Prime Minister Imran Khan says 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 tomorrow.
Khan said that if the next Indian government is led by the opposition Congress party, it might be too scared to seek a settlement with Pakistan over disputed Indian-controlled 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 is despite the massive alienation that Muslims in Kashmir and Muslims in general are facing in Modi’s India, said Khan, who took office last August.
“I never thought I would see what is happening in India right now,” said the former international cricket star. “Muslim-ness is being attacked.”
Khan said that Indian Muslims he knew who many years ago had been happy about their situation in India are now very worried by extreme Hindu nationalism.
He said that Modi, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is 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, is a major concern, though it could also be electioneering, Khan said.
The prime minister did appear to offer India an olive branch, saying that Islamabad is 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.
Nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India both claim Kashmir in full but rule in part.
Khan said that Kashmir is a political struggle and there is no military solution, adding that Kashmiris suffer if armed militants from Pakistan came across the border, leading to Indian army crackdowns.
Relations between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir, reached a crisis point in February after a suicide bombing killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir.
Islamabad denied responsibility for the February 14 attack, which was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohamed, but the bombing prompted India to carry out a cross border air strike against what it said was a militant training camp in Pakistan.
Pakistan responded with air strikes of its own.
Pollsters say that 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 fast response.
Khan said there is still the possibility that if the polls turn against Modi in the next few weeks, 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.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned on Sunday that Islamabad had “reliable intelligence” that India would attack again this month.
India described the claim as irresponsible.
Prime Minister Khan said that it is vital for Pakistan to have peace with its neighbours Afghanistan, India and Iran, if it is to have the kind of economy needed to pull 100mn people out of poverty.
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