ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Sunday that bilateral ties with India cannot return to normal until the neighboring country restores the semi-autonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region.
“If we normalize relations with India at this stage, it will be a betrayal with the people of Kashmir,” Khan said while responding to a question in a live tele-chat dubbed “Prime Minister on Call with You.”
Islamabad downgraded its traditionally acrimonious ties with New Delhi in August 2019, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government revoked the special status of the India-ruled part of the majority-Muslim Himalayan region and declared it as an integral part of India.
Khan acknowledged that restoration of trade links with India would immensely benefit Pakistan’s economy.
“But this would amount to disregarding the entire struggle of Kashmiris and around 100,000 lives they have sacrificed in this struggle,” he said. “Therefore, it is not possible for us to think of improving our trade with India over their (Kashmiris) blood. It simply can’t happen.”
The Pakistani leader said that if New Delhi reversed its controversial steps in Kashmir, only then would his country be willing to resume talks and discuss the Kashmir dispute to “agree on a roadmap to resolve it.”
Pakistan maintains that India’s Kashmir-related steps were in violation of a longstanding United Nations resolution that recognizes the region as a disputed territory.
New Delhi rejected the objection by Islamabad as interference in its internal affairs, arguing its actions were meant to improve security in Indian-ruled Kashmir and bring economic development there.
Volkan Bozkir, president of the U.N. General Assembly, during his three-day visit to Pakistan last week, urged both South Asian rival nations to find a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir dispute and desist from altering its status.
“I have encouraged all parties to refrain from changing the status of the disputed territory… As President of the General Assembly, I call upon India and Pakistan to pursue the path to a peaceful resolution of the dispute,” said Bozkir, a former Turkish diplomat and politician.
An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman swiftly denounced as “unacceptable” Bozkir’s comments.
“When an incumbent President of the UNGA makes misleading and prejudiced remarks, he does great disservice to the office he occupies. The President of the U.N. General Assembly's behavior is truly regrettable and surely diminishes his standing on the global platform," said Arindam Bagchi said in a statement Friday.