India will “respond appropriately” if Kashmiri separatist leaders meet Pakistan National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz when he visits Delhi on Aug 23 to hold talks on terror, government sources said Wednesday.
The Kashmiri separatist leaders have been invited by the Pakistan High Commission to meet Aziz, who will visit India to hold talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, a move about which the government is clearly unhappy, sources said.
The Kashmiri leaders have accepted the invitation and will be meeting Aziz over dinner at the Pakistan High Commission on Aug 23.
India had cancelled the foreign secretary-level talks in August last year after the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit had held similar consultations with Hurriyat members.
“Let’s see what happens (if they go ahead with the meeting with the separatists). The government will respond appropriately,” government sources said.
There are some sections in the Pakistan establishment who want to “scuttle” the Indo-Pak talks and are ratcheting up anti-India activities to push India to call off NSA-level talks scheduled for Sunday, the sources said.
“The invitation should be seen as the latest provocative move in that direction,” the sources said.
“This is deliberate attempt to irritate India,” said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group in New Delhi.
When the national daily Hindustan Times, in an interview, asked Basit if Pakistan was not provoking India by inviting the Hurriyat leaders for talks, he said while Pakistan expects the NSA-level meeting to bring positive results, there is nothing unusual in the proposed meeting between Aziz and the Kashmiri leaders.
Asked if such a meeting, if it takes place, will not force India to call off the NSA-level talks just like the foreign secretary-level talks last year, he said Pakistan did not call off the talks that time.
Pakistan views Hurriyat as the main representative of Kashmiris and Islamabad’s engagement with them should be encouraged, he said.
“I’ve met Hurriyat leaders on many occasions. It’s not something new for us. We don’t hide our meetings with the Hurriyat and we will continue to meet them,” he told the paper.
For India, the NSA-level talks is important as it wants to discuss what it considers as Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks which have been on the rise as evidenced by the recent attacks in Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir, and Gurudaspur in Punjab.
Earlier, an IANS report said both the factions of Huriyat Conference headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other separatist leaders such as Yasin Malik and Naeem Khan have been invited by Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit for talks on August 23.
“We received the invite over phone Tuesday evening. The Pakistan envoy wants us (Geelani and his party leaders) to meet Sartaj Aziz before talks with India,” Ayaz Akbar, spokesperson for Geelani’s Huriyat Conference, said.
Farooq’s spokesperson Shahid-Ul-Islam also confirmed the invite and said: “We have been invited for the reception of Sartaj Aziz on the day of NSA talks.”
Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar called on PM Nawaz Sharif Tuesday to discuss the upcoming visit of prime minister’s advisor on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz to New Delhi.
Sharif’s discussions with the military top brass came a day after he chaired a high-level meeting to discuss the agenda of the NSA-level talks.
India had proposed August 23-24 for the meeting which was agreed between PM Sharif and his counterpart Narendra Modi in Ufa, Russia, last month.
The NSA talks are mandated to “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”, according to the Ufa joint statement.
India is expected to strongly voice its concerns regarding the recent Gurdaspur and Udhampur terror attacks by suspected Pakistani terrorists during the talks.
The two terror attacks and Pakistan refusing to invite the Jammu and Kashmir assembly speaker for a Commonwealth parliamentary meeting in Islamabad added to tension in bilateral ties, with speculation that the talks may be called off. However, India stuck to the dates it has proposed.