Pakistan last night called off the NSA-level talks proposed for today, after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj earlier yesterday virtually gave an ultimatum to Islamabad to give a commitment that it would not go ahead with meeting separatists.
Swaraj was reacting to Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz's remarks that he was willing to come to India for talks without any pre-conditions. India was also upset over Pakistan including Kashmir as part of the agenda for the NSA talks that was mainly scheduled to discuss terror. The first-ever NSA-level talks was agreed upon in July in Ufa during a meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. Meanwhile South Asia experts in the US blamed Pakistan for the cancellation of NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan. "The Pakistanis torpedoed the talks by issuing an ill-fated invite to the Hurriyat leadership. But then again, the Indians must have seen that invitation coming, and they could have responded in a more measured way," said Michael Kugelman, South Asia Associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, a top American think-tank.
"As the larger country, there's something to be said for India acting more responsibly. It's a shame these talks were cancelled. They wouldn't have yielded anything remotely substantive, but at least they would have brought some breathing room," he said.
Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistan Ambassador to the US who is now director of South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, said Pakistan's behaviour follows a well-worn pattern of trying to seek international attention for Kashmir.
"But India under Modi is breaking past patterns. There is definitely greater likelihood of escalation in an environment that is less predictable than the past cycles of terrorist attacks in India, firing on the LOC, Public recrimination, troop mobilisation and finally, standing down under international pressure. Modi does not want to play that game," Haqqani said.
"Posturing on Kashmir gets Pakistan nowhere but its leaders feel they need to do it any way. Pakistan has serious internal issues," he said. "We need to face them instead of insisting on resolution of a dispute that hasn't been resolved for so long and can wait a bit longer. Pakistan should focus on building prosperity for its people," Haqqani said.
"A one-topic agenda was understandable from New Delhi's perspective but posed great difficulties for the government of Pakistan. The usual maneuvers followed with completely predictable results," said Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center, another American think-tank. Meanwhile, the India-Pakistan standoff was widely covered by the US media.
"Pakistan cancels talks with India, citing restrictions," headlined The New York Times. "The decision came as the two countries traded barbs over Pakistan's plans to meet with Kashmiri separatist leaders while in India," it said.
"The disagreement weighed heavily on both sides as each positioned itself to blame the other for the failure to hold the talks. India had also stressed that it wanted terrorism to be the only item on the agenda while Pakistan wanted to discuss the dispute over the Kashmir region, which is claimed by both sides," the daily said. The Wall Street Journal said both sides accused each other of trying to scuttle talks. "India said Pakistan was attempting to provoke New Delhi into pulling out, citing a sharp pickup in cross-border firing and two militant attacks in India which it said were connected to terrorist groups in Pakistan," the daily reported.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Pakistan's powerful military has shown signs of sidelining Nawaz Sharif, leaving some in Narendra Modi's government skeptical of engaging in talks.