In a move that will set back efforts directed toward restoring peaceful ties between the two neighbors, India on Monday called off planned talks with Pakistan, according to media reports.
The foreign secretary-level talks, scheduled to take place on Aug. 25 in Islamabad, were reportedly cancelled after Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, met leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, which is a separatist group from Kashmir, in New Delhi, on two separate days earlier in the week. Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since they gained independence from British rule in 1947. The two nations have fought three wars over the region and frequent exchanges of fire have been reported along the heavily militarized Line of Control, or LoC, in Kashmir.
“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 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,” Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said in a statement released Monday.
“Under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by the Indian Foreign Secretary going to Islamabad next week,” Akbaruddin said.
The secretary level talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbors would have been the first in two years and were being seen as a major step toward repairing a strained bilateral relationship. India’s decision to invite Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May had raised hopes of a fresh start toward the resolution of a long-standing conflict between the two countries.
However, since then, following accusations of continuous violations of a 2003 cease-fire along the LoC by both sides, and Modi’s statements condemning Pakistan’s “proxy war against India,” relations between the two countries have soured further.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry criticized the decision to call off the talks and said that it was a “setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighbourly relations with India,” adding that it was a “longstanding practice” to hold meetings with Kashmiri leaders prior to India-Pakistan talks to “facilitate meaningful discussions on the issue (of Kashmir).”