India's Modi and Pakistan PM Khan highlight need for 'peace', after vote

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (right) congratulated Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the win by the BJP, which has long taken a strong anti-Pakistan stance. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani rival Imran Khan sent messages highlighting the need for "peace" on Thursday (May 23) after Mr Modi's hawkish party won a new term in power.

While the nuclear-armed rivals launched cross-border air strikes at each other barely three months ago, some analysts say the return of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a new landslide could help peace prospects.

Mr Khan congratulated Mr Modi on the win by the BJP, which has long taken a strong anti-Pakistan stance.

"Congratulate Prime Minister Modi on the electoral victory of BJP and allies. Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia," Mr Khan tweeted.

Mr Modi responded, also on Twitter: "Thank you PM @ImranKhanPTI. I warmly express my gratitude for your good wishes. I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region."

The messages came just hours after Pakistan said it had tested a surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads.

India on Wednesday staged a new test of its BrahMos missile, the world's fastest cruise missile.

In February, India launched an air strike inside Pakistan accusing its neighbour of harbouring a group that staged a suicide bomb attack on Indian troops in Kashmir.

Pakistan launched its own raid the next day, amid fears of a war, but tensions have calmed since.

Muslim Pakistan had watched Mr Modi's campaign warily, frequently accusing him of using events in the disputed Kashmir region as a ploy to gain votes.

In April, however, Mr Khan said a Modi win could help settle the Kashmir showdown and his government has repeatedly stated it is open to dialogue with its rival.

Pakistanis consider Mr Modi a hardliner, analysts say, but welcomed his win even so - predicting it could lead to improved relations.

"The expectation in Pakistan is that there will be an incremental improvement in Pakistan-India relations as Modi's attitude would be more relaxed," retired Pakistani general Talat Masood told AFP.

"He is not going to get anything by continuing with the previous policy, because that will not help him at the international level and at the regional level."

Tensions with Pakistan may have boosted his campaign, but with a fresh mandate "you have to deliver", Mr Masood continued.

"If you want to focus on the economy, if you want to focus on the regional cooperation and (for) a better image internationally, it is important to have good regional relations with neighbours," he said.

The Kashmir fuse continues to burn, however. Pakistani and Indian forces regularly fire over the Line of Control - the de-facto border dividing Kashmir - leaving civilians dead on both sides.

Pakistan has restricted large swathes of airspace near its eastern border with India since the February clashes, effectively closing off major international flight routes in and out of Islamabad and Lahore while also disrupting Indian flights headed west.

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