NEW DELHI: The invitation to the Kashmiri separatist Hurriyat Conference leaders to meet with the Pakistani national security advisor Sartaj Aziz is being viewed as yet another provocation from Islamabad to force India to call off the NSA-level talks next week, with New Delhi promising an “appropriate response” if the former meeting goes ahead.
With only four days left for Aziz to land in Delhi, Pakistan high commission confirmed on Wednesday that they are working to get the Hurriyat leaders to have an audience with the visiting senior Pakistani official. Aziz is scheduled to meet with Indian NSA Ajit Doval on Monday.
“We haven’t still worked out the schedule. It will be clear by tomorrow, but the meeting (with Hurriyat) would most likely take place before the (NSA-level) meeting,” said a Pakistani diplomat on Wednesday evening.
The Pakistanis are using the Hurriyat leader meeting as a red rag to get the Indian government to unilaterally cancel the meeting, just like it did last year, believes South Block. “They want the onus of the cancellation to be on us,” said sources.
There was no official response from South Block, but indignation was high on Raisina hill. “Let's see what happens. We are monitoring the situation. The government will give an appropriate response," they said.
The first meeting of national security advisors is a outcome of the discussions between Indian and Pakistan prime ministers on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on July 10. The two security czars were told by the leaders to “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”.
But after the two delegations went back to their respective countries, the problems began immediately, beginning with the press briefing by Sartaj Aziz where he asserted that there could be no dialogue without Kashmir.
It was followed, Indian officials state, there has been a string of aggravation, with regular ceasefire violations which target civilian population, Gurdaspur terror attack, raising bogey of Indian hand in Balochistan and FATA, High commissioner’s Kashmir mention and summoning of Indian diplomat over Samjhauta express probe.
Even though Indian officials said that they were aware that Pakistan does not want the talks, New Delhi wants to go ahead. “Pakistan does not seem to be serious. But, we need to raise terror with Pakistan. Who else do we talk to?” asked a government official, adding, “Talk and Terror cannot go hand in hand, but talks on terror a must”.
The government’s dilemma also sources from the fact that last year India had cancelled the visit of foreign secretary Sujatha Singh to Islamabad after Pakistan envoy met with Hurriyat leaders who flew down to Delhi from Srinagar.
That decision was framed by the new Modi government as a contrast to the pusillanimous Pakistan policy of the UPA regime. "This is a red line we have drawn," MEA spokesperson had said in August, "We have told Pakistan - you either talk to us, or to them (Kashmiri separatists)." Indian officials had justified the action stating that Pakistan had no need to meeting with Hurriyat leaders, as Kashmir was not on Sujatha Singh’s agenda, as it was only ‘talks about talks’.
“It is the same situation now (about NSA-level talks). We are only talking about terrorism. Not about Kashmir and terrorism only have a perpetrator and a victim. There is no third party here,” said an official source.
Therefore, while aware Pakistan would prefer that India takes the call, officials here said that even that choice is not ruled out if the Hurriyat-Aziz meetings go ahead. “We will look at all options,” said the source.
That Pakistan has yet to decide on Aziz’s schedule is telling – as both sides jostle to see if there is a room to maneuver. The timing of the Hurriyat meeting – whether before or after the NSA talk on Aug 24 – may become a face-saver, though Indian officials are adamant about their position so far.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has apparently send its agenda for talks, which includes Balochistan insurgency that it claims is fueled by India. As the host country, India has the prerogative to set the agenda, “We will not allow Pakistan to use Balochistan or Afghanistan to put spotlight on India”.