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India calls off Pakistan talks over separatist meetings

Indian policemen stand guard outside the High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi on August 18, 2014.

Story highlights

  • India and Pakistan had scheduled talks for next week in Islamabad
  • Pakistani official invited Kashmiri separatist leaders for consultations
  • New Delhi criticizes "continued efforts to interfere in India's internal affairs"
  • Separatists say they will meet with Pakistani high commissioner anyway

Kashmiri separatist leaders on Monday slammed New Delhi's decision to call off talks with Pakistan, scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad.

New Delhi called off the talks after Pakistan's New Delhi-based high commissioner, Abdul Basit, invited Kashmiri separatist leaders for consultations ahead of the summit.

"The Indian foreign secretary conveyed to the Pakistan high commissioner today, in clear and unambiguous terms, that Pakistan's continued efforts to interfere in India's internal affairs were unacceptable. It was underlined that the Pakistani high commissioner's meetings with these so-called leaders of the Hurriyat undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi in May on his very first day in office," according to a statement from India's External Affairs Ministry.

A statement from Islamabad replied, "It is a longstanding practice that, prior to Pakistan-India talks, meetings with Kashmiri leaders are held to facilitate meaningful discussions on the issue of Kashmir. The Indian decision is a setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighborly relations with India. The prime minister of Pakistan has clearly articulated the vision of peace for development."

"It seems a knee-jerk reaction," said moderate Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq. "We have been meeting the Pakistani officials, including the country's New Delhi-based high commissioner, for the past 20 years. I don't know what happened today. It is a backward step.

"The decision lacks political maturity and cannot be termed as far-sighted."

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    Mirwaiz is flying to New Delhi on Tuesday to meet with Basit.

    Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani described the decision as unfortunate, saying it proved that "New Delhi was never serious to resolve Kashmir peacefully."

    Geelani also said he will be meeting with the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi on Tuesday.

    Even mainstream political parties have expressed dismay at the cancellation of the talks.

    "It is not a good development. The separatists have been meeting Pakistani officials. They even met the then-Pakistan president, Parvez Musharraf," said Ali Mohammad Sagar, a senior ruling National Conference leader and minister.

    During his visit to Indian-administered Kashmir this month, Modi condemned "the continued proxy war by neighboring Pakistan."

    Addressing army officers and soldiers in the frontier Ladakh region bordering China and Pakistan, Modi said that "the neighboring country has lost the strength to fight a conventional war but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism."

    Modi's criticism Islamabad came against in the backdrop of reported cease-fire violations by Pakistani troops on the border and increased militant attacks in Kashmir.

    Five Indian paramilitary soldiers and police officers have been killed in militant attacks and several others wounded since Modi's visit August 12.

    The two nuclear armed neighbors had agreed to a bilateral cease-fire on the border in November 2003, but it has seen severe breaches since early 2013.

    Kashmir has been in the throes of separatist violence since 1989; officials say it has claimed 42,000 lives, but rights groups and non-governmental organizations put the number at twice that.