Pakistan Defiant As High Commissioner Meets More Separatists

19 August 2014
Daily Mail

New Delhi: Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit continued meeting Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi on Tuesday despite India cancelling crucial talks between the nations' foreign secretaries over the envoy's contacts with the Kashmiri separatists. Basit held separate meetings with hardline Hurriyat leader Ali Shah Geelani, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate Hurriyat faction, at the Pakistan High Commission. The meetings triggered minor protests by several groups. Dozens of protesters were stopped and detained by police well before they could approach the Pakistani mission in the diplomatic enclave in Chanakyapuri. Despite a warning from the Indian government that meetings between the Pakistani envoy and Hurriyat leaders could jeopardise planned talks between the foreign secretaries in Islamabad on August 25, Basit went ahead with a meeting with separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah on Monday. Soon after the meeting, the government cancelled the talks that were to have focused on ways to revive the bilateral peace process that has been stalled since early 2013. Geelani, who wants the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, appreciated Islamabad's stand on preferring talks with the separatists. Ayaz Akbar, a spokesman for Geelani, said the meeting between the hardline leader and Basit lasted over one-and-a-half hours. 'Geelani appreciated the stand taken by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif...for choosing the Kashmiri leadership over the Indian (government) for talks,' Akbar said. Geelani also described the Indian side's decision to cancel the upcoming talks as 'extremely unfortunate'. Akbar quoted Basit as saying that the Pakistan government was surprised by India's decision. 'Kashmir is an internationally recognised issue and this ground reality cannot be changed at any cost,' Basit was quoted as saying by Akbar. The NDA government has said the Pakistani envoy's meetings with the Hurriyat leaders amounted to 'unacceptable' interference in India's internal affairs. Separatist leader Yasin Malik said it appeared as if the NDA government does not want to hold a dialogue with Pakistan even though PM Narendra Modi had earlier said he would follow in the footsteps of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Though Hurriyat leaders have met the Pakistan envoy or visiting leaders in the past, the Indian government has either turned a blind eye to the contacts or made muted protests about them. India may ask Pakistan to withdraw Basit: Speculation is rife in the national Capital that the NDA government could act against Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit for continuing his meetings with Kashmiri separatist leaders despite the displeasure conveyed a day earlier by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. Basit met three separatist leaders on Tuesday even after India called off planned talks between the foreign secretaries on August 25 over the envoy's meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Ahmad Shah. Though there was no official word, reports suggested that the government might ask the Pakistan government to withdraw Basit over his meetings with the Hurriyat leaders. PDP and NC slam Centre for calling off dialogue: The PDP and the National Conference, the two main regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir, on Tuesday slammed the Centre for cancelling the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan. People's Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said the Narendra Modi government has failed to reach the visionary level of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee while NC patron Farooq Abdullah described the development as 'unfortunate'. 'Aggressive posturing has never helped in sorting out matters and the futility of such hardline stance has been established in the past as after every cancellation of talks, we had to come back to the negotiation table,' Mehbooba said, adding that peace in South Asia can be achieved only through dialogue and reconciliation. 'Hurriyat leaders have always been meeting Pakistani diplomats on different occasions. Visionary leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee had seized upon such interactions to give a new direction to the Indo- Pak relations' The PDP leader asserted that the dialogue process cannot be held hostage to hawkish voices or unforeseen interruptions. 'But, it is unfortunate that the Modi government has failed to reach the visionary levels of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who set a new course for resolving South Asia's endemic problems,' she added. Mehbooba said the Indo-Pak ties have become a 'cat and mouse' game between the BJP and the Congress and both try to create hurdles in the normalisation process when they are in opposition. 'In the process, Jammu and Kashmir continues to suffer the hostility between the two countries and the people of the state obviously feel saddened,' she said. It was unfortunate, especially for the people of J&K, that the talks were called off, Farooq said, adding that his party has consistently advocated the political resolution of the Kashmir issue. 'The meetings between the Pakistani High Commissioner and the Hurriyat leaders should not have become an issue resulting in the cancellation of the high-level talks. These meetings have happened in the past as well. Engaging in talks and allowing a multi-spectrum engagement to resolve political issues exhibits strength and confidence, not weakness,' he said.