The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

India cancels talks with Pakistan over tea invitation to Kashmiri separatists

New Delhi — The all-too-familiar roller coaster has returned in the ties between India and Pakistan.

This time, a tea invitation has scuttled a high-level diplomatic meeting scheduled for next week.

On Monday, New Delhi called off the meeting between senior officials from the two nations because Pakistan’s envoy here had invited separatist leaders from the troubled Himalayan region of Kashmir for tea and consultations this week.

The tea invitation to the separatist leaders in Kashmir is an “attempt to interfere in India’s internal affairs” and was “unacceptable,” said Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s Foreign Ministry.

India and Pakistan have fought two of three wars since 1947 over Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by both countries. Many groups in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting for independence from New Delhi’s rule for more than 25 years.

Members from the Hindu Sena protested near the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi on Monday.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said meetings with Kashmiri separatists were a "longstanding practice" ahead of any India-Pakistan diplomatic talks. It called the cancellation of the diplomatic meeting a "setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighbourly relations with India."

The cancellation gave rise to a media debate here on whether this means Prime Minister Narendra Modi is tough or not.

On Twitter, several hashtags came up — #hawkishmodi #modiwalksthetalk and #ModisnubsPak.

Indian television news channel Times Now ran a headline that said, “Pak shown the door.”

Others, on Twitter, accused Modi of a U-turn and flip-flop.

Modi is known as a tough-talking Hindu nationalist who has often advocated a hard line on Pakistan. But he surprised many when he invited leaders from neighboring countries, including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony in May. After the visit, Sharif even sent a sari as a gift for Modi’s mother.

The senior diplomats’ meeting next week in Pakistan would have been the first official dialogue between the nations in more than a year.

But the bonhomie appeared to be dimming somewhat, with Modi — during a public speech last week in Kashmir — accusing Pakistan of engaging in a “proxy war” against India.

A Pakistani government spokeswoman called the remarks “unfortunate” and “baseless rhetoric.”

The cancellation on Monday also comes amid a spike in firing between the two nations across the border in recent weeks.