Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration called off the first formal talks with Pakistan in two years, a setback for relations after the nations sought to boost ties following his election win in May.
The meeting between foreign secretaries, scheduled for Aug. 25 in Islamabad, was canceled after Pakistan’s high commissioner to India sought to meet with Kashmiri separatist groups, according to India’s foreign ministry. Pakistan said the meetings followed “a longstanding practice.”
Pakistan’s “negative approaches and attempts to interfere in India’s internal affairs continue unabated,” Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman at India’s foreign ministry, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The meetings with the separatists in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference undermines “constructive diplomatic engagement,” it said.
Border disputes and terrorism have stifled attempts to boost trade ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which hold a fifth of the world’s population. While the nations share a 3,200-kilometer (2,000-mile) border and mutually understandable languages, trade was less than 0.5 percent of India’s combined commerce with other nations, government data show.
“The Indian decision is a setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighborly relations with India,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement late yesterday. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “has clearly articulated the vision of peace for development,” it said.
Sharif attended Modi’s inauguration in New Delhi in May, a gesture many analysts regarded as a boost to cross-border relations and raised hopes for a step up in peace talks. The nations resumed peace talks three years ago after they were shattered by the 2008 attack by Pakistani militants on a Mumbai railway station and luxury hotels that killed 166 people.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over the disputed mountainous region of Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed in full by both. Since 1988, more than 14,000 Indian civilians and 6,000 security personnel have been killed in violence in the disputed region, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which doesn’t have similar figures for Pakistani deaths.
Modi last week said Pakistan engages in a “a proxy war of terrorism” because it lacks the strength to fight a conventional war. Pakistan called the comment “baseless” and “unfortunate.”
Pakistan has violated a cease-fire agreement with India along their disputed border 54 times this year through July 16 and 19 times since the Modi government took office on May 26, Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley told parliament July 22. Pakistan violated the pact 199 times last year, he said.
Pakistan’s interference in India’s internal affairs is unacceptable, Akbaruddin said yesterday, adding “under the present circumstances, it is felt that no useful purpose will be served” by the Indian foreign secretary going to Islamabad next week.
“It’s a major setback in the context of Modi’s efforts to renew the dialogue and commence good relations between India and Pakistan,” Dipankar Banerjee, mentor at the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, said by telephone. The Pakistan envoy’s “meeting with Hurriyat leaders was blatantly with the aim of scuttling the talks.”