India will only discuss Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, says Indian envoy

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India’s representative to Pakistan said on Monday that his country was 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, after a breakthrough visit by India’s foreign minister 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 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 gunmen attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008, killing 166 people.

The countries agreed to resume the peace process in 2011 but tensions have spiked over the past two years, with cross-border shelling over the disputed border in Kashmir claiming dozens of lives since 2014.

A brief meeting between Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi 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.

COMPREHENSIVE TALKS WITH PAKISTAN:

Meanwhile in New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) that India and Pakistan would engage in a “comprehensive” dialogue on all issues including peace, security and Jammu and Kashmir and added that “continued estrangement of the two countries was a hurdle to realisation of peace and prosperity in the region”.

She also said “India hopes new dialogue with Pakistan will mark a new beginning for peace and development in the region”.

Despite the opposition drowning out most of her suo moto statement about her visit to Pakistan, Sushma Swaraj said that the renewed dialogue with Pakistan would be under the new title ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’.

Days after returning from Islamabad after attending the ‘Heart of Asia’ summit, Sushma Swaraj on Monday gave her statement on talks with Pakistan. Barely audible due to the continuous uproar in Rajya Sabha, Sushma in her statement said that the two countries can re-engage in talks.

“The underlined sentiment was that continued estrangement of two neighbours was a hurdle to realisation of a shade vision for peaceful and prosperous region. There was also a sharp awareness that principal obstacles to the growth of ties especially terrorism would have to be directly addressed,” she said.

Recalling the meeting between Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Paris, she said that both the prime ministers discussed the need for NSA level talks between the two countries.

She also added that during her visit to Pakistan, both sides condemned terrorism and resolved to eliminate it.

“India dwelled on the need to expedite the Mumbai terror attack trial. Foreign Secretaries have been tossed to work out modalities and comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The dialogue with Pakistan has the twin aim of removing hurdles in the path of constructive engagement,” she said.

“We raised the issue of Mumbai 26/11 attacks probe and asked Pakistan to expedite the trial process,” Swaraj was further heard saying amid the din.

As the protests continued even after Swaraj wound up her statement, Deputy Chairperson of the House, PJ Kurien admonished the members of the House creating a ruckus.