External Affairs

Talks in Jeopardy as India and Pakistan Harden Stand

New Delhi: Prospects for the August 23-24 dialogue between the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan to take place as scheduled dimmed considerably on Friday with both countries hardening their respective positions on the agenda of the talks and on the question of the Pakistani side meeting leaders from the separatist Hurriyat Conference.

The Ministry of External Affairs issued a brief statement in the morning going public with the government’s stand that Sartaj Aziz—the foreign policy and national security adviser of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan—should not meet with the Hurriyat while he is in New Delhi:

India has advised Pakistan yesterday that it would not be appropriate for Mr. Sartaj Aziz to meet with Hurriyat representatives during his visit to India as it would not be in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Ufa understanding to jointly work to combat terrorism.

We have also sought confirmation of our understanding of the agenda for the NSA-level talks that was conveyed to the Pakistani side on 18 August 2015.

By the afternoon, the Pakistani side went public with its dismissal of the Indian demarche.

Responding to the “advice” of [the] Government of India—conveyed [on Thursday] by their High Commissioner—that Mr. Sartaj Aziz may not meet the Hurriyat leaders during his forthcoming visit to India, the Foreign Secretary conveyed to the Indian High Commissioner that it would not be possible for Pakistan to accept this advice.

Kashmir is a disputed territory as per the UN Security Council resolutions which remain unimplemented. Pakistani leadership has always interacted with the Kashmir/Hurriyat leadership, during their visits to India. Pakistan sees no reason to depart from this established past practice. The Hurriyat leaders are true representatives of the Kashmiri people of the Indian occupied Kashmir. Pakistan regards them as genuine stakeholders in the efforts to find a lasting solution of the Kashmir Dispute.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement also addressed the question of the agenda for the NSA-level talks, insisting that this would cover “all issues”:

Pakistan has proposed and conveyed to India a comprehensive agenda reflecting the broad understanding reached between the leaders in Ufa, that all outstanding issues, including Kashmir and other disputes, as well as, terrorism issues and other CBMs will be discussed between the two countries.

At Ufa, Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had agreed that India and Pakistan “are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues” and then listed five concrete steps to be taken, the first of which was:

A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism

Indian officials say this means the agreed focus of the August 23-24 meeting is terrorism. Pakistan, however, insists that Aziz plans to pursue the “broad understanding” reached at Ufa, which included a commitment by both countries to discuss “all outstanding issues.”

Though Indian officials have sought to justify the U-turn the Modi government on its earlier stand that “talks and terror cannot go together” by saying the NSAs will hold “talks about terror”, such a narrow reading of the agenda always seemed improbable given Pakistan’s line that terrorism is a consequence of the unsettled Kashmir dispute.

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Last August, India cancelled talks that had been scheduled between the foreign secretaries of the two countries for Islamabad following a meeting between Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, and a Hurriyat leader, Shabbir Shah. “At a time when serious initiatives were being undertaken by the Government of India to move bilateral ties forward, including towards the resumption of a regular dialogue process,” the MEA said on August 18, 2014, “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.”

Though Pakistan gave no assurances that it would stop meeting the Hurriyat, Prime Minister Modi went ahead and met Nawaz Sharif at Ufa and agreed to pick up the process of engagement. It is not clear why the condition which the MEA finally spelt out on Thursday was not reiterated at Ufa itself.

On Friday, Pakistan’s MFA accused India of a “lack of seriousness … to meaningfully engage with Pakistan” by seeking to “introduce conditionalities and restrict the agenda for the dialogue.” It also said Aziz “remains willing to attend the NSAs meeting without any pre-conditions.”

Later in the evening, the MEA issued a second statement in reaction to the statement put out by Pakistan:

The Ufa understanding on the talks – read out jointly by the two Foreign Secretaries – was very clear: the NSAs were to meet to discuss all issues connected to terrorism. This was the only agenda set for them by the two Prime Ministers.

The insistence on meeting Hurriyat as a precondition is also a complete departure from the Ufa understanding. India has always held the position that there are only two stake holders in our relationship, not three.

The people of both countries can legitimately ask today what is the force that compels Pakistan to disregard the agreements reached by two elected leaders and sabotage their implementation.

India remains committed to discussing issues with Pakistan peacefully and bilaterally. In fact, we took the initiative to engage at Ufa. But, unilateral imposition of new conditions and distortion of the agreed agenda cannot be the basis for going forward.

Note: This story has been updated to include India’s second statement issued on Friday evening.