Former prime minister Imran Khan has said Pakistan was working on a peace proposal with India whereby New Delhi would announce “some sort of roadmap” for the Kashmir issue and Islamabad would host a visit by the Indian premier in 2019.
The proposal had the backing of then Pakistan Army chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa, and Pakistan had moved ahead with it despite India’s decision to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, Khan said in an interview with the Atlantic Council, a prominent US-based think tank.
Khan, whose relations with Bajwa have been estranged since the military stopped backing his government and he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of confidence in April 2022, also criticised the former army chief for reportedly speaking to the media about Pakistan’s military not being equipped or prepared for war with India.
The former premier’s relations with the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for almost half its history, are currently at an all-time low, especially after members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party attacked and vandalised several military installations during protests on May 9.
Asked about the peace plan reportedly drawn up by Bajwa, which included the revival of the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC), trade talks and potential visit by the Indian prime minister, Khan said he does “not believe in settling issues through military action”.
“Look, I don’t remember the trade talks. All I know is that there was supposed to be a quid pro quo. India was supposed to give some concession, give some sort of a roadmap to Kashmir, and I was going to then host Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi in Pakistan,” Khan said.
“But it never materialised. So, it never went further than that. That’s how it was.”
Several recent reports in the Pakistani media have alluded to Bajwa pushing such a peace proposal, including a visit to Pakistan by the Indian premier that eventually fell through.
There was no immediate word from Indian officials on Khan’s comments.
India’s external affairs ministry has repeatedly linked the issue of dialogue to Pakistan ending its support for cross-border terrorism and tacking credible and verifiable action against terror groups.
India and Pakistan had revived the 2003 ceasefire on the LoC in February 2021 following several rounds of secret back-channel talks between security officials of the two sides.
Referring to the 2019 Pulwama suicide attack that killed 40 Indian troopers and brought the two countries to the brink of hostilities, Khan said Pakistan had returned the Indian Air Force pilot who was shot down at the time as it “was clear that it is unthinkable for two nuclear-armed countries to even think of escalation”.
Though Khan had, in his capacity as the commerce minister, cleared a proposal for limited trade with India, he later went back on the move following pushback from his cabinet.
Pakistan also downgraded its diplomatic ties with India over the change in Kashmir’s status and decided not to post a high commissioner in New Delhi.
“What were we supposed to do?… Accept the fait accompli? Or actually stand with the people of Kashmir who had given such sacrifices? So that’s what we decided… I tried my best before then to improve our relationship with India. In fact, my first statement was, ‘You come one step towards us, we’ll come two towards you’,” Khan said.
While acknowledging that Bajwa had spoken to him about Pakistan not being equipped or prepared for war with India, Khan said, “Look, even if that was the case, for an army chief to make these statement is so ridiculous. What army chief makes these foolish statements even if it is the case?”
He added, “So, number one, yes, General Bajwa would make these statements, but I mean for an army chief, he is basically saying, ‘We are just too weak.’ You never make such a statement. But more to the point, who wants war with India? I mean, why would we want war with India? Why would anyone want to see a confrontation between the two countries?”
India and Pakistan, he said, should solve their issues through talks, “and if we can’t solve them through dialogue, we just keep talking. But war is never an option.”