NEW DELHI (AP) — Talks between the top security advisers of archrivals India and Pakistan have hit several roadblocks over the contentious Kashmir region before they’ve even started.
Pakistan’s Sartaz Aziz is to arrive in New Delhi to meet Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval on Sunday, just as both countries have upped their rhetoric over the disputed region of Kashmir.
On Friday, India said it would not be appropriate for Aziz to meet with separatist leaders from the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. Pakistan’s high commissioner to New Delhi had invited the leaders for a meeting with Aziz.
“India has advised Pakistan yesterday that it would not be appropriate for Mr. Sartaj Aziz to meet with Hurriyat representatives during his visit to India,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a statement.
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Swarup also said India had sought a confirmation of the agenda for the talks from Pakistan. According to Indian officials, the talks are meant to discuss terrorism in the region.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry responded with a statement saying that India’s ambassador to Islamabad has been informed that it would not be possible for Aziz to follow the “advice” of the Indian government about not meeting the Kashmiri leaders.
“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. The Hurriyat leaders are true representatives of the Kashmiri people of the Indian-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan regards them as genuine stakeholders in the efforts to find a lasting solution of the Kashmir dispute,” spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said in the statement.
He said Pakistan has already proposed a comprehensive agenda for the talks which includes all outstanding issues between the two countries, including Kashmir.
“India’s insistence to introduce conditionalities and restrict the agenda for the dialogue demonstrates a lack of seriousness on India’s part to meaningfully engage with Pakistan,” he said.
On Thursday, several separatist leaders were briefly held in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
One of them, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said the Indian government was “confused” ahead of the talks. He said the aim of their visit to New Delhi was “supporting the India and Pakistan dialogue.”
The meeting between Aziz and Doval represents a resumption of dialogue between the two countries a year after India canceled talks between the two foreign secretaries and after Pakistan consulted Kashmiri separatists.
The hostility between Pakistan and India dates back to the time when India gained independence from British rule in 1947 and the state of Pakistan was created, but the rift has grown since Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, was elected prime minister last year. Skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops in Kashmir have also increased in recent months.
Pakistan on Thursday also canceled an upcoming conference of lawmakers from Commonwealth countries after India demanded that legislators from Indian-held Kashmir also be included.
Noor Mohammed Baba, who teaches political science at the Central University of Kashmir in Srinagar, said preventing Kashmiri separatist leaders from meeting the Pakistani official showed that the Indian government did not have a well-thought out policy on Pakistan.
“Modi wants to show he’s different and has a tough approach toward Pakistan. But he has gotten trapped in his own rhetoric,” Baba said. “By experience, we’ve seen hard talk has not worked in diplomacy.”
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.