Khan faces challenges in mending India ties

Imran Khan speaking during a televised address in Islamabad, Pakistan, on July 26, 2018.
Imran Khan speaking during a televised address in Islamabad, Pakistan, on July 26, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Kashmir is still Pakistan's priority, but India wants to focus on terrorism, say political experts

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi early this week expressed his hope for peace when he called cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan to congratulate him on his election win in Pakistan.

Mr Modi was echoing Mr Khan, 65, who said in his victory speech that he would like to improve ties with India, particularly in trade, promising to match any step taken by India with two from Pakistan.

But some analysts in both countries remain sceptical about any immediate real progress in bilateral ties, which have been at their worst in recent years.

"There may be some inspiration on both sides to bring normalcy. Nothing beyond that," said Ms Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistan-based political analyst.

Mr Dilip Sinha, a former Indian diplomat, said: "There is a strong possibility that the two leaders would make an effort to establish some kind of rapport and try and make a beginning.

"But the question really is whether such an opening can be sustained - and that I am highly sceptical about."

SCEPTICAL

There is a strong possibility that the two leaders would make an effort to establish some kind of rapport and try and make a beginning. But the question really is whether such an opening can be sustained - and that I am highly sceptical about.

MR DILIP SINHA, a former Indian diplomat, on India-Pakistan ties.

 
 
 

Mr Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf beat off competition from the two other main parties - the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples Party - to win the National Assembly elections last week.

Mr Khan, who was struggling on the margins of Pakistan's politics for nearly two decades, finally succeeded in gaining support, particularly among the youth, with his promise to crack down on corruption and develop a new Pakistan.

Ties between India and Pakistan - which have fought three wars and regularly exchange fire across their de facto border in spite of a ceasefire - have been tense since India began demanding action by Pakistan against terrorism, following the 2008 attacks in Mumbai which left 166 people dead.

India's position is that terrorism is the core issue of any dialogue, while Pakistan maintains that it should be on the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Mr Khan declared in his victory speech that resolving the Kashmir issue remained the central priority for his government.

Former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said: "His first move will be to centre talks on Kashmir, which is a non-starter (as far as India is concerned).

"We will have to wait and see what kind of coalition government he leads."

Mr Khan's party won 109 of the 269 seats in the National Assembly, falling short of a majority.

It is currently in talks with independents and other smaller parties.

Said Mr Mansingh: "His first priority will be to set the economy in order and he has said he will root out corruption.

"His agenda will be almost exclusively internal for a year and here, we (in India) are going for an election."

India is due to hold a general election next year.

When Mr Modi came to power in 2014, he made efforts to push for peace with Islamabad, inviting then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other South Asian leaders to his swearing-in ceremony.

The Indian leader followed it up with a surprise visit to Pakistan in 2015. In spite of the moves, Mr Modi could not make any headway in improving ties.

Still, some believe India has nothing to lose in talking with Mr Khan.

Said Mr Sinha: "I have always said that India should approach Imran Khan with an open mind.

"It's not like we lose anything by trying to talk."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2018, with the headline 'Khan faces challenges in mending India ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe