ISLAMABAD: Pakistan termed India's decision to call off foreign secretary level talks a setback to efforts by the Pakistani leadership to promote "good, neighbourly relations" with India.

India on Monday called off foreign secretary-level bilateral talks with Pakistan following criticism of Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah.

The reaction came from Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam, who said, "Our High Commissioner in India has been informed by the Ministry of External Affairs that the Government of India — taking exception to the High Commissioner’s meetings with Kashmiri leaders — has decided to call off the foreign secretary level talks scheduled for August 25, 2014 in Islamabad."

Rejecting India's reservation to Pakistani envoys meeting with Kashmiri leaders, she said it is a longstanding practice that, prior to Pakistan-India talks, meetings with Kashmiri leaders are held to facilitate meaningful discussions on the issue of Kashmir.

The spokesperson said the prime minister of Pakistan has clearly articulated the vision of peace for development and it was in this spirit that he accepted the invitation of the Indian prime minister to attend his inaugural ceremony.

The spokesperson said the meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries was scheduled at the directive of the two Prime Minister.

Sources said the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has conveyed the decision to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, and said that it will not send Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to Islamabad for talks scheduled for August 25. No official reason was given by MOFA.

According to the Times of India website, the decision comes after Abdul Basit met with Kashmiri Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah.

News agencies quoted the Indian External Affairs as saying, "Pakistan High Commissioner's meeting with the 'so-called' separatist leaders undermines the constructive diplomatic engagement initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his very first day in office."

"At a time when serious initiatives have been taken by the government of India, the invitation to Hurriyat leaders raises question on Pakistan's intention. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh's visit to Pakistan on August 25 stands cancelled," the ministry's spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

Congress had hit out at the centre for allowing the envoy to meet the Hurriyat leader.

Basit has reportedly also invited Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to meet on Tuesday (tomorrow).

The Congress had accused the government of doublespeak, questioning why the talks had not been called off and warned that it could be a "major security risk in the days to come". The BJP had maintained it had taken the decision after much thought but has welcomed MOFA's decision to cancel talks on Monday (today).

Earlier speaking to Dawn, a senior Pakistani diplomat had said Pakistan attaches immense importance to the meeting of the foreign secretaries.

“The meeting is fundamental to the future engagement. It would set the trajectory,” the diplomat said last month.

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