NEW DELHi: The upcoming Indo-Pak NSA-level talks appeared to be virtually off today with the two countries locked in a confrontation over Kashmiri separatists leading to a blame game.
Drawing a redline, India made it clear to Pakistan that a meeting between the separatists and Pakistan's National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, who is scheduled to arrive here on Sunday for the talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, was unacceptable.
Pakistan reacted strongly to insist that it would not depart from the "established past practice" of interacting with separatist Hurriyat leaders, rejecting India's advice not to go ahead with their meeting with Aziz.
India hit back accusing Pakistan of trying to evade its commitment to engage in a substantive discussion on terrorism as had been agreed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa (Russia) last month.
It said that Islamabad's insistence on meeting Hurriyat leaders as a pre-condition was a complete departure from the Ufa understanding. Moreover, India has always held the position that there are only two, not three, stakeholders in the bilateral relationship.
Unilateral imposition of new conditions and "distortion of the agreed agenda cannot be the basis for going forward," External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
With the two sides sticking to their positions, the likelihood of talks between the NSAs on Sunday and Monday appear to be extremely remote. But neither side was formally calling off the talks.
Swarup said Pakistan government's statement on Hurriyat has not come as a surprise because "there has been a pattern to Pakistan's actions after the Ufa summit and today's position is a culmination of that approach."
He told reporters in Jaipur, venue of India Pacific Island Countries Forum meeting, that the two Prime Ministers had agreed on a meeting of NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism as well as ensuring peace and tranquility on the border.
"Instead, we saw a sharp increase in the unprovoked firings from the Pakistani side and some serious cross border terrorist incidents. The last one, at Udhampur, resulted in the capture alive of a Pakistani national, a matter that would have naturally come up in the NSA level talks on terrorism, to Pakistan's discomfort," he said.
The Spokesperson pointed out that "Ufa understanding on the talks - read out jointly by the two Foreign Secretaries - was very clear: the NSAs were to meet to discuss all issues connected to terrorism. This was the only agenda set for them by the two Prime Ministers."
Pakistan took 22 days to respond to the Indian proposal to meet in New Delhi and then proposed an agenda at complete variance with what the two Prime Ministers had agreed upon, the Spokesperson said.
"Together, these two actions indicated its reluctance to go forward with sincerity on the agreed process. Even more significantly, without confirming either the programme or the agenda, the Pakistani High Commissioner invited Hurriyat representatives to consult with the visiting NSA.
"This provocative action was completely in consonance with Pakistan's desire to evade its commitment at Ufa to engage in a substantive discussion on terrorism," he said.
The people of both countries "can legitimately ask today what is the force that compels Pakistan to disregard the agreements reached by two elected leaders and sabotage their implementation", Swarup said.
Nevertheless, he emphasised that India remains committed to discussing issues with Pakistan peacefully and bilaterally. In fact, it had taken the initiative to engage at Ufa.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan rejected India's "advice" not to hold a meeting between Aziz and Hurriyat leaders, saying it will not "depart from an established practice" of interacting with them.
This was conveyed to Indian High Commissioner T C A Raghavan in Islamabad by Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, who also made it clear that any pre-conditions for the talks between the two NSAs were not acceptable to it.
"Pakistani leadership has always interacted with the Kashmir/Hurriyat leadership, during their visits to India. Pakistan sees no reason to depart from this established past practice," a Pakistan Foreign Office statement said.
Significantly, Pakistan's reaction to Indian advice came after a crucial meeting of civilian and military leadership here chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The Foreign Secretary conveyed to Raghavan that it would not be possible for Pakistan to accept the Indian advice that Aziz should not meet separatists.