Imran calls India’s Modi, reiterates peace offer


–Imran expresses desire for working together for betterment of both countries

–Modi says violence-free environment essential for peace, prosperity in region

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday spoke to Narendra Modi and congratulated the Indian leader on the runaway election victory of his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both countries confirmed on Sunday.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi today and congratulated him on his party’s electoral victory in the Lok Sabha elections in India,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement.

“The prime minister expressed his desire for both countries to work together for the betterment of their peoples,” the statement added.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that Imran had called Modi on Sunday, adding the two leaders had discussed fighting poverty together.

“He (Modi) stressed that creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism were essential for fostering cooperation for peace, progress and prosperity in our region,” the ministry added in a statement.

As results started pouring in on Friday, hinting BJP would form the government, the prime minister congratulated Modi in a tweet.

The tweet was responded by Modi in kind, who thanked Imran for the wishes, saying, “I warmly express my gratitude for your good wishes. I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region.”

In April, Imran Khan was quoted as saying that he saw a better chance of peace talks with India if PM Modi’s BJP won the elections. The cricketer-turned-politician had said if the next government in India were led by the Congress party, it might be “too scared” to seek a settlement with Pakistan over Kashmir, fearing a backlash.

“Perhaps if the BJP – a right-wing party – wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” Imran Khan was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won the polls with a thumping victory, gaining 303 seats in Lok Sabha, at least 50 more than it needed to form the government.

The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, trailed the BJP with 52 of the 543 seats in parliament.

Modi’s election victory was on the plank of national security, a campaign that gained strength in February when he sent warplanes into Pakistan to hit a suspected militant camp after a bomb attack in occupied Kashmir led to the death of 40 Indian police officers.

India’s move to send warplanes fanned the flames of nationalism and helped the BJP turn voters’ attention away from the flailing economy and onto matters of national security.

The airstrike “gave him the narrative he needed to counter all these allegations of non-performance, unemployment and rural distress. It re-energized him and enabled him to reclaim his image as a strong leader India needs at this juncture”, said political commentator Arti Jerath.

Tensions between Pakistan and India escalated dramatically on February 14 when a young Kashmiri rammed an explosives-laden car into an Indian paramilitary convoy, killing at least 44 soldiers. India was quick to blame Pakistan for the suicide bombing.

PM Imran offered every possible help in the investigation, but India turned down the offer and whipped up war hysteria.

On February 26, the Indian Air Force (IAF) violated Pakistani airspace. The country’s top civil and military leadership declared the violation of airspace by Indian fighter jets “uncalled for aggression” and decided that the country would respond at a “time and place of its choosing”.

On February 27, Pakistan announced it had shot down two Indian fighter jets that attempted to violate its airspace and captured an Indian pilot. The military’s media wing later released a video of the pilot, who introduced himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan bearing service number 27981.

A few hours later, PM Imran took the nation into confidence over the armed forces’ response. As escalating tensions fuelled concerns of all-out war between nuclear-tipped Pakistan, the prime minister warned of catastrophic consequences should “better sense” not prevail.

Pakistan later released the captured pilot as a peace gesture, drawing applause from the international community over its efforts for diffusing tensions.