NEW DELHI: The government’s decision to call off proposed talks between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of UNGA within 24 hours of announcing the same was prompted by interception of messages from ISI handlers based in Pakistan directing their foot-soldiers in Kashmir to abduct and kill special police officers (SPOs) of Jammu & Kashmir police.

Sources in the Indian intelligence agencies told TOI that the reason behind the dramatic reversal were intercepted messages from Pakistan giving specific instructions to terrorists in J&K to kill the SPOs immediately after they had been abducted. The messages were chillingly specific, identifying victims by name.

Terrorists on the ground were even directed to spare a civilian they had taken hold of, while killing the three special police officers.

Events unfolded swiftly as per the instructions of Pakistan-based handlers, giving Indian agencies little chance to intervene and thwart the killers. While the bodies of three abducted SPOs — identified as Nisar Ahmad, Firdous Ahmad & Kulwant Singh — were recovered from an orchard, the brother of an SPO, Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, was freed.

The Modi government, taking serious note of the evidence of Pakistan-based elements’ role in abduction and killing of SPOs — with a clear design to disrupt local body polls in J&K — promptly decided to call off the proposed talks with Pakistan foreign minister. Sources said the government had, in any case, accepted Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s talks offer warily. An official said there were doubts if talks between Swaraj and Qureshi would have gone beyond exchange of diplomatic courtesies.

The purpose behind targeting the SPOs was to derail the local body polls being held in J&K after a long gap. Sources in the central intelligence agencies had on Friday confirmed to TOI that the abduction and killing of three SPOs of J&K police was aimed at creating a fear psychosis among the people ahead of local body polls and also “scaring” police personnel into stepping back and becoming “inactive” as terrorists pulled out all stops to vitiate the democratic process.

According to home ministry sources, it was apprehended that terrorist outfits would pull out all stops to vitiate the local body polls in J&K. While regular personnel of J&K police were initially killed or abducted, terrorists now seem to be going after SPOs, who are civilians, far more in number and often unarmed, making them an easy target.