At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, through media briefings and interviews, spoke out on issues ranging from Kashmir to his country's economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and terrorism. Tensions had escalated between the two neighbours following India withdrawing special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Pakistan reacted strongly to India's decision and downgraded bilateral ties and expelled the Indian envoy. India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter. It also advised Pakistan to accept the reality and stop all anti-India propaganda.
These were Prime Minister Khan's claims at the forum:
On PM Narendra Modi and India
Khan claimed that he met with a "brick wall" when he approached Modi with a peace proposal soon after assuming office in August 2018. In an interview to Foreign Policy magazine on the sidelines of WEF 2020, Khan also said he had told Modi that Pakistan will act firmly if it was given evidence of any Pakistani involvement in the Pulwama terror attack, but India instead "bombed" Pakistan. In the interview, Khan said that he is a firm believer that military means are not a solution to ending conflicts. "... after taking office I immediately reached out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I was amazed by the reaction I got, which was quite weird. The sub-continent hosts the greatest number of poor people in the world, and the best way to fight poverty is to have a trading relationship between the two countries rather than spending money on arms. This is what I said to the Indian prime minister. But I was met by a brick wall," Khan said.
Referring to the suicide attack in Pulwama, Khan said he had immediately told Modi that, "if you can give us any actionable intelligence [that Pakistanis were involved], we will act on it. But rather than do so, they bombed us." While noting that both countries are not close to conflict right now, Khan said that it is important that the UN and the US act. When asked about US President Donald Trump having a very close relationship with Modi, the Pakistan Prime Minister the relationship is understandable because India is a huge market, and of course every country would like the benefits of that market. "My concern is not about the US-India relationship. My concern is the direction in which India is going," Khan said.
Khan also sought to compare the events in India to what happened in Nazi Germany. "Between 1930 and 1934, Germany went from a liberal democracy to a fascist, totalitarian, racist state. If you look at what is happening in India under the BJP in the last five years, look where it's heading, you'll see the danger. And you're talking about a huge country of 1.3 billion people that is nuclear armed," he said.
On economy and Pakistan
Giving a cricket analogy from the past to bolster his case about his country's resource richness and growth potential, Khan said they once used to thrash seven-times bigger India and were seen as a force to reckon with. He said Pakistan was a big force in hockey and so many other sports too, while it has always been a rich country in terms of human and natural resources, but an entrenched corruption derailed the growth story over last few decades. "In the 60s, Pakistan was shining and it was like an Asian role model. I grew up with that hope but we let ourselves down because unfortunately democracy couldn't get grounded in Pakistan. When democracy faltered, army came in...," Khan said at a breakfast session on the sidelines of the WEF. Khan said he realised that if Pakistan has good governance it will rise.
"The founding fathers of Pakistan were brilliant and men of complete integrity. They wanted Pakistan to be humane, just society for welfare. But we deviated from that vision. We have to restore the vision for which this country was founded. "When I was playing cricket, India was seven times of our size but we regularly squashed them. In hockey and so many other games also. We were great," he said. At the Pakistan breakfast session hosted by Pathfinder Group and Martin Dow Group.
He said Pakistan will find success once relations with India normalise. "Pakistan is strategically placed at one of the best points in the world, with China one side and strategically aligned to us, and Iran on the other side. The second biggest neighbour is India. Unfortunately, relations with India have not been great and I will not like to go into those details. But, the moment the relations become normal, the world will realise the potential of Pakistan," Khan said.
He also said Pakistan has huge potential for mountain tourism as well as religious tourism, including for Hindus and Buddhists. Stating that Pakistan has a youthful population but they were neglected as they were not equipped to become entrepreneurs, Khan said now the government has started a programme of skill development.
Seeking to showcase Pakistan's economic growth potential, Khan said the country has huge natural resources such as copper and gold. "I was told just the profit of only two blocks was two billion dollars. We have huge coal reserves. But we falter on productivity. When I went to China, I saw their productivity is huge. We have larger number of cows and buffaloes but China has much higher milk productivity," he said. Terming overseas Pakistanis as one of the greatest resources, Khan said he wants them to come back to work for their country. "They are best of the minds. We are trying to get them back and some have already come. I feel the highest amount of investment can come from overseas Pakistanis," he said.
On suggestions for the government taking the bill for international conferences, Khan said global expos are productive, but he feels there is a need to save money as the government is going through an austerity programme. "My own visit here is at a fraction of money spent earlier by the governments. I'm cancelling junkets of my ministers and allow them to go only after being totally convinced about productivity," he said.
"We also face deteriorating institutions. It takes time to restore them but we are doing that slowly and steadily. In the first year, two-third of our tax collection went for debt servicing... We are also looking at export-oriented growth," he said.
Kashmir, and a veiled threat to India
Khan urged the international powers, including the UN and the US, to help de-escalate tensions with India, saying they "must act" to prevent the two nuclear-armed countries from reaching a point of no return. Khan also claimed that India might attempt to raise tensions at the border in order to divert attention from domestic protests against the new citizenship law and Kashmir issue, according to Dawn newspaper. "You cannot have two nuclear-armed countries even contemplating a conflict," Khan said while speaking during an interview with the International Media Council. For this reason the UN and US must take steps, Khan said, a day after meeting US President Donald Trump who repeated his offer to help on the Kashmir issue.
