Four days after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chief Imran Khan reached out to India, with a rider that New Delhi’s response would hold the key, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated Khan on his party’s poll victory.
Khan announced Monday that he would take oath as Pakistan’s Prime Minister on August 11.
Sources said that the phone conversation between Modi and Khan took place at 9 pm, though the duration of the call was not revealed. “They recalled their meeting in December 2015 and conversation from that time…and hoped to pick up the thread from there,” a top source told The Indian Express.
“Prime Minister expressed hope that democracy will take deeper roots in Pakistan,” said an official statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, indicating India’s support to the democratic process in Pakistan, where political parties have expressed concerns over its fairness.
Modi, according to the MEA statement, also “reiterated his vision of peace and development in the entire neighbourhood” — which is in line with his government’s stated objective of “neighbourhood first policy” and “sabka saath sabka vikas” in the South Asian context.
The Indian statement, however, did not refer to “terror-free atmosphere”, the standard language template for New Delhi’s response to Pakistan’s overtures over the last two years.
After the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party emerged victorious on July 26, winning 116 of the 270 seats, Khan (65) stressed that the blame game needs to stop between the two countries over Kashmir and Balochistan. In his address to Pakistan, he said: “If India takes one step towards us, we will take two steps toward them…but at least (we) need a start. Right now, it is one-sided where India is constantly just blaming us.”
Khan’s public statement had followed India’s engagement with his team through the High Commission in Islamabad. In fact, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria was seen in Iftaar gatherings with Khan, and several Indian diplomats were in touch with key PTI leaders through last few months.
In its first reaction on general elections in Pakistan, the MEA’s official spokesperson on Saturday had hoped the new government in Islamabad will work constructively to build a safe, stable and secure South Asia “free of terror” and “violence”.
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said that India desires a “prosperous and progressive Pakistan at peace with its neighbours”. He had also said that India welcomed that the people of Pakistan have reposed their faith in democracy through general elections.
“We hope that the new government of Pakistan will work constructively to build a safe, stable, secure and developed South Asia free of terror and violence,” Kumar said.
In the general elections, jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 64 seats and former president Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with 43 seats.
Khan, in his statement, had addressed his image problem in India, and said that he was a little disappointed with how the Indian media portrayed him in the past few weeks, as a “villain in a Bollywood film”.
But then, he also struck a familiar note, echoing the military establishment’s thinking that Kashmir is the “core issue”. Pakistan government sources said that no political leader from Pakistan can address India ties, without referring to Kashmir.
Khan, however, had also expressed his desire to “increase trade” with India — a popular sentiment among the business community in Pakistan, particularly among the influential business class in Punjab.
“I am that Pakistani who believes that to improve economics in the sub-continent, trade between India and Pakistan is important. This will be beneficial for both the countries,” he said.
“Our priority should be to increase trade, but the sad part is that the core issue is Kashmir. We should sit across the table to solve this issue, instead of indulging in a blame game. The Kashmiri people have suffered a lot of human rights violations. Let’s not continue this blame game over Kashmir and Balochistan. We are stuck at square one,” he had said.
The PTI’s election manifesto has said that they will “work on a blueprint towards resolving the Kashmir issue within the parameters of UNSC resolutions. For lasting peace within our own region, especially with a neighbour India, conflict resolution and the security route to cooperation is the most viable”.
In his address, Khan also tried to strike a conciliatory note, noting his ties with India. “I am that Pakistani who has travelled through India because of my cricket,” he said.