indiaNEW DELHI: India issued an ultimatum to Pakistan yesterday, giving Islamabad until midnight to agree to restrict high-level bilateral talks to militancy alone, leaving a planned meeting between the two countries’ national security advisers in doubt. The talks, which were due to have taken place in New Delhi today, have been thrown into question after a row between the two arch-rivals over Pakistan’s plan to meet with Kashmiri separatists leaders and desire to broaden the scope of the talks.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters yesterday that Pakistan had until “tonight” to agree to an agenda that was restricted to discussions of “terror, and terror only”. Swaraj insisted India was not setting “pre-conditions for talks but only insisting on what was agreed to as agenda by both countries’ leaders for the NSAs meet”, referring to a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif in the Russian city of Ufa last month. Asked what would happen if Pakistan did not agree to India’s demands regarding the agenda of the talks, Swaraj replied: “Then talks won’t happen.” Swaraj’s remarks came just hours after Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz insisted he was ready to meet his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, despite India’s foreign ministry saying it would be inappropriate for the Pakistani diplomat to meet with the Hurriyat separatist movement while in the Indian capital. India cancelled talks with Pakistan last year between the two countries’ foreign secretaries, outraged over a similar meeting that took place, a move that set back already tense relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours. “On my part, I am still prepared to go to New Delhi for NSA talks without any preconditions,” Aziz said, accusing the Indian media of creating a controversy out of nothing.

Aziz claimed Delhi had “virtually cancelled” Sunday’s talks, and added: “As always, India has been conducting a part of its diplomacy through the Indian media.” Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region since both gained independence in 1947, and it remains a major source of tension. But the hour-long talks between Modi and Sharif in Ufa last month had been seen as a new thaw in ties between the countries.

The leaders agreed then that their top security officials would meet to “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”, in a resumption of talks between their officials. Police yesterday detained a top Kashmiri separatist leader after he landed at New Delhi’s airport ahead of talks between Indian and Pakistani security advisers. Shabir Ahmed Shah flew in from Indian Kashmir for a meeting with Sartaj Aziz, national security adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister, who is scheduled to arrive in the Indian capital on Sunday, Shah’s party colleague Zameer Ahmed said. Shah and two colleagues were driven away from the airport by the New Delhi police, said Ahmed, who was part of Shah’s entourage. India opposes Pakistani leaders meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders in New Delhi. Shah heads the Democratic Freedom Party in the Indian portion of Kashmir. The group demands the right of self-determination for Kashmiri people.

Police in Indian Kashmir confirmed Shah’s detention in New Delhi. The detention came as the two sides hit roadblocks over the contentious Kashmir region. India told Aziz to avoid meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders during his visit to New Delhi for talks that New Delhi wants to focus on terrorism-related issues. However, Pakistan has turned down India’s suggestion and said it would also discuss the decades-old Kashmir dispute with the Indian interlocutor as well. The two countries have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947. Pakistan’s ambassador in New Delhi has invited the Kashmiri separatist leaders to meet with Aziz before his meeting with his Indian counterpart on Monday.

Several other separatist leaders – Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Showkat Bakshi, Ghulam Rasool Eidi and Syed Ali Geelani – also plan to fly to New Delhi to meet with Aziz. Farooq said yesterday that the separatist leaders always have supported talks between India and Pakistan. “It’s very sad that New Delhi is stubborn and hegemonic about our meeting with Sartaj Aziz,” he said. “This clearly shows that India is not serious at all about talks.” On Thursday, several separatist leaders were held in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but released hours later. Kashmiri insurgents have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or merger with Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Islamabad denies. — Agencies