External Affairs

As India, Pakistan Wait to Talk, Letter War on Agenda Rages On

Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry at a previous meeting. Credit: Reuters

In happier times: Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: India returned the volley to Pakistan in the second round of exchange of letters this month, with Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar again virtually ruling out a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart this month if cross-border terrorism is not on the agenda.

The latest round of letter-writing began on Aug 15, when Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry invited Jaishankar for a dialogue on the “Jammu and Kashmir dispute that has been the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan”. He also stated that the Kashmir dispute had to be resolved in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

India’s answer was conveyed two days later, with Jaishankar accepting the invitation but adding the rider that talks should focus on  a ‘five point’ agenda on cross-border terrorism. Jaishankar added that India was also ready to talk about Pakistan’s vacation of its “illegal occupation of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir”, referring to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir – the regions Islamabad calls ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ and the ‘Northern Areas’ of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Pakistani foreign secretary responded by sending another letter on August 19. According to Indian officials, he ignored Jaishankar’s reply and repeated his earlier offer of talks on the Kashmir dispute. This time, however, Chaudhry gave a deadline of sorts, inviting Jaishankar to Islamabad “by the end of this month”.

Again making no direct reference to the content of Chaudhry’s missive, Jaishankar wrote back on Wednesday night, reiterating all of Indian talking points contained in the Aug 17 letter, officials said.

He also didn’t allude to the deadline in the invitation for a dialogue within August.

The letter was handed over by Indian high commissioner Gautam Bambawale to Chaudhry on Wednesday night.

India and Pakistan relations have gone south following the escalation of violence in Kashmir with protestors and police clashing after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last month.

Pakistani politicians of all hues, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have raised the heat on the bilateral front by describing Wani as a “martyr” and sending off letters to various international fora inviting them to take notice of human rights violations in Kashmir.

On its part, Indian ministers have blamed Pakistan for fomenting the troubles from across the border, a claim that most observers in Kashmir dispute. Upping the ante in his independence day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only mentioned that he had support from people in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, but also from Balochistan, Pakistan’s restive province.