Prime Minister Imran Khan has 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 Indian general election due to begin on Thursday.
The prime minister 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,” Khan told a small group of foreign journalists in an interview.
This was despite the massive alienation that Muslims in Kashmir and Muslims, in general, were facing in Modi’s India, said prime minister Khan.
“I never thought I would see what is happening in India right now,” said the former international cricket star. “Muslim-ness is being attacked.”
The premier 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 Jammu and Kashmir, which prevent outsiders from buying property in the state, was a major concern, though it could also be electioneering, the prime minister said.
Prime Minister Khan 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 Pakistan’s powerful army for the programme. Those to be dismantled include groups involved in Kashmir.
He said Kashmir was a political struggle and there was no military solution, adding that Kashmiris suffered if armed militants from Pakistan came across the border, leading to Indian army crackdowns.
Relations between Pakistan and India reached a crisis point in February after a suicide bombing in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir.
India had immediately hurled allegations of Pakistan’s involvement, whereas Islamabad strongly rejected the claim and asked for “actionable evidence”.
Subsequently on Feb 26, Indian warplanes violated Pakistani airspace and allegedly struck what New Delhi claimed was a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) training camp — a claim never proved by India.
The next day, Pakistani jets fired at various targets from across the Line of Control. As the Indian Air Force engaged the Pakistani jets, the PAF shot down two Indian warplanes ─ one of which crashed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir ─ and captured an Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan. The pilot was released on March 1 as a gesture of peace by the Pakistani government.
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.
The prime minister 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.
The rolling election is held in phases and does not finish until May 19. The result is not due until May 23.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had warned on Sunday that Islamabad had “reliable intelligence” that India was planning more military action against Pakistan this month. India described the claim as irresponsible.
Prime Minster Khan 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.