A new round of talks on commerce and security between South Asian neighbours and bitter enemies India and Pakistan, designed to facilitate links and friendship has ground to a halt over tensions during the high-level government meetings, the Voice of America reported yesterday.
In Pakistan‘s capital Islamabad, the Pakistani delegation called off the talks after the two sides began ‘trading barbs’ over the meeting’s agenda, VOA reports. The national security advisors of both countries were due to meet in India‘s capital New Delhi today and tomorrow, but the reluctance of the two nations to step away from their pre-conditions for the meetings has hampered dialogue.
The Indian position wanted the bilateral talks to focus on cross-border terrorism, in particular incursions of Pakistan-sponsored militants across the heavily fortified border of the disputed region of Kashmir. They wanted assurances that Pakistan would rein in the militants and help maintain peace in the restive northern region. Pakistan however, wanted to also communicate on other issues, in particular resolving the Kashmir dispute which has seen the two neighbours go to war three times since their joint independence in 1947 after the dismantling of the British Raj.
The foreign affairs minister of India, Sushma Swaraj, told her opposite number, NSA adviser Sartaj Aziz that he could only participate in the New Delhi phase of the talks if he was prepared to address the terrorism issue.
“If you want to come, I have two messages for you,” Swaraj told Aziz via a press conference in the Indian capital. “Don’t create a third partner, the talks should be between India and Pakistan. And keep them limited to terrorism. If you do so, you are welcome to come.”
The ‘third partner’ that the Indian foreign minister was referring to are the numerous Kashmiri separatist factions such as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who are agitating for complete independence for Kashmir or its annexation to Pakistan. Pakistan itself had originally invited leaders of the region’s separatist factions to meet with Sartaj Aziz before Aziz was to travel to New Delhi to meet the Indians, angering Indian politicians whose patience has been worn thin from separatist agitated violence in the Kashmir area over the past fifteen years or so.
A previous round of meeting with separatists from Kashmir by the Pakistanis caused India to call off talks between their foreign secretaries. Pakistan considers the Kashmiris to be ‘legitimate stakeholders’ in the ongoing debate over their region’s status, and has met with them as a matter of course for many years. India in turn regards the separatists as troublemakers and their position is that Kashmir and the wider Jammu and Kashmir state is an integral part of India without dispute. India regards the meetings between Pakistan and the Kashmiris as a violation of the 1972 Shimla Agreement, a document that implores both sides to bilaterally settle their differences.
The security meeting was a follow-up to a previous Indo-Pak meeting which took place in Ufa, in the Bashkiria region of Russia. On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Council summit, which was taking place at the same time, the prime ministers of the two nations reached an agreement to discuss bi-national security arrangements and issues.
Both sides accused each other of trying to re-interpret that agreement and violating its spirit.
“We were clear that if we say all outstanding issues then Kashmir is included… Ask anyone sitting here what is the biggest outstanding issue between the two countries, everybody will say Kashmir,” Aziz said referring to the joint communiqué issued at the Ufa meeting.
“All outstanding issues will be discussed once violence and terrorism end. This meeting was supposed to discuss how to end those,” Swaraj retorted. The foreign minister also said that Aziz had not referenced the communiqué properly, only referring to what was noted in its preamble, rather than the main actionable body of the document from Ufa. Tensions over the exact agenda of the NSA meeting were further exacerbated by recent incidents of cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani troops over the Line of Control, which separates Pakistani-occupied Kashmir from India’s autonomous Jammu and Kashmir state.
The good news is that despite the tensions over cross-border terrorism and security concerns, India and Pakistan have said that the talks will still continue, and despite the hard-hitting rhetoric between Swaraj and Aziz, the door has been left open for further negotiations between the Asian subcontinent’s two largest nations. According to Sartaj Aziz, however it is too early to say if the parties will meet again on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session to be held in New York next month.
Swaraj in turn commented of her hope that talks will persist, stating to the VOA that despite the difficult and complicated Indo-Pak relationship, the two sides have had worse falling-outs and was confident the problems could be negotiated.
“In diplomacy, there’s never a full stop, only commas or semi-colons,” she said.
newsmap, Marcos Weskamp, Newsmap http://newsmap.jp/
“Pakistan: No High-level Talks With India” – Ayesha Tanzeem & Anjana Pasricha, Voice of America – News – Asia (22 August 2015) http://www.voanews.com/content/india-pakistan-trade-blame-as-proposed-talks-falter/2928347.html
“File:Baba Chamliyal Mela at Indo-Pak international Border, near Jammu.jpg” – Vishal Dutta, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons (14 August 2009) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baba_Chamliyal_Mela_at_Indo-Pak_international_Border,_near_Jammu.jpg