Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday that India will have to take the first step for improving bilateral relations by addressing Kashmir, which is the only issue standing in the way of better ties between the two sides.
Khan made the remarks while addressing the first edition of the Islamabad Security Dialogue, a two-day summit organised by Pakistan’s National Security Division in collaboration with the country’s leading think tanks.
These were Khan’s first public comments on relations with India since the Indian and Pakistani armies recommitted themselves to the 2003 ceasefire on the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir from the midnight of February 24 – an apparent outcome of behind-the-scenes contacts between the two countries.
“There is one issue that is stopping us [from improving relations] at this time. We will make our efforts but India must take the first step because after August 5, till they take the first step, then unfortunately we cannot move forward,” Khan said, referring to India’s decision on August 5, 2019 to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and to split the region into two Union Territories.
“Our issue basically is Kashmir and it is the only issue – how we can settle it through dialogue and establish a relationship as civilised neighbours,” he said, speaking in Urdu.
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Khan noted that he had attempted to settle all issues with India after forming government in 2018. “Unfortunately, there was August 5 and that was a big blow and there was a total breakdown between the two countries,” he said.
“We still hope that they [India] give the Kashmiris the rights they were given by the UN Security Council to decide their own lives. It will be as beneficial for India as for Pakistan,” Khan said.
“If there is movement towards the resolution of Kashmir through dialogue, the whole region will change and there will be big benefits to both countries – benefits for India because there is great poverty there. So if poverty is to be removed then our trading and economic ties must be strong and our regional connectivity should increase. India will benefit from being connected to Central Asia,” he added.
Khan’s remarks reflected a change from his strident criticism of India and the Narendra Modi government over the past year.
On Monday, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said the onus is on Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere for a meaningful dialogue. Shringla listed India’s relations with Pakistan as one of the challenges in the neighbourhood, India desires good neighbourly relations with Pakistan and is “committed to addressing issues, if any, bilaterally and peacefully”, Shringla said.
During his speech, Khan said Pakistan’s national security was not just about the armed forces, but included vulnerability to climate change, food security and economic matters.
“As long as there is no regional peace and our relations with our neighbours and trading ties are not good, Pakistan won’t be able to take full advantage of its geo-strategic location. If there is peace in this region, Pakistan will be the biggest beneficiary because we are connected in all four directions,” he said.
“We are connected to the world’s two largest markets – I mean we are connected with China and we can be connected with the other, India,” he added.
Khan also spoke of Pakistan’s role in the troubled peace process in Afghanistan, saying: “After a long time, there is hope for peace in Afghanistan…No one should underestimate how difficult this is, there are big challenges in this.”
He added, “We are making all efforts, I am very happy that Pakistan has done as much as it could for peace in Afghanistan but there are challenges. The Biden administration understands the war shouldn’t continue. We are trying and we hope that once Afghanistan is settled, there will be a big shift in this region.”