cancelled the talks.
“However, we will continue the process of consultations which are part of the dialogue process for resolution of Kashmir issue,” he added.
Hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani will also head for the capital tomorrow to meet Basit.
“Yes, we will be going for the meeting,” Geelani’s spokesman Ayaz Akbar said.
A JKLF spokesman said party chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik was already scheduled to be in Delhi due to personal reasons tomorrow.
“Malik might attend the meeting as he is already scheduled to be in Delhi tomorrow,” he added.
The Mirwaiz said there was no harm in meeting of the separatist leadership with the Pakistan envoy. “We only convey our views and this is not the first time that such an exercise has been conducted.
“Such meetings had taken place during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh as Prime Ministers. So what is the hue and cry about this time?” he said.
JKLF chief Yaseen Malik also expressed surprise over the decision of India and said “it is most unfortunate. After many years of chill, we expected some warmth in the relations between the two countries.”
He also spoke about earlier meetings being held by the separatists with visiting Pakistani leaders and envoys ahead of any bilateral meeting between the two countries.
“For the last two decades, we have been meeting all visiting Pakistani dignitaries and High Commissioners. What is new in this? Does the Government of India really want to find peace in the sub-continent or not, one wonders!” he said.
Democratic Freedom Party leader Shabir Shah, who met Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit today, said the decision to cancel the talks did not augur well for the sub-continent.
“We expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was willing to solve all issues including Kashmir. His move to invite Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for oath-taking ceremony, which was responded to with equal enthusiasm, was seen as a silver lining in the dark clouds over Kashmir…But this move of cancelling the talks will only contribute to confusion,” he said.
Government’s decision to cancel Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan today was dismissed by Congress as “knee-jerk diplomacy” while BJP defended it as a “bold” move even.
The Narendra Modi Government was also accused by Congress of adopting an “opaque and incoherent” foreign policy and sending “confusing” signals in its dealings with Pakistan.
“This knee-jerk diplomacy shows that they do not have any clear policy towards Pakistan,” Congress leader Manish Tewari said.
Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma questioned the Prime Minister for agreeing to hold talks in the first place in the face of “constant provocation” from Pakistan. He dubbed the Government’s move as “mere theatrics”.
“What prompted the Narendra Modi Government to decide to hold Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan when there was constant provocation from that side through constant ceasefire violations,” Sharma asked.
“The dialogue was suspended long back. Why was it restored?…Why was India prepared to go to the negotiating table? The Government has been following a knee-jerk policy in foreign affairs,” he added.
Another Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar described the Government’s decision as “childish”, adding it will now be difficult to resume Indo-Pak talks.
BJP, however, welcomed the Government’s move saying India wants good ties with its neighbours but will not allow any interference in its internal matters.
“BJP welcomes the decision on cancellation of talks. Though India wants good relations with its neighbours, it will not tolerate any interference in its internal affairs by anyone,” its National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said.
In Islamabad, describing the cancellation of next week’s Foreign Secretary-level talks as a “setback” to Indo-Pak ties, Pakistan today defended its consultations with Kashmiri separatists, saying it was a “long-standing practice” to hold such meetings prior to bilateral parleys.
“The Indian decision is a setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighbourly relations with India,” the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement.
Uncertainty now looms large over resumption of trade dialogue between the two countries.
Bilateral trade talks were suspended last year following escalation in violence along the Line of Control.
India Inc termed the development as “unfortunate” and asked both the countries to take forward the normalisation process of trade relations.
“It is very unfortunate. Normalisation of trade relations between the countries must continue,” ASSOCHAM Secretary General D S Rawat said.
CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee said: “India’s concern as communicated by the Government are critical and are of utmost importance to us. While furthering trade is important, we must focus on the immediate concerns. Secure environment is important for fostering trade relations”.
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.
In the recently concluded meeting of India-Pakistan Joint Business Forum (IPJBF), business leaders from both the sides had discussed various ways to boost two-way commerce and investment.
As part of efforts to normalise bilateral trade relations with India, Pakistan is also scheduled to hold its second mega lifestyle exhibition-cum-cultural programme in India for four days from September 11.
Earlier this month, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha that the Commerce Ministries of India and Pakistan had not yet decided on resumption of talks on bilateral trade.
Commerce Secretaries of India and Pakistan were expected to deliberate on various trade related issues after the meeting of Foreign Secretaries of the two Governments.
In 2012, Pakistan had committed itself to giving the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India but missed its own deadline because of domestic opposition.
Pakistan has to abolish the negative list of 1,209 tradeable items. Abolishing the list of items that cannot be imported from India means the grant of NDMA status to the country.
Major sectors included in the negative list of Pakistan are auto, steel, paper & boards, plastics, textiles, electrical machinery and pharma.
NDMA (Non-Discriminatory MARKET Access) is a nomenclature chosen by the Pakistani Government to avoid political ramifications at home in giving India the MFN status. (PTI)

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