New Delhi: The Indo-Pak NSA-level talks remained in limbo on Saturday with neither side willing to blink first on a day of sharp public exchanges with India making it clear that the talks would not take place if Pakistan insists on discussing Kashmir and ropes in separatists.
With less than 24 hours to go for Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz's arrival here, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told a press conference that Pakistan had only till tonight to give a categorical assurance on these two issues.
"There will be no talks," Swaraj declared when asked what would happen if Pakistan did not accept the position outlined by her on separatists and Kashmir.
Swaraj repeatedly emphasised that she was not laying down any pre-condition for the talks between Aziz and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval scheduled for Monday.
She said she was only invoking the Shimla spirit under which two countries are committed to resolving issues bilaterally and the recent agreement in Ufa where Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif had agreed that the NSAs would meet only to discuss terror.
Swaraj met reporters here about three hours after Aziz
held a press conference in Islamabad at which he said he was prepared to Delhi for talks without any pre-conditions.
He was sharply critical of the Indian government for its insistence that he should not meet Kashmiri separatist leaders while in New Delhi and said this was akin to controlling the guest list for a reception being held for him at the Pakistan High Commission tomorrow.
It was clear that neither side was willing to take the onus of calling off the talks even as the possibility of them taking place was fast receding.
India's determination not to allow the Hurriyat to be a party to Indo-Pak dialogue was reflected in the detention of one of the separatist leaders Shabbir Shah as soon as he arrived in New Delhi for attending the scheduled reception for Aziz in the Pakistan High Commission tomorrow.
Swaraj accused Pakistan of trying to undermine the NSA talks under pressure from "known sources" in Pakistan which were opposed to dialogue with India.
It was Pakistan, and not India, that was running away from the dialogue. If the Hurriyat leaders are kept away and issues other than terror are not raised by Aziz, he was welcome to come for the talks, she said putting the onus back on Pakistan.
Referring to the "well-known forces" in Pakistan who are
against talks, Swaraj said while Indian political leadership can handle pressure the Pakistani leadership cannot take it.
In Ufa the two prime ministers agreed that the two sides will hold three meetings; NSAs on terror, border forces on maintaining peace on peace and DGMOs on ceasefire violations.
However, Sharif faced severe criticism back in Pakistan and they prepared the ground for not going ahead with the three meetings.
"We did not have less pressure. There have been as many 91 ceasefire violations besides the two terror attacks in Gurudaspur and Udhampur. But we still decided to go ahead because these talks are on terror," she said.
Even their response to India's dates for the NSA talks was long delayed. "We had sent a letter proposing dates for the talks on July 23 and their reply came on August 14, 22 days later," she said adding that while they were yet to hear from Pakistan on DGMOs meeting.
Even for the meeting between the border forces, which was agreed to be held at the earliest, Pakistan has suggested September 6, with a mindset that the NSA-level talks will not happen.
Asked if India will be disappointed if the talks are called off, she said "obviously, if you take a step of friendship and it does not happen then disappointment is normal".
She also said if the talks do not take place, it will not be the end of relations. "The Indo-Pak ties are like a road full of potholes. There will be bumps, punctures but you get back on it in some time. There is never a full stop in diplomacy, there are semi colons and commas," she said.
At the outset, Swaraj made it clear that NSA talks were not part of composite or resumed dialogue but was only to create a conducive atmosphere for those talks.
Asked about Aziz's comments that the talks in the current atmosphere will be meaningless, she said India was not saying that it will produce full results but talks always yield some outcomes. "It is only with this hope that we hold talks."
She said Aziz was saying so because they have made up their mind on not coming to Delhi for talks.
On Aziz displaying a purported dossier on the alleged role of RAW in terror incidents in Pakistan, she shot back saying India will not only give dossiers but also produce a "live person" as evidence of their terror activities, a reference to Naved Yakub, a Pakistani national held in Udhampur terror attack.
When reminded that it was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had allowed a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and then Pakistan president Parvez Musharraf in India, she said "let bygones be bygones".