KARACHI: A day after US President Donald Trump reiterated his offer to mediate on the Kashmir dispute, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said the United Nations and the United States “must act” to prevent tensions between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India from reaching a point of no return.
President Trump had, in a press talk before his meeting with Prime Minister Khan on Tuesday, reiterated his long-standing offer to mediate on the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum assembly in Davos.
During an interview with the International Media Council on the sidelines of the WEF annual meeting, Prime Minister Khan said that although Pakistan and India were currently not close to engaging in an all-out conflict, international powers, including the UN and US, must act to prevent tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries from reaching a point of no return.
The premier said he feared that India might attempt to raise tensions at the border in order to divert the world’s attention from domestic protests against two government measures that have been criticised as anti-Muslim.
Says Pakistan on path to growth after tough economic period
“You cannot have two nuclear-armed countries even contemplating a conflict,” he said, adding that it was for this reason that the UN and the US must take steps. He also demanded that UN observers be allowed along the Line of Control.
The prime minister recalled that he “came across a brick wall” when he reached out to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after assuming office in 2018, and the relationship deteriorated with India sending fighter jets into Pakistani territory in retaliation for the Pulwama attack in occupied Kashmir.
But things went from bad to worse when New Delhi unilaterally annexed occupied Kashmir in August last year, he said, terming the existing state of affairs in India a “disaster” for the people of India and occupied Kashmir. “I just think that the path which India is going [on] is a disaster for India.”
Answering a question, Prime Minister Khan said the close relationship between India and the US was understandable because of the former being a huge market for the latter. But his main concern was the direction in which India was going, he added.
Speaking about the state of economy in Pakistan, he said: “We are trying to strengthen state institutions. We have tightened up laws on money laundering.” He added: “This is the first time that civil and military relationships are on one page. In the past, it was not possible as intelligence agencies clearly knew that politicians were making money through corruption.”
Country on path to growth
Earlier, addressing a special session of the WEF annual meeting, Prime Minister Khan said Pakistan was on the path to growth after facing a tough economic period. He said he had inherited the biggest fiscal deficit when his party came to power a year-and-a-half ago. “We have gone through a very tough economic period and people are hurting. Now we hope to return to growth.”
Highlighting his government’s ‘stabilisation’ efforts to improve the economy, he said that ‘mercifully’ the rupee had gained, the stock market had gone up and foreign investment had jumped up by 200 per cent in the last year. “For this I give credit to our economic team. We had to take such tough economic decisions; I’ve been in the public eye for 40 years and I’ve never faced a public backlash like I have in the one past year,” he said.
“We are in the right direction. We still have a lot of hard work to do,” he added.
Prime Minister Imran began his speech by talking about his government’s vision on environment and climate change. He said the government aimed to plant 10 billion trees over the next four years to deal with the consequences of climate change. He said forestation was crucial not only because Pakistan was vulnerable to global warming but also because pollution had become a “silent killer” in cities across the country.
The premier invited foreign investors to explore Pakistan’s rich potential in tourism, agriculture and gold and copper mining. He said Pakistan was a cradle of the world’s oldest and sacred civilisations, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Sufism, which gave it an edge of diversity in religious tourism.
Mr Khan said one of the biggest challenges that Pakistan had faced throughout its history was getting involved in conflict. He said the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan and then the war on terror had disastrous effects on Pakistan.
He said his government had decided that Pakistan would now only partner another country in peace. “We will not become part of any other conflict. Pakistan cannot grow its economy without peace and stability,” he added.
Talking about Pakistan’s strategic location, the premier highlighted the trade potential among the regional countries. “The moment Pakistan and India’s relationship becomes normal and trade starts between the two countries, immense opportunities for growth will emerge,” he said.
However, Prime Minister Khan said Pakistan had not been able to fulfil its potential because of the way governance deteriorated in the country. “From now on my government’s biggest challenge is how we can improve our state institutions so we can improve our governance, so we can tap our potential,” he told the audience.
2019 safest year since 9/11
Speaking about the security situation in Pakistan, Mr Khan said that 2019 was the safest year for the country since 9/11. “Earlier, there was a real dip in foreign investment due to the security situation and international sanctions. Now there is no terrorism in Pakistan. I have to pay tribute to our security forces for that,” he said.
On the security front, he said, the real problem was the situation in Afghanistan. “We need peace in Afghanistan, not only from the terrorism point of view, but also in terms of extending connectivity to Central Asia.”
The prime minister said Pakistan was playing its part to ensure peace prevailed in Afghanistan and that it was the “nearest we are to some sort of peace in Afghanistan”. He reiterated that peace was the only way forward and that there never was a military solution to Afghanistan.
Iran-US escalation will be ‘insanity’
Keeping in mind the peace policy, Prime Minister Khan said Pakistan had played its part in helping defuse tensions between the US and Iran as well as “easing tensions” between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Terming any escalation between Iran and the US and its allies a disaster, he said Pakistan had tried its best that it did not happen.
Asked whether President Trump agreed, Mr Khan said: “I think he understood. Any escalation will be insanity.”
Earlier, speaking at the Pakistan Strategy Dialogue at the World Economic Congress Centre, Prime Minister Khan said Pakistan was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world when his party came to power, but he decided to partner with peace. He said his was the first government that had disarmed militant groups and tried to rehabilitate them. As a result of this, he added, the first benefit Pakistan saw was in the field of tourism.
Referring to Pakistan topping the list of tourist destinations in 2020, the prime minister said: “We believe Pakistan can collect a lot of revenue from tourism.”
The second step was investment, he said, adding that the government was doing everything possible to attract investment and give incentives to industries.
“Our first year was spent on stabilising the country as we had inherited a huge current account deficit. This year is the year we want our economy to grow,” he maintained.
Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2020