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Pakistan hopeful of stronger India ties despite talks row

Pakistan remains hopeful of strengthening ties with India despite an angry New Delhi last week cancelling scheduled talks between the nuclear-armed rival neighbours, Pakistan's high commissioner said on Wednesday (Aug 20).

NEW DELHI: Pakistan remains hopeful of strengthening ties with India despite an angry New Delhi last week cancelling scheduled talks between the nuclear-armed rival neighbours, Pakistan's high commissioner said on Wednesday (Aug 20).

Abdul Basit said Pakistan was confident of "overcoming this setback" after Delhi called off the diplomatic talks in Islamabad in a blow to warmer ties between the new Indian government and Islamabad. Basit also defended his meetings with Kashmiri separatist leaders earlier this week, a move that prompted Delhi to accuse its arch-rival of interfering in its domestic affairs and cancel the talks.

"We believe Kashmiris are a stakeholder in this (diplomatic) process," Basit told reporters in the capital, explaining that the meetings with the separatists were a "longstanding" practice. "We will not allow the process (of stronger ties) to be distracted in any way," Basit said, adding, "You will find Pakistan seriously committed to the process. There is no reason why we should lose hope of a strong bilateral relationship," he said.

Last month, the two countries scheduled talks between their foreign secretaries for Aug 25. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise move to invite his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony in May spurred hopes that peace talks between the two countries could resume.

The warmer ties were dented last week when Modi accused Islamabad of waging a "proxy war" by sending militants to attack Indian targets. There have also been several ceasefire violations across the Kashmiri border that have angered India. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence, two of them over the disputed Kashmir region. Relations between the two neighbours broke down after attacks by Pakistani gunmen on Mumbai in 2008 left 166 people dead.

The United States earlier this week termed the cancellation of the talks disappointing. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the US was engaging with the Indian and Pakistan governments to support efforts to improve their relations.

The high commissioner's move to meet with Kashmiri separatists comes at a time of political turmoil in Pakistan where Sharif is facing calls from opposition leader Imran Khan to resign. Khan has led thousands of supporters to rally in Islamabad and has called for mass civil disobedience to unseat the government.

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