India, Pakistan trade barbs at UN over failed bid for talks

India and Pakistan exchanged barbs at the United Nations on Saturday after plans for a rare meeting between the foreign ministers in New York fell through.

India cancelled the talks offered by Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan following an attack that foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said had killed three Indian soldiers.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, the Indian foreign minister denied that her government had sought a pretext to derail the offer to sit down with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Swaraj also said Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 attack in Mumbai in which 168 people died, “still roams the streets of Pakistan with impunity”.

“We are accused of sabotaging the process of talks,” she said. “This is a complete lie.”

Swaraj slammed Pakistan for offering “spawning grounds for terrorism” and offering “safe haven” for Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“Pakistan glorifies killers. It refuses to see the blood of innocents,” she said.

India has long accused Pakistan of arming rebel groups in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory divided between the two countries but claimed in full by both.

The Pakistani foreign minister shot back, saying India had called off talks three times – “each time on flimsy grounds.”

“They preferred politics over peace. They used the pretext of stamps issued months ago of a Kashmiri activist and depicting grave human rights violations, including pellet gun victims, as an excuse to back out from the talks,” said Qureshi.

Pakistan recently issued postage stamps of Burhan Wani, a charismatic Kashmiri rebel commander killed by Indian troops in July 2016, whose death sparked a wave of violent protests in the territory.

Kashmir dispute

Qureshi said Imran Khan’s election two months ago had brought about “a fundamental shift” in Pakistan, which is seeking dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Despite the call for talks, the foreign minister firmly warned India that violations of the ceasefire line in Kashmir “will evoke a strong and matching response.”

“The unresolved Jammu and Kashmir dispute hinders the realization of the goal of durable peace between the two countries,” Qureshi said.

“For over 70 years it has remained on the agenda of the UN Security Council and a blot on the conscience of humanity,” he said.

The Pakistan leader said he welcomed the release of a report earlier this year by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that mentioned “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces” in Kashmir.

India has about 500,000 soldiers in the part of Kashmir it controls, where armed groups are fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The two countries have fought two wars over Kashmir, which has been divided since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.

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