“Didn’t have the time to read it”, is how Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar dismissed the vitriolic opinion piece written by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in the NYT where he has threatened the world with the spectre of a nuclear war over Kashmir.
In an interview with POLITICO in Brussels, Jaishankar has also predicted that security restrictions across Kashmir would be eased in the “coming days”.
Responding to questions on the New York Times opinion piece by Khan, in which the latter has sought the opening of a dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi, Jaishankar has said the idea is a non-starter while Pakistan “openly practices terrorism”.
Jaishankar said there is no hope of negotiations until Pakistan reins in its financing and recruitment of militant groups. “Terrorism is not something that is being conducted in dark corners of Pakistan. It’s done in broad daylight,” Jaishankar said.
On the communications lockdown in Kashmir Valley, the EAM said internet and telephone outages were needed to stop the activation of “terrorist assets” and to prevent “people who are doing violence to contact each other”.
Asked about medicines and small businesses in Kashmir Valley, he said he thinks “a lot of the reports about shortages are fictitious”, but he also conceded it isn’t possible to stop communications between militants without an impact on the rest of the economy.
“How do I cut off communications between the terrorists and their masters on the one hand, but keep the internet open for other people? I would be delighted to know.”
Jaishankar expressed confidence that there would be an improvement soon.
“I would suggest to you that in the coming days you will see an easing up progressively,” he said. This should involve a reduction in the number of extra security forces, and added that he wanted the police sent back to their original duties soon. “Frankly they have other jobs and other things to do.”
Jaishankar also denied that there was a Hindu nationalist agenda in removing Kashmir’s special status.
“The kind of people who say this are people who don’t know India,” he said. “Does this sound like the culture of India?”
Imran Khan has been accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of pursuing a Hindu supremacist agenda.
The EAM also stressed that with revocation of Kashmir’s special status a new investment landscape would be brought in, that would be to its economic advantage. He said Kashmir’s new status would allow the sort of big entrepreneurial investment that is more typical in other Indian states.
“People in this day and age were not willing to invest in a state with such restrictive conditions,” he said, arguing that weak economic development in Kashmir has played into the hands of “cross-border terrorists”.
He also flatly dismissed any suggestion that New Delhi might strip powers from any other autonomous Indian regions, saying the situation in Jammu and Kashmir had been “unique”.
During his visit to Brussels, Jaishankar met the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who urged dialogue between India and Pakistan and “stressed the importance of steps to restore the rights and freedoms of the population in Kashmir”, Mogherini’s office said in a statement.
Significantly, Jaishankar, in his talks with Mogherini, conveyed that India is open to discussing “other outstanding issues bilaterally with Pakistan” in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.
“Glad to meet EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security @FedericaMog again. Discussed various aspects of India – EU cooperation and the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
“Underlined India’s openness to discuss other outstanding issues bilaterally with Pakistan in an atmosphere free of terror and violence,” Jaishankar tweeted two days ago.
On India’s relations with US President Donald Trump, Jaishankar broached the challenges posed by a potential tit-for-tat tariff war, India’s interest in resuming purchases of Iranian oil and US reservations about India’s acquisition of S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
Discussing Trump’s increasingly hard stance on Indian tariffs, he said India is in a mood to compromise. “Like any relationship, there’s give and take… Our expectation is that our trade ministers will sit down in the near future. I think many of these issues are eminently (open) to resolution.”
By contrast, he admitted that energy-hungry India’s desire to purchase Iranian oil is “rather complicated” and that he hopes for “greater clarity”. When asked whether there are really no grounds to negotiate because Washington simply has zero-tolerance for Iranian oil purchases, he chose not to commit himself.
“One of the nice things about an interview is that when you reach a level where you don’t want to say what you don’t want to, you don’t say it,” he quipped.
On arms’ purchases from Russia, however, Jaishankar took a more absolute position and argued that he is not going to be deterred from a “solid, time-tested” relationship with Moscow.
“We would not accept any country telling us who to buy weapons from and who not to buy from,” he said.