India calls off Pakistan talks, says Imran Khan’s true face exposed

NEW DELHI: The weather in the accident-prone India-Pakistan relations can change dramatically in no time at all. Barely 24 hours after announcing the meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in New York, the Indian government on September 21 called off the planned engagement, citing “deeply disturbing developments” which have exposed the “evil agenda of Pakistan” and “exposed” its new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“The latest brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities and the recent release of a series of twenty postage stamps by Pakistan glorifying a terrorist and terrorism confirm that Pakistan will not mend its ways,” said India’s external affairs ministry in a sharply-worded statement.

Alluding to the letter written by Imran Khan to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which the former had spoken about bringing a positive change and mutual desire for peace, New Delhi underlined that it was in this spirit that India had first agreed to the meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the side-lines of the UNGA in New York next week. But it seems this act of faith on part of New Delhi proved to be a case of misplaced optimism.

The announcement of the meeting between the foreign ministers sparked a heated debate in media and strategic circles in India about the rationale of initiating talks at a time when Indian soldiers are being brutally slaughtered by Pakistani forces.  Factoring in adverse public reaction to any engagement with Pakistan at this sensitive time, the government seems to have had a rethink and revalidated its stated position that terror and talks can’t go together.

“Now, it is obvious that behind Pakistan’s proposal for talks to make a fresh beginning, the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed and the true face of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has been revealed to the world in his first few months in office,” said the ministry.

Any conversation with Pakistan in such an environment would be meaningless, said an outraged New Delhi.

The cancellation of the foreign ministers’ meeting in New York and an unusually caustic statement by New Delhi has dashed all hopes of any improvement in strained ties between India and Pakistan under the Imran Khan government in Pakistan, at least in the near term. “It was a case of cautious optimism, followed by a considered reality check on part of the Indian government. It reflects a clear assessment by New Delhi that Imran Khan is not sincere and he was doing all this to please the all-powerful military establishment in Rawalpindi,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India and World magazine. Optics and showmanship can’t be a substitute for serious and sincere diplomacy, he stressed.

“Since he took charge as the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan has only spoken about Kashmir, and has hardly said anything of substance about terrorism. The cancellation of talks by India underscores that Khan can’t be trusted till he takes concrete steps to address India’s concerns for cross-border terror,” he said.

What it all adds up to is that India-Pakistan relations, which are already at a nadir, will remain frozen, at least in the next few months.