Khan also demanded that UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) be allowed along the Line of Control, the paper said. India maintains that the UNMOGIP, established in January 1949, has outlived its utility and is irrelevant after the Simla Agreement and the consequent establishment of the LoC.
Things went from bad to worse when India abrogated Article 370 last year, he said. "I just think that the path which India is going [on] is a disaster for India," Khan was quoted as saying by the paper.
On his political life
Khan said he learnt from his initial days in cricket that there is no prize for coming second in the professional world of sports. "There is no sympathy for losers," he said. "When my mother died of cancer I realised there was no cancer hospital and when I was building the hospital I was told you can't give the treatment free. But I ensured 70 per cent got it free. It cost seven billion rupees to build it and annual loss was 10 billion. People laughed at me but I was happy 70 per cent were getting free treatment," he said. Khan said when he entered politics, again people laughed at him for years, but he never deviated from his goal.
He claimed he stopped reading morning newspapers and watching evening chat shows on TV due to extreme negativity targeted at him in the media. He also said it was a painful process which Pakistan has to go through to reap the benefits of deep institutional and governance reforms being implemented by his government and asked everyone to 'be patient' for results. "It's like you want to go to heaven, but don't want to die. This might be a bad example, so I'll say you want a tumour to be removed but don't want the pain of surgery," Khan said at a breakfast session aimed at showcasing his vision for Pakistan and its economic potential before the global business leaders as well as overseas Pakistanis.
Afghan response to Khan's 'no more terror groups' claim
Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani took a jibe at Khan for denying the existence of the Haqqani network in Pakistan, saying it was like claiming the Earth does not revolve around the sun. Ghani said he is yet to see a breakthrough in his talks with Pakistan on this issue, and has only seen some "good statements" coming out from Islamabad so far. During an International Media Council (IMC) interaction at WEF, Khan had said the Haqqani network militant group was not operating in his country anymore. Asked to comment on this claim during his own IMC interaction, Ghani said, "One can also very well say that Earth doesn't revolve around sun." He added that it was good to see Khan presenting a very good reform agenda in Davos, but such denials were not good.
"I have not seen a breakthrough. I have seen good statements but the jury is out on the outcome. If Haqqani didn't exist there, then why did Prime Minister Khan take credit for release of hostages," Ghani asked. "This is a denial which is not for good. We need to engage in a dialogue and that would be good for Afghanistan and for Pakistan and the entire region," he said. Ghani further said Afghanistan is dealing with a great deal of uncertainty and it is important to deal with each and every issue one by one. He said a big majority of Afghan people believe the country is going in the right direction.
Indian response to Khan
Slamming Khan for trying to paint an "alarmist" situation in Kashmir and seeking global intervention to de-escalate tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, New Delhi on Thursday said his remarks show "growing sense of frustration" and that the world understands Islamabad's "double standards". External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar also categorically ruled out any third party role on the Kashmir issue, asserting that any issue between India and Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally and the onus to create a conducive atmosphere which could lead to meaningful engagement was on Islamabad.
Apart from calling for global intervention to de-escalate tension between India and Pakistan, Khan in Davos said that there were no terror groups left in his country and some terror outfits were operating from Afghanistan. "We are hardly surprised by the content and tone of his remarks. They are not only factually inaccurate and contradictory, but also demonstrate a growing sense of frustration,"Kumar replied when asked about the comments by Khan. "Pakistan has to realise that the global community has seen through this double standards...playing the victim card in their fight against terror on the one hand, and supporting terror groups targeting India and other countries on the other," he asserted.
When asked about Khan refusing to criticise China for the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China while showing concerns over the community in Kashmir, Kumar took an indirect pot shot at the Pakistan prime minister. "He said something, he is not saying something. You draw your own conclusion." During a media interview, Khan refused to criticise China over the condition of Uyghur Muslims, calling the country a great friend who he said has done so much for Pakistan.
Kumar said Pakistan must first take credible steps to deal with terror networks operating from its soil instead of trying to mislead the international community. "They have to take credible, irreversible and verifiable action against terror groups operating from its soil rather than making misleading and alarmist statements to divert the attention of the international community," said Kumar. The MEA spokesperson categorically asserted that there was no role for any third party on the Kashmir issue, in a clear message to US President Donald Trump, who made a fresh offer to "help" India and Pakistan resolve the dispute two days ago.
Kumar said if there are any issues between India and Pakistan, they should be resolved bilaterally under the provisions of Simla agreement and the Lahore declaration and that the onus is on Islamabad to create an atmosphere for talks. "We have seen President Trump's remarks. Our position on the Kashmir issue has been clear and consistent. Let me once again reiterate that there is no role for any third party in this matter," Kumar said.
Addressing the media with Khan in Davos on Tuesday, Trump said that the US was watching the developments relating to Kashmir "very closely" and repeated his offer to "help" resolve the dispute. Trump's comments came ahead of his planned two-day visit to India which is likely to take place between February-24-26. On the upcoming meeting of FATF in France, Kumar said India hoped that the global anti-terror watchdog will carry out an assessment of Pakistan's efforts to contain terrorism.
-Inputs from PTI