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Hurriyat leaders, V.K. Singh at Pakistan Day, India rules out third party in talks

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Hurriyat leaders, V.K. Singh at Pakistan Day, India rules out third party in talks
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New Delhi: Leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist outfits as well as Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. (retd) V.K. Singh attended the Pakistan Day function here on Monday, even as India made it clear that there was no place for any third party while dealing with Kashmir and other issues with Islamabad.

There was controversy earlier in the day over Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit's remarks that India was not against his invitation to separatist leaders. However, the Indian government said it prefers to speak for itself.

The function, held under the glare of the media at the Pakistan High Commission here, was also attended by Congress leader and former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Former Indian Army chief V.K. Singh, who was wearing a green jacket, spent about 10 minutes at the function and sat with Basit.

Also present were leaders of two factions of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik.

There was more than usual media interest in this year's function as the Narendra Modi government had, in August last year, called off foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan after the country's envoy met Kashmiri separatist leaders, ignoring India's request not to do so.

However, there has since been resumed official-level engagement between the two countries, with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visiting Pakistan earlier this month as part of the SAARC yatra.

The Pakistani envoy, in his brief speech, introduced V.K. Singh as the "chief guest".

"We owe to our future generations to give them a peaceful atmosphere and not conflict," Basit later told IANS.

Basit had on Sunday met Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

The envoy had earlier in the month met Geelani and updated him about the talks between Jaishankar and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in Islamabad.

As Basit apparently suggested on Monday that India had no objection to his meetings with Hurriyat leaders, the Indian government made it clear that there was no place for any third party while dealing with issues with Islamabad.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the only way forward vis-a-vis Pakistan was a peaceful bilateral dialogue.

He said there should be no scope of misunderstanding about India's stance on resolving outstanding issues with Pakistan.

"Having repeated it on so many occasions, there should be no scope for misunderstanding or misrepresenting India's position on the role of the so-called Hurriyat," Akbaruddin said.

He said there were only two parties on India-Pakistan issues and there was no place for a third party.

"The only way forward to proceed on all outstanding issues is a peaceful bilateral dialogue within the framework of Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration," he said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the media that Pakistan can call whoever it wants on its national day.

Coming out of the function, Geelani talked about "azadi" and "state terrorism" in Jammu and Kashmir.

He also emphasised on five conditions set by his group in 2010 for any result-oriented talks with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

Geelani said the Indian government should accept Kashmir as disputed territory, withdraw its forces and "black laws", punish those involved in the killing of 128 people in 2010, and release of political prisoners.

Aiyar told the media later that India and Pakistan should show maturity for "uninterrupted dialogue", and Kashmiri separatist leaders had been attending the Pakistan Day function for the past several years.

The People's Democratic Party, which is now Bharatiya Janata Party's partner in the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir, is also in favour of dialogue with Pakistan.

In a series of tweets late on Monday evening, V.K. Singh posted a few of his views under the hashtags 'duty' and 'disgust'.

Under 'Duty', he wrote "A task or action that a person is bound to perform for moral or legal reasons", "The force that binds one morally or legally to one's obligations", and "A job or service allocated".

Under 'Disgust', he posted "To sicken or fill with loathing", and "To offend the moral sense, principles, or taste of".

As some sections of the media speculated that these tweets were a kind of rebellion by the minister who was asked by the government to attend the event, V.K. Singh again posted: "'Disgust'ed to see how certain sections of the media are twisting this issue."

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