ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said he thinks there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the general election due to begin there on Thursday.

Mr Khan said that if the next Indian government was led by Congress, it might be too scared to seek a settlement with Pakistan over disputed India-held Kashmir, fearing a backlash from the right wing.

“Perhaps if the BJP — a right-wing party — wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” the prime minister told a small group of foreign journalists in an interview.

This was despite the massive alienation that Muslims in Kashmir and Muslims in general were facing in Modi’s India, added Mr Khan.

“I never thought I would see what is happening in India right now,” he said. “Muslim-ness is being attacked.”

PM says Congress-led govt might be too scared to seek a settlement over Kashmir, fearing backlash from the right wing

PM Khan said Indian Muslims he knew who many years ago had been happy about their situation in India were now very worried by extreme Hindu nationalism.

Like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Modi was electioneering based on “fear and nationalist feeling”, he said.

Mr Khan said the BJP pledge this week to propose stripping decades-old special rights from the people of Jammu and Kashmir, which prevented outsiders from buying property in the state, was a major concern. However, he added, it could also be electioneering.

Apparently offering India an olive branch, the prime minister said Islamabad was determined to dismantle all Pakistan-based militias and that the government had full support from the army in this regard.

The former international cricket star said Kashmir was a political struggle and there was no military solution to it.

Relations between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since gaining independence in 1947, two over Kashmir, reached a crisis point in February this year after a suicide bombing killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel in the India-held valley. While Islamabad denied responsibility for the Pulwama attack, it was purportedly claimed by a militant group, Jaish-i-Mohammed. Nearly two weeks later India carried out a cross-border air strike against what it claimed was a militant training camp in Balakot. The following day Pakistan shot down at least one Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot only to be released and handed over back to India later.

Pollsters say Mr Modi and the BJP’s re-election bid got a boost from a wave of patriotism after the suicide bomb attack and the Indian government’s actions.

Mr Khan said there was still the possibility that India could take some further military action against Pakistan if the polls turned against Mr Modi within the next few weeks.

The rolling election is held in phases and does not finish until May 19. The result is not due until May 23.

Earlier on Sunday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had warned that Islamabad had “reliable intelligence” that India would attack again this month.

India described the claim as irresponsible.

Mr Khan said it was vital for Pakistan to have peace with all its neighbours, Afghanistan, India and Iran, if it was to have the kind of economy needed to pull 100 million people out of poverty.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2019