Pakistan invites separatists for meeting "to irritate India"
SRINAGAR: Pakistan invited separatists from India's disputed Kashmir region for a meeting in a move that risks further straining efforts to restart a peace dialogue ahead of a rare meeting between top security officials from the nuclear-armed nations.
India called off peace talks with Pakistan a year ago after its neighbour consulted the separatists before a meeting between their foreign secretaries. At the time, India accused Pakistan of interfering in its domestic affairs.
Hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani is among the leaders invited to the Pakistan High Commission on Aug. 23, the day talks between the security officials are due to start, Ayaz Akbar, a spokesman for the separatists, said.
"This is deliberate attempt to irritate India," said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group in New Delhi.
Manzoor Ali Memon, a spokesman for the Pakistani embassy, confirmed the invitation and declined to comment further.
Earlier Indian governments had grudgingly tolerated meetings between Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected last year, signalled he would not.
Majority-Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.
Modi has taken a tougher approach to Pakistan and clashes on the disputed border have intensified.
Indian and Pakistani troops traded gunfire and mortar rounds along their frontier earlier this week, killing eight people.
Hopes for warmer ties rose last month when Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, met on the sidelines of a summit in Russia and agreed that their national security advisers would hold talks.
A spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.