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No-go for India-Pakistan talks a "setback"

India has cancelled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan that were scheduled for next week, after New Delhi reacted angrily to a meeting between Pakistan's high commissioner and Kashmiri separatists in the Indian capital. 

NEW DELHI: India has cancelled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan that were scheduled for next week, after New Delhi reacted angrily to a meeting between Pakistan's high commissioner and Kashmiri separatists in the Indian capital. Pakistan called the cancellation of talks a "setback" for bilateral relations.

Relations between the two neighbours broke down after attacks by Pakistani gunmen on India's commercial hub Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people were killed. But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise move to invite his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony in May and the exchange of personalised gifts have given hope that peace talks between the two countries could resume.

But the cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks delivered a blow to that peace process. The much-anticipated talks between Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry were set for August 25.

The Pakistani High Commissioner met Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi on Monday, despite a request from the Indian Foreign Office for it not to take place.

But Pakistani envoys or visiting ministers have regularly met Kashmiri separatist leaders in the Indian capital on the eve of talks with their Indian counterparts.

While the earlier Congress government led by Dr Manmohan Singh mostly ignored these meetings, the new administration led by Narendra Modi has taken a tougher stand.

India's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said: "The invitation to so-called leaders of the 'Hurriyat' by Pakistanis High Commissioner does indeed raise questions about Pakistan's sincerity and shows that its negative approaches and its attempts to interfere in India's internal affairs continue unabated."

When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the swearing-in ceremony of the new Indian Cabinet in May, he broke away from convention and did not meet with the separatist leaders. This was a move appreciated in India but criticised by hardliners back home.

The cancellation of talks between India and Pakistan comes barely three months after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in New Delhi. The opposition Congress Party has criticised the cancellation, seen as evidence of a new muscular foreign policy by Mr Modi.

The United States has also expressed disappointment over the cancellation, urging the two sides to improve bilateral relations. US State Department spokesperson Marie Haf said: "We know there are a lot of issues on the table. There are a lot of emotions involved here...But what we think needs to happen now, again, is additional steps (to improve bilateral ties)."
 

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