India’s envoy to Pakistan said on Monday the country only prepared to discuss the part of Kashmir controlled by Islamabad in upcoming peace talks, presenting a potential stumbling block days after the dialogue was announced.
High commissioner TCA Raghavan made the remarks about the disputed territory during a lecture in the Pakistani capital, after a breakthrough visit by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj at which the resumption of ministerial talks was announced.
According to a joint statement, the two sides will talk about peace and security as well as territorial disputes including Kashmir. Each country occupies part of the territory but claims it in full.
Asked where the room for negotiation lay over the Himalayan territory, Raghavan said it was India which first petitioned the United Nations to intervene when the-then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was invaded by Pakistani forces in 1947.
“The first application was moved by India and it was on the grounds that a part of the state, which had acceded to India, is now under the illegal occupation of the Pakistan army.
“So when you say what is it that India is going to discuss or what is it discussing, it is really, if you ask most Indians, and what is our position -- it is the part of that state which is still under the control of Pakistan.”
The remarks could create a diplomatic wrinkle for the two countries as they seek to go back to the negotiation table to undertake broad-spectrum talks for the first time since the election of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif.
Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s political Herald magazine, said: “I think it is a step back,” adding that Kashmir was viewed internationally as a disputed territory.
He added that given the fragile state of the dialogue, officials on both sides needed to tread “very cautiously and very carefully” to avoid a backlash.
New Delhi suspended all talks after Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen attacked Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people. The attacks were later found to have been planned from Pakistan.
The countries agreed to resume the peace process in 2011 but tensions have spiked over the past two years, with cross-border shelling claiming dozens of lives since 2014.
A brief meeting between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the UN climate change summit in Paris on November 30, followed by talks between the two countries’ national security advisers in Bangkok, appeared to have broken the ice.
Kashmir separatists, meanwhile, said they held a detailed meeting with Pakistan high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, in New Delhi to discuss the recent meetings of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj with Sharif and his adviser Sartaj Aziz.
Spokesperson of hardline Hurriyat Conference, Ayaz Akbar, said party chairman Syed Ali Geelani’s personal secretary Peer Saifullah and chief organiser Altaf Ahmad Shah met Basit, deputy high commissioner and the other officials.
“The Hurriyat delegation handed them a message of Geelani Sahab that Pakistan should continue to maintain consistency and firmness over its Kashmir policy and play an active role in highlighting the human rights violations committed by Indian forces in Jammu & Kashmir on the international forums,” Akbar said.