New Delhi: India on Monday called off foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, slated for next week, in a major diplomatic blow to the deteriorating bilateral relations between the two countries.
The decision came hours after Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit met Kashmiri separatist leader Shabbir Shah in Delhi, in the first of a series of meetings planned over three days.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told the media: "Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh's visit to Islamabad for talks on August 25 stands cancelled."
He added that Pakistan's interference in India's internal matters, which "continued unabated", was unacceptable. "It was underlined that Pakistan high commissioner's meeting with the so-called leaders of the Hurriyat undermined constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by the prime minister (Narendra Modi) on his very first day in office," Akbaruddin said.
"Indian foreign secretary, therefore, conveyed to the Pakistan high commissioner today (on Monday) in clear, unambiguous terms that Pakistan's continued efforts to interfere with India's internal affairs were unacceptable," he said.
Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was scheduled to meet her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhury in Islamabad on August 25. She also spoke to the Pakistani Foreign Secretary and conveyed the government's decision about the talks. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif had decided to hold foreign secretary-level talks after the former assumed office in May this year and invited the latter to his swearing-in ceremony. But, recently on a visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Modi had said that Pakistan "has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism".
India's decision to call off the talks has also been due to a spate of attacks along the border in the past few days. There has been at least three ceasefire violations by Pakistan in the last 24 hours.
The foreign secretary level talks would have marked the resumption of dialogue a year and a half after the beheading of an Indian jawan by Pakistani troops took diplomatic ties to a new low.
In the past too, Pakistan envoys have talked to Kashmiri separatists before any major diplomatic initiative with India.