- Pakistan cancels Commonwealth conference rather than invite J&K legislators
- Hurriyat (M), JKLF say will attend reception; pro-freedom leaders may meet Aziz after latter’s meeting with Doval
SRINAGAR: The stand-off between India and Pakistan over the invitation extended to leaders of the Kashmiri pro-freedom camp during the visit of Pakistan’s NSA, Sartaj Aziz — scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on August 23 – seemed to descend into farce late on Thursday night. The ‘who blinks first’ contest started as both India and Pakistan stuck to their stances on Aziz meeting the Kashmiri leaders, with India insisting it won’t allow that meeting and Pakistan iterating that India ‘couldn’t dictate’ what the ‘red lines’ were, and that the invitation to the Kashmiri leaders would not be rescinded.
Earlier, when leaders of the pro-freedom camp were detained briefly in Srinagar and then ‘released’ (with the exception of Syed Ali Shah Geelani), news agencies quoted Indian government sources as saying the detention was meant as a ‘signal that they can’t be a third party to talks’. Later reports seemed rather bizarre, with presumably the same sources telling media outlets that the “separatists” could meet Aziz in “a separate room and sell it as a meeting”!
The drama could well, behind the scenes, have boiled down to negotiating whether the pro-freedom camp meets the Pakistan NSA before or after his meeting with his Indian counterpart – with the JKLF and Hurriyat (M) saying they would be attending the reception at the Pakistan High Commission.
Pakistan indicated its firmness in other ways too – by cancelling the Commonwealth parliamentary conference, which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad on September 30, rather than allow “legislators from Indian-administered Kashmir” to attend. The Pakistan parliamentary speaker, Ayaz Sadiq, was quoted as saying that they “saw an opportunity to raise the Kashmir issue” by refusing to host the conference. “When it is clear that we have fought wars over this, brought resolutions in the United Nations, then how can we abandon our point of view (on Kashmir) now?” he reportedly said.
Along with the Pakistan High Commission sticking to its guns on the invite to the pro-freedom camp, Pakistan seemed to be indicating that New Delhi could go ahead and cancel the NSA-level talks if it wanted. But New Delhi also seemed averse to being seen as the party that cancelled this first-of-its-kind dialogue, and said it “would not be baited” into doing so. This, more so, after India called off Foreign Secretary-level talks last July after the same issue of Pakistan consulting Kashmiri pro-freedom leaders cropped up.
Late reports suggested the Commonwealth parliamentary conference would now be held in New York, while the Kashmiri leaders would meet Sartaj Aziz after the latter meets Ajit Doval. Meanwhile, the Pakistan foreign office spokesman said that Mr Aziz would raise the Kashmir issue, among others, during his meeting with Mr Doval.