India has done well to send out a stern message to Pakistan by calling off foreign secretary-level talks that were scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad. The decision came shortly after Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit met separatist leader Shabbir Shah in the first of a series of meetings planned over three days. Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, who was supposed to meet her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhury, spoke to the envoy and expressed India’s displeasure in “clear and unambiguous terms”. As the Indian external affairs ministry spokesman rightly put it, Basit’s invitation to the so-called Hurriyat leaders not only raised doubts about Pakistan’s sincerity but amounted to a deliberate provocation and a blatant interference in India’s internal affairs.
There were strong indications that Pakistan was not serious about reciprocating prime minister Narendra Modi’s gesture of inviting Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in. Pakistan’s external affairs minister had dubbed a routine reference to Pakistan’s proxy war by Modi in Jammu and Kashmir as “provocative” and its high commissioner to India had gone to the extent of justifying Pakistan’s moral and other support to terrorists. The verbal tirade against India has been accompanied by a spike in attacks from across the border in the past few days. There were over a dozen violations of ceasefire in the last nine days. On Sunday, Pakistan Rangers targeted posts of the Border Security Force (BSF) and unprovoked shelling continued through the night.
Despite these provocations, Modi exercised commendable restraint by not referring to Pakistan in his Independence Day address. The Pakistan’s envoy’s meetings with separatists in Kashmir proved the last straw that tested his patience. Having cancelled the talks, New Delhi should make sure that it is not a symbolic gesture or protest. It should stop extending the olive branch to Islamabad and make it clear that any meaningful engagement with Pakistan can be resumed only after it takes tangible action to address India’s concerns about cross-border terrorism.