NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: India on Monday called off peace talks with Pakistan, giving a jolt to renewed diplomatic efforts between the two nuclear-armed neighbours and adding to the troubles of the beleaguered government of Nawaz Sharif.
The move came nearly three months after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the inauguration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the pair shaking hands in a gesture that had raised hopes of warmer ties between the two nations.
India said it would not attend talks involving the foreign secretaries of the two countries, which had been set to take place on August 25 in Islamabad, because of plans by Pakistan to consult Kashmiri leaders ahead of the meeting. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin called the invite an “unacceptable” attempt to “interfere” in domestic affairs, adding that the talks had been “cancelled”.
Pakistan deplored India’s move, calling it a “setback” in efforts to promote good neighbourly relations. The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since both gained independence in 1947.
In a statement, Akbaruddin said Pakistan’s proposed meetings with Kashmiri separatists “undermines the constructive engagement initiated” by India’s new administration.
He added, “...under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served by the Indian foreign secretary going to Islamabad next week.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, defended the decision to consult the Kashmiri leaders, saying it was a “longstanding practice” prior to talks between the two nations to “facilitate meaningful discussions on the issue of Kashmir”. In a statement, Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said that Pakistan’s High Commissioner in India has been informed that India, taking exception to the high commissioner’s meetings with Kashmiri leaders, has decided to call off the talks.
She said, “It is a longstanding practice that, prior to Pakistan-India talks, meetings with Kashmiri leaders are held to facilitate meaningful discussions on the issue of Kashmir.”
Tasnim said the Indian decision was a setback to the efforts by Pakistani leadership to promote good neighbourly relations with India. She said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had clearly articulated the vision of peace for development and it was in this spirit that he accepted the invitation of the Indian PM to attend his inaugural ceremony. India has for years complained that Pakistan backs separatist militants who slip in from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to stage attacks.
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