New Delhi: After going through several now-on, now-off moments, the NSA talks between India and Pakistan were finally called off on Saturday, with both sides sticking to their positions.
In a late night statement, the Pakistan Foreign Office said it has "come to the conclusion that the NSA talks would not serve any purpose if conducted on the basis of the two conditions" laid down by India -- a clear signal calling off the talks. In reply, India's external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted: "Pakistan's decision is unfortunate. India did not set any preconditions.
"We only reiterated that Pakistan respect the spirit of the Simla & Ufa Agreements to which it was already committed," he said. Pakistan's statement came in response to India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's press conference in which she said Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz was welcome to come to India for talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval but Islamabad must abide by the agenda agreed to at Ufa and only discuss terrorism.
Aziz, who was slated to travel to India on Sunday for the talks, addressing a press conference earlier in Islamabad, said he was willing to come for the talks but Kashmir would be on the table and he would also speak with the Kashmiri separatists. The Pakistan Foreign Office said in a statement at night that talks held on the two conditions laid down by Sushma Swaraj would not serve any purpose.
It accused the Indian minister of "restricting the agenda" of the talks to only two items: creating an atmosphere free from terrorism and tranquillity on the Line of Control. On Aziz's planned meeting with Hurriyat leaders ahead of meeting Doval on Sunday, the Pakistan Foreign Office said meeting the separatists has been "a long-standing practice" and that "it would be inappropriate for India to now impose the condition of changing this longstanding practice".
"Pakistan, therefore, reiterates that the scheduled NSA level talks cannot be held on the basis of the preconditions set by India." Sushma Swaraj, in her press conference, said Aziz has to remain within the agenda agreed to at Ufa, Russia, on July 10 between both their prime ministers. She said the mandate for the NSA talks was to discuss terrorism-related issues and there was no space for the Hurriyat in talks, as per the Simla Agreement inked between both countries.
She gave Pakistan till Saturday midnight to give its answer on what it proposed to do. "Pakistan is saying that Kashmir is the core issue, but that was not said at Ufa. In Ufa, it was decided that all outstanding issues including Kashmir... but first let us discuss terrorism and violence," she said. "The NSAs will talk on all issues relating to terrorism. Aziz said that he is waiting for my press conference. I am answering -- please keep to the Simla and Ufa agreements signed by both our countries.
"As per the Simla agreement spirit, there can be no third party in talks, and the Hurriyat cannot be included. As per the Ufa spirit, don't increase the agenda. And do come, you are welcome." Sushma Swaraj denied that India was laying any pre-conditions for the NSA talks, as alleged by Pakistan, and said if Pakistan sticks to its stand of raking up Kashmir at the NSA parley and Aziz meets the Hurriyat -- "Toh baatchit nahin hogi" (then there will be no talks).
She said that as per the operative part of the Ufa agreement, there will be three meetings -- between the NSAs to discuss terrorism, talks between the directors general of the BSF and Pakistani Rangers, and between the DGMOs. Sushma Swaraj also said Pakistan was "running away" from the talks as India has caught a Pakistani terrorist alive after the Udhampur attack.
Earlier, Aziz in his press conference in Islamabad said: "I am still ready to go to New Delhi to hold (NSA) talks without any preconditions." The atmosphere for the talks soured over the Pakistan High Commission in India inviting the Jammu and Kashmir separatist leaders to meet Aziz ahead of the NSA talks on August 23-24. Aziz maintained that the core issue of Kashmir would be on the agenda of talks.
To a query, he said: "No serious talks with India are possible without discussion on the core issue of Kashmir." Aziz said the Pakistan High Commission had invited the separatist leaders to enable him to meet a cross-section of leaders. India said this was unacceptable. Hours before Aziz spoke in Islamabad, Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah was detained in New Delhi when he flew in from Srinagar to meet the Pakistani NSA, if he arrives as scheduled.
Aziz said they have prepared three dossiers on alleged activities of India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) on Pakistani soil. "If I don't get an opportunity to hand over the dossiers to Doval in New Delhi, I hope to give it to him in New York next month if he comes with (Indian Prime Minister Narendra) Modi," he said, adding that he would hand them over to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.