'Drama, PR exercise': Pakistan on Indian premier's meeting with Kashmiri leaders

By Islamuddin Sajid

ISLAMABAD (AA) – Pakistan on Friday said that a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and politicians from Indian-administered Kashmir was a "public relations exercise" that failed to achieve anything.

“In my view, it was a drama … at best it can be called a public relations exercise that achieved nothing,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in the capital Islamabad.

Terming the talks "unsuccessful" and "pointless," he said Kashmiri leaders have unanimously called for a reversal of the steps taken on Aug. 5, 2019.

"Kashmiris are still in search of their identity. They are demanding their autonomous status and independence, and are not accepting the demographic restructuring,” he said.

Qureshi said the meeting was meant to improve India's image, but the attempt did not materialize.

Top pro-India politicians from the Himalayan region met on Thursday the Indian premier for the first time since New Delhi stripped the region's autonomy.

Modi's Hindu nationalist government in August 2019 downgraded the region's special status, and split it into two federal territories. The move was followed by a military and communications lockdown, and arrest of political leadership.

The constitutional changes – abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A – were soon challenged in the Supreme Court, and the matter is still pending.

The Muslim-majority region is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. Since partition in 1947, they have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir. Some Kashmiri groups have also been fighting against Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.

The meeting in New Delhi that lasted for about three hours was attended by the Himalayan region's 14 political leaders, including Kashmir's four top elected officials: Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad.

They demanded the restoration of Kashmir's erstwhile status, as well as the release of political prisoners, protections on land and jobs for the local population, and elections.

– Pakistan will not engage with India

Terming the meeting as mere optics, Pakistan's national security adviser said they did not expect any positive outcome of the session, and that Pakistan will not engage with India unless it reverses the 2019 changes.

"Our roadmap is very clear and consistent, if you want to resolve the issue then you have to revisit the illegal actions of August 2019 first. Without that, we will not talk," he said in an interview on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Shehryar Afridi, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir, also reiterated Pakistan's position on the longstanding dispute, saying Pakistan will not engage with India until it revokes its decision of "illegally annexing" the disputed territory.

In a statement, he said the meeting was "nothing but a facade to hoodwink the international community."