Ending the suspense, Pakistan called off the Indo-Pak NSA-level talks on Saturday night, hours after India made it clear that discussions on Kashmir and a meeting with separatists will not be acceptable. “Pakistan reiterates that the scheduled NSA-level talks cannot be held on the basis of the preconditions set by India,” a statement by the Pakistani Foreign Office said.
Pakistan’s announcement brought to an end the battle of attrition as to who would blink first. That the talks was a non-starter was evident in the last two days in view of the acrimonious exchanges between the two sides but the last straw appeared to be External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s virtual ultimatum to Pakistan to give a clear commitment by midnight that it would not go ahead with meeting the separatists.
“There will be no talks,” Swaraj declared when asked what would happen if Pakistan did not accept the position outlined by her on separatists and Kashmir though she maintained these were not pre-conditions.
The Minister was reacting to Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz’s remarks earlier in the day that he was willing to come to India for talks without any pre-conditions. Aziz’s talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on terror-related issues was scheduled to have taken place in Delhi on Monday.
What became a red rag for New Delhi was the invitation by the Pakistan High Commission to Hurriyat leaders to meet Aziz ahead of the first-ever NSA-level talks, which was agreed upon in Ufa in Russia in July during the meeting between the two prime ministers–Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif. India was also upset over Pakistan including Kashmir as part of the agenda for the NSA talks that was mainly scheduled to discuss terror.
The Foreign Office statement said Pakistan has “carefully analyzed” the contents of the press conference of Swaraj.
“We have come to the conclusion that the proposed NSA level talks between the two countries would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by the Minister,” it said.
Referring to Swaraj’s statement, it said that while she accepts that, to ensure durable peace between the two countries, there is a need to discuss all outstanding issues, she then unilaterally restricts the agenda to only two items: creating an atmosphere free from terrorism and tranquility on the LoC.
“Considering that many terror ‘incidents’ blamed initially by India on Pakistan eventually turned out to be fake, it is not improbable that India can delay the Resumed Dialogue indefinitely by concocting one or two incidents and keeping the LoC hot.
“It is equally important to recall that terrorism was always a part of the eight point composite dialogue and it was always discussed simultaneously with other issues between the Interior Secretaries. It is not reasonable for India to now assume the right to decide unilaterally that from now onwards, other issues will be discussed after terrorism has been discussed and eliminated.”
The statement noted that the main purpose of any dialogue between India and Pakistan is to reduce tensions and restore trust as a first step towards normalization.
“If the only purpose of NSA level talks is to discuss terrorism, then instead of improving the prospects for peace it will only intensify the blame game and further vitiate the atmosphere. That is why Pakistan had suggested that apart from discussion on terrorism related issues, the two sides should also discuss modalities and if possible a time schedule, for discussions on all outstanding issues including Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek, in keeping with the understanding of the Ufa statement,”
Pakistan said this is the only way to improve the prospects for peace between the two countries.
“The EAM s attempt to draw a distinction between preambular and operative paragraphs in the Ufa statement appears to be an after-thought to justify a position that is counterproductive in terms of the ultimate objective of reducing tensions and improving trust.”
As regards the second pre-condition regarding meeting with Hurriyat leaders, the statement said it has been pointed out repeatedly that it has been a long-standing practice that whenever Pakistani leaders visited India during the past twenty years, they have been meeting Hurriyet leaders.
“It would be inappropriate for India to now impose the condition of changing this longstanding practice. Pakistan, therefore, reiterates that the scheduled NSA level talks cannot be held on the basis of the preconditions set by India,” it added.