New Delhi/Islamabad: The NSA talks between India and Pakistan appeared to be in jeopardy on Friday after India objected to Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz’s proposed meeting with Kashmiri separatists ahead of his meeting with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.
Taking a tough stand, New Delhi said it had told Pakistan that it would “not be appropriate” for Aziz to meet Hurriyat representatives ahead of the August 23-24 meeting with Doval.
The Indian warning was conveyed on Thursday, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
Such a meeting would not be in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Ufa (Russia) understanding to jointly work to combat terrorism, he said.
“We have also sought confirmation of our proposed agenda for the National Security Advisor-level talks, which was conveyed to the Pakistani side on August 18,” he said in a statement.
In Islamabad, the Aziz-Doval talks were discussed at a high-level meeting on security chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also attended by Aziz and army chief General Raheel Sharif.
Kashmiri separatist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir said Pakistan’s envoy in New Delhi had invited them for talks with Aziz. Pakistani officials say there will be no change in that programme.
Both factions of the Hurriyat Conference, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq respectively and other separatist leaders such as Yasin Malik and Naeem Khan, have been invited by High Commissioner Abdul Basit of Pakistan.
At the July 10 talks in Ufa between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sharif, both sides announced a meeting between the two NSAs in New Delhi to discuss terrorism-related issues.
Since the mandate for the NSAs was only terrorism-related issues, Kashmir would not figure in the agenda and thus Aziz’s meeting with Kashmiri separatists does not make sense, official sources said.
Aziz will arrive in New Delhi on August 23 and meet Hurriyat leaders at a reception at Pakistan House, High Commissioner Basit’s residence, that evening.
On Thursday, Pakistani foreign office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said: “There is nothing unusual in such meetings and it has been normal practice for Pakistan to consult Hurriyat leaders prior to high-level meetings with India.”
The statement came as three Kashmiri separatist leaders were placed under house arrest but were later freed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Indian officials say the Pakistani invite to Kashmiri separatists was designed to scuttle the NSA talks and follows a pattern of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.
Ever since Modi and Sharif met at Ufa, tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated due to intermittent firing and shelling by the Pakistani military along the Jammu and Kashmir border.
There were also two terror attacks involving Pakistani terrorists in Gurdaspur in Punjab and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir. One Pakistani was arrested in Kashmir.
“The game plan is very clear – scuttle the talks,” said one source.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Manish Tewari on Friday criticised the government’s move on Pakistan, saying: “The government is making a fool of itself.
“The manner in which Aziz and Pakistan are conducting themselvs makes it clear that Pakistan is not interested in dialogue. Aziz has not even sent his itinerary yet.”
Another Congress leader and former minister, R.P.N. Singh, criticized the government’s “flip-flops” which, he said, “does not give a strong message to Pakistan”.
India called off the foreign secretary-level talks on August 25 last year after the Pakistani envoy invited the Hurriyat for a dialogue ahead of the India-Pakistan talks.
India says there is no place for any third party in India-Pakistan talks.