India-Pakistan talks under a cloud

The proposed talks between the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan this Sunday, which were decided at a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, have come under a cloud due to a variety of reasons.

Both India and Pakistan have been exchanging skirmishes along the Line of Control and these increased sharply on the Independence Day of India. Both sides have been reporting several civilian casualties and there is yet no indication of a slow down in the exchange of fire. Also there had been terrorist attacks that have emanated from Pakistan in Gurdaspur and Udhampur. A Pakistani national was also caught alive near Udhampur and his parents have owned him despite the fact that Pakistan had denied that he was its citizen.

But besides the escalating violence along the LoC and the terrorist attacks, what may put the talks in to jeopardy is the insistence of Pakistanis to invite Hurriyat leaders for a reception being held by the Pakistan High Commissioner in honor of the visiting NSA Sartaj Aziz on August 23. Last year the government had called off talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries for precisely the reason that Pakistan High Commission had invited Hurriyat leaders for talks prior to the meeting scheduled to take place in Islamabad on August 25.

Though there is no official word from the External Affairs ministry, sources say that the government was closely “monitoring” the situation and that the talks may be called off if Pakistan insists on hosting the Hurriyat leaders before the two NSAs meet. India sees the invitation to the Hurriyat leaders as the defiant attitude of Pakistan and a provocation to call off the talks.

Pakistan High Commission has, however, defended the invitation and has said that there was nothing “unusual” in calling the Hurriyat leaders for a meeting with the Pakistan NSA. “it is part of our consultation with the relevant stakeholders as we discuss the resolution of the Kashmir issue”, a spokesman of the High Commission said.

It may be remembered that the Pakistan Prime Minister had received a hostile reaction to his joint statement with the Indian Prime Minister because of the absence of the ‘K’ word in the statement.

On its part Pakistan plans to bring to the table its grievances against India including the issue of bail granted to the main accused in the Samjhauta blast case and India’s alleged interference and encouragement to militants in FATA and Balochistan.

Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif and Director General of ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier this week to discuss the issues to be taken up at the NSA level meeting. It was decided at the meeting that Indian Intelligence Agency RAW’s alleged interference in Pakistan would be among the top agenda items during the talks besides the ceasefire violations along the LoC. A Pakistani newspaper reported that Pakistan will stress on laying out a counter terrorism mechanism during the talks.

Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have confirmed that they had received the invitation from the Pakistan High Commission and stressed that they would go for the meeting. They insisted that it was not a formal dialogue but only a consultation process and said they would tell the Pakistan NSA about the current situation in Kashmir. Geelani said they would urge Pakistan to maintain continuity and stability on its Kashmir policy. “We willl also tell him that Pakistan should use its diplomatic channels to project the Kashmir issue more forcefully and effectively”.

The two countries hardened their stand on Thursday, August 20, with Pakistan canceling Commonwealth Speakers’ conference because India insisted that the Speaker of JK Assembly should be invited otherwise it shall boycott the conference. On the other hand India placed Hurriyat leader Geelani under House arrest. Some other leaders were also taken in custody but within two hours of their detention, they were let off.

Anything can happen between now when we are going in to publication and the next few hours.


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