Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday expressed willingness to re-start the stalled India-Pakistan peace process and said the two countries must engage in dialogue to resolve their differences, including on the Kashmir issue, and start trade.
In his first direct comments on Indo-Pak ties since taking oath as Prime Minister last Saturday, Khan said the best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent was to resolve the differences through dialogue and start trading.
“To move forward Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts including Kashmir,” Khan tweeted separately in both English and Urdu.
This is his first response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for “meaningful and constructive engagement” through a letter to Khan.
However, while Modi had, in his letter to Khan on August 18, underlined the need to make the Indian subcontinent “free of terror and violence” — a key concern from New Delhi, Khan did not make any reference to the issue of terrorism in his response.
In a separately released message on the eve of first ever “International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism,” Khan said, “The international community must jointly take actions to support the victims of terrorism… We stand with the International Community to eliminate this menace and reiterate to take joint actions to extend all support to those who have been the victims of terrorism.”
Stressing that Pakistan has been “one of the worst victims of terrorism”, he said that despite these losses, “our resolve to fight terrorism remains unwavering”.
There was no official statement to Khan’s response on his tweet, South Block was closely studying his approach.
“Our position has been that we are ready to talk on terror and bilateral talks can only happen in an atmosphere free of terrorism and violence. We have not seen any confidence-building move in this regard by the new establishment in Pakistan so far. Let’s see what he has to offer,” a source told The Indian Express.
South Block sources also pointed out the tone of Pakistan’s Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, which had talked about “adventurism”, and that has not gone down too well in New Delhi.
Khan on Tuesday also backed cricketer-turned-politician, now a Punjab minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is facing flak from his colleague amnd Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for his “embrace” of Pakistan’s Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pakistan for my oath taking. He was an ambassador of peace and was given amazing love and affection by people of Pakistan. Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent — without peace, our people cannot progress,” he tweeted.
Sources in Delhi said that Prime Minister’s letter, where he expressed a commitment to build “good neighbourly relations” and pursue “meaningful and constructive engagement” for the benefit of the region, is aimed at giving a “positive opening” for the relationship.
New Delhi also feels that Modi’s letter is meant to be a show of support to Khan, since his election has been questioned by Opposition parties in Pakistan, who have mocked the election as “selection” by Pakistan’s powerful army.
Sources said that while it is too early to talk about meetings between the two sides, one possible opportunity could be a meeting between External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.
“But much will depend on what happens over the next one month”, a source said.
So far, the conversations have been quite “formal” and “matter of fact” between the two sides, sources said. Be it the phone conversation between the two leaders on July 30 or the meeting between Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria and Khan on August 10.
Bilateral trade witnessed a slight drop in 2016-17 to $2.28 billion, with exports from India at $1.83 billion and imports from Pakistan to India at $456.33 million.
Data reveals that the official trade between New Delhi and Islamabad accounted for only about 0.31 per cent of India’s total global commerce.
India had accorded the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan in 1996. A Pakistan Cabinet decision of November 2, 2011 to reciprocate remains un-implemented.
Pakistan substituted in March 2012 a “positive list” of a little more than 1950 tariff lines, permitted for import from India, with a “Negative List” of 1209 lines that cannot be imported from India. —(with PTI)