August 19, 2015 / 7:48 AM / 4 years ago

Pakistan invites Kashmiri separatists for meeting

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Pakistan has invited separatists from the disputed Kashmir region for a meeting in a move that risks further straining efforts to restart a peace dialogue between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman of a hardliner faction of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC), shouts slogans during an anti-election rally in Srinagar April 10, 2009. REUTERS/Danish Ismail/Files

Kashmiri separatist spokesman Ayaz Akbar said that hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani is among those invited to the Pakistan High Commission (embassy) in New Delhi on Aug. 23 — the same day as talks between Indian and Pakistani security officials are due to start.

Manzoor Ali Memon, a spokesman for the Pakistani embassy, confirmed the invitation and declined to comment further.

An Indian official said the government is monitoring the situation and would respond appropriately. The person did not say what action that may involve.

India called off peace talks with Pakistan a year ago after its neighbour consulted the separatists before a meeting between their foreign secretaries. At the time, India accused Pakistan of interfering in its domestic affairs.

“This is deliberate attempt to irritate India,” said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group in New Delhi.

Earlier Indian governments had grudgingly tolerated meetings between Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected last year, signalled he would not.

Majority-Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Modi has taken a tougher approach to Pakistan and clashes on the disputed border have intensified.

Indian and Pakistani troops traded gunfire and mortar rounds along their frontier earlier this week, killing eight people.

Hopes for warmer ties rose last month when Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, met on the sidelines of a summit in Russia and agreed that their national security advisers would hold talks.

Reporting By Fayaz Bukhari, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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