India cancels talks with Pakistan, accusing envoy of meeting Kashmir separatists

Indian police standing guard at a checkpoint during a curfew in Srinagar, Kashmir on August 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Indian police standing guard at a checkpoint during a curfew in Srinagar, Kashmir on August 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India on Monday cancelled talks with Pakistan scheduled for later this month, in an angry reaction to a meeting between Pakistan’s high commissioner and Kashmiri separatists.

The foreign ministry said Monday’s meeting between the Pakistani envoy and separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir had undermined efforts by the new Indian government to engage with Islamabad.

Islamabad later described the move as "a setback" in efforts to improve relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

“I can confirm the foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan have been called off,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told AFP.

Mr Akbaruddin later told reporters that the high commissioner’s meeting with separatist leaders “undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his first day in office”.

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 Mr 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.

Last month, the two countries scheduled talks between Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry for August 25.

The unresolved territorial dispute over Kashmir in the Himalayan region has for decades been a major source of tension between the two neighbours, who have fought three wars since partition in 1947.

The high commissioner’s provocative move to meet with separatists comes at a time of political turmoil in Pakistan, where opposition leader Imran Khan has called for mass civil disobedience to unseat the government.

Mr Khan, the former cricket star who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, has led thousands of supporters from the eastern city of Lahore to rally in Islamabad to demand that the government resign.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan has experienced three military coups and the latest crisis has triggered more speculation about possible intervention by the powerful armed forces.

The last week has also seen heightened tensions in Kashmir, where India and Pakistan have traded accusations of ceasefire violations.

Kashmir is divided between Indian and Pakistan by a de-facto border known as the Line of Control and controlled separately by the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.