'India calls off sec-level talks with Pakistan'

*Indian decision follows Basit-Shabbir meeting *Pakistani envoy also invites Mirwaiz, Geelani, Yasin for consultation

NEW DELHI – India on Monday called off foreign secretary-level bilateral talks with Pakistan which was slated to be held on August 25, Times of India newspaper reported on Monday.

The paper reported that the Indian government decided this after a meeting between Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit and senior Hurriyat Conference leader Shabbir Ahmad Shah in New Delhi. Earlier on Monday, the high commissioner met Kashmiri leader ahead of the proposed secretary-level talks between Pakistan and India.

This meeting invoked sharp reaction in India with the opposition Congress party hitting out at the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allowing the top Pakistani envoy to meet the Kashmiri leaders. The Congress had accused the government of doublespeak questioning why the talks had not been called off.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs conveyed the decision to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, saying India will not send External Affairs Secretary Sujatha Singh to Islamabad for talks scheduled for August 26. “At a time when serious initiatives have been taken by the government of India, the invitation to Hurriyat leaders raises question on Pakistan's intention,” said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the ministry.

He said that Sujatha Singh's visit to Pakistan on August 25 stands cancelled. Talking to journalists, Shabir Shah welcomed the upcoming secretary-level talks, but maintained that bilateral dialogue between Pakistan and India would not resolve the Kashmir issue as people of the state were principal party to the dispute.

“We welcome the talks (between Pakistan and India) but bilateral talks cannot resolve Kashmir issue as we have seen that such initiatives always ended in failure over the past six decades,” he said. Shah said the Kashmir issue cannot be resolved without the inclusion of true leadership of Jammu Kashmir in the resolution process “as we are the basic party.”

He said that there was nothing wrong in high commissioner’s meeting the Kashmiri leaders. “Pakistan and India are parties to Kashmir issue but we are the basic party. What is wrong if one party meets the other party,” he questioned. Abdul Basit has also invited other Kashmir leaders including Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Ali Shah Geelani and Mohammad Yasin Malik for consultations in New Delhi on Tuesday.

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