New Delhi/Islamabad: Prospects for NSA talks between India and Pakistan looked increasingly bleak on Saturday as Pakistan insisted it will take up the "core" issue of Kashmir while India said that Islamabad must abide by the agenda agreed to at Ufa and only discuss terrorism.
Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz, who is slated to travel to India on Sunday for the talks, said at a press conference in Islamabad that he is willing to come for the talks but Kashmir would be on the table and he would also speak with the Kashmiri separatists.
A few hours later, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a press conference that Aziz was welcome to come to India to meet his counterpart Ajit Doval, but the agenda has to remain within what was agreed to at Russia's Ufa on July 10 between both their prime ministers.
She said the mandate for the NSA talks was to discuss terrorism related issues only and Aziz should stick to it, and there was no space for the Hurriyat in talks as per the Simla Agreement inked between both countries earlier.
She gave Pakistan till Saturday midnight to give its answer on what it proposed to do.
"Pakistan is saying that Kashmir is the core issue, but that was not said at Ufa. In Ufa, it was decided that all outstanding issues including Kashmir.... but first let us discuss terrorism and violence," she said.
"Aziz said that he is waiting for my press conference. I am answering - please keep to the Simla and Ufa agreements signed by both our countries.
"As per the Simla agreement spirit, there can be no third party in talks, and the Hurriyat cannot be included. As per the Ufa spirit, don't increase the agenda. And do come, you are welcome."
She denied that India was laying any preconditions for the NSA talks, as alleged by Pakistan, and said if Pakistan sticks to its stand of raking up Kashmir at the NSA parley and Aziz meets the Hurriyat, "Toh baatchit nahin hogi (then there will be no talks)."
Sushma Swaraj also said that what Aziz read at his press conference from the Ufa talks between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif was the "preamble" of the joint statement signed by both countries and not the operative part, which said there will be three meetings - between the NSAs to discuss terrorism, talks between the Border Security Force and Pakistani Rangers chiefs, and between the DGMOs.
She contended Pakistan was "running away" from the talks as India has caught a Pakistani terrorist alive after the Udhampur attack. "We have a 'zinda aadmi (live person) as proof and that is why he is running away; But we are saying please come for talks; we will give you proof. If he gives dossiers we will give him a zinda aadmi," she said.
She said the operative part of the July 10 Ufa talks was that terrorism and talks cannot go together, and that a productive dialogue can be held only in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence.
Sushma Swaraj claimed that after the Ufa talks there was lot of criticism of Sharif when he returned and Pakistan decided to do something to wriggle out of the talks.
Earlier, Aziz in his press conference in Islamabad said is still prepared to go to New Delhi for talks with Doval and it will be regretful if the talks were cancelled on "flimsy grounds".
"I am still ready to go to New Delhi to hold talks without any preconditions," he said.
The atmosphere for the talks soured over Pakistani high commission in India inviting the Jammu and Kashmir separatist leaders to meet Aziz ahead of the NSA talks on August 23-24.
Aziz also maintained that the core issue of Kashmir would be on the agenda of talks. "No serious talks with India are possible without discussion on the core issue of Kashmir."
Aziz said the Pakistan high commission had invited separatist leaders to enable him to meet a cross-section of leaders and India has said this was unacceptable."Is it conceivable that a country like India will cancel the talks on such flimsy grounds?" he asked, adding it would be regretful if cancellation happens.
Aziz also said they have prepared three dossiers on alleged activities of India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Pakistan and hoped he gets a chance to hand over them to his Indian counterpart.
"If I don't get an opportunity to hand over the dossiers to Doval in New Delhi, I hope to give it to him in New York next month if he comes with Modi," he said, adding that he would hand them over to the UN Secretary General. "Cancellation of the talks is not confirmed from our side...we are ready to go for the talks as scheduled...," he said.
Hours before Aziz spoke in Islamabad, Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah was detained in New Delhi when he flew in from Srinagar to meet the Pakistani NSA, if he arrives as scheduled.