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India cancels Pakistan talks in row over Kashmir

Indian policemen patrol outside the High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi on August 18, 2014
Indian policemen patrol outside the High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi on August 18, 2014

India on Monday cancelled talks with Pakistan scheduled for next week, angrily berating Islamabad over a meeting between Pakistan's high commissioner and Kashmiri separatists.

The foreign ministry said Monday's meeting between the Pakistani envoy and separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir had undermined efforts by the new Indian government to engage with Islamabad.

Pakistan said the cancellation of talks between Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry was a "setback" for relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Pakistan's foreign office described meetings with pro-independence leaders as a "longstanding practice" ahead of talks with India, held "to facilitate meaningful discussions".

"The Indian decision is a setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighbourly relations with India," the foreign office said in a statement.

Relations between the two neighbours broke down after attacks by Pakistani gunmen on India's commercial hub Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people were killed.

But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise move to invite his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony in May spurred hopes that peace talks between the two countries could resume.

Last month, they scheduled talks between Singh and Chaudhry for August 25.

The high commissioner's provocative move to meet with separatists comes at a time of political turmoil in Pakistan, where opposition leader Imran Khan has called for mass civil disobedience to unseat the government.

Khan, the former cricket star who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, has led thousands of supporters from the eastern city of Lahore to rally in Islamabad to demand that the government resign.

Pakistan has experienced three military coups and the latest crisis has triggered more speculation about possible intervention by the powerful armed forces.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters that Singh had warned Pakistan's envoy against meeting separatists.

To do so "undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his first day in office," he said.

The unresolved territorial dispute over Kashmir in the Himalayan region has for decades been a major source of tension between the two neighbours, who have fought three wars since partition in 1947.

The last week has also seen heightened tensions in Kashmir, where India and Pakistan have traded accusations of ceasefire violations.

India's Hindu nationalist leader last week accused Pakistan of waging a "proxy war" in disputed Kashmir as he visited the region.

Kashmir is divided between Indian and Pakistan by a de-facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC) and controlled separately by the rivals.

The insurgency and long-running rivalry with Pakistan has made Indian Kashmir one of the world's tensest regions.

There are an estimated half a million troops deployed in Indian Kashmir.

Violence has fallen in the region since 2004 when the two countries began a peace process, but there are sporadic rebel attacks on government forces while residents often accuse government forces of human rights abuses.

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