ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said he thinks there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the general election due to begin there.
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 Indian-occupied Kashmir, fearing a backlash from the right.
“Perhaps if the BJP – a right-wing party – wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” PM Imran told a small group of foreign journalists in an interview.
This was despite the massive alienation that Muslims in occupied Kashmir and Muslims in general were facing in Modi’s India, said the premier, who took office last August.
“I never thought I would see what is happening in India right now,” said the former cricket star. “Muslim-ness is being attacked.”
PM 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 occupied Kashmir, which prevent outsiders from buying property in the state, was a major concern, though it could also be electioneering, PM Imran said.
The premier appeared to offer India an olive branch, saying that Islamabad was determined to dismantle all militias from the country’s soil.
PM Imran said occupied Kashmir was a political struggle and there was no military solution.
Tensions soared between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the February 14 suicide bombing in Pulwama, occupied Kashmir.
India piled the blame for Pulwama bombing on Pakistan without presenting any proof. The allegations were strongly refuted by Pakistan.
In response, India said it carried out on February 26 air strikes on what it called a militant training camp at Balakot inside Pakistan.
The Indian government was quick to take credit for a “successful” airstrike and put the death toll to over 300. Pakistani officials, as well as the locals, rejected the claims, inviting local and international media to visit the site of the so-called attack where around a dozen trees were the only “casualty”.
The Pakistan Air Force, in retaliatory action, downed two Indian aircraft the next day, capturing Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan who was then released as a peace gesture by Pakistan.
Pollsters say Modi and the BJP’s re-election bid got a boost from a wave of patriotism after the suicide bomb attack and the Indian government’s response.
According to PM Imran, 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.
The rolling election is held in phases and does not finish until May 19. The result is not due until May 23.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned on Sunday that Islamabad had “reliable intelligence” that India would attack again this month.
PM 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.