Pakistan's defense minister says good relations are possible with rival India , using the example of the recent historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. But, says Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir, that will require mutual political courage to “transcend the past.”
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Dastgir said persistent diplomatic and military tensions, particularly over Kashmir, have increased the likelihood the disputed Himalayan region could become a “flashpoint” between the nuclear-armed South Asian nations.
Indian and Pakistani military forces have been locked in almost weekly exchanges of fire along the Line of Control, the defacto Kashmir border. Both sides blame each other for initiating the deadly clashes. India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety. The region has triggered two of the three wars the countries have fought since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Dastgir told VOA that despite the continued mistrust and hostility in bilateral relations, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif undertook a historic visit to New Delhi in 2014 to attend the inauguration ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“It is that kind of courage that is required for us to transcend the past. Courage will also be required to see that peace has greater dividends for our future generations than hostilities,” the minister said when asked whether the inter-Korean summit could encourage the South Asian nations to talk peace.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met last month at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between their countries in the first summit between both nations in more than a decade. The two leaders pledged at the meeting to work together to eliminate the risk of war and achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Dastgir said that the Indian government, since the historic Sharif visit, has constantly demonstrated “aggressive posturing” toward Pakistan, adding the policy is deeply disturbing and detrimental to regional stability.
The minister said that over the years a “political consensus” has emerged among all stakeholders in Pakistan to forge a peaceful political and economic relationship with India . He added that no Pakistani political party in the previous two elections, in 2008 and 2013, went to voters on an anti-India platform. But New Delhi has lost the “unique and very valuable moment” in Pakistani history to promote mutual peace.
“This unique, peaceful moment, this political consensus in Pakistan that in the 21st century we should move forward with India by finding peace with our eastern neighbor, that moment is merely decimated and I think a great opportunity has been lost since 2014 of bringing our two countries together.”
Instead, Dastgir said, Indian political and military leaders have since become increasingly aggressive in their statements and actions. New Delhi, he said, has also enhanced its military presence along the international border with Pakistan to be able to quickly mobilize troops to impose another conflict on the country.
"India has created a string of bases along the Pakistani border in which now they have all the material and men, including their air force, in which they could if, God forbid, a situation arises, mobilize extremely quickly. This is a reality,” said Dastgir.
India , he emphasized, needs to review its policy and “to cease and desist on this point” and come to discuss resolution of issues dividing the two countries.