NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan — the two nuclear-armed neighbours in South Asia — are now playing a game of ‘who blinks first’.
After India’s ‘advice’ that visiting Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz should not meet Hurriyat leaders was rejected, New Delhi put the ball in Islamabad’s court to formally call off the talks, asserting that “distortion” of agenda for the NSA-level talks “cannot be the basis for going forward”, even as it implicitly hinted at the role of Pakistan military in sabotaging the spirit of the Ufa declaration.
Less than 48 hours before the NSA-level talks, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the bilateral meeting due to Pakistan’s insistence on meeting the Hurriyat leaders. Official sources told Express that India had not called off the talks. “This is a rebuttal, challenge to the Pakistani statement,” said a highly-placed source.
As the battle of wits between the two countries escalated further on Friday, government sources said it was unlikely that India would allow the separatists’ meeting with Aziz.
Top government sources said trusted back-channel government representatives were in touch with the Hurriyat leaders to persuade them to reject Pakistan’s invitation since India was determined not to allow Aziz’s engagement with the separatists.
“There was a consensus that Hurriyat leaders should not be detained in Srinagar as the move may trigger a law and order problem in the Valley as well as political confrontation with the PDP. Yasin Malik has already decided not to meet Aziz and we are hopeful that Shabir Shah and Mirwaiz could follow suit. This will isolate Syed Ali Shah Geelani,” government sources said, adding that any diversion from the present strategy could only be influenced by the Prime Minister’s Office. Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit has invited the Hurriyat leaders for a reception on Sunday, but the main meeting would be at 10.30 am on Monday before Aziz goes to meet NSA Ajit Doval.
Friday dawned with the first salvo from India that Pakistan was advised “it would not be appropriate for Sartaj Aziz to meet with Hurriyat representatives during his visit to India as it would not be in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Ufa understanding to jointly work to combat terrorism”.
MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup reminded that Pakistan had still not responded to the agenda set by India for the NSA-level talks, conveyed on August 18. After over seven hours, the Pakistan Foreign Office responded saying its foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhary conveyed to Indian High Commissioner TCA Raghavan that “it would not be possible for Pakistan to accept this advice”. Stating that Kashmir was a disputed territory, the Pakistan Foreign Office said the country’s leadership had “always” interacted with Hurriyat.