Indian prime minister top runner says India and Pakistan can tackle poverty together but Islamabad should first prevent terrorist attacks on India allegedly from its soil
Indian prime minister hopeful Narendra Modi has offered a new era of economic cooperation with Pakistan, if it stops terrorist attacks on India from its territory.
In an interview with The Times of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and chief minister of Gujarat said both countries faced a common enemy in widespread poverty which they could tackle to together if a new trust could be established.
If he becomes prime minister when the results of the biggest election in history are announced next week, on May 16, he is ready to write a “new chapter” in relations between the nuclear neighbours if Islamabad can first demonstrate its commitment to peace by stopping terrorist attacks being launched from its soil.
His comments will be welcomed in Pakistan, where senior officials last month told The Telegraph they would like Modi to become prime minister because they believe only an Indian government under a strong leader will be able to reopen talks and make progress towards normalising relations.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars since their independence from Britain and partition from one another in 1947. Relations had been improving until the 2008 Mumbai attacks when Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists sailed to India’s commercial capital by sea from Karachi and massacred more than 160 people in a three-day rampage. Dr Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, accused elements within Pakistan’s security apparatus of supporting the attacks, which brought the enemies close to a fifth war.
Since then moves to reopen talks have made little progress, while an upsurge in attacks by Pakistani militants across the Line of Control which separates the two countries’ armed forces in Kashmir in the last 18 months have further damaged their prospects. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif voiced his frustration at the lack of progress last autumn and officials said they had abandoned hope of talks until after a new government emerges from the Indian election.
Its officials expect Modi to win the election and are planning to announce Most Favoured Nation trading status for India shortly after the new prime minister is elected, to hasten new negotiations.
In his interview with The Times of India on Tuesday, Modi said the two countries have much to gain from cooperation if they can re-establish trust.
“Our country continues to face the onslaught of terrorism emanating out of the soil of Pakistan,” he said.
“The first step in building any meaningful relation with Pakistan has to be Pakistan taking effective and demonstrable action against the terror networks that operate from its soil. Once that happens there will be an increased trust between the two neighbours which will enable us to pursue a policy of dialogue to solve all the issues. We will be very frank and forthright in our dealing with Pakistan.
“We are very clear that both our countries have a common history and we share not only borders but also common culture and traditions. Besides, the problems that we face are also common; our biggest enemy being poverty and lack of development. India and Pakistan can together write a new chapter in the development of South Asia if the two countries were to concentrate on fighting poverty and unemployment.”
The long-running dispute over the future of Kashmir remains the greatest obstacle to peace between the two countries. In its manifesto, the BJP retained its commitment to ending Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status and to further integrate it into India, while Pakistan’s new army chief last week described Kashmir as his country’s “jugular vein”.
Modi’s party colleague and former BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited Pakistan in early 1999 to sign the Lahore Declaration to prevent nuclear war but months later the deal was abandoned after Pakistani troops invaded Indian-held territory in Kargil. Modi said he would not let that failure stand in the way of progress.
“We should not be constrained by what has happened in the past if the present throws up new possibilities in terms of solutions,” he said.