New Delhi: Inviting Kashmiri separatists to meet its national security adviser (NSA) Sartaj Aziz a day before he meets his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval in Delhi could be Pakistan’s latest ruse to provoke India to call off the talks.

India, however, is keeping its cards close to its chest, with government officials familiar with the developments saying “all options are open"—that is, not ruling off a cancellation of talks.

Coincidentally, it was exactly a year ago—on 18 August—that India had called off exploratory talks with Pakistan after its high commissioner to India Abdul Basit invited Hurriyat leaders for discussions in New Delhi ahead of India’s foreign secretary travelling to Pakistan on 25 August.

Hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq seen as moderates among the leaders invited to the Pakistan High Commission on 23 August, a day ahead of the talks between the two national security advisors. “Geelani will be meeting Aziz on 24 August," Hurriyat spokesman Ayaz Akbar said on the phone from Srinagar on Thursday.

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq too confirmed that the Pakistani high commission had invited him and some other separatists for consultations.

According to the thinking in the Indian government, this move was yet another attempt by Pakistan to rile India enough to call off the talks.

India is adopting a wait-and-watch approach and “keeping all its options open," said a person familiar with the development. “Let us see what happens."

A second person aware of the development said Monday’s talks were on terrorism alone. Besides, India had made it clear that any talks between India and Pakistan would be bilateral without any third country or third party, the person said. In this context, Pakistan’s consultations with the Kashmiri separatists were not warranted. “Let us see if the meetings happen. If they do, the government will take appropriate action," the second person said.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal was of the view that the invitation to Kashmiri separatists would have been anticipated by India. “For Pakistan, this is a prestige issue and a way to show their domestic audience that Kashmir is on the table of talks; not only terrorism. If the government calls off the talks, it will be going against India’s position that Hurriyat is peripheral to the India-Pakistan process. Calling off talks will only raise the stature," he sad. India could detain these leaders in Kashmir, which will effectively send the message that “they can’t play games in our backyard."

On his part, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq welcomed talks between the two national security advisers. He urged the Indian government to view the meeting between the Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistani official not as an impediment but as supportive of the process, given the tensions between the two countries.

Meanwhile, news reports on Wednesday said Pakistan has sought mediation from the UN to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The country summoned the Indian deputy high commissioner J.P. Singh yet again to protest “unprovoked firing" by India along its borders that resulted in the death of one Pakistani national, a statement from the Pakistan foreign office forwarded by the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi said.

Ties have been strained since the 10 July meeting between the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers in the eastern Russian city of Ufa. The decision that the national security advisors would meet and discuss terrorism followed the prime ministerial talks.

With the reference to Kashmir—which Pakistan considers its primary dispute with India— missing from the Ufa joint statement, Pakistan was under pressure to convince its domestic audience that its long-standing commitment to the cause of freedom for Indian Kashmiris was undiluted. Within days of the Ufa summit, Aziz said that “no dialogue will take place with India unless the Kashmir issue is included in the agenda."

Adding to the irritants, there have been almost daily violation of a 2003 ceasefire pact between India and Pakistan. The two countries have summoned each other’s envoys to register protests against what they claimed was the violation of the ceasefire pact by the other country. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said Kashmiri separatists have appealed for a ceasefire by India and Pakistan along their borders. “There is no military solution to this problem and we urge both India and Pakistan to end the firing. The dialogue is a positive development," he added.

Another provocation for India has been the spike in terrorist activity that the Indian government blames Pakistan of fomenting. On 27 July, three suspected Islamist militants dressed in army uniforms targeted a police station in Gurdaspur in Punjab, killing at least seven people including several police officers.

Predictably, the key opposition Congress party accused the government of having “no roadmap" on engagement with Pakistan and said it was making “abrupt policy statements."

“There is no roadmap. There is no vision on engagement with Pakistan. There are complex issues and challenges. There are abrupt policy statements (on dealing with Pakistan). (Talks) On today. Off tomorrow," Congress leader Anand Sharma told a press conference.

Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Pakistan-based political and defence analyst was of the view that India was pressing on a single issue of terrorism while Pakistan seemed to want to revive the old dialogue process that included discussions on Kashmir and other disputes. “It seems that both sides lack political will to take this process forward. “So, I don't expect much from the talks on 24 August," he said by phone from Islamabad.

“Pakistani provocations—firing at the LoC and talking to Kashmiri separatists—are likely aimed at taking the focus off the terrorism issue," said Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation think tank, via email. “If India forges on with talks, it will have the opportunity to raise its demands on terrorism," she said.

“Sticking to the talks could help India continue to make its case against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism on the international stage. India can keep the talks going with Pakistan and, at the same time, forge an international consensus that acknowledges Pakistan’s continued support for groups like the Laskhar-e-Taiba is contributing to the spread of global terrorism. Unless Pakistan takes serious steps to rein in terrorists that operate from within its borders against both Afghanistan and India, it will face continued instability and increasing international isolation," Curtis added.

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