ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan says he thinks there may be a better chance of peace talks with New Delhi if his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the general election.
Imran Khan said that if the next Indian government were led by the opposition Congress party, it might be too scared to seek a settlement with Pakistan over on the Kashmir issue, fearing a backlash from the right.
“Perhaps if the BJP – a right-wing party – wins, some kind of settlement on Kashmir could be reached,” the premier said while talking to a group of foreign journalists here. This was despite the massive alienation that Muslims in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) and Muslims in general were facing under the BJP government, he added.
“I never thought I would see what is happening in India right now,” said the PM as quoted by a UK-based news agency. “Muslim-ness is being attacked.” Imran said Indian Muslims he knew who many years ago had been happy about their situation in India were now very worried by extreme Hindu nationalism. He said Modi, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was electioneering based on “fear and nationalist feeling”.
The BJP’s pledge this week to propose stripping decades-old special rights from the people of IHK, which prevent outsiders from buying property in the IHK, was a major concern, though it could also be electioneering, the premier said.
Imran did appear to offer India an olive branch, saying that Islamabad was determined to dismantle all Pakistan-based militias in the country, and that the government had full support from the Pakistan Army for the programme.
Imran said the Kashmir liberation movement was a political struggle and there was no military solution. He said there was still the possibility if the polls turn against Modi in the next few weeks that India could take some further military action against Pakistan.
Imran said that it was vital for Pakistan to have peace with its neighbours, Afghanistan, India and Iran, if it was to have the kind of economy needed to pull 100 million people out of poverty. He said Pakistan is committed to ridding Pakistan of militants.
“We have decided, for the future of our country — forget the outside pressure — we will not allow armed militias to operate anymore,” he was quoted as saying by The New York Times. “The Pakistan Army created them,” he was quoted as saying, referring to the 1980s when Pakistan and the United States backed insurgents in Afghanistan against Soviet forces. But, he added, “There is no use for these groups anymore.”
“We can’t afford to be blacklisted,” he said.
Imran Khan has won praise for his seemingly coolheaded and statesmanlike behaviour during the recent crisis with India, which he helped de-escalate by releasing a captured Indian pilot and emphasising peace. He seemed quite cognizant that the last thing Pakistan needed was a war.
“They hit our trees, so we thought we’d hit their stones,” the premier said. When asked whether he or the country’s military establishment controls Pakistan, Imran said that they work closely.
After Pakistani forces shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured the pilot, Imran and the military seemed to agree the best response was to release the pilot, which eased tensions. “I’ve played down the whole thing,” he said.
Now the premier is back to wrestling with the economy. “You can’t have the ruling elite siphoning off money and taking it abroad,” he said, adding, “If you don’t hold them accountable, the country has no future.”
With barely enough foreign reserves to cover the country’s monthly import bills, Imran Khan’s government knows it needs a large bailout from the International Monetary Fund, but those often come with painful austerity conditions. His finance team has been reluctant to turn to the IMF but now promises that a deal will be announced in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, Imran said, “My first priority is to take 100 million people out of poverty.”
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