India rejects Pakistan’s terms for dialogue4 min read . Updated: 18 Aug 2016, 04:31 AM IST
India demands talks include discussion on terrorism, refutes Pakistan's allegations on Kashmir violence
New Delhi: India on Wednesday accepted Pakistan’s offer of a dialogue but rejected Islamabad’s terms for the talks while setting some of its own, thus putting the onus back on Pakistan.
“In response to the invitation from the Pakistan foreign secretary, the Indian foreign secretary has conveyed his willingness to visit Islamabad," a person familiar with the development said.
“Since aspects related to cross-border terrorism are central to the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir, we have proposed that discussions between the foreign secretaries be focused on them," this person said. “We have also conveyed that India rejects in their entirety the self-serving allegations regarding the situation in Kashmir which is an integral part of India where Pakistan has no locus standi."
The response came two days after Pakistan’s foreign office said it had offered to hold talks with India “on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute that has been the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan".
“The letter highlights the international obligation of both the countries, India and Pakistan, to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions," the Pakistani statement added.
For India, terrorism fomented by Pakistan has been the key spoiler. Pakistan, on its part, sees the dispute over Kashmir as the main cause for tensions in the bilateral relationship.
Given this vast difference in perception, at least one analyst wasn’t sure that the newly proposed talks would actually take place. “I hope this (India accepting talks) is a strategic shift (in India’s position) and not a tactical move," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, who recalled that India has held the position that dialogue with Pakistan to resolve all disputes including Kashmir cannot go on alongside terrorism.
Given the spike in tensions between the two countries at the moment, Mansingh seemed unsure that the dialogue would actually get underway.
Ties have been hit most recently over the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian security forces in July. Pakistan angered India by describing Wani, who India says was a militant belonging to the Hizbul Mujahideen group, as a Kashmiri leader.
Wani’s death triggered protests and clashes with security forces in the Kashmir Valley, in which more than 60 people have been killed. Pakistan observed a “Black Day" on 20 July to protest alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.
Home minister Rajnath Singh was greeted by protests over Kashmir when he visited Islamabad earlier this month for a South Asian home ministers’ meeting. And Pakistan’s offer over the weekend to send relief supplies to people in Kashmir annoyed India further.
On Monday, India signalled a major shift in foreign policy, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi making an oblique reference to the human rights situation in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, as well as in Gilgit and other areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in his Independence Day speech.
The sharp exchanges have come after a seeming thaw in relations in December when Modi made an unscheduled visit to Lahore—the first by an Indian prime minister in a decade—to meet Sharif.
According to Mansingh, the internal situation in Pakistan did not allow Sharif to offer a dialogue to India on terms other than those centred around Kashmir. “There is a great deal of tension between the civilian government and the military who do not want good ties with India. So, it is impossible for Sharif to offer any better terms," he said.
Last year, when Modi met Sharif in the Russian city of Ufa in July, both countries seemed to have worked out a template for talks—the national security advisers of the two countries would discuss terrorism, while officials of the two countries would discuss “all outstanding issues" between the two countries. Though Kashmir was not mentioned in the joint statement, it was taken as understood that “all outstanding issues" would include the dispute.
However, within days of the agreement, Pakistan insisted that any talks between the national security advisers take up the Kashmir dispute as well. Pakistan’s then national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz, who was to visit India last August, insisted on meeting Kashmiri separatists, upsetting India, which called off the talks.
But a pull-aside meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris between Modi and Sharif resulted in a meeting in Bangkok between the two national security advisers. This was followed by a visit to Pakistan by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who announced the start of a comprehensive bilateral dialogue. Modi followed this up with his visit to Pakistan on 25 December.
However, the momentum built up in December was disrupted by an attack by Islamist militants on India’s Pathankot air force base on 2 January.
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India insisted that Pakistan take credible steps to stem terrorism from its soil aimed at India. But Islamabad’s apparent inability to take action against the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group, which is blamed for the attack, has stalled the dialogue.
“We have made great efforts to reach out to Pakistan and find common ground. The last time this was done was in December," foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said talking to reporters at the foreign correspondents club in New Delhi. But “terrorism has become so central to this relationship that it makes it difficult for the relationship to progress", he said.
Pakistan’s attitude to the use of terrorism as an instrument of policy and diplomacy made it difficult for India to improve ties with the country, he added.