The Times of India
LAHORE: Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan says when his party wins power his top priority would be to start a dialogue with India to resolve the Kashmir issue. The former cricket ace is seen as a strong prime ministerial candidate in the next polls and his party is on the upswing. He envisages India and Pakistan having trade ties like those shared by the US and Canada. “I believe nothing is impossible.” Khan was the star speaker at the concluding day of the 2nd Aman ki Asha Indo-Pak economic conference on Tuesday.
Imran cut a striking figure in a white pathan suit and said among all Pakistani politicians, he knows India best because of his cricketing past. “Indo-Pak relations should be based on trust. It is awful that whenever we get close, some incident happens and we are back to square one. New governments can foster new ties. We need strong leadership in both nations which can withstand strong pressure. There’s a small industry on both sides that benefit from ill will. We need a strong leadership in Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue.” He cited the leadership of Charles de Gaulle in France, who stood up to pressures and resolved the Algerian crisis by giving the latter independence.
While peace between India and Pakistan seems so elusive, he said he was privy to information (three former Pakistan foreign ministers have joined his party) that shows the two countries came tantalizingly close to clinching a solution to the contentious Kashmir issue before negotiations collapsed.
“The new generation of Indians and Pakistanis want new relations. They want to change the way we look at each other. Seventy per cent of Pakistanis are less than 30 and they want a new way of governance,” he said.
Entirely supportive of enhanced trade relations, he cautioned that the benefits of trade in the short terms should be evenly shared. “Long term, we know that it benefits everybody,” he said. The future should see intense rivalry between India and Pakistan “to see who reduces poverty faster,” he said before quipping: “How can we not enjoy the rivalry of India and Pakistan in a cricket match?”
Later, taking a question from CII president Adi Godrej, who quizzed him on the possibility of the neighbours emerging as each other’s largest trading partners, he said: “One thing we know for sure, it is the best way to alleviate poverty. With a combined population of 1.6 billion, it’s such a huge market. There will be early adjustments and trade will force us to improve our governance systems, it will lead to reforms.” He cited the example of EU saying: “Every country that joined EU has seen its standard of living rise.”
Later taking questions from the audience, he refuted allegations that he was hobnobbing with fringe groups and religious parties. Imran insisted that as a political party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has to engage with everybody, even the seemingly radicalized entities. “Engagement does not mean endorsement. I believe we have to engage with every strata of society. If we bring people into the mainstream then we de-radicalize them.”