“My worry is that this [the crisis in Kashmir] can escalate and for two nuclear-armed countries, it should be alarming for the world what we are facing now.” — Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan
BY SALMON MASOOD & MARIA ABI-HABIB | nytimes.com
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan intensified his criticism of India on Wednesday over its Kashmir crackdown, saying he would no longer seek dialogue with Indian officials and raising the threat of a military escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Khan complained bitterly about what he described as repeated rebuffs from Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at his entreaties for communication, both before and after the Aug. 5 crackdown on the disputed territory of Kashmir.
“There is no point in talking to them. I mean, I have done all the talking. Unfortunately, now when I look back, all the overtures that I was making for peace and dialogue, I think they took it for appeasement,” Mr. Khan said during the interview, at the prime minister’s office in Islamabad. “There is nothing more that we can do.”
Mr. Khan has repeatedly denounced India’s Hindu nationalist government for terminating the autonomy of the India-controlled part of Kashmir in an abrupt move more than two weeks ago. India deployed thousands of troops to quell any possible unrest and severed nearly all communications in the poor Himalayan region, the flash point for two wars between India and Pakistan.
3:00Inside the Crackdown in Kashmir
In Kashmir, Indian security forces are stopping people from moving freely and a communications blackout has cut residents off from the outside world.CreditCreditAtul Loke for The New York Times
Indian soldiers and police officers have been accused of using excessive force on Kashmiri civilians, and have detained the territory’s political leadership, drawing strong criticism from rights groups and the United Nations.
It has been difficult to ascertain the full extent of the crackdown because of the Indian measures, which officials say they are slowly lifting. Thousands of Kashmiris, however, have been unable to attend funerals, births or call and check in on their loved ones because of the curfews, myriad checkpoints and a communications blockade on the region.
There was no immediate comment from the Indian government in New Delhi on Mr. Khan’s remarks. But India’s ambassador to the United States, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was visiting The New York Times editorial board, rejected the criticism.
“Our experience has been that every time we have taken an initiative toward peace, it has turned out badly for us,” the ambassador said. “We expect Pakistan to take credible, irreversible and verifiable action against terrorism.”
He also disputed the severity of India’s actions in Kashmir. “We are looking at things going back to normal,” he said. “Restrictions are being eased based on the ground situation.”
“Public utility services, banks and hospitals are functioning normally,” the Indian ambassador added. “There are adequate food stocks. Some restrictions on communication are in the interests of safety and security of the citizenry.”
International rights groups and Kashmiris say ordinary citizens are unable to reach hospitals because of Indian security checkpoints, and medical and food stocks ran low shortly after India stripped the region of its autonomy this month.
Most of Kashmir’s political leadership has been detained by Indian forces, many of them locked up in a hotel for the past few weeks, unable to communicate with their constituents or the outside world. Indian officials have said these politicians were detained over concerns they were inciting violence, although there is little evidence of that.
In their litany of accusations, Mr. Khan and his cabinet ministers have likened the New Delhi government to Nazi Germany and claimed that a genocide is unfolding in the territory.
Although Mr. Khan’s assertions have been criticized for their hyperbole, many Indian Muslims do feel discriminated against by the central government, which has often watched on as Hindu citizens have violently targeted them.
Mr. Khan’s interview with The Times was his first with an international news organization aimed at publicizing his anger over what is happening in Kashmir — and it appeared to reflect his frustration at what he views as India’s intransigence.
Indian officials have described their new policy on Kashmir as a legal and internal matter that was part of an effort to improve the region’s economic prospects. They have said the deployment of armed forces was precautionary, preventive and temporary.
Echoing what he and his subordinates have said on social media and in Pakistani news outlets, Mr. Khan described Mr. Modi as a fascist and Hindu supremacist who intends to eradicate Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and populate the region with Hindus.
“The most important thing is that eight million people’s lives are at risk. We are all worried that there is ethnic cleansing and genocide about to happen,” Mr. Khan said.
Such accusations have been dismissed as absurd by Mr. Modi’s government.
Mr. Khan spoke to The Times a day after he said he had spoken by phone with President Trump and told him of a “potentially very explosive situation” between his country and India.
Last month, Mr. Khan visited Washington and met with Mr. Trump, who said he would be willing to mediate the conflict. His offer was welcomed by Mr. Khan but has not been accepted by India.
Security forces in Srinagar using tear gas to break up a protest.
Security forces in Srinagar using tear gas to break up a protest.CreditAtul Loke for The New York Times
Mr. Trump reiterated his offer on Tuesday, telling NBC News: “I’ll do the best I can to mediate or do something.”
Mr. Khan expressed concern that India might undertake a deceptive “false-flag operation” in Kashmir to try to justify military action against Pakistan. And Pakistan, he said, would be forced to respond.
“And then you are looking at two nuclear-armed countries eyeball to eyeball, and anything can happen,” he said.
“My worry is that this can escalate and for two nuclear-armed countries, it should be alarming for the world what we are facing now.”
Mr. Khan’s warnings of a wider nuclear conflagration reprised comments from Islamabad shortly after Indian warplanes infiltrated Pakistani airspace in March. Indian government officials have dismissed such warnings, claiming that Pakistan is using the threat of nuclear war to push the international community to mediate and force India into talks.
India’s nuclear weapons policy is known as “no first use,” meaning the country will not initiate the use of its arsenal in any conflict.
But last Friday, India’s defense minister, Rajnath Singh, seemed to loosen the cautious restraint that has made up the country’s nuclear weapons policy for decades, saying on Twitter that future use of its arsenal “depends on the circumstances.”
Shortly after taking office last summer, Mr. Khan reached out to India in an attempt to revive talks between the countries on a wide range of issues, including Kashmir. But Indian officials rejected Mr. Khan’s efforts with a longstanding response that they will negotiate only after Pakistan cuts ties to militant groups. Pakistan denies it has links to such groups.
With Pakistani-Indian relations in crisis, it is difficult to see how, in the foreseeable future, the countries can resume the on-again, off-again talks that have punctuated their relationship since they were partitioned in 1947.
The relationship hit a low point this year, when a Kashmiri militant crammed his car full of explosives and detonated it as he charged into an Indian paramilitary convey, killing dozens. It was the worst attack in the region in 30 years. In response, the Indian Air Force breached Pakistani airspace to launch a strike on what it said was a militant training camp operating openly on its neighbor’s soil.
Mr. Khan demanded that United Nations peacekeepers and observers be allowed in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and he repeatedly insisted that Mr. Modi intended to carry out a genocide of Kashmiri Muslims.
Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Maria Abi-Habib from New Delhi. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York. A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 21, 2019, Section A, Page 11 of the New York edition with the headline: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Says He’s Done Trying to Talk to India.