Pakistan called off its scheduled talks with India today, blaming "pre-conditions" set by the latter. Officials of both countries have accused each other of backtracking on decisions made at Ufa last month when the prime ministers of the two nations met at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Russia.
"Pakistan reiterates that the scheduled NSA level talks cannot be held on the basis of the preconditions set by India," read a statement from the Pakistan Foreign Ministry on Saturday night.
Pakistan said that its national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz, would not travel to New Delhi as planned to meet his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. Pakistan officials squarely put the blame on India's insistence to restrict talks only to terror-related issues. While Pakistan had wanted to discuss the Kashmir issue and include Hurriyat leaders as stakeholders in the matter, India had responded that it was ready to discuss all outstanding issues at a later stage but would not include any third-party to become part of the discussion.
Following the statement from Pakistan calling off the talks, Indian officials described the decision as "unfortunate".
"Pakistan's decision is unfortunate. India did not set any preconditions," tweeted Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for India's External Affairs ministry. "We only reiterated that Pakistan respect the spirit of the Simla & Ufa Agreements to which it was already committed."
Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (L) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) meet during Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Ufa on July 10, 2015.
However, the Foreign Office statement said Pakistan has "carefully analyzed" the contents of the press conference of Swaraj.
"We have come to the conclusion that the proposed NSA level talks between the two countries would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by the Minister," it said.
Referring to Swaraj's statement, it said that while she accepts that, to ensure durable peace between the two countries, there is a need to discuss all outstanding issues, she then unilaterally restricts the agenda to only two items: creating an atmosphere free from terrorism and tranquility on the LoC.
"Considering that many terror 'incidents' blamed initially by India on Pakistan eventually turned out to be fake, it is not improbable that India can delay the Resumed Dialogue indefinitely by concocting one or two incidents and keeping the LoC hot.
"It is equally important to recall that terrorism was always a part of the eight point composite dialogue and it was always discussed simultaneously with other issues between the Interior Secretaries. It is not reasonable for India to now assume the right to decide unilaterally that from now onwards, other issues will be discussed after terrorism has been discussed and eliminated."
The statement noted that the main purpose of any dialogue between India and Pakistan is to reduce tensions and restore trust as a first step towards normalization.
"If the only purpose of NSA level talks is to discuss terrorism, then instead of improving the prospects for peace it will only intensify the blame game and further vitiate the atmosphere," it said.
"That is why Pakistan had suggested that apart from discussion on terrorism related issues, the two sides should also discuss modalities and if possible a time schedule, for discussions on all outstanding issues including Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek, in keeping with the understanding of the Ufa statement."
Pakistan said this is the only way to improve the prospects for peace between the two countries.
"The EAM's attempt to draw a distinction between preambular and operative paragraphs in the Ufa statement appears to be an after-thought to justify a position that is counterproductive in terms of the ultimate objective of reducing tensions and improving trust."
With regard to the second "pre-condition" on Pakistan's meeting with Hurriyat leaders, the statement said it has been pointed out repeatedly that it has been a long-standing practice that whenever Pakistani leaders visited India during the past twenty years, they have been meeting Hurriyet leaders.
"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," it added.
Earlier Pakistan had said that it was "deeply disappointed" at India putting forth "pre-conditions" for NSA-level talks, accusing it of going back on the decision mutually agreed at the highest level by coming up with "frivolous pretexts". India had in turn denied the charge, instead alleging that the agenda for the NSA-level talks had been clearly decided at Ufa, and that these would serve as a preamble to later talks on all outstanding issues, which India was ready to discuss at relevant meetings.
Earlier on Saturday, India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had said that the much-awaited NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan would be called off unless Pakistan agreed to only discuss terrorism and border skirmishes.
"If Pakistan doesn't commit to speaking only on terror, as decided by both countries at Ufa, the talks will be cancelled," said Swaraj repeatedly on Saturday. "We are still hopeful the talks will happen, and if they agree, we can go forward."
The Indian government on Saturday strongly had criticised their Pakistani counterparts, alleging that they were backtracking on all promises they had made at Ufa, when the Prime Ministers of the two countries had met at the sidelines of the SCO summit in Russia.
Swaraj said that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had never mentioned the Kashmir issue, or the 'composite dialogue' (now called 'resumed dialogue'), which refers to all outstanding issues between the two countries. They had simply agreed to discuss counterterrorism and border control measures, she said.
"The operative part of the decision in Ufa was crystal clear," said Swaraj in Hindi to reporters here. "The two PMs decided to delink terror and talks, and it was decided that there would be one conversation on terrorism and another on border control. This was all written down and signed by both sides, so we have proof of this."
Meanwhile the US has said it was "disappointed" that the proposed talks between the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan has been called off.
"We are disappointed the talks will not happen this weekend and encourage India and Pakistan to resume formal dialogue soon," state department spokesperson John Kirby told PTI on Saturday.
(with PTI inputs)