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June 14, 2019

Imran Khan again offers olive branch to India

June 14, 2019

BISHKEK: Pakistan's relationship with India is probably at its "lowest point", Prime Minister Imran Khan said even as he expressed hope that his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will use his "big mandate" to resolve all differences, including the Kashmir issue.

Imran Khan and Modi are in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek for the two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit.

In an interview to Russian news agency Sputnik before heading to Bishkek, Imran Khan said the SCO Summit provided him an opportunity to speak to the Indian leadership to improve ties between the two neighbours. Imran Khan said the SCO Summit provided Pakistan with a "fresh outlet" to develop its relationship with other countries, including India.

"At the moment, our bilateral relationship with India is, probably, at its lowest point," he said. Imran Khan said Pakistan was open for "any kind of mediation" and seeks peace with all its neighbours, especially with India, asserting that the three "small wars" have damaged both the countries that now grapple with the "greatest amount of poverty".

Imran Khan said the emphasis should be on peace and resolving differences through dialogue. "Our main difference with India is Kashmir. And if the heads of two countries resolve, if two governments decide, this issue can be resolved. But, unfortunately, we have not had much success from India so far," he said.

"But we hope now that the current prime minister has onebig mandate, we hope that he will use this mandate to develop better relationship and bring peace in the subcontinent," he said.

Imran Khan said he believed that the money should be spent on getting people out of poverty, citing China's example which has lifted millions of people out of poverty.

"We hope that our tension with India decreases, so we do not have to buy arms because we want to spend money on human development. But, yes, we are looking for arms from Russia, and I know our military is already in touch with the Russian military," Imran Khan said.

Asked about military cooperation between Pakistan and Russia and joint drills later this year, he said they had developed cooperation with Russia, between their defence forces, and hoped to deepen their contacts.

"Most of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were spent in the Cold War region, where India was close to the Soviet Union, and Pakistan was close to the United States. We were in different camps. Now things have changed," the premier said.

"India is also friendly with the United States, and Pakistan is also friendly with the US. So we no longer have the Cold War situation. It is refreshing that we have developed our contacts with Russia, and they are developing all the time," he said.

Regarding the prospects of Pak-Russia cooperation within the SCO, he said they look forward to have exchanges, develop more contacts and improve their trade.

"Russia is an energy-surplus country. Pakistan has shortages in energy, so we hope to talk on those areas. We already are. Apart from defence, we want to also improve our trade in other areas with Russia," the prime minister said.

"We hope our trade delegations will soon go to Russia. We will invite Russian trade delegations here, get them opportunities to invest in Pakistan. I do believe that there is a Russian steel company, which is looking to invest in our steel mill in Karachi. In fact, it was made by Russia," he said.

He said Pakistan was going in no-visa regime direction. "Seventy countries will now be able to get visa at the airport. Previously we did not have this agreement with anyone, but now we are opening up Pakistan for tourism, for investment, and we feel that we want to make it easier for countries to come and get a visa. There are seventy countries -- and Russia is included in those countries who can come, the Russians can come and get a visa at the airport," he said.

Speaking of Pak-Iran gas pipeline, Imran Khan said there had not been much progress on the project at the moment, which was because of the sanctions put on Iran by the United States.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan held an informal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a dinner hosted by Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in honour of heads of the SCO. The Pakistan premier and President Putin shook hands and inquired well-being of each other.

Earlier upon arrival in Bishkek, Khan was received by Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz Minister for Health Kosmosbek Sarievich Cholponbaev. Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov had extended the invitation to the prime minister to attend the two-day summit.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the PM's Special Assistant on Youth Affairs Usman Dar accompanied the prime minister.

Meanwhile, Modi raised the issue of “cross-border terrorism” during his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said India expects "concrete action" by Islamabad to create an atmosphere “free of terror for the resumption of dialogue.”

Modi met President Xi on the sidelines of the SCO Summit and discussed the full spectrum of bilateral relations.

Briefing the reporters after the meeting, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that there was a brief discussion on Pakistan during the talks between the two leaders. He said India has a consistent position with respect to Pakistan that it wants peaceful relations with Islamabad. Gokhale said Prime Minister Modi told President Xi that he has made efforts to improve ties with Islamabad but these efforts have been "derailed".

"Pakistan needs to create an atmosphere free of terror, but at this stage we do not see it happening. We expect Islamabad to take concrete action" to resume talks, Gokhale quoted Modi as telling President Xi.

Imran Khan has twice written to Modi, seeking resumption of dialogue on all issues, including Kashmir. Responding to Imran Khan's overtures, Modi told his Pakistani counterpart that creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism was essential for fostering peace and prosperity in the region.