India backtracks on precondition for Pakistan talks

By Zahid Rafiq

SRINAGAR, Jammu Kashmir (AA) – After calling off earlier talks with Pakistan after Pakistani officials met with pro-independence leaders in Kashmir, India seems to have quietly backtracked, saying Kashmiri leaders are free to meet with whomever they pleased.

In a written reply to parliament last week, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh asserted that the Kashmiri leaders were free to meet foreign representatives.

“Since the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Union of India and these so-called Kashmiri ‘leaders’ are Indian citizens, there is no bar on their meetings with representatives of any country,” Singh declared.

The move represents a significant shift in Indian policy vis-à-vis Pakistan, which has refused to refrain from meeting Kashmiri leaders ahead of planned talks with Indian officials.

In mid-2014, New Delhi canceled planned India-Pakistan talks after Pakistan’s high commissioner met with leaders of Jammu Kashmir’s pro-independence Hurriyat movement.

One year later, India again cancelled scheduled talks — this time at the national security advisor level — after Pakistan again insisted on meeting Hurriyat leaders.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — since the partition of the latter in 1947.

Two of the conflicts were fought over Kashmir.

Since 1989, pro-independence groups in Indian-held Kashmir (Jammu Kashmir) have fought Indian rule to demand independence or unification with Pakistan.

More than 70,000 Kashmiris have reportedly been killed in the violence, many of them by Indian forces.

India is believed to maintain over half a million troops in Jammu Kashmir.