Written by Salman Masood and Maria Abi-Habib
Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan intensified his criticism of India on Wednesday over its Kashmir crackdown, saying he would no longer seek dialogue with Indian officials and raising the threat of a military escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
In an interview with The New York Times, Khan complained bitterly about what he described as repeated rebuffs from Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at his entreaties for communication, both before and after the August 5 crackdown in Kashmir.
“There is no point in talking to them. I mean, I have done all the talking. Unfortunately, now when I look back, all the overtures that I was making for peace and dialogue, I think they took it for appeasement,” Khan said during the interview at the prime minister’s office in Islamabad. “There is nothing more that we can do.”
Khan has repeatedly denounced India’s Hindu nationalist government for terminating the autonomy of Kashmir in an abrupt move more than two weeks ago. India deployed thousands of troops to quell any possible unrest and severed nearly all communications in the poor Himalayan region, the flash point for two wars between India and Pakistan.
Indian soldiers and police officers have been accused of using excessive force on Kashmiri civilians, and have detained the territory’s political leadership, drawing strong criticism from rights groups and the United Nations.
It has been difficult to ascertain the full extent of the crackdown because of the Indian measures, which officials say they are slowly lifting.
There was no immediate comment from the Indian government in New Delhi on Khan’s remarks. But India’s ambassador to the United States, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was visiting The New York Times Editorial Board, rejected criticism.
“Our experience has been that every time we have taken an initiative toward peace, it has turned out badly for us,” the ambassador said. “We expect Pakistan to take credible, irreversible and verifiable action against terrorism.”
He also disputed the severity of India’s actions in Kashmir. “We are looking at things going back to normal,” he said. “Restrictions are being eased based on the ground situation.”
In their litany of accusations, Khan and his Cabinet ministers have likened the New Delhi government to Nazi Germany and claimed that a genocide is unfolding in the region.
Khan’s interview with The Times was his first with an international news organization aimed at publicizing his anger over what is happening in Kashmir — and it appeared to reflect his frustration at what he views as India’s intransigence.
Indian officials have described their new policy on Kashmir as a legal and internal matter that was part of an effort to improve the region’s economic prospects. They have said the deployment of armed forces was precautionary, preventive and temporary.
Echoing what he and his subordinates have said on social media and in Pakistani news outlets, Khan described Modi as a fascist and Hindu supremacist who intends to eradicate Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and populate the region with Hindus.
“The most important thing is that 8 million people’s lives are at risk. We are all worried that there is ethnic cleansing and genocide about to happen,” Khan said.
Such accusations have been dismissed as absurd by Modi’s government.
Khan spoke to The Times a day after he said he had spoken by phone with President Donald Trump and told him of a “potentially very explosive situation” between his country and India.
Last month, Khan visited Washington and met with Trump, who said he would be willing to mediate the conflict. His offer was welcomed by Khan but has not been accepted by India.
Trump reiterated his offer Tuesday, telling NBC News: “I’ll do the best I can to mediate or do something.”
Khan expressed concern that India might undertake a deceptive “false-flag operation” in Kashmir to try to justify military action against Pakistan. And Pakistan, he said, would be forced to respond.
“And then you are looking at two nuclear-armed countries eyeball to eyeball, and anything can happen,” he said.
“My worry is that this can escalate and for two nuclear-armed countries, it should be alarming for the world what we are facing now.”
Khan’s warnings of a wider nuclear conflagration reprised comments from Islamabad shortly after Indian warplanes infiltrated Pakistani airspace in March. Indian government officials have dismissed such warnings, claiming that Pakistan is using the threat of nuclear war to push the international community to mediate and force India into talks.
India’s nuclear weapons policy is known as “no first use,” meaning the country will not initiate the use of its arsenal in any conflict.
But last Friday, India’s defense minister, Rajnath Singh, seemed to loosen the cautious restraint that has made up the country’s nuclear weapons policy for decades, saying on Twitter that future use of its arsenal “depends on the circumstances.”
Shortly after taking office last summer, Khan reached out to India in an attempt to revive talks between the countries on a wide range of issues, including Kashmir. But Indian officials rejected Khan’s efforts with a long-standing response that they will negotiate only after Pakistan cuts ties to militant groups. Pakistan denies it has links to such groups.
With Pakistani-Indian relations in crisis, it is difficult to see how, in the foreseeable future, the countries can resume the on-again, off-again talks that have punctuated their relationship since they were partitioned in 1947.
The relationship hit a low point this year, when a militant crammed his car full of explosives and detonated it as he charged into an Indian paramilitary convey in Kashmir, killing dozens. It was the worst attack in the region in 30 years. In response, the Indian air force breached Pakistani airspace to launch a strike on what it said was a militant training camp operating openly on its neighbor’s soil.
Khan demanded that United Nations peacekeepers and observers be allowed in Indian-controlled Kashmir as he repeatedly insisted that Modi intended to carry out a genocide of Kashmiri Muslims.
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