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War of words with Pak

New Delhi, Aug. 13: Pakistan today accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of undermining its attempts at rebooting ties by accusing Islamabad of waging a “proxy war” with New Delhi, drawing a prompt repartee days ahead of an ice-breaking meet between top diplomats.

“The press reports of Indian accusations, at the highest political level, are most unfortunate, especially as the leadership of Pakistan wishes to establish good neighbourly relations with India,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.

“It would be in the larger interest of regional peace that instead of engaging in a blame game, the two countries focus on resolving all issues through dialogue and work together to promote friendly and co-operative relations.”

India’s foreign ministry responded by insisting that the Prime Minister had articulated “India’s core concerns” in its relationship with Pakistan. Modi had yesterday — without naming the nation — accused “a neighbour” of waging a proxy war against India through terrorism because it had “lost the strength to fight a conventional war”.

The tit-for-tat responses ahead of foreign secretary talks in Islamabad on August 25 represent the first heated exchange between the nations since Modi took over as Prime Minister.

Modi had invited and hosted his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif and other South Asian leaders at his May 26 swearing-in — the first time foreign heads of government witnessed the swearing-in ceremony of an Indian Prime Minister.

The Indian and Pakistan Prime Ministers met the following day for bilateral talks, where they instructed their foreign secretaries to communicate with each other. The two also exchanged gifts — Modi handed Sharif a shawl for his mother, and the Pakistan leader sent a white sari for Modi’s mother.

Late last month, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and her Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary spoke on the telephone for the first time, and agreed to meet in Islamabad.

The foreign secretaries of the two nations have not met since 2012. Later, violence on the Line of Control in early 2013 — for which both sides blamed each other — led to a breakdown in the dialogue.

“The success — or otherwise — of the meeting of the foreign secretaries will determine which way relations head in the immediate future,” an Indian official said.

But recent tensions along the LoC, where Indian and Pakistani troops have fired at each other this week, will likely shadow the Islamabad talks.

The Pakistan foreign ministry statement called Modi’s charge of a proxy war “baseless,” but foreign ministry spokesperson and joint secretary Syed Akbaruddin responded that the Prime Minister’s allegations were at the heart of India’s ties with Pakistan.

“The Prime Minister was articulating the core concerns in our relationship with Pakistan,” Akbaruddin said. “India will address its concerns on terrorism through all means available to us. Our tool kit is not restricted in any manner.”