India on Monday called off next week’s talks between India and Pakistan’s foreign secretaries after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met with a Kashmiri separatist leader in New Delhi.
Indian officials had advised against the meeting, saying it would jeopardize the upcoming talks.
Basit was to meet more Kashmiri separatist leaders on Tuesday, deepening anger in New Delhi.
As the meeting took place, activists staged noisy protests outside the Pakistan High Commission.
Previous Indian governments had also objected to the interactions between Pakistani diplomats and Kashmiri separatists, but tolerated them.
Sending a message
However, Neelam Deo, a former diplomat and director at think tank Gateway House in Mumbai, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sent a clear message that Pakistan will have to choose between talking to the Indian government or to the separatists.
“That’s a very unfriendly thing they [Pakistan] have been doing always and that is part of why the relationship does not move forward,” Deo said. “New Delhi made its position clear to the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis chose to be provocative after they had already been advised by New Delhi what it would do in the circumstances. Then what could have been the content and the tone of the talks?”
Pakistan expressed surprise at India’s strong objections to its consultations with Kashmiri separatists, saying this has been the usual practice before any dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad.
The blow to peace prospects comes three months after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended Modi’s inauguration, raising hopes of improving ties between the South Asian rivals.
Next week’s talks were meant to discuss the way forward between the two countries, whose peace dialogue was stalled by the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
South Asia expert S.D. Muni at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, said picking up the talks again will be contingent on Pakistan not putting the sensitive issue of Kashmir at the forefront.
But he said this may be difficult at a time when Sharif is under intense pressure from domestic rivals.
“I would still see it as a bump, not a serious jeopardy, but much of that bump would depend upon whether Pakistan will still continue to cross the kind of red lines which are very sensitive and this Hindu dominated government would not be internally able to sustain,” Muni said.
Analysts such as Deo are optimistic that the rivals will keep open other channels of communication.
“I think that there will be some continuation of progress in the talks that are underway on trade issues, hopefully on the supply of electricity by India to Pakistan. If those things continue to move, then that is actually more important than the noise of the relationship,” Deo said.
The decision to scrap the dialogue comes at a time when India has also accused Pakistan of a series of cease-fire violations in Kashmir in recent days.
Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley called the violations “deliberate.”
Kashmir is divided between the two countries and has been the trigger for two of their three wars.