Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Talks with Pakistan on hold, not off - Calcutta Telegraph

New Delhi, Aug. 13: India today said it could not hold a dialogue with Pakistan while it is a victim of violence along the Line of Control, putting the resumption of talks proposed by Islamabad on hold but not calling them off.

The spurt in ceasefire violations along the LoC, where Pakistani troops allegedly ambushed and killed five Indian soldiers last week, has left the "environment" inappropriate for talks, the ministry of external affairs said.

Pakistan had last month proposed a set of dates to host the third round of secretary-level talks between top bureaucrats of the two nations for resolving water disputes.

"Since then, I've just told you, that for a peaceful dialogue to proceed, we need an environment free of violence and terror and, certainly, what has happened last week does not fit into that," joint secretary and external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

The statement is the first clear enunciation by India of the "consequences" that defence minister A.K. Antony said the LoC attack would have on ties with Pakistan.

"Unprovoked incidents on the LoC naturally have consequences on bilateral relations," Akbaruddin reiterated today. Both India and Pakistan have accused the other of ceasefire violations and hostilities along the LoC.

But New Delhi is attempting a careful balancing act between domestic political opposition to dialogue with Islamabad, and a deep belief held by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that talks with Pakistan are critical to India's strategic and economic interests.

In January, India had called off secretary-level talks with Pakistan after two soldiers were killed, one of them beheaded, along the LoC. This time, it isn't yet ready for a repeat. "We are considering all the matters and will take a call at the right time," Akbaruddin said, asked about when the secretary-level talks may now be held.

The "right time," officials said, is now unlikely before the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September when Singh is expected to meet his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

But India is not calling off the meeting between the Prime Ministers. Not yet, at least. And if tensions between the two nations subside by then, secretary-level talks too are likely to resume, the officials said.

"It appears pretty clear that the firing on the LoC may be the expression of internal divisions within Pakistan, between sections in the military and the political establishment," an official said. "While that does not reduce the responsibility of the elected government of Pakistan, we don't want to become naïve pawns in a game that could hurt our interests in the long run."

The nuanced declaration that talks cannot be held at present, but that India wasn't calling them off, came on a day when Sharif made yet another overture to India.

"Let us make a new beginning," Sharif said in a televised message. "We must become good friends. Hold each other's hands. We must sit together with an open and clean heart." Pakistan, he said, had a "lot of love and affection" for the people of India.

The current tension because of the firing along the LoC has, however, claimed some of that love and affection as a victim. India has decided against issuing visas to a group of Pakistani pilgrims planning to visit Delhi's Nizamuddin Dargah, worried about their safety after protesters targeted the Pakistan High Commission and Pakistan International Airlines offices last week, officials said.


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