• Imran lists reasons why Indian govt is wrong in blaming Islamabad for Pulwama attack
• New Delhi advised to introspect, review Kashmir policy
• Premier declares Pakistan won’t just think of retaliation in case of military adventurism, but will retaliate

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday renewed call for dialogue with India over terrorism and other contentious issues and his government’s offer for cooperation in the Pulwama attack investigation.

However, the prime minister also asked India to review its policy on Kashmir that had failed to work till this day and introspect why the youth in the India-held valley had reached a stage where they didn’t fear death any more.

Mr Khan expressed these views in a nearly six-minute-long televised policy statement on the situation arising out of last week’s attack in the Pulwama area of India-held Kashmir that left 44 personnel of Central Reserve Police Force dead. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the occupied valley in nearly two decades after which reckless statements by the Indian government and political leaders as well as media created war hysteria in India.

While Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had already given Pakistan’s position on the Pulwama incident and the subsequent escalation in his interview in Munich, PM Khan’s response was delayed due to his pre-occupation with the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

The prime minister said India was stuck in the past and regretted that instead of agreeing to dialogue “Pakistan has been made the whipping boy”. He hoped that despite the apparent escalation better sense would prevail and India would agree to resolve the issue through dialogue.

Recalling Indian refusal to return to talks, PM Khan said: “Whenever we ask India to start a bilateral dialogue, it always lays a precondition of discussing terrorism.

“I am telling you that we are ready to talk about terrorism. Terrorism is an issue of the entire region and we want it to end. We are ready to talk to you,” he said while addressing the people and the government of India.

Dialogue between Pakistan and India has remained suspended for the past five years and India has stonewalled all Pakistani initiatives for the resumption of the process on the pretext of terrorism concerns.

Mr Khan had soon after assuming power written a letter to Mr Modi calling for resumption of bilateral dialogue and also offered opening of the Kartarpur border to facilitate visa-free access to the Sikh pilgrims seeking to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the resting place of Guru Nanak. The offer was grudgingly accepted by the Indian government because of domestic compulsions, but it refused to lift its veto on resumption of talks. Similarly, Indian refusal to attend Saarc summit in Islamabad has thrown the regional bloc into limbo.

Action against ‘enemies’ promised

Reiterating the offer for cooperation in the investigation of Pulwama attack, the prime minister expressed his government’s readiness to work with India in finding out elements behind the incident. “If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani was involved, give that information to us. I guarantee that I will take action. We won’t take this action because we feel pressured, we’ll do this because such persons were enemies of Pakistan,” he said while vowing punishment for the guilty.

“If somebody is using Pakistan’s territory for terrorism, it’s against our interest,” Mr Khan maintained, adding Islamabad was clear in its policy that neither external element would be allowed to carry out terrorism here nor would anyone from here would be allowed to engage in terrorism in any other country.

“We want stability,” he underscored.

The prime minister said it had become usual for India to blame Pakistan for terrorist acts even before investigating those incidents. He went on to list reasons why the Indian government was wrong in blaming Pakistan for the Pulwama attack. He said as his government had been holding meetings with Saudi investors and government for the past six months, such an attack at the time of the crown prince’s visit to Islamabad could have sabotaged the whole exercise. Therefore, he contended, it stood to gain nothing from indulging in such acts. Besides, he asserted Pakistan itself was a victim of terrorism.

Retaliation

The prime minister used the occasion to warn New Delhi of assured retaliation if it opted for military adventurism.

Mr Khan said: “We are listening through the Indian media where politicians are shouting that Pakistan should be taught a lesson, revenge should be taken, and the attack should be avenged. Which law in the world gives power to an individual or a nation and permit them to become a judge, a jury and executioner? What justice system is this?”

He reminded the Indians who would be voting in general elections within a few months that anti-Pakistan rhetoric was an election gimmick in Indian polls and “teaching Pakistan a lesson” a popular slogan. He warned them in unequivocal terms: “If you think, you would launch any attack on Pakistan and we would not think of retaliating, Pakistan will retaliate. Pakistan would not have any other choice but to respond.”

Emphasizing that wars once started are difficult to be ended, PM Khan said: “We know it is easy to start a war. It is in the hands of humans to start a war. However, to end war isn’t in our hands. In which direction will this go? Allah knows better.”

The situation has rapidly deteriorated after the incident. Both countries have called back their envoys from each other’s capitals “for consultations” – a diplomatic way of expressing displeasure. Mr Modi said that time for talks was over as he had left it to security forces to decide punishment for the perpetrators of the strike.

Kashmir policy

PM Khan called for a rethink in India’s policy on Kashmir. “There should be a new thought process in India. It should introspect, why the youth in India-occupied Kashmir have reached a stage where they don’t fear death anymore? There must be some reason. Do you think one-dimensional oppression, torture and resolving issues through military is the solution? Do you think if it hasn’t worked till now, it shall work in the future?” he wondered.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2019