NEW DELHI – The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given just about 20 minutes to Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit on August 18 to cancel his meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah or else the secretary-level talks will be cancelled, The Indian Express newspaper reported on Wednesday.
When India’s Ministry of External Affairs approached the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi around 2.30pm last Monday, saying that Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh would like to speak with Basit, the Pakistan envoy was out of the mission premises for a meeting.
By the time, Basit returned to the mission and called back the Indian foreign secretary around 3.40pm, the Kashmiri leader was already on his way to the High Commission. The Pakistani diplomats recalled watching the visuals of his car approaching the High Commission on TV news channels.
During her short phone conversation that lasted about seven minutes, Sujatha conveyed the decision — which had been taken around 1pm by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — that if Basit’s meeting with SHabir Shah at 4pm was not cancelled, she is not going to Islamabad for the talks with her counterpart.
After getting the terse message from the Indian official, the Pakistan High Commission immediately contacted their Foreign Office in Islamabad. In those tense 15 minutes, Foreign Affairs Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary was out of office and could not be contacted — since cellphone lines were down in Islamabad due to the massive protests at Zero Point.
However, the Pakistan High Commission got a go-ahead from the Foreign Office, and went ahead with the meeting with the Kashmiri leader. A Pakistan government official told newspaper that these were principled positions about meeting Hurriyat leaders and the government (of Pakistan) cannot deviate from these positions within minutes.
The official reiterated that these have been a practice for the past two decades, and the bilateral talks have never been held hostage to these meetings with the Kashmiri stakeholders. What has surprised Islamabad is this last-minute warning that came from India’s External Affairs Ministry despite the information available about their meeting for almost a week.
The invitations for meetings between Basit and Hurriyat leaders went from August 11 onwards. These invitations were conveyed to all Kashmiri leaders through phone calls, as is the practice. Ali Shah Geelani made it public on August 12, and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik also told the media through the week about their meetings with the Pakistani envoy.
"The Indian government had the information about these meetings between the Pakistan high commissioner and the Hurriyat leaders for almost a week, but not a single official from the ministry (of External Affairs) said anything about the cancellation of secretary-level talks in those five to six days," the Pakistani official said.